(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Spring 2018
Façadectomy: The retention of a building’s façade for use in a new construction after the rest of the building is demolished.
During the summer of 2017 and example of a façadectomy reopened to much fanfare in downtown Hartford: The Hartford Times Building, now at the heart of the University of Connecticut’s campus on Prospect Street.
A Bit of New York City Comes to Hartford
New York City’s Madison Square Presbyterian Church was hailed as architect Stanford White’s most beautiful work when it was constructed in 1906. And yet it was demolished only 14 years later to make room for a skyscraper. “What,” the New York Herald wondered on March 7,1920, “might have befallen the … church had not the architect [Donn Barber] … intervened? He received in his mail one morning a brief notice from a thrifty house wrecking contractor asking if he desired to buy the green granite columns of the church…which was about to be razed.” Barber raced to the scene and purchased the six massive green granite pillars, pilasters, stone cornices, steps, plus the polychrome terracotta of the façade for a little less than $30,000 plus $10,000 in freight costs to Hartford.
The Hartford Times had originally planned a plain, utilitarian building for its offices and production plant. But Barber composed a masterful design incorporating the recycled materials into a monumental portico befitting a “Temple of Journalism,” as the Herald called it.
When the Hartford Times closed in 1976, the building was used by Travelers and in the 1990s as city offices. Schemes for its use as part of the proposed Adrian’s Landing (2000) and as an expansion of the Wadsworth Atheneum (2006) went nowhere. Finally, after 27 months of construction and an investment of $140 million, a new building retaining the Times building façade opened as the centerpiece of UConn’s new downtown campus.
“It seemed to me little less than a crime that all the effort, skill, study and the craftsmanship of the unique and wonderful materials … should be deliberately thrown to waste … , Barber said in the Herald. “I have every hope that what we have been able to accomplish may lead later to the saving of … other buildings of distinction.”
Little did he know history would repeat itself nearly 100 years later.
Mary M. Donohue is the assistant publisher ofConnecticut Explored and an architectural historian and historic preservationist.
UConn Hartford Campus, 10 South Prospect Street, Hartford