Sunday, December 17, 2006

104 Main Street

St. Peter's Church has for many years been the venue for the annual performance of Handel's Messiah, presented by the Danbury Music Centre, and I am happy to say that tonight's the night! I missed it last year because I was working at the mall, but I'll be there tonight.

Quoting from today's New-Times:
"The 125 performers of the Danbury Concert Chorus and the Danbury Baroque Chamber Orchestra will be under the direction of Richard Price. Joining the ensemble are organist Stephen Roberts and harpsichordist Maxim Vladimiroff.

"Soloists are soprano Jane Thorngren, meszzo-soprano Laura Vlasak Nolen, tenor Walter MacNeil, and bass Walter Du Melle."

This is one of those events that make Danbury such a special place to live. It's always standing room only, so get there when the doors open at 6:30 to get a good seat. The performance starts at 7:30. Admission is free, but donations will be gladly accepted.

St. Peter's is an example of what a downtown church should look like. It's situated right at sidewalk level. No unsightly parking lot for them. This church is for people, not for cars.

Friday, November 24, 2006

57 Main Street

We had a heck of a rainstorm here last week, and it knocked down the few leaves that were still clinging to the trees. Since daylight savings time ended, the days have become noticeably shorter, and the sun sets behind the hills in front of my house around 4 p.m. these days. After some unseasonably warm weather, it's obvious now that there will be a winter again this year. And there's something about the dying of the light and the dying of the year that makes us reflect.

It's been a heck of a semester for me, but the end is almost in sight. I got in way over my head registering for three classes, but it took me a few weeks to realize it. By the time I dropped one class, the other two classes were already suffering, and I never really quite caught up. I've started looking for a "real" job--either a full-time job, or a part-time job that pays more--but so far I've only had a couple of disappointments. I need to learn to relax and concentrate more on school, but the end of my financial reserves is in sight, and it's a race to see which will happen first--running out of cash or finishing the degree.

As the old year winds down, I am reminded that this too shall pass. The new year always comes, and it always brings fresh promises of better days. So in that spirit, I present to you Green Funeral Home, a Main Street fixture since 1935. No Main Street would be complete without a funeral home, and this one is a classic from the days when Danbury residents would likely as not walk to the funeral home to see their friends off one last time. Yes, it does have parking, but the cars are unobtrusively parked around back--this building hasn't turned its back on Main Street.

Maybe you are not at a point in your life where this has been forcefully brought to your attention yet, but believe me when I tell you that life really is short. If there's something you've been meaning to do "one of these days," do it. If there's something you have been meaning to tell a friend or loved one but have been putting it off, say it. We have five whole weeks, and an odd number of days, until the New Year. Don't put off until then what you can start today.

Monday, October 30, 2006

220 Main Street

The Savings Bank of Danbury was established in 1849 as the first mutual bank in Danbury. It originally operated out of the Main Street home of its first treasury secretary, George White Ives. The building shown here was built in 1909, and still houses the main branch. (Danbury. Danbury Museum and Historical Society. From the series Images of America.)

I don't believe the front door is ever open these days. The main entrance is around the corner, in the newest addition. Hmmm, "White Ives"? After 30+ years of living here, I'm beginning to understand why we see these two names so often.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

238 Main Street

"The Danbury Gas-Light Company was incorporated in 1854 and went into operation in 1857 at the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad Depot. In 1913, the Danbury and Bethel Gas and Electric Company purchased this building and electrified its exterior. Built in 1891 by Danbury designer Joel Foster, the terra-cotta Victorian was sold to the Zuccas in 1965."

from Danbury. (2001) Danbury Museum & Historical Society. Arcadia Publishing. (p53)

If and when the city achieves Certified Local Government status and acquires some of those National Park Service dollars, this building would be my candidate for the first restoration project. Actually, I'd like to see this happen even sooner. Twenty or thirty years ago would have been a good time. I confess that I know nothing about construction costs for a project like this, and nothing about the state and local building codes that would have to be satisfied. Nor do I know who owns the building today. But it's still a beautiful building and worth saving, in my opinion.

Here's a closer look at the art deco script in the window.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

90 White Street

Page B1 of today's Danbury News-Times has a story on a city project to achieve Certified Local Government status under a National Park Service program.

"That status will allow the state Commission of Culture and Tourism to add the library [the Old Library at 256 Main Street, that is] to its state list of historic buildings. It will allow the city to set up its own Historical Commission. And it will make the city eligible for U.S. Park Service funding..."

The Old Library was one of the first entries I made in this blog. What I did not show were the murals that were painted by Bethel artist Charles Federer in the 1930s. (Possibly as a WPA project?) Unfortunately the murals are not pictured in the on-line edition of the story, so if you do not already have a copy of today's paper, I bid you visit the library tomorrow and see the photos. Better yet, visit the Danbury Music Centre offices some day and see them first-hand.

One of the buildings mentioned by Mayor Boughton as being historically important and worthy of preservation is the Meeker Hardware Building, pictured above. White Street is named for the same White family that donated the land and money to build the library at 256 Main Street. And, just because I like it so much, here is another photo of the Old Library.

Friday, September 29, 2006

317 Main Street

According to the Perspectives column in last Sunday's News-Times, 25 years ago this week Nolan Enterprises was in the process of renovating the then-73-year-old Godfrey building on the corner of Main and Crosby streets into "nine new studio-style apartments." Why is it that new Main Street construction hardly ever follows this pattern of street-level shops and housing or offices above?

Here's a closeup of the detail over the front windows.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

17-19-21 Library Place

Who needs to go to Boston or New York, when Danbury has its own classy rowhouses like these, just a few steps from Main Street? As you can guess by the address, they have a view of the side of the Old Library. Unfortunately, they also have a view of the construction of the new parking garage. Still, how cool would it be to have an address on Library Place?

Look at the details in the brickwork and the ornamentation. You won't find this kind of construction in a new apartment or condo.

I don't know if the interiors have been maintained as well as the exteriors have been, but I certainly hope so. This trio is a treasure.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Another Rainy Day Book

It's Friday, and it's raining here in Danbury. So what else is new? I'm swamped with the start of the new semester, that's what. But I am also privileged to have a copy of the most beautiful textbook that I have ever had the pleasure to buy. I never had anything like this in any of the math or computer science classes I ever took.

You can search for the Smithsonian Book of Books in Worldcat, which will find you a copy in a library near you. Not all libraries with on-line catalogs participate in WorldCat, so you might want to check your local libraries, too.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11 Memorial

The September 11th Memorial occupies an honored position in the smaller of the two Main Street islands that comprise Elmwood Park, directly in front of the old courthouse at 71 Main Street.

The glass monument, designed with approximately the same proportions as the World Trade towers, is etched with the names of the Connecticut victims of the attacks. The memorial was dedicated two years ago today.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Wasted Resources

I'm feeling simultaneously virtuous and suckered. What can induce this state of mind? Why, doing yardwork on a beautiful holiday afternoon, of course. I mowed the lawn today. If ever there was a human activity more wasteful of both human resources and petroleum resources than keeping a lawn, I'd like to know what it is. Next year shall be the year of the edible landscape, and I don't mean for sheep and goats. (I'd have a goat, but city ordinances forbid me to keep even a chicken or two on my quarter acre, so I'm pretty sure goats are ruled out, too.)

Here are two Main Street sites that illustrate another way to waste precious real estate. Neither of these buildings seems to want to be on Main Street, as demonstrated by the vast expanses of asphalt that they have placed between themselves and the sidewalk. Both of them would be more at home in a strip mall. Fortunately for the rest of Main Street, these buildings are almost directly across the street from each other, and so can keep each other company.

The supermarket is within walking distance of several multiple housing units, both rentals and condos, and yet the parking lot was clearly designed for far more automobiles than I have ever seen there. Maybe this is the only way that the big chain supermarkets know how to build, regardless of the location. They could have used some advice from Gristedes in New York City or Caraluzzi's in Bethel, and located it with an entrance, or at least a walkway, from the sidewalk, so as to be more welcoming to pedestrians.

The smaller building, by contrast, seems to have too few parking spaces for its purposes. I wish the building had been sited so that the entrance would be closer to the sidewalk, and with the parking spaces at the rear of the building, as many Main Street commercial buildings have done.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Rainy Day Books, pt. 1

This was never meant to be a book blog, but I am a library student after all. And it's been raining here in Danbury for several days, which can make for some very interesting artistic photography, but not so much when you're trying to represent the architectural highlights of Main Street in their best light.

I just finished reading Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, by John R. Stilgoe, Orchard Professor of Landscape History at Harvard University. (I'm not making that up; that's what it says on the back cover.) The author's purpose in writing this little (187 pp) book is to open our eyes to the man-made landscape, and in particular to those portions of it that we have been conditioned to ignore: power line, rail, and interstate rights-of-way; the strips of land behind commercial strip malls; all the main roads that immediately became "back roads" when the interstate came through. If you've ever wondered why it takes so long to get a letter from Point A to Point B, when some cities used to have twice-a-day mail delivery; if you've ever wondered about all those faded enameled signs at the town limits, announcing the monthly meetings of various men's service clubs; if the idea of being a modern day explorer, on foot or on a bicycle, appeals to you, then you'll enjoy this book.

Monday, August 21, 2006

170 Main Street, pre-1968

This item appeared yesterday in the “Perspectives” column of the Sunday Danbury News-Times. The caption reads: “An undated postcard, from the collection of Paul Gassner of Danbury, shows Danbury’s City Hall at the corner of Main and West streets and the Methodist Church next to it. Both later were torn down and the Danbury Public Library now occupies the site.”

The Soldiers’ Monument still stands, but the two buildings are long gone. I understand the practical problems of maintaining an old building with outdated plumbing, electrical, and heating systems, but still… Was there no way to save either of these magnificent old buildings that were built to last forever? What a heart-wrenching sight it must have been to see the wrecking ball make that first swing. I guarantee that if I had lived in Danbury in 1968, they would not have gone down without a fight.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

170 Main Street

The Danbury Public Library sits at the corner of Main and West Streets, at the heart of CityCenter. This was formerly the site of City Hall, and was known as City Hall Plaza until 1968, when residents approved bond issues for a new City Hall on Deer Hill Avenue, a new public library where City Hall once stood, fire headquarters and additional schools. I like the classic styling with the portico and full-height columns that immediately tell us where the entrance is. This building is proud to be situated on Main Street, as well it should be.

In 1996 a fire destroyed most of the interior of the library. It was closed for renovations for six months and reopened to the public in September of the same year, with new furnishings, a new local history room, and new meeting space. In May of 1998, the Technology Center was added in the space over the adjoining Union Savings Bank branch to house twenty general purpose public computers, ten computers used for free self-directed instruction in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, and a conference room. Free computer classes are offered here each month.

Now known as Library Plaza, the plaza was recently renovated with a new fountain, new seating, and new landscaping, and draws the visitor in from every direction. The rear entrance was enhanced by the addition of more parking spaces and a beautiful butterfly garden. If you haven't visited for a while, you're in for a lot of pleasant surprises.

I think it's one of the best libraries in Connecticut, but I'm a little biased. If you'd like a peek at the interior, there are more photos here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

331 Main Street

If all goes according to plan, sometime next year this building will become the Hat Box Theater, a project conceived and nurtured by Danbury native (well, almost a native) David Katz, artistic director of Hat City Music Theater since 2000. Danbury architect Leigh Overland has created a design that will seat about 80 people theater-style, and somewhat fewer when arranged cabaret-style. It will include a business office, box office, dressing rooms, a small garden, and a coffee bar and lobby seating. The wonderful glass block tower will be illuminated, and the art deco tile facade restored. You can read more about it in this article from FairfieldWeekly.

Danbury has not had a regular venue for live theater since D'ART (Danbury Area Repertory Theatre) departed from its home at the St. James' Church auditorium on West Street many years ago, and I am very excited about the possibilities for a permanent venue for performing arts. The worst night of live theater is still better than the best night of television.

Until last year, this was the home of Pride Cleaners, and had been ever since I can remember. It sure looks like it could have been a modern gas station from the 1950s, doesn't it? But the building is too large for a gas station, unless it was later expanded to house the cleaners. I would love to hear from anyone who remembers when Pride Cleaners was new and what, if anything, was there before it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

181-183 Main Street

The F.A. Hull Building, at the corner of Main and Liberty, was built in 1907. I know this not from doing any research, but because the information is carved on the pediment (although you may not be able to see it at this resolution). Mr. Hull must have been very proud of this building.

Note the classic Main Street elements: built to the sidewalk, shops on the ground level, two or three floors of offices and/or affordable apartments above. The building is proportional to the width of the street, giving pedestrians a feeling of a human-sized environment. Note the brickwork and other ornamentation, especially about the third floor. No one decorates buildings like this anymore.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

71 Main Street

This is the old Fairfield County Court House, built at the turn of the 20th century. The State of Connecticut Judicial Branch web site has more information on the history of this building, along with images of some postcards of it when it was brand new. You can find them here. It has held up pretty well, don't you think? It is still in use today for Juvenile Matters. If you had to come here, you'd know immediately where the main entrance is. There is no forbidding stretch of asphalt to cross, but the building is set back from the sidewalk more than a block of shops and offices and apartments would be, which is appropriate for an important public building.

I don't yet have a photo of the "new" courthouse over on White Street, so you'll just have to take my word for it that it doesn't have a fraction of the character that this building has. Maybe we just don't care as much about the new courthouse as we do about the old courthouse.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

256 Main Street

This is the old library, at the corner of Main Street and Library Place. All of the buildings on Main Street had a good power-washing a few years ago, and they really do look nice. Notice how it was built right out to the sidewalk, which was refurbished a few years ago. The entrance is grand and important...and obvious. The entrance stands tall, as do the windows. It is a building that respects Main Street by showing Main Street its best face. There is no vast stretch of asphalt parking lot to be crossed to get to the entrance. Pedestrians are clearly welcomed here.

This location was originally the site of the White family homestead. Local hat manufacturer and philanthropist Alexander White donated the land and paid for the library’s construction. The library opened in 1879 and was in operation until the new library at Main and West Streets was completed sometime after 1968. This building is now the home of the Danbury Music Centre.

Welcome to Main Street, Danbury, CT

The inspiration for this blog came together from many sources. I have been reading the non-fiction work of James Howard Kunstler on sustainable and livable cities, and in particular the volumes The Geography of Nowhere and Home From Nowhere. I recently acquired a digital camera. I just went to a workshop today on the use of "social software" in libraries.* Last but not least, I needed to develop a program for my local library for my final project in ILS 561, Public Libraries, at Southern Connecticut State University.

I have always been an architecture buff, much preferring the classical lines of the 19th and early 20th century to most of today's utilitarian, but unbeautiful, structures. (Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the few who designed buildings that were both beautiful and functional.) Downtown Danbury has suffered much over the last twenty years since the mall opened in 1986, but many beautiful buildings from the beginning of the 20th century and earlier still survive. It is my hope that this project will become a collaboration of all the people of Danbury and will help to inspire a wave of renewed interest in enjoying and preserving the best of our heritage. Main Street will be our primary focus, but from time to time we will venture out from the center, never more than a five or ten minute walk from Main Street, to see what a livable city looks like in its totality. And occasionally we will look at buildings that just don't fit in, and analyze why they don't.

*The workshop was presented at Darien Public Library by Jenny Levine and Michael Stephens. If you ever get a chance to see their "Roadshow," do not miss it!