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!