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 I understand the practical problems of maintaining an old building with outdated plumbing, electrical, and heating systems, but still… Was there no way to save either of these magnificent old buildings that were built to last forever?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.