The so-called “Butt Ugly” building at the edge of Downtown Hartford will be demolished later this week. The city says the parcel will be prepared for potential development, but if history is any indication, that plot of land will be empty for decades to come. Downtown is littered with vacant lots that were once home to buildings razed years ago in the name of development.
Twenty years ago this week, a spectacular demolition witnessed by thousands of people, cleared another parcel for development. That prime plot is now in its third decade of vacancy, used only as a parking lot. The drivers who ditch their cars there are treated to postcard views of the State Capitol, the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch, Bushnell Park, and the skyline.
The Parkview Hilton, formerly known as the Statler Hilton , was a classic example of 1950s architecture. The picture above shows the hotel in its glory. You can watch its demise below. As the city’s most prestigious hotel, the 16 story box played host to conventions, presidents, and celebrities. By the end of the 1970s it was tired, and despite renovations and a more modern facade in 1981, it was closed by the end of the decade. On October 28, 1990, it was imploded.
The Hilton lot, with the views and proximity to the park, attractions, highways and train station was considered so desirable, it was called the “Mona Lisa of the Hartford real estate world,” by a real estate expert interviewed by the New York Times.
A World Trade Center for Connecticut was proposed for the site, along with a new world headquarters for United Technologies, but the projects never took off. I spoke with Cheryl Chase, whose Chase Enterprises owns the property. She told me never imagined the Hilton lot would still be empty 20 years later.
Chase would very much like to develop the property, but there has been little interest in building something in keeping with the caliber of the location. “It is the first thing you see when drive into downtown,” Chase said. She envisions a landmark skyscraper with condominiums at the top, commercial in the middle and retail on the ground level.
Chase blames the economy for the fact that a prime chunk of real estate is nothing more than a sea of asphalt, but also complained “Hartford is tough.” Like many, she is hopeful new Mayor Pedro Segarra will help bring new business to the city, but also believes it starts at the top. “Connecticut needs to be more business-friendly,” Chase said.
The Chase family tends to be community-minded big thinkers and very creative, so when the property is developed, I have no doubt it will be a head turner. Who can forget Arnold Chase’s “Winter Wonderland” and “Haunted Happenings” at the old G. Fox Building?
Call me a dreamer, but I have a feeling something is going to happen on that site in 2011. First, as soon as a plan to lower the I-84 Aetna Viaduct is finalized the value of the property will go up. High speed rail in and out Union Station will also heighten the plot’s appeal. A new governor and the new pro-development mayor and the stars might finally be aligning for the “Chase Tower.” I think it should include an observatory along the lines of Seattle’s Space Needle. Could be a big tourist attraction.
Everyone is in agreement that it is a collosal waste and shame that such land is used for parking. Can you even imagine such a lot bordering Central Park or the Boston Common?
As for the “Butt-Ugly” property, I think the city should market it for a short time, then if it doesn’t sell, donate it. Give it to the University of Hartford, Trinity College, or UConn to build housing for students who want to live off campus. All those young feet on the street could spur development, and with the new public safety complex being built a few blocks away, that whole neighborhood could turn around in a few years.
By the way, the beautiful Victorian building next to the Hilton in the postcard? That’s the old Hartford YMCA, torn down for…you guessed it, a parking lot.
You can watch the Hilton implosion from October 28, 1990 right here: http://www.wfsb.com/video/25552841/index.html