20 years ago today, on a cold Sunday morning, a spectacular demolition was witnessed by thousands of people. A hotel that hosted weddings, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, other politicians and celebrities was reduced to rubble in seconds. The site is now in its third decade of serving 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. 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. In 2010 I spoke with Cheryl Chase, whose Chase Enterprises owns the property. She told me she 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 blamed 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 in 2010, she was 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?
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?
The Hilton demolition was the second in the city that year. In April, Hartford’s first skyscraper was imploded. The Aetna building was the subject of a major battle between preservationists and the Society Bank for Savings, which wanted to build a 45 story skyscraper on the site. It was never built, and that parcel remains a parking lot.
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 courtesy WFSB photojournalist Mike Fisher right here:
Here is some old video of other implosions in Hartford: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2011/12/15/face-the-state-flashback-the-implosions-of-2001/
Also check out these cool images of what Hartford could have looked like: http://dennishouse.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/what-hartford-might-have-bee/