What Hartford Might Have Been

When I first moved to Connecticut in 1992, I was given this poster and told this is what Hartford would like in 1995.    I recently found it in a box and it is actually kind of sad to look at.   There were no fewer than eight skyscrapers on the drawing board then, including one that promised to be the tallest in New England.    It’s amazing how different our capital city would be had all these buildings been built.  Instead, most of the sites remain vacant lots two decades later.

Remarkably a few of the towers would have been taller than anything in today’s skyline.    The Cutter Financial Center would have stood 61 stories tall, higher than the John Hancock Tower in Boston.  The renderings were impressive:  a gleaming skycraper topped with a gold dome, a nod to Hartford’s colonial roots.    Financial problems killed the project, as did the other proposals.     It would have gone up near Bushnell Park between Lewis and Trumbull Streets, where an apartment building went up in 2005.    111 Pearl Street would have been torn down as part of this project.   It still stands, but it has been abandoned for 20 years.

While the demise of all of these projects was certaintly disappointing, none angered people more than the Society Bank Tower project.    Preservationists fought hard and loudly to save Hartford’s first skyscraper, the old Aetna building at Main and Asylum.   Society Bank won the battle, and had the building imploded to make way for a 45 story high rise.    It was never built, and 22 years later, the site remains vacant.  A piece of Connecticut history was demolished for nothing.

Did you know that a World Trade Center was proposed for Hartford?  It was an interesting design with a globe at the top.      That 33 story project would have gone up on a prime piece of real estate, across from the State Capitol adjacent to the e the Statler Hilton.  The WTC was never built and the Hilton was demolished.    That lot also remains vacant to this day.

Around the corner this 42 story tower was proposed for Allyn Street.

The Metro Center II would have been 50 stories tall, diagonally across across from the Hartford Civic Center at Church and Ann Uccello Streets across from St. Patrick Anthony Church.   That site is a barren parking lot today and has become an occasional crime scene after dark.

This tower would have gone up next to the G. Fox building.    That site is a vacant lot today.

As you can see from this poster, there were other projects that never got off the ground.     Certainly, some progress was made since this drawing was made:  Adriaen’s Landing,  Hartford 21, and the riverfront.        Let’s hope 2012 brings some new ideas for these long vacant parcels.  They don’t have to be as grand as the ones proposed in the big  ’80s, but something would be better than the status quo.

I’m not sure what this is, but it appears to be  a convention center just north of I-84.   Also check out www.emporis.com  for some great information about Hartford buildings.


20 replies »

  1. To me, the saddest part of this isn’t the buildings that weren’t built, but what was destroyed to make room for them. Oh, and the darn empty lots, of course. Thank you for this, Dennis. Although I’m in some ways happy that we don’t have more skyscapers (and the insular environments they create) it is fascinating to look at the last generation’s big dreams for our city. These drawings are sad/wonderful. They aren’t as sad as photos from the 50s and before, though, of bustling Main and Trumbull streets — filled with workers elegantly dressed shoppers, movie theaters, stores, offices, and energy.


  2. This seems like a good place to share my favorite unrealized Hartford vision:

    That’s a sketch of planned buildings on the Trinity College campus, published in 1886; not sure when the plans were intended for. If that had been completed, well, that would have been something. I do not know who would foot the bill for the mountain range in the background, but that would have been a nice touch, too.

    Here’s the complete article: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/25116/25116-h/25116-h.htm


  3. On the bright side, the idiots who thought that having no access to the riverfront would be a good idea ultimately lost. At least we can enjoy the river now.


  4. I dunno. Given the vacancy rate right now and the foreclosures on some of downtown’s prime real estate, wouldn’t the construction of these things really have meant that even more of downtown would be vacant? They were office buildings, not residences. At least what got built instead brought some people to live downtown. I don’t think I rue the fact that more money wasn’t spent contributing to more of a ghost town vibe.


    • Brendan – your stance is a little off kilter, but so is the Tower of Pisa, but that stands on its own right as well.

      With the increase in commercial space it would have provided an opportunity for more diversity commercially in Hartford and a commercial presence that would have been much more solid to deal with the ongoing economic tide especially when dealing with a lengthy ebb of the economy when it hit. Along with that commercial growth and diversity it would have been a far better cornerstone to build a REAL residential base in Hartford Downtown proper. Granted, in any economic downturn there will be survivors and losers, that’s economic life, however, diversity breeds survival.

      I cringed one day in Hartford when I saw a residential structure circa 1910 era with it’s stout and solid brick (bricks without the holes in them yet) with architectural details that would scratch at any craftsmen’s soul being torn down – there was nothing wrong with the structure. It was replaced with a stick-built, cheaply vinyl sided house.

      As far as the riverfront, one only needs to look at what the city of Baltimore did with the recapturing of their inner harbor to get any shred of a clue on how to recapture a waterfront. What once was a the largest canker to the city of Baltimore was transformed into what is now a sought after destination, so much so that it held one of the most successful races for Indycar in 2012 and boasts establishments such as the Hard Rock Cafe.

      Finally, Hartford, instead of continually reaching for and selling a so called Rising Star that has never and will never lift off under the current “big picture” should grab their belt, pick up their pants and finally get something done or we can start marketing the capitol city and the poster city for that song “Pants on the Ground!” The only thing that is a saving grace that the rest of the region and nation has not caught Hartford with their pants down it the fact no one has been paying attention to Hartford.

      There’s still time!


  5. Most people are afraid to go to “downtown” Hartford. If they got rid of the unsavory gangs hanging around, they might get some business.


  6. I went to Avon Old Farms in the late 80’s. The Whalers were owned by Richard Gordon whos son Dave was in my class. I remember going downtown and seeing all the empty lots with large signs with pictures of tall new buildings. The empty lots are still there. Hartford had a commercial vacancy rate below 7% then. It is now over 30%. If UTC or Aetna leave, the city will die. I really hope Malloy can stay out of prison long enough to land a major new tenant. I believe it is Hartford’s last chance.


  7. The gift of this presentation is the presentation itself. Yes, it would be great if Hartford were vibrant the way it used to be, but I don’t believe skyscrapers bring vibrancy. They do bring people from ring towns to work, but they all leave at 5 pm. and want to get out of town. Small businesses bring community, people who want to come to town to visit or live. Could it be that those parking lots could be filled with small businesses that are real, human scale, useful and fun?? not chain stores, not all retail, but a mix, even with some small buildings with condos and apartments in them… looking like Dyke Spears’ office building on Lewis Street. Make Hartford what it is, not what it was. Thank you, Dennis, for showing us these images.


  8. what is needed is someone to stop re-inventing Hartford–I would think that Constitution Plaza would of been the poster child as to what NOT to do–Hartford needs to re-build the architecture that it has imploded or been knocked down with abandon in the last 60 years–Hartford as it is now is devoid of any character with the exception of the lonely Old State House, the Congregational church and a couple structures on Lewis St..Look at New Haven it has retained a lot of 18th and 19th c structures or Providence Someone needs to stop imposing the glassy box nonsense on the remains of Hartford–bring back residential affordable housing, food markets, dry cleaners and services…


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