Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hartford Arming for New National Park

From Mick Melvin:

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I have long been curious about this distinctive building in Hartford, CT. I used to think the building was a religious structure because of the blue onion dome with gold stars (Growing up in the Hartford area, I found the building exotic and mysterious -- DB). But no, this is the Colt Armory, one-time headquarters of one of the world's most well-known gun manufacturers.

The dome, which can easily be viewed from route I-91 going through Hartford, was company founder Samuel Colt's idea. Some say that the dome is a tribute to Colt's early work with Russian businessmen. Others say it was just a dramatic marketing tool. Either way, it is a distinctive piece of architecture. The original armory burned down in 1864, three years after Colt's death. The new building was rebuilt by his widow, Elizabeth Colt, and was made to be fireproof and larger than the original. The design is said to be based on the styles of the Italian Renaissance.

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(Inside the armory.)

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(Rear of armory.)

The building and the surrounding area are being transformed into Coltsville National Park, after receiving congressional approval late last year. The park will honor the accomplishments of Samuel Colt. Plans for the park include a visitors center, an observation platform from which visitors can view the factory floor, and an elevator to the dome.

Plans are also in place to transform adjacent Colts Park, Armsmear (the residence of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt), and the Church of the Good Shepherd. It is the hope of Connecticut officials that the area become an educational center emphasizing Colt's contribution to firearms and the industrial revolution. The 260-acre Coltsville National Park is a work in progress, but we will be sure to keep you all posted.

Church of the Good Shepherd #1

(Church of the Good Shepherd.)

Armsmear#2

(Armsmear, one-time residence of Samuel and Elizabeth Colt. Now an apartment building.)

For more, read this article about the approval of the national park.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

UPDATE: Get Thee to a Nunnery

From Dave Brigham:

As promised, I'm back with an update on the former Sisters of St. Joseph convent property in Newton, Mass. (see January 31, 2015, "Get Thee to a Nunnery").

The 5.7-acre site, which has been on the market for years, includes the convent and a school building with a combined total of roughly 95,000 square feet. The convent includes 34 dormitory-style rooms, a chapel and covered parking, according to a real estate listing I dug up online.

The Sisters have rejected many offers from developers, because they wanted to see the site be used for community purposes. Well, thank you, Sisters, for holding out. This week, the City of Newton's board of aldermen approved the $17.3 million purchase of the property as part of a complicated, but much needed, upgrade to schools on the north side of the city.

The buildings will require some environmental remediation, and the addition of a gymnasium before becoming the new home of the Lincoln-Eliot School, one of many old and overcrowded schools in Newton. The current Lincoln-Eliot building would then become "swing space" to be used while the city renovates or replaces other schools.

The Carr School (which is across the street from where I live), a former elementary school that recently became the swing space to house elementary students while their schools are under construction, will eventually become the new home of the Horace Mann School, where my son went and which my daughter currently attends. The Mann school will function as a community center at some point down the road.

While all of these moves won't affect my daughter (she'll be in middle school by the time this plan plays out), it's a victory for younger kids in my neighborhood and surrounding areas. Too many of Newton's schools are overcrowded -- Horace Mann was built for no more than 300 students, I believe, and it currently educates in excess of 400.

I'm always happy to report good news, and especially when it doesn't involve a long-abandoned property getting turned into yet another upscale housing project.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Ones That Got Away, Part III

From Dave Brigham:

(Photo from Citysearch.com)

I just noticed Veronica's Spa in Waltham, Mass., a few months ago. Located on a somewhat ugly stretch of Main Street, the convenience store (many older such stores adopted the term "spa" because they sold "healthy" soda-fountain drinks, or so the Internet told me) was opened some time in the 1920's or '30s, I believe.

As I often do with places that catch my eye driving around Greater Boston, I put this on my list of places to take some pictures of. Well, I drove by yesterday and recoiled in disappointment: the portico and cool sign on top have been razed. A guy on a ladder appeared to be replastering the building, which is no longer a vibrant red.

Before I got home, I knew I would post a little something about yet another "one that got away" (for more of these, see May 2, 2010, "The Ones That Got Away, Part I" and June 1, 2010, "The Ones That Got Away, Part II"). I wasn't, however, expecting to find out much about Veronica's Spa.

I didn't find a lot, but I did discover that the store was opened by a Turkish immigrant of Armenian descent named Veronica Sarmanian, nee Engelan. She came to this country after escaping the Armenian genocide, went through Ellis Island and then got married. She and her husband, Stephen, "pursued their career goals working long and hard hours until they could fund their own business, Veronica’s Spa," according to Veronica's obituary. She passed away in 2009 at age 103.

"Recognized as a pioneer in the burgeoning Rt. 117 corridor, Veronica is highlighted in Waltham’s history, called 'Waltham Rediscovered,'" the obituary continues. "Veronica was a feminist long before women’s rights were popular, pursuing a business life as well as a family."

I love digging up history like this. On my drives past the spa, I figured it was just another of countless convenience stores that are instantly forgettable the minute you walk out the door. I'll keep an eye on the place and see if they put the sign back up at least.

Here's another cool shot of the place from Flickr.