As part of the Connecticut NPR affiliate WPKT’s program, Where We Live, Daniel Sterner ’97, author of a book about historic downtown Hartford, recently discussed historic buildings that have disappeared and what has taken their place. Program host John Dankosky, observed, “Every city changes over time. But Hartford’s downtown seems to be slowly disappearing.” Sterner points out that all cities are always in flux; older buildings are always being replaced by newer ones. He describes any typical city block, even the one on Trumbull Street from which the program was broadcast, as “layered:” Some buildings date back to the 1800s, some to the turn of the century, some to the 1920s, and some to more modern times.
Sterner’s book on this subject, Vanished Downtown Hartford, provides a tour of the downtown area that traces the development of the city from the early 1800s to present day and raises the issue facing cities today: “what should be demolished and what should be saved?” Practicality and beauty occasionally clash, especially when it comes to parking lots, which seem to be overtaking Hartford, a phenomenon noted by Sterner and others on the radio program. As Sterner points out, a city needs parking lots, but flat lots compromise the architectural beauty of the streetscape. In a July article, Sterner told the Hartford Courant, “Hartford is famous for having so much town down. It’s one thing if you replace one building with another, but when it becomes a parking lot, that’s another thing.” Some of the changes that Sterner documents in his book are the replacement of the YMCA with a parking lot, Constitution Plaza replacing an entire neighborhood, and the Old State House finding new life as a museum.
Sterner, who was a history major at Wesleyan, encourages everyone to “reflect on what should be built in the future and which of today’s historic treasures should not be lost.”