Old Town Hall renovations OK'd, with 'sign' of concern
Updated 6:15 am, Monday, January 9, 2012
Construction crews have removed an old bank vault from the historic Old Town Hall at 90 Post Road East and continue to renovate inside while awaiting more predictable weather conditions to move forward with exterior improvements to the landmark building for its commercial renovation.
"The vault took two weeks and four men. It was very hard to disassemble," said William Achilles Jr., the architect for the project in the building which served as the Town Hall and later as a bank. "We've been cleaning it out and discovering how nice the space is by that pedestrian walkway off downtown Main Street."
Achilles and SIR Development President Robert Haroun went before the town's Historic District Commission recently to seek approval for four exterior projects including the installation of a retractable awning and replacement of the greenhouse window and roof. There is one tenant in the building so far, a Spruce Home & Garden store.
Three of the four applications were approved on a unanimous vote by the commission. The lone holdout on the fourth was Bob Weingarten, who voted against the developer's plans to repair the chiseled and painted letters above the entrance door of the building, which dates back to 1909 and is within the Jesup Road Historic District. The lettering has faded and worn smooth.
"It's like wearing a suit with a couple of buttons missing. ... We're bothered by it," Haroun told members of the HDC.
Making repairs to the sign could make it look new and Weingarten thinks that could cause confusion for those unfamiliar with the location of the existing Town Hall on Myrtle Avenue.
"I thought it made sense to leave it alone so people wouldn't be misled to believe it's the Town Hall. The sign looks fine" (as it is), said Weingarten, who is also concerned about the potential damage that could occur when renovating an older sign or building.
Even though Carol Leahy, the HDC's staff administrator, provided the developer and architect with the names of some historic restoration painters that she received from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, Weingarten said, "I don't think we should have it restored. I'd rather just leave it alone."
"They should put up some kind of plaque to identify the historic nature of the building as they are going in," Weingarten said.
Although Commissioner Grayson Braun voted in favor of the sign repairs, she said she really stands somewhere between the applicant and Weingarten. "I don't want to have someone come in and do further damage," she said.
Commission Chairman Francis Henkels said brownstone "melts" in acid rain and there is a danger of further damage, but he is confident a skilled stone restoration artist can successfully do the job.
Haroun said he does not want to damage anything and is willing to try a more conservative method of restoration first. The HDC approved painting the sign using the same black coloring and style as contained in the lettering.
Achilles said it is paramount to get the right graphic artist to do the work. He expects the work will be done sometime this spring. Achilles said none of the exterior work is likely to be completed immediately because of the unpredictable nature of weather this time of year. "Sooner or later the weather will get in the way," he said.
Commissioner Betsy Wacker asked Haroun and Achilles to alert Leahy when the work is to be done so commissioners can inspect it.
Also approved was the removal of a night deposit box. "It's no longer useful and it was very opportune that when (the bank) put it in they saved the stones and after all this time they didn't get thrown out so we have stones that match (the façade)," Achilles said.
Achilles said the developers plan to remove a dated-looking window arrangement, which some refer to as a greenhouse, and replace it with something more suited to the building. They will also place an awning over the entry doors where the bank vault used to be.
"It essentially blocked those doors. It was an enormous vault right up against the doors. You couldn't use the doors. Now that the vault is gone it is nice, open space and that should bring back even more use to the pedestrian walkway from the Post Road to the back parking lot," he said.
The use of that pedestrian walkway will provide access to a tenant of the building. None has committed to that space yet but Haroun said they are currently talking with three prospective tenants who are interested in that space. The building will contain a mix of retail, office space, and possibly a restaurant or cafe.