To understand why this building was so important to the revitalization of Asylum Hill, the first step is to see the building in its environment.
The Exterior: Before
NINA has certainly seen worse when it comes to buildings in our portfolio, and in fact 207 Garden Street had lots of things to recommend it as an important historic asset in Asylum Hill. It has some unique features -- not the yellow bricks, which are unusual to the neighborhood (see NINA's homes at 87 & 89 Atwood Street) to be sure, but more the parapets, the tawny brick window frames, and the pressed concrete around the doors and some of the windows. Not to mention the plate glass windows, which were no more -- somebody bricked them in ages ago -- but it was clear from the outset that 207 had had a grand past and could have a great future.
The Interior: Before
As NINA projects go, the interior of 207 Garden Street was not in such bad shape, but it had been neglected and left open to the elements for the better part of two years by the time NINA acquired the building. Not to mention the fire in Apartment 3B, which led to the permanent evacuation of all of the apartments.
Additionally, the building lacked a few amenities that NINA believed would make the building more sustainable over the long-run. For example, the building had 9 apartments but not off-street parking, and for being on both a major commuter route (Garden) and a major bus route (Ashley) the building had not air-conditioning. The lack of A/C gave tenants a stark choice in the summer: open the window to cool off but breathe in exhaust fumes, or keep the windows closed to preserve respiratory health and overheat.
As you'll see, though, this building was always remarkable, and that's due entirely to its location. Aside from being close to downtown, making it a marvelously convenient place to live, it also had both eastern and southern exposure, which meant that every apartment was suffused in natural light.
Phase I: The Facade
Early on, NINA made the decision to restore the facade of 207 Garden Street before starting on the interior. The building, which sits at a critical anchor location in Asylum Hill, was seen by thousands of people every business day, and for more than 2 years they had seen a blighted building that suggested a neighborhood in decline -- and this despite being surrounded by four NINA homes and two more that NINA pitched in on! Work on the facade also sent a clear signal to passersby and commuters that revitalization was underway.
Phase II: Interior Construction
Once the facade was complete, NINA moved on to the interior. The first floor retail spaces, as well as the first floor apartment, were left largely intact: their mechanicals were upgraded and damage was repaired, but their footprints remained essentially the same. On the second and third floors, however, NINA made substantial changes: four apartments on the 2nd floor were converted to 3 larger units, and on the 3rd floor, all of the apartments were converted into a single office space. NINA also began to re-orient the building toward a single entrance off of the lot next door, which was the future parking lot for the building. This re-orientation was completed in Phase III, but some of the preliminary work necessary for that phase was done during interior construction.
Phase III: The Vestibule and The Elevator
The final phase of construction involved the addition of an elevator and the construction of a new entrance to the building to accommodate the elevator. This phase was critical to the long-term sustainability of the building. The elevator made the building accessible to everyone, and its addition led to the creation of a single point of entry to the building for both the 2nd and 3rd floors. That, along with the shared spaces of the vestibule and the common hallways, created a new sense of community within the building.
The Interior: After
A mostly consecutive walk through the inside of 207-213 Garden Street.
The Exterior: After
A walk around the finished building.
207 Garden Street: Before & After
Before and after shots that can be easily paired together are a little hard to come by, owing to the substantial changes we made to the interior of the building. We did, however, find these: and we promise, they do in fact line up!
The Art and Artifacts of Blight
The demise of 207 Garden Street came abruptly: there was a fire in an apartment, and the City of Hartford condemned the residential units and re-located everyone elsewhere. The apartments weren't occupied again until NINA restored them.
Nothing personal was left behind at 207 Garden Street, but the apartments were never updated. As such, there were a few architectural and decorative elements that caught our eye as we went through the place for the first time. We don't usually share these sorts of items, but we thought it was appropriate this time, as 207 Garden Street was with us for a very long time.
We weren't entirely sure if we wanted to post any pictures of the Ashley Cafe -- by the time we were at work on Ashley Street in 2004, the Ashley Cafe had become a real problem, attracting crime and raucous public behavior that could run until well after 3 AM. Complaints from our homeowners prompted us to buy out the lease on the bar long before we bought the building, and the effect of that action had an immediately profound and beneficial effect on the neighborhood.
We've certainly heard over the years from many people who were quite fond of the Ashley Cafe, and they tended to refer to the bar's heyday in the 1970s or 1980s. We've been doing some research, however, and we've discovered that the bar has been a source of problems and a magnet for crime almost from the time it originally opened in the 1930s.
Still: we had some photos, and we thought we'd share them.