A ribbon cutting was held Thursday to officially open the Elizabeth Park Visitor Center, located near the Pond House Café and the iconic Rose Garden in West Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Elizabeth Park now has a Visitor Center, with information about activities taking place in the historic park, gifts available to purchase, and operational restrooms that are open to the public.
About 15 months ago, officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking for renovations to the historic Brownstone building in Elizabeth Park, and on Thursday, with many of the donors who made the project possible in attendance, a celebratory grand opening and ribbon cutting was held, marking the completion of the work.
The Visitor Center has recently opened to the public and “everything has been going very well,” Elizabeth Park Conservancy President and CEO Christine Doty said Thursday. She expressed her sincere thanks to the donors, particularly the principal donor – the Garmany Fund of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor, speaking on behalf of other elected officials who were unable to attend, thanked donors for their “incredible generosity and commitment to this gem,” which she said is shared in spirit by Hartford and West Hartford.
“Thank you for your work, your vision, to make this possible,” Cantor said.
Ben Flynn, chairman of the Board of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy, also expressed his thanks. “We are so proud of what we have done,” he said.
This was a capital intensive project, that went slightly over budget, “but we are so pleased with the final project,” said Flynn.
“I think this garden represents both the ‘real’ and the ‘ideal,'” said Douglas Hyland, chairperson of the Visitor Center Committee.
“When I think of the half a million visitors who visit this garden in a normal year … we combine the ‘ideal’ of this garden now with the ‘real’ of bathrooms and information center, a place where you can actually come and learn about our programs and activities,” Hyland said.
There is more to come, Hyland said, pointing to piles of gravel which will be turned into additional parking.
David Polk, representing the Garmany Fund, called the project was a “miracle. … This is a renaissance of a building that was a total dump, and now it’s a beautiful building.”
He also thanked all who made it possible.
The improvements were all made to the interior of the building, which is now is decorated in “Elizabeth Park Rose,” Doty said. The footprint was not changed.
The transformed Brownstone building, now the Visitor Center, is located across from the rose garden in the part of the park that is physically in West Hartford. It was originally constructed in 1938, and until this project had few updates to the inside.
The restrooms had not been operational, and instead there were porta-potties available for visitors.
Elizabeth Park, which is on the national register of historic places, was opened in 1897, located on property donated to the City of Hartford by Charles Pond, in honor of his wife, Elizabeth. The park includes more than 100 acres of formal gardens, including the oldest municipal rose garden in the country, as well as recreational facilities and the Pond House Café.
The property spans West Hartford and Hartford.
The $1 million renovation was made possible by a $500,000 grant-in-aid from the State of Connecticut, a $250,000 donation from the Richard P. Garmany Fund, and the generosity of individual donors.
The Elizabeth Park Conservancy, which manages improvements to the park, is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization, founded in 1977, that partners with the City of Hartford in the maintenance and improvement of Elizabeth Park.
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