Members of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy in West Hartford, building architects, and former Gov. Dannel Malloy huddled under a tent as rain drizzled down to celebrate the groundbreaking of their newest project: giving visitors an information center and working bathrooms.
By Zoe Pierce
Despite Thursday’s rain, members of the Elizabeth Park Conservancy joined officials, former Gov. Dannel Malloy, and members of the community in Elizabeth Park to break ground on the restoration of the historic Brownstone building.
The Brownstone building, located across from the rose garden in the part of the park that is physically in West Hartford, will undergo an interior transformation.
Elizabeth Park, which is on the national register of historic places, was opened in 1897 followed by the construction of the Brownstone building in 1938. With few updates made to the inside since then, the bathrooms are not currently open to the public with Porta Potties available instead – but not for long.
In combination with funds raised by the Conservancy, a $500,000 grant-in-aid was received from the State of Connecticut to fund the repurposing, according to a statement.
“Thanks to the state bond funding we’re able to make this a reality,” said the Conservancy’s President and CEO Christine Doty. “I’m personally thrilled to see this project.”
Ben Flynn, Chairman of the Conservancy, said that this is a project that visitors have been asking for.
“We’ve had a lot of comments from folks saying this is desperately needed, and they’re so happy that we’re going for this project,” Flynn said. “The primary focus is having presentable bathrooms that are accessible as much as possible during Park hours. In addition, we are going to convert part of the space to a visitor center per se that will have information, videos, and pamphlets.”
The architect of the remodeling of the Brownstone building, Charlie Nyberg, describes his plans as a “balancing act” between preserving the history and adding modernity.
“This is a great building,” Nyberg said. “Very simplistic on the outside but complicated on the inside.”
The repurposing will include updated bathrooms and changing rooms, as well as an information center. The idea is to preserve the structure of the building while improving functionality, and this included staying within the current foundation of the building to maintain the outer structure.
While visitors will enjoy the convenience of functional restrooms as well as an information center to emphasize the history of the park, the former governor said he also sees it as a way of preserving the Park for generations to come.
“We should also be reminded that we owe future generations things, whether it’s to keep the good things that we have received or to set aside additional things in the future,” Malloy said. “That’s very important.”
With the park attracting half a million visitors every year, according to Board Member Douglas Hyland, Malloy also emphasized a general need for working facilities.
“It’s one of the most fabulous rose gardens in America, people travel to the United States from other countries to see it,” Malloy said. “And I think if they are going to come here from England, we should have a bathroom.”
As Malloy and members of the Board dug gold shovels into the ground, the smell of the blooming roses carried over to the Brownstone building.
“We have the most incredible roses in the Park’s history,” said Hyland. “We want in every way for people to realizes this is one of the most beautiful parks in the country.”
Elizabeth Park was opened in 1897 after the property owner, Charles Pond, donated the park to the City of Hartford in honor of his wife Elizabeth. Although it is owned by the City of Hartford, much of the park is located in West Hartford.
“This is a park that is a dedication of love,” Malloy reminded the crowd. “It really is a testament to philanthropy and caring for the future.”
In 1977 the Elizabeth Park Conservancy, a nonprofit, was formed to protect the park from demolition. After over 40 years of serving the park and its visitors, the Conservancy looks toward the future as it remodels one of its oldest structures while preserving the history withinin.
The park is made up of over 100 acres of rose and flower gardens, green spaces, recreational facilities and walking trails. The park is also home to the Pond House Café.
The newest restoration and repurposing of the Brownstone building will mean more accessibility and convenience for visitors who enjoy the park every day.
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