West Hartford's 'Monday Memory'

Test your knowledge of West Hartford history with this ‘Monday Memory,’ courtesy of the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society.

By Ronni Newton

It’s time to take a look back into West Hartford’s past to either stir up some memories, reflect on how much things have changed, or both. And if you have no idea, we love the photo captions, too!

I had intended for this photo to be a “Friday Flashback,” but unfortunately got sidetracked with breaking news. Since I couldn’t think of a throwback/flashback/memory type word to go with the “s” in “Saturday” and “Sunday,” the image had to wait for Monday! (If anyone has any good suggestions of words that begin with “s,” I would welcome them!)

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

The Flashback Friday image from Feb. 17 (at right and in larger size below), which was from 1966, brought back a flood of memories from many West Hartford residents.

“My first real job was at the Toy Chest with Mr. Schlien (sp?) It turned into Val’s frozen yogurt when they moved across the street into the old Youth Center clothes store. It then turned into the Elbow room. The Toy Chest always had the best selection of Barbie clothes, my weakness. Creative Playtime, the other toy store, was on LaSalle, but it was really crowded and up to the ceiling with new and old, dusty toys. The owner scared the pants off me as a kid. Lorraine’s had the most delicious chocolate eclairs!” commented Liz Gillette, who also added her “very, very best best thoughts and prayers for Town Historian Tracey Wilson” who is currently undergoing cancer treatment.

“Lorraines had the best seven layer cake. The store was on Farmington Ave., not far from Lasalle Road on the north side of the street. I haven’l lived there for 50 years so I don’t know what followed it,” commented Steve Cohen.

“When Toy Chest was where … I think Elbow Room is now??… anyway they had the best Barbie clothes, and every year I would drag my Grandma there and show her what I wanted. One year my little sister wanted an elephant stuffed animal, so I ‘hid’ it at the bottom of a pile toys until I could save enough money to get it for her for Christmas … and to my delight it was where I hid it weeks later … I was thrilled.:looking back, someone must have seen me and made sure it was there for a while …” added “Anne.”

Russ Oasis commented, “The Toy Chest was a terrific place when you were a child. The man who owned it (I can still see his face in my memory) was kind and understanding to all kids who wanted to come in and play with every toy they could get their hands on.”

“I remember Thompson’s Music store. My father bought our instruments there when I was probably 10 or 11. 1965?” recalled Alexandra Everson.

Hank Gutman also had some firsthand memories: “I worked at the Toy Chest when I went to Hall High School (1957-59). The owners were Morris Schlein and his wife Eleanor. I can remember selling Barbie dolls for $2.98 each. One of our best customers was Katherine Hepburn, who had a home on Bloomfield Avenue, who sent loads of toys at every holiday to her nieces and nephews. Went off to BU, but came back to West Hartford for my last two years at Univ. of Hartford, and went back to work for Mr. Schlein, and did the billing and the books. Charlie was his ‘manager,’ and Anne Simons ran the baby furniture department. Lots of great memories of West Hartford Center in the late 50s.”

[Editor’s note: I had a weakness for Barbie clothes, too. Spent quite a bit of my allowance on them. I saved some of the “grooviest” outfits and couldn’t bear to let my daughter have them when she was old enough for her own Barbies!]

Many readers posted their comments on Facebook, including Allan Grant who wrote, “I worked at the Toy Chest for a few months back in high school. Used to assemble doll houses in the basement.” Mitchell Chester said he worked at the Toy Chest when it was at that location, too.

“I bought my first PORSCHE at the toy chest. A corgi car of course …” commented Toni Roger Fishman.

One of the things I like most about this column is when it inspires posts like this one from Robert Shlien: “My father Morris founded The Toy Chest in 1956 at that location 986 Farmington Ave, then moved to the current location sometime in the 70’s and sold to the current owners in 1989. The store is still a landmark in West Hartford, and whenever I talk to anyone that grew up during that time they remember my Dad. He also employed many high school students that worked there, including myself in the late 60’s. If you had a gym set from that era I probably assembled it! Many great memories from those years.”

If Bobby Shlien did not assemble it I probably did lol. I loved working at The Toy Chest. Great memories!!” added Rick Ross.

Although many who commented wrote about Toy Chest, there were memories shared of the other businesses in the photo as well:

“My mother would go to Lorraine’s pastry shop and buy the lemon roll! Yummmy!” wrote Amy Rogin Bisconte. Nancy Toennies Hopkins fondly recalled the 7-layer cake at Lorraine’s.

Katherine Jo Erwin said she worked at Thompson Music Co. “Bought KISS Destroyer album at Thompson’s music,” added Allen Peichert.

Miriam Rosen Gerber wrote, “99% of my sheet music and lesson books came from Thompson Music. The Goldstein brothers – Bill and Harvey were former neighbors when I lived in Hartford. Believe the shop moved to Bishops Corner but don’t know the date.”

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Our Monday Memory (at right and in larger size below) should certainly trigger some memories.

Who knows where this is?

What was this building used for?

What is in this location now?

Please share your memories below.

Thank you to the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society for providing us with the images. They are always looking for new images to add to the collection. Visit their website atwww.noahwebsterhouse.org for more information about membership and programs.

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Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Farmington Avenue. Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

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  • There’s no mistaking this one, Ronni. That’s the Talcott School, built (I believe) in 1922 near the corner of South Quaker Lane and New Britain Avenue. After the school was closed in 1979, it served as headquarters for Coleco and later Ames Department Stores.

    In the mid-1990’s, Shaw’s Supermarkets proposed razing the former Talcott School in order to create a “Super Shaws” in the heart of the Elmwood neighborhood. The proposal was soundly trounced and out of this came a series of charettes, sponsored by the town and held in the basement of the Faxon Branch Library. A long-term plan was devised to improve the neighborhood. Teeth were added to the plan by the creation of a “Traditional Neighborhood Design” district by the Town Council.

    The property now houses the Quaker Green Condominiums.

    PS – the former school parking lot which was an eyesore was developed into a beautiful little park at the corner of South Mains Street and New Britain Avenue. Most of the park is controlled by the Condo Association. The Southern tip of the park (with the picnic table and sign) is town property. In 2007, an Elm tree was planted in that park – probably the first in fifty years.

  • Rick, I first met you (and many others great Elmwoodians) at those charettes. Catherine Johnson led them and opened my eyes to so many counter-intuitive concepts in town planning.(Still love town planning and traffic!)People should also know that Rick has had something to do with probably every elm tree now in Elmwood. Talcott was also in the lime light in the school re-org of the early 90’s (K-2 3-5). I had a chance to tour the building after Ames left and water damage had buckled the gym floor (which by then served as ‘the entrance’) like a brown carpeted moonscape. I still have my “What’s the Master Plan” button. While the old portion in the photo is charming, we kind of forget the sprawling, ugly, boxy, huge, ’50’s addition on the side and back, now gone. Judging by the plantings, I would put the picture as the ’40s. I think the importance of the building for me is the grassroots and town collaborations that not only influenced Elmwood Center but the whole town, and does to this day.

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