Conn. city to close historic firehouse after nearly a century
City officials agreed it was no longer realistic to keep firefighters at the building, but hope the space can be repurposed
The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD, Conn. — As he stood in the third-floor corner room that served as his office from 2000 to 2009, retired Hartford Fire Chief Charles Teale reflected on some of the more historic moments that had taken place at the Pearl Street headquarters during his tenure.
He recalled firefighters coming into the room after the 9/11 attacks and dumping piles of money they had collected for the 343 firefighters who perished at Ground Zero out onto the long conference table that dominated the room.
Teale also remembered the meetings held in the aftermath of the 2003 Greenwood Health Center fire that claimed the lives of 16 people. Investigators concluded the fire was started by a resident with a history of mental illness and substance abuse who had been playing with a lighter in her bed.
A self-taught Hartford and fire department historian, Teale is very familiar with the history of the three-story brick building and speaks reverently of it. But he’s also a realist and understands the city’s decision to shut down the firehouse — which was built in 1918, expanded to its current footprint in 1926 and is in need of extensive repair — effective Monday.
“It would be wonderful to see it saved,” Teale said. “But I don’t think it’s possible.”
The plaster walls in Teale’s former office are peeling from the effects of water coming in through the leaky roof. The temperature in the 64,000-square-foot building fluctuates wildly from room to room due to an aging, failing heating and ventilation system. The bathrooms are in disrepair, and the kitchen, he notes, hasn’t been upgraded since he joined the department. The elevator is out of order, and there have been pest control issues. Over the last four years, about $40,000 has been spent on repairs and maintenance at 275 Pearl St., according to city officials.
The 16 firefighters of the department’s tactical unit and its heavy equipment still stationed at the building, marked as “Fire Headquarters, Engine Co. 4 Ladder Co. 1” with a small blue plaque noting that it is on the National Register of Historic Places, will be transferred to the Sisson Avenue firehouse.
On a recent tour, Teale pointed out a call room on the west side where a catalog of call box numbers from before World War II still hangs from the wall and a marker on the east side exterior denoting how far the water came up during the flood of 1938. Teale, who spent 27 years with the department, is sure there is a time capsule buried beneath the building’s cornerstone bearing the year 1926, knowledge he gleaned from reading reams of pages of Hartford Fire Commission meetings dating to that time.
The building’s closure has been imminent since the new public safety complex, which houses police and fire department operations, opened in January 2013.
“The plan was to shut the doors then,” said current Hartford Fire Chief Reggie Freeman, who took over in Febuary 2016. “It just never happened. No chief wants to shut down a house.”
But that is what Freeman is doing, for safety, health and logistical reasons.
“I can’t justify keeping one company in a 64,000 square-foot building, and we’re not getting another ladder or engine [company],” he said.
Freeman acknowledged that there has been some resistance to the move but said the main reason for the opposition is tradition.
“[The tactical unit] has always been there. I get it. I empathize,” he said.
With the shuttering, Freeman said the goal is to devote resources to the city’s remaining 11 firehouses, which are also in need of repairs and renovations. To that end, Freeman has developed a 10-year capital improvement plan, and the city has approved $1 million in funding for it.
Regardless, Freeman said the history of 275 Pearl St. shouldn’t be discounted.
“Hartford firefighters have served with honor and distinction out of 275 Pearl St. for close to 100 years,” he said.
Knowing they planned on closing the building for several years, city officials have sought out interest for possible redevelopment projects. Two groups have taken tours of the firehouse. One group showed interest in a development that included housing and a brewery; another considered incorporating the site into the redevelopment of the former YMCA building, which is on the south side of the firehouse. Neither idea moved forward.
Curt Cameron, owner of Hooker Brewing Co., who was approached about the brewery project, said the timing wasn’t right for his organization, but added that he is hopeful that something could be done with the space.
“It’s an absolutely gorgeous building with huge potential,” Cameron said.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the effort to redevelop the firehouse is continuing.
“The Pearl Street firehouse is a beautiful and historic building, and we hope it can be reimagined for a new use,” he said. “In the months ahead, we’ll be talking with potential developers and buyers and soliciting ideas for its future.”
©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)