June 10, 2014 — May has been deemed preservation month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and for the past 25 years across the country, the notion of preservation and a collective spirit of valuing and preserving our historical past, has gained greater momentum. The Millenial generation, in particular, is noted for upholding values of shared social responsibility, sustainability and a connection to local community.
But May has passed, and and here in Stamford, the wrecking balls and demolition crews worked mightily fast over the weekend — probably in the middle of the night — to destroy Bedford Hall, a historic building. This neoclassical house, built between 1900-1907, proudly stood for over a century at 545 Bedford St., next to the First Congregational Church, built in 1912, and just a few blocks from the restaurants and shops along the block of contiguous, intact historic buildings on Bedford Street.
Bedford Hall, an elegant, neoclassical columned, turn of the century home, will give way to yet another box rental apartment that is dull and characterless. A six-story rental building of more than 80 apartments will replace this once majestic home, noted for its neoclassical Corinthian columns, welcoming front lawn, inviting portico and overall architectural elegance. In its hundred years of existence, Bedford Hall carried a multi-faceted pedigree; having been a private home, a gracious inn in the 1940s with what was deemed one of the finest eating establishments in the area, a funeral home in the late 1950s, and most recently, a real estate office. The architectural style of neoclassicism marked a renewed interest in Greek and Roman architecture, and is closely related to Colonial Revival, as both look back on a time in American architecture when classical forms dominated.
It is no secret that Stamford has always been a developer’s town, and the notion of making historic preservation a serious priority in our city, is sadly, decades late. Developers have moved quickly to demolish buildings that have significant historical credentials, replaced by inexpensive, architecturally lifeless boxes of office buildings, apartments, and strip malls. This has been the name of the game since Urban Renewal took hold in the 1960s; and through out five decades of development, a hodgepodge of unattractive buildings — from architecturally dull office buildings to multi story parking lots, to the massive, fortress-like Stamford Town Center, have taken hold in our city. Sadly, a preponderance of these buildings which were built during various decades, and have little architectural relation to one another, offer little aesthetic appeal. There are a few exceptions — notably, the historic downtown district that encompasses the Old Town Hall, Bank Street, parts of Main Street and areas of Bedford Street.
Preservation talk in Stamford has recently been at the forefront of issues in downtown Stamford, with the focus primarily on the Post Office building on Atlantic Street which will, at some juncture, give way to two luxury apartment towers, with retail and restaurants in the original building, keeping the original building intact. There should have been more residential outcry for Bedford Hall, given its relatable, smaller size, and intimate but grand appeal. This elegant home connected us to Bedford Street’s gracious past, anchoring us in today’s time of social, economic and environmental change. It fit neatly into its neighborhood with the century old First Congregational Church next door, and just steps away from Latham Park, and the Avon Theater, built in 1939, as well as a community of shops and restaurants down the block. Now it is but another symbol of the disappearance and destruction of historical Stamford.
On an optimistic note, we are fortunate that Bedford Hall’s architectural companion survives a few miles north on Newfield Avenue, on the campus of King school. Simon House, a similar, grand neoclassical home, has served as the signature building for the independent school campus; and is universally regarded by the school’s community of faculty, parents and students, as an emblematic building, symbolizing the school’s notable history.
For developers, there are attractive tax incentives and generous grants to promote the rehabilitation, renovation and care for historical spaces. Could Bedford Hall have been saved by moving it to another location or by renovating it to give way to an attractive boutique inn, an upscale restaurant or a trendy retail establishment? Absolutely! Do we need yet another apartment building? I think not.
The notion of leaving a legacy to generations is not only about financial matters; it is also about a sense of local community; of repairing and preserving what is left, that is of historical value, rather than simply throwing away and obliterating our city’s shared past.