By Ann Woodward, Chief Operating Officer
Through real estate investments and program development, the Melville Trust has taken a unique hands-on approach to community development in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut, a community that has long suffered from lack of opportunity and disinvestment. Our first purchase in 2003 was the Lyceum, a historic building that serves as a base for conferences, educational programs, and the exchange of ideas aimed at creating stronger communities. The Partnership for Strong Communities, a Connecticut-based nonprofit housing advocacy group founded by the Trust works from and manages the Lyceum. Subsequent Trust neighborhood investments have resulted in over 100 renovated units of affordable and mixed-income housing, the startup of nonprofit Billings Forge Community Works and the creation of the fine dining restaurant Firebox.
This October, we completed the revitalization of a neighboring property of the Lyceum on Lawrence Street, now the new headquarters for the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. A grantee partner of the Trust, CCEH’s work amplifies the voice of those most affected by homelessness and mobilizes communities to shift resources from crisis response to permanent solutions. We couldn’t ask for tenants more aligned with our mission to prevent and end homelessness.
The house at 257 Lawrence Street was built in 1880 as a grand single family home in the Italianate style. It had fallen upon hard times when the Trust purchased it as part of its larger neighborhood revitalization strategy. The once stately house had been subdivided into several efficiency apartments that suffered from increasingly deteriorating and ultimately unsafe conditions. Our partners at Mutual Housing Association of Greater Hartford worked closely with the residents to find them better quality, affordable apartments in the area.
The Trust then had to consider what the best use of the building would be for the neighborhood. We asked James Vance and Associates, the architects who had renovated the Lyceum, to design both residential and office use scenarios. These were market-tested in consultation with the area Neighborhood Revitalization Zone (NRZ) Committee and other community partners. Ultimately we agreed that creating some diversity of use in the neighborhood would be a beneficial outcome. The Trust was then on the lookout for a nonprofit tenant that would ideally be able to connect with their neighbors, the Partnership for Strong Communities and Billings Forge Community Works. When CCEH mentioned they were looking for new space, it was perfect timing!
Chapel Construction of New Haven began the renovation last fall. Gutting a 140-year old home was certainly an adventure! Oh, the stories those walls could tell! We’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with great partners on this project and the end result is a beautiful addition to a historic streetscape that aims to bolster economic and community activity.
We extend a special thanks to Jim Vance of JVA; Louis Stone, Steve Steinberg and Pete Nickerson of Chapel Construction; Charles Hoag of Organizational Options; Warren Gonyea, Damaris Verdejo and the team at Winn Residential; Cary Wheaton of Billings Forge Community Works; Catherine MacKinnon of Mutual Housing Association of Greater Hartford; and Howard Rifkin and Mike Hanley of the Partnership for Strong Communities for their contributions to this project. We also want to make a very special acknowledgement to the memory of Bob Hohler, the late Executive Director of the Melville Charitable Trust, whose inspired vision for a revitalized Frog Hollow continues to be realized day by day.