Return to Clay Hill/Arsenal Neighborhood

Lozada Park

Julio Lozada Park

Seyms and Mather Streets

park

“-Surely it is within our power to make our cities so beautiful and so attractive, that we will find at home most of the pleasures which we now seek abroad….. and others will come to us seeking these same pleasures” John M. Carrere

Quoted from the Report of the Slum Clearance Study Committee Report, Hartford, Connecticut, June, MCMXXXIV

Lozada Park, fills a 2.80 acre square city block, it is located in Clay Hill one of Hartford’s historically immigrant neighborhoods. It was added to the park system on August 8th, 1979 in memory of the death of 12-year-old Julio Lozada, a victim of  the city’s decay. The recreational area is surrounded by mostly boarded-up residential buildings and the Old North Cemetery. It inhabits the land that once was occupied by the old Seyms Street Jail, also known as Hartford County Jail, whose grim edifice was abandoned and finally leveled to make way for the much needed community park. Click here to listen to Fire Marshall Ed Casares talk about the Seyms St. Jail. The park’s open space is fairly level, and a spray pool and playscape can be found in the southeast corner, enclosed by an aged and rusted chain link fence. Examining the landscape closely, one can say it seems to hold on to the remnants of its predecessor-one can still see a maintained lawn border between the curb and sidewalk that belonged to the Seyms street jail’s former front elevation. Today, the park looks no different than any of the other empty dilapidated spaces within the neighborhood; the space reflects bittersweet poverty, “predominantly covered by a skinned baseball field”,[1] lacking vegetation, flowers beds, trees and families.

Click here to listen to Lozada Park Description by Ed Caseres Fire Marshall of Hartford[2]

Standing inside the chained linked playscape area, I let my eyes roam, searching for some type of comfort, of reassurance, and they rest on the one lonely Puerto Rican flag that hangs inside a tenement window. Traces of the reactionary Clay Hill Puerto Rican population can still be appreciated. Clay Hill may still contain much of the city’s deteriorated abandoned buildings, but it is a vibrant close-knit community bustling with energy. People walk in and out of the bodegas, mothers on there way to appointments wait at the bus stop with their children, men fix cars in the street, music blares from the windows, restaurants emanate the smells of home.

The mixed architectural style of the district is composed of Italianate, Queen Anne, and Neo-Classical Revival has placed this community on the register of historic neighborhoods. Clay Hill/Arsenal is culturally rich but economically deprived, as progress seems to have largely passed the Lozada Park neighborhood by, and it appears to be frozen in time.

Ten years after the Hartford Riots people in the Clay Hill area were still struggling . The cause of death of 12-year-old Julio Lozada marked an extremely important era in the quality of life and politics for the Puerto Rican community in Hartford. The Lozada Park space is an important statement made by the Puerto Rican population: we are here to stay and the city will have to deal with us. The acquisition and dedication of Lozada park reflects a small victory that emerged from a horrific and senseless tragedy.

lozada

Julio Lozada was killed when a dilapidated 10 car garage collapsed upon him[3] at 18-20 Center Street.  The children of the community utilized this decayed, apathetic space as their playground. On the 16th day of May 1979, Julio and his friends Julio Quinonez,12, Porfirio Rivera,10, and Manuel Marrero,13, went to play as usual in their make-believe dreamscape created of old tires and burnt couches. The space must have been fertile ground for the young boy’s imagination. Julio and Manuel were together inside the garage, and perhaps imagining that they were firemen[4] trying to enter a burning building, they repeatedly hit a column with a piece of lumber. Then one of the boys cried out, “It’s cracking up-let’s get out of here.” Manuel and Julio joined hands and began to run. Manuel emerged from the rubble with an injured hand-the one that had been holding onto Julio.[5] The garage collapsed on Julio. Click here to listem to description of garage by Fire Marshall Ed Caseres.

The tragedy worsened as the “firemen were called… arriving rapidly they conducted a ‘cursory search’ which lasted just 6 minutes.”[6] The firemen left the scene claiming no one was there, leaving the immediate neighbors behind to continue the search for Julio. A passing police cruiser stopped to aid in the search. Minutes later “Julito’s Karate shoe was found by the neighborhood bum,” a half hour later the firemen were called back, Julio was found still alive, squashed underneath concrete, red brick rubble and debris. Julito, as his Mother called him, suffered a fractured skull, severe concussion of the brain and a crushed chest. He was transported by ambulance to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center where he would take his last living breath. Click here to listen to Fire Marshal Casares speak of the \”Lozada Incident\”

His family suffered tremendous devastation. Julito was his father’s only son of five children; all born in Puerto Rico come here searching for a better life. He was the baby, “who loved to lay his head on his eldest sister’s lap”. He was a very affectionate child. He was hard working, doing chiripas at Ernie’s Market, and would share his little pay with his Mother. He was completely loved by his family. His untimely death left his parents devastated, who although separated, continued to co-parent him due to the fact that they only lived blocks away from another. Mr. Lozada, shut down from the pain and refused to participate in the storm that was to follow. He would not politically exploit his beloved son’s death. His mother was “used as a puppet to further the agenda of the community”; the daily reminder of her son at times too much to bear. His eldest sister’s recollection is that the family felt victimized by both the city and it’s very own community. The grieving process interrupted by circumstances beyond their control, they are happy that the community was able to achieve some progress; however it is not worth the life of their beloved Julito.

“The roof cracked and the boys ran, Julio Lozada didn’t get out on time, and he died…and now reforms are in the air”[7]

Dressed in a yellow shirt and new blue suit, as Julio’s body was being lowered into its grave, at the Old State House the City was celebrating the commemoration of its million-dollar restoration. The contrast of two buildings, one worthy of repair, one not, added to feelings of injustice and a senselessness of the circumstances surrounding Julio’s premature death. The tragedy awakened the Puerto Rican people, and the long-neglected and angry community rallied together, looking to Maria Sanchez for her leadership and guidance. Sra. Sanchez, “a member of the city board of education and [acquaintance] of the Lozada family said Julio’s death was the catalyst to prod the community into forcibly demanding that the city demolish unsafe vacant North End structures.”[8]

The larger Puerto Rican community demanded an investigation into the death of Julio. The family simply wanted to be allowed to grieve. However, the Puerto Rican community believed that the city, in not enforcing the housing codes and in not having Spanish-speaking emergency personnel, was responsible for Julio’s death due to blatant negligence. It seemed absurd and unreasonable that “in Hartford, where one of every four persons is Spanish-Speaking, only one of the fire department’s 435 firefighters is Hispanic-and he doesn’t speak Spanish. There’s a general agreement that the workforce should reflect the community, but according to the Deputy Mayor, that depends on what you consider community.” [9] Listen to the Fire Marshal explain what happened.

The “Lozada Affair” played itself out with unadulterated drama. The city agreed to an investigation that would “determine what caused the death, including the responsibility of the police and fire officials at the scene and of city housing code and building officials for the condition of the buildings that collapsed.”[10] Arguments over who would investigate the death were discussed, and the community was untrusting of whom the city might choose. Therefore, Puerto Ricans demanded having a say in who would collect evidence for the case. As a result, “two weeks after the boy was killed, the City Council decided not to conduct its own investigation into the events leading up to his death. The Council agreed to appoint an independent investigator. The person was to live in Hartford, preferably speak Spanish and have a familiarity with the law.” [11]

“Jeffrey Van Kirk, a 28 year-old criminal lawyer whose fluent Spanish, good background in Puerto Rican culture and successful work with Hispanic clients made him a prime candidate”[12] was chosen, along with Victor Agrait, a Puerto Rican, neighborhood Legal Service Lawyer, who was appointed by the city. A third lawyer was supposed to be part of the investigative team, but after much discussion and time constraints the community and the city decided to proceed with the team of two.

A six-month investigation of Julio’s death ensued. After the ordeal, a 33 page report was released, and its recommendations were as follows:

  • Active prosecution of landlords who own properties that violate housing, fire or health codes.
  • Immediate foreclosure on abandoned or deteriorated buildings on which taxes are overdue.
  • Recruiting of bilingual firefighters and police officers.
  • Hiring of Hispanic housing code inspectors.
  • Consolidation and reorganization of all city inspection services.
  • Implementation of a community outreach program to increase neighborhood involvement in the development of city services.[13]

Click here to listen to Fire Marshall Casares speak on the results.

The ability of both lawyers to communicate effectively with the neighborhood facilitated the thorough report. It not only showed that the city was liable for its lack of action, but it proved the difference people who speak Spanish can make in an investigation or any other city function. After all, the ability of the city to communicate with its residents is fundamental in the democratic process. Although Mayor Athanson supported the recommendation and said the report was “one of the most significant reports ever submitted to the City Council,”[14] the Deputy Mayor Robert F. Ludgin was reported to have critiqued the report saying it “placed too much responsibility on the city firefighters and not enough on Albany Avenue residents.”[15] He is also reported as to having said that some of the blame of the death should be placed on people who stole bricks from the garage, and the children, Julio Lozada included. He clearly exhibited the problematic “blame the victim not the circumstance” mentality.

The statements earned him the label of being a bigot. Eugenio Caro, chairman of the Hispanic activist group “Committee 24,” believed that Ludgin only cared about Puerto Ricans that were in his political pocket. Caro expressed that the Puerto Rican community was tired of the racist comments coming from City Hall; the statements made by Ludgin were unwelcome. Antonio Soto, the Director of La Casa de Puerto Rico, also expressed his disgust for the comments. Puerto Ricans were mobilizing. They were hurt by the senseless death, tired of neglect and prepared to fight back at the racist comments aimed at the poor and disenfranchised Clay Hill/Arsenal Puerto Rican Community.

Hartford was forced by the tragedy to acknowledge its decaying neighborhood and its poorest citizens. It should not have taken the death of Julio Lozada in a collapsed garage to prompt Hartford officials into acknowledging that the city had serious problems, indeed fatal problems with vacant, decaying abandoned space. Clay Hill’s rapid population growth and issues of crowding had begun to show themselves: the lack of properly maintained existing housing and the seeming impossibility of the city to create new constructions. The community had a language barrier, which the city attempted to resist addressing. The Lozada incident directed leaders to critical issues with housing, fair employment, language barriers, and racism among so many other issues afflicting the urban ghetto. The long standing question is why did someone have to be killed for the city to notice? Why didn’t and doesn’t the City take better care of Lozada Park and its community? Fire Marshal Caseres speaks on Clay Hill and the results of Julio Lozada Case

In the words of Doña Maria Sanchez, communication is only half the battle: “Until this city or the people involved change their attitudes towards minorities, nothing will happen.” [16]

There is hope for Lozada Park. The Latino Firefighter’s Association under the leadership of Mr. E. Casares, Fire Marshal for the city and one of the first Latino Firefighters hired under the Lozada agreements has been working with the “neighborhood gang” (composed of a group of older adults under Leadership Greater Hartford), area residents, and Senator Jon Fonfara to restore the park and make it user friendly. “On May 30, 2008, legislation passed to provide $350,000 for the transformation of Lozada Park. According to Fire Marshal Casares, it is the Latino Firefighter’s Association responsibility to help maintain and preserve the park. “It was because of Julio Lozada’s death that we were hired and are now represented within the city. We must keep his memory alive, [for] his death made the city change.”[17] Listen to how Fire Marshal Casares tries to keep Julio\’s memory alive. On his desk in his office on Pearl Street sits an 8×10 photo of Julio; Casares adamantly states that, although he is not fully bi-lingual he knows the community it was his home and “there is not a day that goes by that I do not think of Julio” and know that I owe my opportunity to advance in this city because of him.” He is excited about the restoration, showing me the architectural plans and the play fire truck that will be installed within the new playscape area; he says joyfully and simply, “The children will love it, [and] Julio would be proud.” Listen to how Fire Marshal Casares tries to keep Julio\’s memory alive.

The surviving Lozada family, still grieves their lost son, brother and uncle. They are grateful for the park, they are happy that the community has a safe park for the children to play. Other than that they see no change in the community. They are upset with the city and the community who they feel betrayed them by not allowing them to grieve the unjust loss in private. In a sense the family feels exploited by the tragic circumstances. His father will not participate in anything regarding his only son’s death. His sister still awaits for fully bi-lingual firefighters, “having a Latino name does not mean you can speak Spanish. If communication between our people and the majority was the entire issue, the reason why my brother lost his life, then we did not win because I have yet to meet a firefighter I can have a conversation with in Spanish.” His mother was laid to rest awaiting the monetary amount the city put on her son’s death.

“The project will be managed by the City of Hartford with the Latino Firefighters serving as the key organization overseeing the project. The Neighborhood Gang will assist in the planning and organizing, working with the neighbors and ensuring that their dream becomes reality. Groundbreaking is scheduled for early this summer, and ribbon cutting to open the transformed Lozada Park is scheduled for May 16, 2009.”[18]

For more information go to: http://www.hartfordinfo.org/issues/documents/history/htfd_news_062608.asp


[1] Patricia M. O’Donnell, Charles A. Birnbaum “Hartford Parks Master Plan Final Report”, March 1992. Hartford Public Library, Hartford History Center.

[2] Fire Marshal Edward Casares is one of the initial firemen hired under the Lozada concessions.

[3] GERALD DEMEUSY. “City Boy’s Funeral Occasions Anger. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 20 May 1979,1a1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[4] C L SMITH MUNIZ. “He Hoped To Be a Fireman. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 2 Mar. 1980,28A. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[5] JON SANDBERG. “Bitterness Over Tragedy Lingers. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 2 Mar. 1980,28A. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Table of Contents 9 — No Title. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 2 Mar. 1980,1A3. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest.Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[8] GERALD DEMEUSY. “City Boy’s Funeral Occasions Anger. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 20 May 1979,1a1. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[9] PAUL FRISMAN. “Boy’s Death Stresses Need for Minority Officers. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 1 Jul 1979,29A. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT 8 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[10] “The Lozada Troika. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 8 Jul 1979,34A. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 8 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[11] “…The Lozada Investigation. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 22 Jun 1979,22. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[12] BILL GRAVA. “Probe Into Boy’s Death Stalled, Clay Hill Group Meeting Awaited. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 21 Jul 1979,19. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 8 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[13] JON SANDBERG. “Report Says Lozada Didn’t Die at Scene. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 20 Feb. 1980,1a2. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 8 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[14] JON SANDBERG. “Mayor Backs Findings Of Lozada Death Probe. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 21 Feb. 1980,12. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 8 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[15] “Hispanics Label Ludgin Bigot; Councilman Ties Him to Bossism. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 1 Mar. 1980,1b. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 8 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[16] JON SANDBERG. “Bitterness Over Tragedy Lingers. ” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 2 Mar. 1980,28A. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT. 5 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[17] Interview with Fire Marshal E. Casares., February 2009

[18] http://www.hartfordinfo.org/issues/documents/history/htfd_news_062608.asp

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