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Labor Temple Building 95 Park St.

Labor Temple Building

95 Park Street

labor-temple

Man-made space can refine human feeling and perception; the built environment clarifies social roles and relations. People know better who they are and how they ought to behave when the arena is humanly designed.

Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, 102

The historic Labor Temple building of Park St. was built in 1930. The Labor Temple Association, in conjunction with architect and local business agent Fred C. Walz, conceived of a three-story retail style building that would house stores, offices, lodge rooms, and bowling alleys. In addition, for the enjoyment of the community, a 55 by 95 foot auditorium was to be built in the rear. The pressed brick and limestone structure surrounds a steel and concrete frame, built so as to withstand fire. The building boasts of an arched entrance with engaged columns to the left and right; the lobby and stairs are finished in marble. The frieze, cornice and curvilinear roof line name tablet are in the Neo-Classical Revival style,[1] which offers an appearance of strength and stability. Buildings constructed in Neo-Classical Revival were usually the most impressive, imposing structures on the block in their time.[2] The Labor Temple building is extraordinary in part for its Chicago Style, three- piece, and centrally fixed glass windows. The transparency of the large glass opens and invites people into the nature of the space; it allows the sun to stream into its second floor crevices and assist the community in its growth.

The Labor Temple Association, an alliance of over thirty trade unions, originally purchased the .278 acres of property for $20,000 in March of 1927. The expected cost of construction totaled $115,000. Two stores were built on the first floor, one 62 by 24 feet, and the other 62 by 19 feet. One of the first businesses to move into the new location was Martin J. Sullivan Furniture Mart. Mr. Sullivan offered ‘fine’ furniture and rugs with the “location of this store, being out of the high rent district, enabled him to offer attractive furniture at a lower cost.” The business also offered “evening shopping” which at the time was a new concept for shoppers.  [3] The second floor contained a lodge room and eight offices that were “an active meeting place for many trade unions, ranging from barbers to motion picture operators.”[4] Within this space created for multiple uses by and for the community, local Hartford unions held strikes, rallies, lectures as well as weekly planning meetings. The third floor was devoted exclusively to three lodge rooms and various committee and ‘retiring’ rooms where visitors could sit and converse after a meal or an event.

The Labor Temple Association enjoyed the use of the building until 1975 when the city took title through tax foreclosure. The boarded-up three story building caught the attention of the Puerto Rican community, who during this time was in transition, having been displaced from the Clay Hill neighborhood to the South Green area. In August of 1978 the Spanish American Center along with the board of Greater Hartford Process Inc. raised $327,569 to rehabilitate the 48-year-old city-owned building. Councilman Jerry Zayas, who served as Executive Director of the Spanish American Center, spearheaded an effort with the assistance of Hartford Process to renovate the Labor Temple Building. According to Mr. Zayas, “It was thought that the large multi-use structure would serve as a community center for the area’s Hispanic population, as office space for SAC and other social service agencies, and as an “anchor” building having a stabilizing effect on the lower end of the commercial strip.”[5]

The space would maintain its original intent as an anchor in the community, by housing community services and businesses, but this time it would also serve in anchoring the migrant community of Puerto Ricans.  The first to move into the renovated space was the Spanish American Center, a federally aided private social service agency, and the Park Street senior citizen’s center which they managed. Click here to listen to Carmen Dorsal Director of the Senior Center. A public meeting hall was managed by the center as well. In addition, professional and city offices shared the space. The renovation of the space assisted Puerto Ricans in their creation of a new socio-economic role for themselves within the city. [6]

The project made the Center the first Hispanic building management company in the state. It became “the center for the lower Park Street neighborhood and a catalyst of economic development in the area”. [7] Mr. Zayas was responsible for staffing a merchant’s association and charged with overseeing a city-sponsored façade and public spaces improvements program along the street. However, according to Southside Neighborhood News, “the program, short on funds and troubled with red tape at city hall, had little impact.” [8] When Zayas resigned in 1979, the Labor Temple dream was almost lost. “In 1982 the center was not operational, the building not fully leased, the city once again, threatened foreclosure.”[9]

But Hispanic merchants came together, and the effort was comprehensive and exitoso. Many low-income, young, Puerto Rican single mothers regularly visited the structure because it housed the WIC program. The agency, a special supplemental food and nutrition education program for Women, Infants, and Children was part of the community, and our families depended on the services offered. “The program provides nutrition information, counseling, and specific foods such as milk, cheese, eggs, iron-fortified cereals, 100% juices, peanut butter, dry beans and peas.”[10] The WIC program made available to Puerto Rican families services that included general nutritional evaluations and consultations on a variety of health related topics that dealt with the needs of our families and the community.

What drew us to the building was not only the nutritional education, but the much needed supplemental WIC food checks that helped assure the purchase of food staples that were necessary to see the household through the month.  WIC checks are still issued by the program in monthly allotments, for one to three months at each visit. WIC is now housed in Santa Marquez WIC Center, 547 Park Street.  From the mid 1980’s to late 1990’s,  every few months one would pack up the kids and take a trip to the “WIC” building where they would get a chance to play with friends and the mothers would receive nutritional services, advice on health care, the WIC checks and occasionally checks for the local farmer’s market. These were our excursions.  The checks could also be redeemed in authorized grocery stores, usually at the corner bodega closest to your apartment. Recipients usually were good friends with the local grocers, who would allow the redemption of all the checks at once, and the pick up of items a bit at a time so as to ensure that they would not expire.

The Labor Temple building was always overflowing with moms carrying their newborn up and down the stairs, with the seniors playing bingo in the background. The mothers grew fond of the sun-filled second floor with its unique scent of babies, the sounds of cooing and crying, the squeak of the strollers and the rattle of a toy.  The space was never explored beyond the WIC offices, and mothers were always very cautious with the children on its marble steps. Its graying white marble floor, decades of feet softening the slope of its stairs, made the edifice appear weather and time resistant, which offered its visitors a sense of strength and security.

Today the building continues in its role as anchor; its store fronts are rented to a jewelry store and an insurance agency. It is home for both SAMA and The Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum. The Spanish American Merchants Association is a non profit organization founded in 1982 and incorporated in the State of Connecticut in 1997. Its founders, a group of Hispanic merchants, an off shoot of SAC, provide small business owners with the opportunity to have a rewarding and financially independent business. Today SAMA, with more than 300 members, offers its services throughout Connecticut. They provide technical assistance, educational programs and loan programs for their members. For more information visit their website: http://www.samact.org/

The Connecticut Puerto Rican Forum has been in the business of employment training and job development for 28 years. The agency serves the community by offering educational, leadership and life management programs. Their website is: http://www.ctpuertoricanforum.org/


[1] Structures and Styles: guided tours of Hartford architecture / by Gregory E. Andrews and David F. Ransom; with a fwd. by Brendan Gill.
Hartford, Conn.: Connecticut Historical Soc. and Connecticut Architecture Foundation, 1988.

[2] For more information regarding the Neo-Classical Revival style go to: http://www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,1607,7-151-9620_11154_11189-29261–,00.html

[3] “Display Ad 17 — No Title.” The Hartford Courant (1923-present) [Hartford, Conn.] 1 May 1929,6. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Hartford Public Library, Hartford, CT  1 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[4] ROBERT B STEPNO. “$327,569 Raised To Repair Building.” The Hartford Courant (1923-1984) [Hartford, Conn.] 13  Aug. 1978,22A. ProQuest Historical Newspapers Hartford Courant (1923 – 1984). ProQuest. Trinity College, Hartford, CT.  1 Feb. 2009 <http://www.proquest.com/>

[5] “…will Anything Happen This Time.” Southside Neighborhood News, v. IV, Iss. 9. Hartford, CT May 19-June 2, 1982. Hartford Public Library, Park Street Branch, special collection.

[6] for further information: Spanish Center May Get Grant
BILL GRAVA.  The Hartford Courant (1923-1984).  Hartford, Conn.:Feb 15, 1978.  p. 42 (1 pp.)

New Series of Classes Focuses on Hispanics
The Hartford Courant (1923-1984).  Hartford, Conn.:Sep 18, 1979.  p. C24 (1 pp.)

Spanish American Center Will Mark Anniversary
The Hartford Courant (1923-1984).  Hartford, Conn.:Jan 29, 1981.  p. C2 (1 pp.)

Spanish American Center Marks Anniversary in Building
The Hartford Courant (1923-1984).  Hartford, Conn.:Jan 30, 1981.  p. B2 (1 pp.)

Spanish American Center Loses Contract With City
VIVIAN NOVO Courant Staff Writer.  The Hartford Courant (1923-1984).  Hartford, Conn.:May 25, 1982.  p. B5 (1 pp.)

[7] “…will Anything Happen This Time.” Southside Neighborhood News, v. IV, Iss. 9. Hartford, CT May 19-June 2, 1982. Hartford Public Library, Park Street Branch, special collection.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] http://www.hartford.gov/health/WIC/wic.htm

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