HARTFORD — Gold Street forms a gentle, S-shaped ribbon of no more than a tenth of a mile between Main Street and Bushnell Park, past Carl Andre's Stone Field Sculpture and the gate to the final resting place of the city's founders.
Now, Hartford wants to take the street in a new direction.
For the third time since the 1890s, the city plans to reshape Gold Street so it runs along a straighter path, this time toward one of Bushnell Park's venerable brownstone gates. The vision, part of the city's iQuilt plan, would create what amounts to a linear park along the north side of a narrower, relocated Gold Street.
Moving Gold Street would extend green space from the sculpture west to Wells Street, essentially connecting Bushnell Park to Main Street. The street would swing to the south — about 100 feet at the point the street moves the most — onto city-owned land that has served as a lawn for Bushnell Tower.
The plan aims to make the area more welcoming, but that's hardly been the reception from the neighborhood.
"Look at the lower floors of our building, the balconies," Bourke G. Spellacy, president of the Bushnell Tower Condominium Association, said on a recent afternoon, walking along Gold Street. "We don't object to narrowing the street, but don't relocate it near our building. Think of the people whose units have those balconies."
Spellacy, a high-profile city attorney, said he worries about the noise and impact on property values of the tower's condominium units. He says it would make more sense to the leave the street where it is and build a walkway across the lawn to the park, contemplated when the tower, designed by I.M. Pei, was constructed in the 1970s.
Across the street, at Center Church House, the offices and community space of the First Church of Christ, the Rev. Damaris Whittaker sees trouble for her congregation, whose meetinghouse at the other end of Gold Street is the oldest religious institution in Hartford.
The new green space would be created directly in front of the church house, a hub of church and community activities, separated from the meetinghouse by the Ancient Burying Ground. Moving the street, Whittaker said, would cut off the church house, now reached easily by parking a car and crossing a sidewalk. That would make delivery of donated food and other items more difficult. The elderly and disabled would have a longer trek.
"So moving Gold Street will isolate the church house and complicate these activities getting done," Whittaker said.
Both Spellacy and Whittaker say they support iQuilt's overall mission — adopted by the city council four years ago — to make the city more walkable and inviting for city residents and visitors. IQuilt seeks to tie together cultural attractions and promote access to Bushnell Park and the riverfront. But they argue that the specific components have evolved — at one time Gold Street was going to be eliminated completely, for example — since the city council's adoption.
The church doesn't oppose iQuilt, "but we have to work on this piece," Whittaker said.
Supporters of the change to Gold Street say it is a crucial part to a 1-mile GreenWalk, the centerpiece of iQuilt. As envisioned, the greenwalk would run from the state Capitol building to the riverfront. The link along Gold Street — called "Bushnell Gardens" — would represent the first expansion of the park in 150 years.
Local corporations, such as Phoenix and Travelers, already have invested millions of dollars on early pieces of iQuilt.
"The realignment of Gold Street is imperative for the development of Bushnell Gardens and the iQuilt plan," said Jackie Mandyck, managing director of the non-profit iQuilt Partnership. "Without the realignment there would be no Bushnell Gardens, and it will compromise the overall vision of iQuilt and the GreenWalk."
A century ago, Gold Street wasn't much more than an alley 15 feet wide. The street later took its name from the Colonial-era gold leafing industry that once thrived in the neighborhood. But by the 1890s, the area had developed a sordid reputation for its tenements and brothels.
The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution decided the neighborhood was not befitting the nearby cemetery where Thomas Hooker, founder of the Connecticut colony, and other Colonial leaders are buried.
A push by the DAR for more dignified surroundings to the cemetery — an 1897 headline in The Courant declared "Improving Gold Street: The Women of Hartford Will See It Done" — led to fundraising and the razing of a swath of buildings. Gold Street now hugged the First Church of Christ property and the entrance to the Ancient Burying Ground.
The S-shaped curve that exists today dates to the 1970s and an effort to form the four-way intersection at Main. Although this change took place about the same time as the construction of Bushnell Plaza, historians say the change was more about managing traffic from the increasing number of downtown insurance workers.