Thursday Doors – The Montgomery Building

Montgomery Building
This is one of the original entrances.

I thought about making the title: “Ugly Survives” or something along those lines. The Montgomery Building has been purchased, again, and may finally be repurposed as “mostly market rate” apartments.

The building was abandoned in 1989 by the company whose name it still bears, and has passed through a series of questionable hands since then. The promises of apartments and possible retail have been bandied about, described as laughable, dissected and pronounced impossible and openly mocked by political leaders, emergency service providers, real estate folk and ordinary residents, for years. Suddenly, the possible resurrection of this eyesore is part of the revitalization plan of the town in which I live. Everyone seems to think it’s a great idea today.

Don’t get me wrong. I wish Beacon Communities nothing but success. I would like very much for the plans to rejuvenate Windsor Locks’ downtown district to succeed. These guys might have a chance. Some of the obstacles in the path of the previous owners have been removed: A number of buildings that would have required expensive demolition, succumbed to (a suspicious) fire. The renovation of the Windsor Locks Train Station seems to be making slow progress. AMTRAK and the Connecticut State Department of Transportation have agreed to move the passenger “terminal” from the siding at the south end of town to a siding just north of the old station. Recently, a few new retail businesses have appeared in the plaza opposite the train station and, thereby, opposite the Montgomery Building.

I’m not sure how the town and the new owners plan to address the challenging egress issue. The convenient fire that demolished the hazardous-waste-laden buildings proved that having a single entrance to the island makes emergency response untenable. We lost a great deal of fire-fighting equipment when our firemen had to abandon their attempt to contain that blaze. Nothing has been said, so far, to indicate that AMTRAK has dropped its opposition to a second grade level crossing of the Windsor Locks Canal, north of today’s only entrance to the island.

The Town can certainly be forgiven its attempt to put a substantial piece of real estate back on the active tax rolls. The developers can be forgiven, perhaps even admired for their desire to come into Connecticut and make a few bucks. The fact that the remaining bits of building are the ugliest portions of a once successful and interesting industrial park, was mostly established before any of these people were born.

The term “industrial park” is particularly appropriate in this case. When the Windsor Locks Canal was originally constructed, it was planned that, in addition to transportation, the canal would provide water power for industries on the island between the canal and the Connecticut River. One of the sources I reviewed made the comment that “the area that would become known as Windsor Locks was Connecticut’s first planned industrial park.”

Several businesses bought 999-year water leases from the Connecticut River Company and set up shop on the portion of the island north of what was a ferry crossing and is now the CT-140 bridge. Dexter (now Ahlstrom) occupies the southern half of the island. The most famous among the industrial operations on the north side was the Eli Horton & Son Company, operated by the machinist who invented the “universal lathe chuck.” The company operated for over 100 years, but Montgomery bought the complex in 1981.

The Montgomery Company, by contrast, survived by being nimble and being able to adapt to changing markets and new possibilities. The company originally made cotton warp (yarn) and enjoyed great success with that product line as well as sewing and thread products. Soon, they realized that metal that had been rolled foil-thin, could be wound in with the cotton. These decorative “tinsels” were eventually recognized as being good conductors for use in a variety of equipment, as electricity became more popular. The Montgomery Company needed to expand, and did so, on a couple of occasions by absorbing their neighbors. Unfortunately, in almost every case, they destroyed the then existing building and expanded with one that better suited their plans.

Additions
In the short span of 20 years, aesthetics lost to economics.

That wasn’t a bad idea in 1904, when the southern 2/3 of the brick portion of the building shown here was added. In 1920, when the reinforced concrete portion was added, aesthetics had clearly taken a backseat to economics. Between the destruction carried out by the Montgomery Company and that achieved by the fire in 2006, the bulk of the interesting buildings on the island were lost.

Today, the eyesore that remains challenges even a hopeless optimist like me. I look at this building and I am reminded of the scene where Donna Reed breaks a window in the Old Granville House in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Little known fact, Donna actually threw that rock herself. I digress, but her wish came true and George and Mrs. Baily eventually moved into that house. Maybe, just maybe I’ll be around to see people move into the Montgomery Building.

This post is part of the fun series: Thursday Doors, brought to us by Norm Frampton. Check out Norm’s page for a link to the other doors and the link to add your own door.

59 thoughts on “Thursday Doors – The Montgomery Building

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  1. It is always a healthy shot in an arm for a town to have an abandoned building brought back to life so here’s hoping they can plan around and through several of the current challenges. We have a local builder, Eric Chinburg, who continues to bring various projects back to life including several of our empty mill buildings. I know he is in business to make money, but it certainly revitalizes the towns that he visits as well.

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    1. Thanks Judy. I think this building has changed hands three times since being abandoned, not counting the current owners. The worst was a company that threw out a thriving little group of artisans who were working out of the lower level. The owner said they had to go so he could start destruction/construction. He tossed them out and never did anything. The building fell into disrepair and vandalism after that.

      The new owners have a good track record. One of the reasons I posted this is to serve as an anchor of the past when I do a post about the new apartments in a couple of years (still the optimist).

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      1. This reminds me of an apartment building we pass on the way to Berwick, Maine. They built this three story building and got to the doors and windows in but no outside siding or inside construction and they deserted it for a couple of years. Then someone else came in and did a little work, and they left it. For the past couple of years, it just sits there deteriorating. It’s always sad to pass by.

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        1. I pass a building like that on the train to Washington, DC. They started in 2007, and then it went south. Last year, it looked like it was going to finally be completed. I just have to wonder about the damage from the exposure though. I guess we can’t know those things.

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    1. I think it is solid. I worry about the exposure; it’s been open to the weather for several years, and it’s been flooded at least once or twice. We haven’t seen any plans from the new owners, but they have a good track record in New England and they plan to move fast. The town appears ready to make it work, but I don’t know how they plan to handle access. There is a single very narrow driveway today, that opens onto a bit of road between two bridges. Access for fire and emergency vehicles is going to be a challenge. I hope they don’t make deals that end up getting people injured in the future.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I agree, it’s an eyesore. The two buildings couldn’t be more opposite in appearance, so my questions are how are the new owners going to make it look cohesive? Can it be done? Will they get people to rent there? I wish them good fortune in their venture and a pleasing-to-the-eye outcome with the building.

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    1. We haven’t seen any plans from this group. At least one of the previous owners made it as far as having a plan. The were going to keep the long, inconsistent collection along the canal and raze the buildings in the back. Maybe different prices for apartments in different portions. Although, the southeast corner of the ugliest building, would offer the best views of the river.

      I started at this point because I hope to have an infrequent, ongoing series as the construction proceeds. then again, that has never happened with any of the previous owners, so…

      Thanks for stopping by.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. 10 years ago, Norm, there was a large group suggesting that they should tear the large buildings down and build a park and visitor center around the smaller buildings (the ones that burned). This will not be an easy task.

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  3. You’re right, Dan. That is one ugly building. Well, maybe “ugly” is too strong, but it’s definitely a structure without a soul (though that original doorway isn’t bad). Fix it up, tear it down … or rent it as is to movie companies that can make horror films there. I mean, that interior? O_o

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the new owners will face more than a few horrifying moments Paul. I’m not sure how you make it pretty. For that matter, I’m not sure how you make it not look like a building created as the result of a train wreck. Maybe they can pay someone to paint the concrete section to look like bricks. I honestly don’t know how they plan to incorporate those support columns into a living space.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is or at least was green Teagan. It might be my first green door. I wish I could have gotten around the bushes, but not wanting to be “detained” by Amtrak, I opted for what I could get by angling through the branches :)

      Thanks for the hugs – always most welcome to receive. Have a great day.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Well that’s just not pretty. It looks enormous, too. It’d be great if they could fashion attractive, safely habitable apartments. There are many old mills, factories, whatnot turned into lofts here in Indy, but none so large as that.
    We have large mall downtown. It’s four stories and I don’t know how many wings. It’s big, k? So I kid you not, for my entire childhood, it was known this mall would one day be built. (Talk about it, propose specifics, buy land, develop land, run into snafu, change plans, blah blah blah.) For at least ten years, we just had HOLES, plywood, and scaffolding all over the area — for blocks and blocks. The entire time I was in high school, fersure. When I was in college, they finally finished it. It’s pretty, inside and out. It has some gorgeous lines and curves. I guess what I’m sayin is, You may be white-haired before your great-grandkids can move into the trendy new ‘Montgomery Loft’ but I bet it will be stunning when complete. LOL

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    1. I guess it’s a good thing that I am an uber-optimist. Yeah, this thing is big, and given its location, they don’t have many options. The main, long, ugly building is the only portion that is even remotely out of the flood zone. What to do about parking, access, egress, Eagles (‘cuz I couldn’t get any closer because Mr. and Mrs. Eagle have two eaglets and they don’t like pesky humans hanging around) and traffic in general all seem fairly insurmountable. Way down the narrow path in front of the building, is the entrance to the Windsor Locks Canal bike path. I’ve had to back up or make people back up along that path, because for most of its length, it’s one lane wide. We’ll see what comes from this.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You know, Dan, I don’t know why, but I actually like the look of this building. Yes, it’s certainly seen better days, what with all the despicable vandalism (I HATE vandalism more than I can possibly express here), but the building still has some nice lines to it. It’s too bad it isn’t all one colour, but I still kind of like it. I’m especially fond of the company name spelled out on top. That’s just so much nicer than a sign or billboard, I think. Has a great old school feel to it! At this point, tearing it down and rebuilding from scratch would probably be more economical in the long run, but slap a coat of brick red on the white portion and accent that great oxidized copper coloured door you featured at the start? She could be beautiful — in an industrial way!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your artist-eye-potential Wendy. Maybe, just maybe they can pull it off. I’m guessing that if they didn’t repurpose the existing structure, they would never get a permit to build on that portion of the island. The developers have a good track record, maybe they, too have an artist’s vision and are going to wow us in a couple of years. I’ll let you know.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. So interesting how these things work. Buildings like that sit until someone wants to tear it down, and then ‘interested parties’ come out of the woodwork. To no avail. I hope something good happens to this building, Dan.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thansk Lois. So many attempts have been made, it seems unlikely, but I am an optimist, so I want to believe something good can come from this. The current town government seems inclined to support the developers, so maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I like how we have questionable areas of Columbus, along with some old buildings which have been repurposed to become apartments and condominiums. The area along the Scioto River has bicycle paths and n updated area.
    There is Franklinton in Columbus which is starting their renovations to recreate an artist colony. My brother came down and said it is still “rough” but a sprinkling of studios are there. I like your Hope for change, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I can imagine the “code” issues, Dan. :( Hopefully, our area, Franklinton, (spell check may be right on this) will continue its major overhaul and your Montgomery Building will have your “before and after” shots, in the future! ;)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. My favourite photo is the one at the bottom with the sheet of plywood and the No Trespassing sign. It pretty well sums up this whole unhappy tale.

    You said it well with the comment “aesthetics lost to economics”. I wish I had taken a photo of a home I saw this week where clearly aesthetics had lost to simply poor taste or design or both. I’m sure a great deal of money went into this renovation, but 2 dramatically opposed architectural styles were blended into an unholy result.
    I guess what I’m saying is that when an existing building is being renovated, the developer should work in a complementary way with the style of that original building. What remains of the Montgomery Building doesn’t appear to have any architectural or historical interest. It’s a big concrete hulk. Sometimes, the best course is simply starting over.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. A lot of people have proposed exactly that. Unfortunately, if you’re starting over, you’re subject to new rules and you probably aren’t building anything here. When they first added on to this building, they did a great job. The old snd the new are different but they blend very well. The concrete addition, less than 20 years later is horrible. Maybe, just maybe, as Wendy suggests (above) they can do something to pull this mess together. We’ve lived with this eyesore long enough. Make it right of tear it down.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John. I saw the other comment but I can’t reply to it from my phone. The developers who bought this have a good record, but this will be a challenge. We need the guys who rebuilt your ramp to the beach.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Throughout the whole country there are such buildings that remain unused for different reasons. There are also identical that get a new chance. Over my several cross country trips I’ve seen old mills and factories converted into appartments and offices, restaurants and shops. The photo you took with the brick facade illustrates how nice it could be to live or work or shop there. Plus the river and the walking and biking trail are great assets. As always great photos.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Evelyne. I do hope they can find a way to use this building but I hope they can blend its two halves together better. I really enjoy riding my bike on the path between the canal and the river.

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  10. It may cost too much to fix up this building, mor than to tear it down. It would be good to make one of those two decisions, because now it’s just an eyesore. I don’t mind small eyesores, but to see this is depressing:)

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    1. I like that section the best too, Glynis. I would hope that, if they actually do use all three sections, that they can at least get the windows looking similar across the whole length. I’m not sure how they will merge this together, or even if they’re planning to keep all of it. The 1920 addition is so plain by comparison to the earlier brick buildings.

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  11. We have eye sores like this too, Dan, especially on the waterfront. Why don’t they just tear these monstrosities down? It makes no sense to me to keep them standing when we could actually begin to build parks and such along our beautiful water front. And as for doors …. YOU have got me looking at doors now everywhere I go. Driving …. doors. Walking …. doors. I’m becoming obsessed. Thank you so much!! I’m even thinking of joining the Thursday door theme. I’ve seen several doors that I’m just itching to photograph. What have you done to me????!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You should join us, Amy. You don’t have to show up every week (unless you’re obsessive) but it’s fun and I really enjoy digging up the history. Except on these doors. This history was actually a bit sad, give that the eyesore remains. Hopefully, the new owners can make something nice here. The town is planning to build a small park at the north end of this lot. The entire canal path area has been designated as a State Park (designated, not funded).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. *sigh* That is exactly what we need here, too, Dan. The empty warehouses with the broken windows is just heart breaking to see. I hope to live to see the day we have beautiful parks along our waterfront. I hope the same for you as well!!! <3

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    1. Thanks. We;re used to seeing that sign. The path is closed from end to end from November 1 until April, to encourage the eagles to nest. In the years in which they are successful breeding, the southern end stays closed until June or July. The eagles only returned to this area a dozen or so years ago. The river is shallow here, so it’s good fishing for them. I love walking the path in the spring, when the river is high, but I don’t mind giving them a break.

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