NORWALK, Conn. – The Roman catacomb-like arches revealed by the demolition on Wall Street are old coal chutes, Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer said.
“I think they’re amazingly cool,” she said.
The odd underground structures were revealed by the demolition of the old Merchant’s bank on the corner of Wall and Isaac Streets as part of POKO Partners Wall Street Place development. The removal of the debris shows that the Isaac Street sidewalk actually goes over an empty space, and is supported by columns that were part of the old building.
Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) owns My Three Sons on Wall Street, across the street from the demolition.
“The only thing that I know about them is what we all saw when the building went down,” Petrini. “It looks like they were built to hold up the sidewalk because the sidewalk was actually built over the cellar of the building. There were a couple of large air conditioning ducts behind the arches on the Isaac’s street side that were probably installed after the building was built. They were removed as part of the demolition. There was an addition and remodel made to the building, I believe in the ’80’s; I vaguely remember that AV Tucchi construction might have been involved.”
“A demolition worker said they were told to carefully clear away debris but hadn’t a clue about what they were built for,” a Nancy on Norwalk reader said in an email. “You can see a pipe running through the shallow area behind the columns. There’s also a door at the end, which I’m told leads to a sewer.”
Ken Olson of POKO Partners did not return an email asking for comment.
Sweitzer said she was told they’re old coal chutes, dating back to before the sidewalk was sealed in concrete. There were openings through which the coal was dumped, she said. You still see some places that have Bilco doors on the sidewalk, she said.
Sweitzer said she had spoken to Department of Public Works structural engineer Brian Sweeney.
“He said those arches are constructed as load bearing, sso they were part of the foundation and it was very common that they would be like that. So this opening into the structure of the building would have load-bearing framing on it,” she said. “… That would not have been unusual. He said that same sort of structural opening would have been on any of the older buildings on Washington Street, on North Main, South Main. It’s just we didn’t ever empty those buildings from the inside out.”
The opening under the sidewalk goes back three or four feet, she said.
She didn’t know what POKO might have in mind for the arches.
“I don’t think there’s any reason why they couldn’t keep them,” Sweitzer said. “They’re in perfectly sound condition, but what they would do with them I don’t know. The city conceivably could ask that the exterior of them, under the sidewalk, be filled in because that’s probably public space.”