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Norwalk’s ‘Rome’ dates back to coal-burning days

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.”

POKO Partners Wall Street Place2

A view toward Wall Street shows a more utilitarian opening under the sidewalk.

DSC_5659

These are old coal chutes, Norwalk Redevelopment Agency Senior Project Manager Susan Sweitzer said, quoting other sources.

19 comments

Scott November 8, 2014 at 6:49 am

Thank You for the story NoN. I’ve been driving past there almost every day and wondering about the arches but coal makes perfect sense. There was probably a sidewalk access door at one time for deliveries. The presence of these arches simply reaffirms the richness of Norwalk’s history. I was going to take pictures and send them to my parents in Florida. They are native Norwalkers and I keep them updated when landmarks like the old Carol’s drive-in and such are torn down. But thanks to NON I can just tell them to log on. The Norwalk people knew is becoming harder and harder to recognize.

John Hamlin November 8, 2014 at 7:03 am

It would be great if they could be retained and used and revealed somehow in the new structure, but that’s probably not in the cards.

Dorothy Mobilia November 8, 2014 at 8:24 am

The arches have been a big topic of discussion. Wouldn’t it be interesting if answers to questions like this were posted onsite as work progresses at POKO and other developments we’ve been promised in Norwalk Center? The above responses to this article suggest folks are very interested in the centuries-old Norwalk as it is uncovered and replaced by the construction we need today.

Mike Mushak November 8, 2014 at 8:55 am

We have smaller brick walls like this in our basement of our 1892 house we restored in SoNo, that surrounded the old boiler and coal room with a coal chute leading to the front yard where horse-drawn coal wagons used to pull up and drop off coal deliveries (from the historic driveway that our esteemed zoning code says is not allowed, the only zoning code in CT that does not allow guest parking in front of houses.) In fact, we got a cease and desist from the city for our historic driveway (part of the organized harrassment we received from corrupt city officials). But I digress.

The brick arches in the photo and the fact that so many folks are talking about them indicates how important storytelling is to a community. It is part of our collective memory or narrative that connects us through time and space to others. It is part of the fabric that holds us together, and when this urge is coordinated and encouraged, it attracts tourism and new businesses and residents. It is called “placemaking”, a huge trend in urban planning that our entire Planning and Zoning Department is unaware of and oblivious to.

Welcome to Norwalk, the city that has no planners, and which has become the “City of Lost Potential”. Sorry to be such a downer, but when I am called a “disgusting human being” in a public meeting two days ago by a well-known GOP thug on the Planning Commission, for demanding planning actually happen and laws and studies be followed and highly paid officials do their jobs we are paying them to do instead of making excuses, I think I can be forgiven for being pessimistic about any real change happening in this once-beautiful city. The long dark era of corruption and incompetence and mediocrity in Norwalk continues, sad to say.

Yes, these brick arches are cool. And so is so much other great stuff in our city that will be lost to a dysfunctional planning system run by highly-paid amateurs. Have a nice weekend!

EastNorwalkChick November 8, 2014 at 9:36 am

Mike M., I too have an old house, when we purchased it 20 yrs. ago it still had the coal converted to oil furnace, I called her ‘Bessie’….my god, what a monster that thing was. When we finally removed her, (she had to be cut up by torch she was so big), we found a coal shovel, a scuttle and what looked to be pieces/part of the shoot behind her. We determined that the shoot must have been connected to the small window in the foundation right by the furnace, the bolts were still there, sending the coal delivery right to ‘Bessie’.

Norwalk has a rich history and unfortunately we lost many great old buildings and homes in the ’60’s and ’70’s when preserving them was out of fashion. I am happy to see that it has come back in fashion to preserve whatever is left, we need to encourage this whenever we can.

M murray November 8, 2014 at 10:06 am

1920’s. Ah glorious times we all want to preserve. The buildings that were built with no zoning or government support. People doing what they wanted with their own property to create such memories. Long before the government was involved in every aspect of our lives. Before low income housing projects supported by money taken by pillaging government. When bicycles and carriages ruled the roads. What rich history.

Suzanne November 8, 2014 at 10:11 am

EastNorwalkChick: you have just solved the mystery of an element of our basement we have never been able to understand. We are, after all, Californians and had no clue about oil, coal, furnaces, etc., when we arrived. There has been this mysterious block protruding from the basement floor with bolts in it adjacent to the stone foundation (our house dates to a mere 1909) that had clearly been closed at a later date. At last! Coal! Of course!

THE TRUTH November 8, 2014 at 11:18 am

It’s amazing how Mike Mushak always feels the need to post nonsense about anyone that would have ever dared disagreed with him.
Your vendettas say more about you than the ones you ramble on about.

Kathleen Montgomery November 8, 2014 at 1:06 pm

@ The Truth: It seems to me that Mike Mushak seeks to inform folks about documentable incidents as they relate to contents of the story. While he sometimes digresses (as he freely admits, his passion can move Norwalk out of the “nonsense” of dysfunction that he, and others, have consistently documented. Seeking “The Truth” is what we all should be doing.

Back to this story, the arches are indeed beautiful and the history from commenters that accompanies these pictures is a pleasure to read.

Oldtimer November 8, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Who really owns the space where the coal bins and part of the sidewalk is ? It would seem to me that even back when the original building was built on that site and coal bins were allowed where these are, under a sidewalk, the building property owner probably owned the space and the sidewalk did not extend as far. The road may well have been narrower then.
A lot of our roads started out as what we now call driveways leading to somebody’s home and were later widened and paved as they became public roads.

Mike Mushak November 8, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Thanks, Seth and WJW (one in the same). LOL! No professional planners in City Hall. Just hysterical, isn’t it?

Casey Smith November 9, 2014 at 5:36 pm

Welcome to Norwalk, the city that has no planners, and which has become the “City of Lost Potential”. ????

The presence or lack of a City Planner in Norwalk either then or now would have no bearing on the existence of the brick arches on the site today. They are there and it would be nice if Mr. Olsen will figure out a way to preserve them.

Apparently, someone doesn’t like you and called you names. It happens to people all time time. Move on, there’s nothing to see here…

Morgan July 15, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Thanks Nancy for writing this up… I too have been very curious about these once I noticed them. How could you not wonder what was happening and why they were beneath the sidewalk. I called Norwalk Historical Society and they knew nothing but clearly you all have figured it out! Thanks for this tidbit… and as a 10 yr resident I’d happy to agree with Michael about this city and its dysfunction. Furthermore being called names by a public official in a public meeting is atrocious. Doesn’t surprise me that a GOP member in norwalk brought a debate to that level. Seems to be common place these days. GOP don’t like it start calling people names and do whatever you can to discredit them. If they are going to fill in the arches maybe they can use a few GOP reps from Norwalk to take up some of that space.

Paul I. October 11, 2015 at 9:39 am

I haven’t lived in Norwalk since 1995, but I’m sorry to see nothing has changed – GOP or Democrat – it does not matter. The brain children that thought dropping people with no disposable income off the buses in the downtown shopping district, and then the genius of building a parking garage people were afraid to park in because of the element the buses moved in to the area – that and the militaristic meter squad unleashed ready to ambush shoppers in the Isaac Street lot, they essentially killed Wall Street. Can it be revived? Not when so many self-interested people in public office are there to serve only their own agendas without an eye to the future as a whole.

Lillian Iliff October 11, 2015 at 8:20 pm

The view of Isaac st. shows the red house I was born in on April 1, 1935. It now houses the Treasure house.

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