Norwalk Company Factory, 20 North Water Street
The Norwalk Company building at 20 North Water Street was demolished in July 2012. The Norwalk Company factory (1875) stood as the eastern gateway to the South Norwalk district for more than a hundred years. It was one of the buildings that defined the area’s 19th and early 20th century industrial and commercial character. That character is what the original Norwalk Preservation Trust, along with the city agencies, worked so hard to preserve in the 1970s.
An argument was made that the demolition of the building would allow for widening the sidewalks and make the passage from the city-owned garage and the Maritime Center to Washington Street more open, drawing more people to Washington Street businesses. While a tempting argument, it wasn’t the solution. North Water Street has one major obstacle to being an “open” passage: the railroad bridge. It looms dark and foreboding to anyone looking down or up the street. The demolition and the anticipated street changes do nothing to address this root problem. Losing a historic structure to create wider sidewalks is not an effective vision for the district.
A previous approved plan for the building retained the facade and the character. Then developer abandoned that plan and another was approved with all new construction. This essential part of the historic streetscape—the reason that SoNo was saved and exists today—is irrevocably gone. The new building could be anywhere—it is twice as large and has none of the character and roots that the existing structure has. The old brick facade was a billboard to let you know that you are entering an area that is unique, historic, and reflects Norwalk’s industrial heritage.
The question is not why the developer changed plans—that’s easy. Demolition and new construction cost less and deliver the numbers they want. The big questions are where was Redevelopment on holding the line for design standards in the historic district? Where was the Planning Commission on supporting the goals of the Master Plan for the area? Where was the Zoning Commission in adhering not just to the letter of the zoning regulations but to the spirit of preserving the character of SoNo? Where was the City of Norwalk in terms of thinking creatively about creating a comfortable, walkable corridor on North Water Street? Wider sidewalks are hardly the limit of what could have been done and still retain the building. Where does the City stand in terms of retaining the historic character of SoNo? Are we willing to let all the effort, work, and pride in rehabilitating the area be chipped away?
Norwalk Preservation Trust
P.O. Box 874
Norwalk, CT 06852