Photo by Erik Trautmann for The Hour, Historic Quincy Street hat factory avoids the wrecking ball (March 2015). Gallery photos by Tod Bryant.
Beatty Brothers Hat Factory, 3 Quincy Street
The John P. Beatty and Brothers hat factory (1912) at 3 Quincy Street in Norwalk produced straw hats from 1912 until 1925. At the time it was constructed, this was a state-of-the-art workspace, full of natural light, producing the company’s best-quality straw hats. The two-story brick structure with nearly 100 windows was built to replace part of an older factory complex on the block that had been in operation since 1857. Arthur C. Wheeler, the third mayor of the city of Norwalk, started out as an errand boy in the old building, working his way up to general manager and taking over the operation in 1888. He sold his shares in 1903, but stayed on as manager until 1916. He was there when the new factory was constructed. After it stopped manufacturing straw hats in 1925, it produced broad silk (Pearl Silk Co.) until 1942, when Russell & Stapleton moved its hatters fur operation there from South Norwalk. The building has had a variety of occupants since then, becoming a dance studio in 1990.
3 Quincy Street was thought to have been saved from demolition in early 2015, when the Waypointe developer (Paxton Kinol) said he and his partners would move the building across the street to 25 Butler Street and use it for their offices, a move that was applauded at the time by both the Historical Commission and Norwalk Preservation Trust.
If not for this promise of preservation, made repeatedly, in public and in detail, NPT would have vigorously opposed the demolition of this beautiful and historic building.
The project was approved by Zoning with no mention of 3 Quincy Street in the minutes [PDF], even though the proposal was detailed as part of Waypointe’s presentation, as reported by Nancy on Norwalk. This aspect of the site plan was highlighted, again and again, in the news media and in letters and presentations to the City of Norwalk Zoning Commission, Historical Commission, Planning Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals:
- Nancy on Norwalk, Waypointe plans to transform West Avenue (July 2014)
- Nancy on Norwalk, Waypointe south block given a go by Norwalk Zoning Commission (September 2014)
- December 5, 2014 — Letter from Paxton Kinol to the Zoning Commission, representing 25 Butler Street, LLC, the “contract purchaser” for 25 Butler Street.
- January 28, 2015 — Presentation to the Historical Commission, with representatives of both Norwalk Preservation Trust and Norwalk Historical Society in attendance. Minutes of the City of Norwalk Historical Commission, pp. 7–8 [PDF]
- February 18, 2015 — Minutes of the City of Norwalk Zoning Commission, pp. 1, 5–6 [PDF]
- The Hour, Historic Quincy Street hat factory avoids the wrecking ball (March 2015)
- April 9, 2015 — Minutes of the City of Norwalk Zoning Board of Appeals (draft), pp. 2–3 [PDF]
None of these promises were kept. The developers told The Hour in March 2015 that the move of the 3 Quincy Street building to its new location at 25 Butler Street, in two pieces, was imminent, within the next “several weeks.” The Zoning Board of Appeals formally approved a variance for that move on April 9, 2015. In the end, the building was not moved. 25 Butler Street, LLC never owned the property for which it was named, and 3 Quincy Street was left to deteriorate amidst a pile of rubble as the construction on the site failed to progress.
More than two years later, the acute failure of the project was ongoing, and the preservation of the hat factory was no longer a priority. In a series of three meetings from August 2017 to October 2017, Zoning was once again asked to deliberate the relocation of 3 Quincy Street, this time to 6 Butler Street, the church next door (which had also been preserved, as seen in the 2014 site plan). A small section of the factory building would be moved, while the church, once saved, would be demolished. This plan was approved on October 17, 2017. Once again, nothing happened. The factory was left to continue to decay, with invasive species taking root in the rubble surrounding it.
Five months later, on March 1, 2018, one final proposal was made, without merit from the standpoint of historic preservation. The building would “no longer be relocated but would rather be replicated.” Some of the materials would be salvaged. Nothing of the historic factory facade, with its remarkable, irreplaceable array of brick-framed window openings, would be preserved. The building would simply be demolished. Four commissioners were present, all voting to approve this change to the already watered-down site plan from 2017. The transformation was now complete.
What was once celebrated as preservation was transformed, over a period of three years, into demolition.
- Minutes of the City of Norwalk Zoning Commission, August 2017 (pp. 1–3), September 2017 (pp. 1–2), October 2017 (pp. 4–5, 11–12) [PDF]
- The Hour, Norwalk Transitions: John P. Beatty and Brothers Hat Factory (October 2017)
- Minutes of the City of Norwalk Zoning Commission, March 1, 2018, pp. 2–3 [PDF]
In August 2019, large, national developer Toll Brothers bought a majority interest in the failed project. In September 2020, the new owners came forward with a revised plan for the south block. There was no longer any mention of the fate of the historic hat factory at 3 Quincy Street.
- Nancy on Norwalk, Toll Brothers brings new Waypointe Pinnacle plan forward (September 2020)
- Nancy on Norwalk, Zoning Commission gets first look at new plan for the Waypointe Pinnacle (October 2020)
Toll Brothers applied for a demolition permit on April 7, 2022. Norwalk Preservation Trust invoked a demolition delay at that time, but thanks to Zoning’s vote in March 2018, very little could be done. Demolition of the south block began in late May (Nancy on Norwalk), and the 1912 hat factory at 3 Quincy Street was demolished after that. NPT was able to document the building, and we hope to be able to present a visual history of the site in the future.
Norwalk Preservation Trust
P.O. Box 874
Norwalk, CT 06852