The Swift Gold Leaf Factory, which closed in 2005, was once the economic heart of Hartford, Connecticut’s North End neighborhood. At its peak, the Swift Factory employed roughly 300 residents and its signature gold leaf gilded the dome of the Connecticut State Capitol two miles to its south. But as time passed, production waned, and the surrounding neighborhood suffered deeply. Today, the local economy is still struggling from the systemic effects of redlining, deindustrialization, and a physical severance from Downtown Hartford. As of 2015, nearly half of North Hartford lived below the poverty line and one-quarter was unemployed.
In 2015, North Hartford was designated a HUD Promise Zone and the Swift Factory was chosen as the focal point of community redevelopment. Bruner/Cott, with non-profit developer Community Solutions, transformed the site’s historic factory buildings and two homes into a community asset aimed at providing opportunities for job creation, training workers, educating youth, improving resident health, and spurring economic growth and entrepreneurial activity in the neighborhood. The reimagined Swift Factory preserves a neighborhood anchor, while opening opportunities for a vibrant local economy and increased community resiliency
Comprising a variety of domestic and manufacturing structures dating from 1890-1948, the architectural transformation focused on repairing the neglected factory to its original character. The existing complex was drastically gutted to make space for commissary kitchens for local restaurants, incubator kitchen space for fledgling local businesses, a community-based private school, a healthcare clinic, and shared office space for local entrepreneurs and start-ups. Food production is the primary tenant because it offers jobs that are attainable for individuals who did not complete high school or have other barriers to employment.
Opaque fiberglass windows, originally installed to block views of the gold-leafing operation, have been replaced with contemporary black-framed glass windows. Thoughtful repair and cleaning of the brick façades strikes a balance between maintaining historic patina and displaying a sense of care in freshening up the exterior. Most of the brickwork was left untouched. Areas of high staining and efflorescence were brush cleaned with a cleaning solution and areas of high mortar damage were repointed with a matching mortar, approximating the original color and texture. New steel awnings clearly mark entrances, and inside, new programs are identified with fresh signage among the historic columns and matching wood floors.
The new use of the historic Swift Factory considers the economic, health, social, cultural, and environmental conditions of North Hartford to create a sustainable, yet innovative model for improving the quality of life for the neighborhood’s residents.
Photography by Robert Benson. Aerial photo by David Tatem, Trinity College, courtesy of Community Solutions.