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After a 30-year wait, Hartford’s Park Street library seeds hope for residents

Former day care worker Teresa Rosario remembers every librarian she’s met at her local library since the late 1980s.

“We needed books in Spanish and the [Park Street] branch had the biggest collection, which I checked out frequently to read to my children,” she said in Spanish.

After waiting for nearly 30 years, Rosario was among the many residents along Hartford’s Park Street who attended the opening celebration of the renovated and expanded Park Street Library at The Lyric. The branch had been located for years just a few streets away.

Teresa Rosario
Brenda Leon
Teresa Rosario is a former day care worker who remembers every librarian she’s met at her local library since the late 1980s.

Years of neglect and disinvestment had left this building blighted. Hartford Pubic Library board member Ana Alfaro recalled the many challenges along the way.

“It's taken us 35 years,” said Alfaro. “One year there was money, another there wasn’t. There were financial challenges, and 20 years ago the community was not together. The community came together 12 years ago, and it’s the reason why we’re here today.”

The new library sits on a lot where a historic building opened in the 1920s. The Lyric was a theater with three floors. A candy stand and women’s clothing shop were on the first floor, social clubs on the second and a dance hall on the third. It was an active part of the community by 1930, hosting productions, beauty contests and labor union speakers. But a decade later Park Street’s busy retail corridor faced challenges, as people left the urban area and moved into the suburbs.

By the 1970s, a growing Latino community began attending the theater, but in 1979 a fire devastated the building and the property was left vacant.

Now the new $12.5 million project features a courtyard, a learning lab and a community room. Former Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said this particular library offers a host of opportunities for families of this neighborhood.

“This library sits in a very economically impacted community,” he said. “The Frog Hollow neighborhood is socioeconomically very disadvantaged in the sense that we have one of the highest poverty rates.”

As the Latino community grew, Segarra said, they lacked strong political representation, which further staggered the completion of the project.

Kelvin Lovejoy said he hopes the library becomes a vehicle to raise people’s spirit. Lovejoy, a community organizer with the Blue Hills Civic Association, said for him, the library symbolizes a new birth and a wave of positivity for the busy streets around it.

“Amazingly enough it sits on the corner, right up the street from the juvenile detention center. So before they become juveniles, let’s make them geniuses,” said Lovejoy.

The Park Street Library at The Lyric also sits across from local Latino-owned businesses hit hard by the pandemic. Community leaders say they look forward to the library becoming an economic development engine for the neighborhood.

The Reverend Roberto Calcaño of El Templo de Fe believes the growing Latino community in the South End faces unique challenges. Crime rates often go unreported, according to Calcaño. However, he said the library offers a glimpse of hope and an opportunity for generations to come.

“Although it may seem like something simple, a public library — especially in this sector of Frog Hollow — has a positive impact, because everything begins with education, along with faith,” Calcaño said.

Brenda León is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Brenda covers the Latino/a, Latinx community with an emphasis on wealth-based disparities in health, education and criminal justice.