OPINION: A new use for an old armory in Wallingford?

OPINION: A new use for an old armory in Wallingford?

The news that Wallingford seems to have found a new location for its police headquarters — a one-story office building on a little over 9 acres at 100 Barnes Road — brings up the obvious question of what to do with the old building if this plan goes through, as appears to be very likely.

After all, the imposing castle at 121 N. Main St. that once was a state armory for the National Guard and has served as the police department’s HQ since 1986 stands in the heart of what you might call the town’s nightlife district. There it is, cheek by jowl with such attractions as Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, Archie Moore’s, Michael’s Trattoria, The Library Wine Bar and Bistro and the Half Moon Coffee & Grille Café.

So, what will it be? Another restaurant? Another bar? Or maybe the town has some other use for it. Worst case: another parking lot.

That would be a shame, not just because the place, built in 1920, is such a striking edifice but also because some residents will remember back to when it was a center of civic entertainment. Lyman Hall High school students used to play basketball and hold their proms there. 

Going further back, according to historicbuildingsct.com and Record-Journal archives, the Maytime Ball was the premier event of the spring in Wallingford for more than 40 years, with local residents decked out in formal gowns and tuxedos or suits, dancing to Big Band music.

And in April of 1904 upwards of 500 people attended the Company K Masque Ball there.

The Wallingford Armory was also where Meriden native Max E. Muravnick captured the Connecticut flyweight boxing crown as an amateur in 1921 with a win over Wallingford's Joe De Baise.

Which brings us to the former Meriden Armory, built in 1908 and abandoned by the National Guard in 1998, an imposing venue that looms over East Main Street and was the site of Muravnick’s first professional boxing match.

The building changed hands over the years and at one point in the 1990s the city was considering it for a youth recreation center. Then Wayne Barneschi, owner of the Trail of Terror in Wallingford, wanted to turn it into something called the ”Armory of Darkness,” which was to be another Halloween attraction. But by 1998 it was determined to be in “extreme disrepair,” with parts of it actually collapsing. And besides, with almost no parking it was considered “obsolete.”

And now I’m feeling a bit obsolete as well, because I have one, faint memory of another state armory, the one that still stands proudly on Arch Street in New Britain. It seems there was a moment in the distant past when I must have been talked into attending a “record hop” there. Carbon dating points to sometime in the late 1950s or the very early 1960s.

Built in 1886, by 1986 the armory was in rough shape and had lost its original dome. It has since been renovated and now contains low-income housing under the inviting name Armory Court.

Oh, New Britain still has a “facility” that the Connecticut Military Department calls an armory, but it’s just a very drab building on Stanley Street that looks like it belongs in a business park.

And that’s the way it is.

Reach Glenn Richter at grichter@record-journal.com.

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