The structure at 695 Atlantic Street was built in 1876 and served as the mansion of Henry R Towne, the lock tycoon of the well-known Yale and Towne factory of the Southend. The building then became the luxurious “Rockland Hotel” proving travelers and even Stamford Residents a beautiful place to rest their weary heads.
You can some stunning photos of the interior of the hotel in this external blog post:
At some point, the property transitioned to a sixty-unit apartment building, primary housing welfare-assisted families. As an apartment building, it soon became a drug-infested, crime-ridden headache for the City. The interior of the former hotel was a labyrinth of dingy, poorly lit passageways that were a perfect haven for crime and drug dealers to transact their business. Over the years, the apartment building was the scene of numerous suspicious fires. But it wasn’t until July 27, 1970, when two arson fires caused the end of the well-known structure.
In the first attempt at 11:19 AM, the arsonist reportedly set one fire in a third-floor closet that was pretty much immediately put out by an automatic fire sprinkler system. The Fire Department responded to the alarm of fire and quickly found and overhauled the small fire.
Then at 2:25 PM, the frustrated arsonist went into the basement, shut off the sprinkler system, and lit a fire there. He then climbed into the attic and lit another fire. This fire destroyed a large portion of the top floor and left forty families homeless. The water and smoke damage was so extensive that there was no way to make the building habitable again. The fire created a serious housing crisis in the City. Some of the displaced residents slept in cots in the Sound End Community Center. Another six families stayed at Our Lady of Montserrat Spanish Chapel on Suburban Street. Thirty people were checked into the Pequot Inn in Fairfield. And some others simply disappeared.
Luckily, there were no injuries as a result of the arsonist’s reckless act. But even after the fire forced the evacuation of all of the families from the structure, the arsonist tried several more times to finish it off in the following weeks without success.
The rest of the heavily damaged structure was left standing and was soon swarmed by vagrants setting up squatting residence in the unburned sections.
In September 1970, calling it a fire hazard and an unsafe building, the City Building Inspector ordered the owner of the gutted structure to tear it down in 30 days. It wasn’t until October 1970, that the building was completely demolished by a wrecking ball.
Photo Gallery of The Rockland Hotel Fire
These photographs are high-resolution scans of a negative proofsheet found in the Fire Department’s archives. Because of that, the quality of these photos is not great, but they do help tell the story of the demise of the Rockland Hotel.