Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Legislative leaders come to Rockville for rock 'n' roll tour

By Kym Soper
Journal Inquirer
August 28, 2007

VERNON - Legislative leaders were in downtown Rockville today for a walking tour and to discuss the possibility of locating the embryonic Connecticut Music Hall of Fame here, highlighting local rock 'n' roll legend Gene Pitney.

Speaker of the House James Amann, D-Milford, and House Majority Leader Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, planned to meet with Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, local officials, and members of the Gene Pitney Commemorative Committee to discuss ideas and visit possible sites.

Amann said today that while he was reserving judgment until after the tour, "this is something I think we could support."

Who better than the "Rockville Rocket" to anchor a state museum dedicated to honoring local musicians, he asked. "But we want to eyeball things and get a better feel for the area first," Amann added.

The General Assembly this year secured funds to create a Connecticut Music Hall of Fame that would honor homegrown singers, writers, composers, producers, and others in the music industry.

Pitney, who died last year at the age of 66, topped the charts in the 1960s with hits such as "Town Without Pity," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," and "Only Love Can Break a Heart."

Pitney rose from his humble beginnings as a singer in a local band to international stardom, and is a national Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee.

Shortly after his death on April 5, 2006, the local commemorative committee was formed with the idea of creating a Gene Pitney museum in downtown Rockville. Janowski says bringing the two ideas together in Rockville would be perfect.

"This is our chance to show them the works," said Janowski, who planned to start off the tour at 10 a.m. at Town Hall and end with lunch at the new downtown eatery, Russ's Time Restaurant, which is chock full of rock 'n' roll memorabilia.

Downtown tour sites include the third floor of the Memorial Building and the nearby historic Citizen's Block building, which are both potential sites for the museum, Janowski said.

Other potential stops on the tour included the Civil War Museum, the Rockville Public Library, and Rockville General Hospital, Janowski said.

She also was planning to take the group along the "Gene Pitney Trail," consisting of at least seven specific sites throughout Vernon, such as the house where he was born and raised on Hammond Street and places he preformed as a teen. Soon after the tour, "we'll probably meet next with state economic development folks" to discuss funding, Janowski said.

But first the local group has some selling to do. Amann said his big concern is that the area be more than just a museum, offering tourists other venues.

He said he recently got back from vacationing in the Niagara Falls area and was astounded by the difference in how tourists are treated on the Canadian and United States sides.

Canada is full of activities and sites, while in New York the grand falls are little more than a power plant.

He said he doesn't want to see the same thing happen here. And he doesn't want a repeat of what happened in Jamestown, N.Y., birthplace of Lucille Ball.

"The exhibits are fabulous in Lucy's hometown, where they've got three or four buildings dedicated to her, but around them it's all in disrepair," Amann said, adding "You have to make sure there are other things around there for people to do."

New Haven was a prime example to duplicate, he said, pointing to the tourist-drawing Peabody Museum, which is surrounded by restaurants, hotels, and other entertainment.
"What you want is the museum to be a center stone," he said.

©Journal Inquirer 2007