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Hartford’s landmark Travelers tower gets face lift

The 527-foot-tall tower, once the seventh-tallest building in the world, was surrounded by scaffolding last week.

Dave Collins/Associated Press

The 527-foot-tall tower, once the seventh-tallest building in the world, was surrounded by scaffolding last week.

HARTFORD — A $30 million renovation project is restoring some of the luster to the Travelers tower, a Hartford landmark that once symbolized the city’s reign as America’s insurance capital.

The 527-foot-tall tower was New England’s tallest building when it was completed in 1919, but it has been eclipsed several times by modern skyscrapers.

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‘‘It was looking dirty and kind of worn out,’’ said Andy Bessette, chief administrative officer of The Travelers Cos.

The makeover involves cleaning the granite, replacing 30 miles’ worth of mortar between the stones, and restoring decorative moldings. The project began in 2011 after a need for extensive repairs was discovered, and it is expected to take until 2015. The light at the top has also been upgraded, so workers who once climbed up with colored blue panels to celebrate UConn basketball championships can change the color with the push of a button.

A century ago, mules, pulleys, and ropes were used during construction to raise the pink-hued granite blocks, which came from a quarry in Westerly, R.I. Larger blocks were used at higher levels to give the illusion from the ground that they are the same size. As workers need to repair damage on the facade, they are pulling blocks from other parts of the building where any color difference would not be as noticeable.

The 34-story, neoclassical-style building was the seventh-tallest building in the world and a soaring achievement for an insurance industry that has been synonymous with Hartford for centuries.

In recent years, the industry has fragmented, with companies selling units and shifting headquarters to other states. But Bessette, who describes the tower as a point of pride for employees and the community, said the industry is still hugely important to the local economy.

‘‘By and large, it’s still a big, big piece of the economy here in Hartford and Connecticut,’’ he said.

Roughly 7 percent of workers — or some 40,000 people — are employed by insurance carriers in Greater Hartford, according to state Department of Labor statistics. The figure is 3.6 percent statewide.

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