With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dennis House Chats With Sad City

We first met Dennis House of Channel 3 when Hakaan appeared on his show Face The State in August. While chatting with Dennis after the show it started to really sink in, this guy is the real deal, a total Hartford guy. Dennis came to Hartford to work for Channel 3 in 1992 and since then has gone onto a successful news career, to get married and start a family and has lived in the city the entire time. In addition to his news work, Dennis also has a great blog The Hartfordite where he writes about current news, recollections of old news stories and his personal life. It's a definite must read especially for the historical stories. Did you know JFK was in CT during the Cuban Missile Crisis? We most certainly did not. Dennis was nice enough to take a few minutes and chat with us. 

1. Your bio says your were born in Norwood, Mass, went to Assumption College in Worcester. Did you go to college intending to become a television news anchor? When did you first know you wanted to get in the business? And why is Worcester not spelled Wooster?      

When I was in elementary school my brother and I had a paper route, delivering the Boston Globe and the Boston Record American (now the Boston Herald.)  I used to read the front page as I walked the streets (I guess that was “distracted delivering”) and I vividly remember the headline “Nixon Resigns” and “Sox Buy Fingers, Blue, and Rudi.” 

(Ed. Note: This headline refers to a player firesale by Oakland A's owner Charles Finley. The Red Sox bought the rights to these three stars but the baseball commission blocked the transactions. We didn't even need to look that up.)

That stoked my interest in journalism.  Later, watching coverage of the “Blizzard of ’78,” I became intrigued by television news. That Worcester spelling is an old English/Massachusetts thing.  There is also a Gloucester, pronounced Glawster, and a Leicester, pronounced Lester.  

2. After college you worked in Grand Rapids Michigan. Did you have any other jobs between there and arriving at Channel 3 in 1992? Were you familiar with Hartford before getting the job here? What do you remember about your first impressions of the city?  

 Before GR, I worked in Rockford, Illinois and before that Manchester, New Hampshire, my first job after being intern in Providence.  The GR station I worked for was actually located in Kalamazoo.  How’s that for a name, and my address was Kickapoo Court! I left Michigan for Hartford in August of 1992.   I was also up for a job in Cleveland, but chose Hartford. I can assure you if the Whalers hadn’t been here, I would have gone to Cleveland. I really wanted to live in a city with major league sports. 

I loved Hartford when I first got here. I remember doing all my Christmas shopping downtown.  There was the G. Fox, a Gap on Pratt Street, bookstores, the Whalers pro shop, and much more.  David Ushery and Eric McLendon took me around the city one night to show me around and we hit Bourbon Street, the bar at the old Summit Hotel, a place called City Edge and the Cool Moose. 

3. You have lived in both downtown and the West End. What are some of your favorite places in either neighborhood to grab a bite to eat or drink? Is there a hidden place we haven’t found you would recommend?   

My favorite place to grab a beer is the Spigot.   Granted, I don’t go nearly as often as I did before I had children, but it is a great place.   A year can go by, and it still feels like home.   Other West End places we frequent are Monte Alban, the Wood ‘n’ Tap, and Tangiers (although technically across the line in suburbia!    

As for downtown, we love Vaughan’s and I love their business model: open seven days a week.  It’s kid friendly, too. We usually celebrate special occasions at Max Downtown. Kara and I have been going there since 2000 and the food and atmosphere are awesome. As for new places: we love Salute, and Dish. Max Bibo’s on Trumbull has great wraps and Aladdin has awesome pizza and they deliver, too.   

4.  When you do live television over a long period of time, gaffes are bound to happen. Do you remember any on-air moments in particular when you might have thought “that’s going to get me in trouble?” 

 When I was an anchor in Rockford, Illinois I was caught blowing my nose during a sports report.  I was anchoring with Gayle King and reading a story about a man who sued a stripper alleging when she slapped  him in the face with her breasts, she injured his neck so badly he couldn't attend his wedding. Gayle started hysterically laughing and I lost it, too. Another time Gayle and I got into trouble because we were talking about someone who called us “losers” because we had never seen a Star Wars movie. It was after we ran some video of people sleeping overnight to get the first tickets to the new Star Wars movie and Gayle said “and they call us losers?”  We both laughed and then the phones lit up with Star Wars fanatics furious with us. 

(Ed. Note: Hartford news anchors apparently just don't watch Star Wars movies.)  

5.     Can you identify how Hartford has changed for both the better and the worst since you arrived here in 1992?   

This is tough one.  Hartford has certainly made improvements since 1992, but for every two steps the city takes forward, it takes one and half back, so the speed of progress is glacial. For example,  they built the new Hartford 21, which is a great addition to the city and skyline and added some extremely cool housing. Yet the first tenant was the YMCA, which was really a net loss for the city. The old Y had basketball courts, racquetball courts, swimming, child care, and the new one is a step above a hotel gym. How did that improve downtown?   

In addition, we now have a vacant eyesore overlooking the capitol, the arch, and Bushnell Park.   Tearing down the Civic Center Mall was a good thing, but why couldn’t we find new places for TJ Maxx, GNC and the other stores booted out for Hartford 21 construction? We built Adriaen’s Landing, with a new hotel, convention center, and Science Center, which brings thousands of people to the city, but then state and city officials stood by as four major employers moved out while the Landing was being built. Imagine if Mass Mutual, MetLife, ING, and WFSB were still downtown? The Adriaen’s Landing concept I think is a very good one, but the city, state, and planners have made a grave error, by not including housing. If I were the Mayor, I would make housing at Adriaen’s Landing a top priority.

6.   You seem to be a fan of Sad City Hartford. Do you remember when the blog first came to your attention and what you thought? Any particular favorite posts? 

I am a big fan of Sad City, and I found it accidentally by searching around for Hartford blogs.   I particularly remember your coverage of the Perez corruption scandal, and I always enjoy your great off the beaten path discoveries. I read Sad City regularly and love your passion for our capital city.

7.     You’ve had the opportunity to interview some pretty memorable people in your career including President Reagan. Who stands out as the most memorable and/or the interview you are most proud of? 

 I have interviewed presidential candidates, senators, mayors, CEOs, and celebrities, but my favorite interviews are with people who do not make headlines.  The news media tend to cover the shootings in the North End as if they are caused by Mother Nature, and seldom dig into the losers who commit the violence and other victims who are not directly by impacted by it.    In the late 90s, I decided to go into the North End after dark and talk to children who lived there.   The special report was called “Growing up on Garden,” and it profiled two boys who were friends and their fears.  They regularly heard gunfire, had family members in prison, or who had been shot, and they feared for their lives. I went back about 8 years later to see how the boys turned out.  They were no longer friends, and one was a good student staying out of the trouble.  The other was leading a life of trouble making. It was a story that really mattered. It was later nominated for an Emmy.    

8.     You met your wife, host of Better Connecticut Kara Sundlun, while at work. While any of us who have worked in an office knows office romances can be awkward at times, did the fact that you were on-air personalities make it even more awkward at times?  

It really wasn’t awkward.  From an early point in our relationship, we knew where it was headed, and we never looked back. I love working with my wife. I get to see her at work and at home, which is a great blessing. We have friends who go most of the week without seeing each other because of work, etc.  It is funny, Kara and were both interns at WPRI in Providence (at different times) and both worked in the Grand Rapids market (also at different times) and yet met in Hartford.

9.     You and Kara have stuck it out in Hartford even though the city has gone through some considerable struggles since you moved here. What keeps you in Hartford and from moving to the suburbs like so many others have?     

We met in Hartford, and we were neighbors in the West End, later in SoDo, and then when we got married we lived in a great brownstone on Capitol Avenue which was our daughter’s first home. We had family gatherings there, parties, Christmases, and would have stayed there if the brownstone wasn’t so vertical. The stairs were tough, once we had a baby. I counted them once:  71 from the sidewalk to our bedroom!       

When it came time to move, we had our eye on the West End.    I’ll admit, we did check out a few houses in the burbs, but it didn’t feel right.  We believe in Hartford, and hope our presence here will encourage more couples to move here. You get a lot more house for your money in the city, and it is very convenient. There are parks, restaurants, etc.  Another plus:  you rarely lose power.   In seven years downtown, we never lost it, and have had only brief outage in the West End.  I think with the hospitals, major companies, and government buildings, the grid must be made of Kryptonite!         

10. Your bio says you like to tinker with your old Buick. Care to give the year and model? Is it a full on rebuild? What other hobbies do you enjoy?    

It is a 1965 Electra.  When I mean tinker, I mean the term loosely.  I clean it, fix little things, but I bought it after it had been restored. I also have a ’95 Roadmaster Estate Wagon, that is already a classic, and is mentioned frequently on my blog. I enjoy hitting the beach with my family, working around the house, working out, and I wish I had more time to play golf and squash. 

11. If you could  identify a couple things that Hartford could do to make some real significant improvements what would they be?   

 Embrace its colonial heritage. I think it is odd that one of the oldest cities in the country, doesn’t have a single cobblestone road. Newport, Boston, heck, even New York has some. I’d put some of the downtown ambassadors in colonial garb. I would also get rid of the one way streets downtown and add more meter parking on some of the streets. I think it is crazy, the goal of downtown seems to be to get people out of the city as quickly as possible. I would also work on getting Bradley Airport renamed Hartford International Airport at Bradley Field. It would do wonders for the city and the region.     It goes out without saying, the return of the NHL to Hartford would do wonders. 

12. Better Connecticut features guests cooking. Have you every got annoyed that maybe some guest was showing off his skills a little too much and thought Kara might come home and ask why you can’t cook so well? 
Ha! That does happen. One guest in particular came on and whipped up Shrimp Parmesan and went on to say “I make the beds, and do the grocery shopping.” When I saw that and thought:  “Dude, you are killing me!” That guest? Dan Malloy!

Sad City would like to thank Dennis House for his time. A true Hartfordite.


  1. Nice to see Dennis House still around in Hartford news. I remember him visiting my class in elementary school to talk with us kids at the time...nice guy.

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