The two entrances to the former Winsted Savings Bank were blocked by yellow tape Tuesday as construction crews in hard hats worked on the inside of what may soon become the country’s first law museum. The site plan application for Ralph Nader’s American Museum of Tort Law was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night.
The museum will be located on the property formerly owned by Winsted Savings Bank and Northwest Community Bank at 654 Main St.. Nader said previously that the plan is to open the museum in the fall of 2015.
O&G Industries will be in charge of the building design and site work on the 1.451 acre property, which consists of three different lots. The original façade will not be changed and there will be no major structural or architectural changes made to the interior or exterior of the building, according to a July 2 letter by Senior Estimator John Humes of O&G. Exterior lamps and lighting will be fixed, new fire and security alarms will be installed and two new handicapped accessible bathrooms will be put in. There will also be an office for the operator and a new retail area put in at the entrance.
The bank’s drive-through canopy has been removed and has been re-purposed for the loading of exhibits. The interior will be adjusted to each exhibit’s specifications, Nader said, but other than that there are no plans for major renovations. The current Lake Street sign for the bank will be reused in this plan, as an “illuminated or digital sign of similar size.”
Nader said the museum will serve Litchfield County well as a tourist attraction alongside Litchfield’s historic Tapping Reeve House and Litchfield Law School, the first established law school in the United States. It was founded during the late 18th and early 19th century.
The law of torts, Nader previously told the Register Citizen in an emailed statement, is invoked by plaintiffs when there is wrongful injury to persons and property. Its origins date back to English common law.
Exhibits will include historical cases of precedent that built the “edifice of common law of torts,” along with major cases, including judicial decisions in auto safety, tobacco, asbestos and invasion of privacy. Plans were in the works for a website to be set up as well, to extend the reach of the museum’s mission to include contemporary and future developments, according to Nader. The museum could also host events.
The museum would be a nonprofit, but Nader noted that what the building takes from the town in taxes it will replace with the amount of tourists it attracts.
A five-time candidate for the U.S. presidency, Nader has spent much of his life focusing on consumer protection. He based his seminal 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed,” on lawsuits filed against the car manufacturer General Motors. His own lawsuit against GM in 1966, in which he claimed the company hired private investigators to discredit him, expanded tort law to cover “overzealous surveillance,” according to a summary of the court case. Nader is a Winsted native.