If Carol Haddad had had her way, the Kingsley-Blake House would have made a majestic spectacle floating up the Hudson on a barge en route to its new home in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. But logistical difficulties interfered. Instead, Haddad, president of the Briarcliff Manor-Scarborough Historical Society, has had to settle for a fleet of trucks, each bearing just one section of the structure.
The Yale-owned building currently stands on a site that the University plans to convert into a parking lot. When the University said in 1998 it wanted to clear the lot, preservationists urged Yale to take measures to preserve the intact Civil War-era structure.
After two years of negotiations with various groups, Yale is close to cutting a deal with the Briarcliff Manor organization to move the house, currently located at 88 Trumbull St. Although no contracts have been signed, everyone involved is so confident the transfer will take place that workers from the F.J. Dahill Construction Co. have already begun the lengthy process of dividing, surveying and numbering each section of the house. Sometime over the next few months, the sections will be carefully driven 67 miles to New York. With $75,000 from Yale to help cover the $200,000 cost of moving, the society will transform the building into a museum and archival center.
The historical society was one of 300 parties that stepped forward with proposals for the building’s future, among them a bed and breakfast and apartments, but it was one of only a handful willing to preserve its historical integrity.
“We always try to balance a need for change with preservation — in a way that is sympathetic to the buildings,” University Planner Pamela Delphenich said. “[Briarcliff Manor] has been very serious about it all along.”
Lawyers for both sides are still working on the paperwork, but Haddad expects to sign a final agreement within the next few weeks. Once that process is completed, the society will begin raising funds and applying for grants from the state of New York to pay for the house’s trip. The society may move into its new home as early as next year, but Haddad said more realistic estimates would place the ribbon-cutting in 2003.
Not everyone is pleased about the planned move. Peter Hall, a historic preservation activist, said the move is an attempt to conceal destruction under the guise of a “civic act.”
“The streetscape and structure are integral to each other,” Hall said. “Once it is no longer there, I don’t care what happens to it.”
Hall was among those who opposed a September 1999 ruling by the City Plan Commission allowing Yale to go ahead with the move with only administrative approval instead of requiring the more bureaucratic, public process of obtaining zoning approval.
The Kingsley-Blake House’s move to New York is the best solution to a difficult problem, said Ed Franquemont, president of the New Haven Preservation Trust. Franquemont’s predecessor at the trust brokered the 1998 deal that allowed the demolition last July of Maple Cottage, formerly at 85 Trumbull St. The deal would have permitted the destruction of the Kingsley-Blake House in the absence of a buyer.
Franquemont has been working for the last 18 months to keep the Kingsley-Blake House in New Haven.
“I did my best to keep it in the city, but I couldn’t make it work,” Franquemont said, calling historical preservation “the art of the possible.” He cited as his primary obstacle the dearth of owners willing to make a commitment to preserve the building’s historical integrity.
Franquemont added that the house was particularly difficult to deal with given its size — more than 5,000 square feet.
Hall called Franquemont’s expressions of regret over the loss of the house from New Haven “crocodile tears.”
To critics of the decision to move the building out of the city, Franquemont responded that as New Haven’s largest private land owner, Yale will always be a locus of conflict.
“Given Yale’s tremendous need to rework its facilities along with programmatic changes, there will always be a tension” between the University and city residents, Franquemont said.