Tear down this wall?

Historical preservation groups oppose the proposal to cut away parts of the Grove Street Cemetery wall and replace them with fences.
Historical preservation groups oppose the proposal to cut away parts of the Grove Street Cemetery wall and replace them with fences. Photo by Baobao Zhang.

As the Proprietors of Grove Street Cemetery prepare to meet Oct. 6, controversy is already brewing over a proposal to alter the cemetery’s sandstone walls.

Three New Haven historical preservation groups are mounting an opposition to the proposed alterations, which would cut openings in the wall along Prospect Street and replace them with iron fences to make the route more pedestrian-friendly. The proposal, designed by School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, comes as the University is planning two new colleges — also being designed by Stern — next to the cemetery, though Stern denies that the University is involved with the alteration plans.

The groups — the New Haven Preservation Trust, the New Haven Urban Design League and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation — are arguing that the proposed alterations are insensitive to the cemetery’s history and will violate the sanctity of the space for visitors and mourners.

John Herzan, the preservation services officer for the New Haven Preservation Trust, said the removal of part of the wall would create several problems, among which is the damage that would be done to the structural integrity of the sandstone.

“There would be a lot more noise and traffic when you’re inside the cemetery,” Herzan added. “It’s going to change the nature of that sacred space if you have these openings.”

While Yale is not sponsoring the proposal, a February 2008 University report examining questions related to the creation of two new residential colleges called for the University to work with the cemetery’s standing committee in hopes of finding mutually agreeable changes. The report recommended adding a second gate on the north side of the cemetery and suggested that “a portion of the cemetery’s historic wall on Prospect Street be replaced with a beautiful wrought-iron face so as to open the cemetery to view and reduce the sense of a forbidding walled-off enclosure.”

But Anstress Farwell, the president of the New Haven Urban Design League, suggested that the walk along Prospect Street could be made more inviting without removing segments of the wall. She proposed alternatives such as planting more trees, expanding the grass areas between the sidewalk and road and providing “a few well-placed flood lights.”

Two weeks ago, the New Haven Urban Design League started an online petition to preserve the wall that had gathered 141 signatures as of press time.

The proposal has also garnered opposition from employees of the cemetery. William Cameron, the cemetery’s superintendent, said the property should be left untouched since it is a national historical landmark. He said he resented what he perceived to be Yale’s involvement.

“Yale doesn’t own this cemetery,” he said. “It kinda baffles me why they want to do this.”

But Stern, whose New York architecture firm is designing the two new residential colleges, said Yale has “nothing to do” with the proposal. Rather, he said, his firm is helping the trustees of the cemetery make a decision.

“We have been asked by some of these trustees to advise them on whether it might be possible to open up the cemetery wall along Prospect Street,” he said. “Our advice is not to tear down the entire wall.”

While the future of the cemetery wall has been an ongoing issue between Yale and New Haven preservation groups, he said, it is not “a Yale agenda.”

Still, the proposal’s sponsor, Charles Ellis ’59, is a former member of the Yale Corporation, a recipient of the Yale Medal and husband of University Secretary and Vice President Linda Lorimer. Ellis did not respond to requests for comment.

Of the seven Yale students interviewed, six said they objected to the proposal, saying they would find it disconcerting to see the gravestones while walking along Prospect Street. Nick Allen ’13 opposes the alteration on ethical grounds.

“Cemeteries are hallowed ground that once built shouldn’t be disturbed,” he said. “There are things in our society that have lasting spiritual value, and one of them is how we bury our dead.”

Kyle Briscoe ’10, an architecture major, suggested that rather than cutting openings in the wall, small changes to the route along Prospect Street, such as adding benches, lamp posts and flower boxes, could achieve the same effect.

The Proprietors of Grove Street Cemetery will make the final decision in regards to any changes to the property.

Comments

  • Susan 99

    I’d love to see a gate built on this Prospect street side. Maybe a few more gates

  • dsmr

    Hollow Ground? Too bad the Yale student allowed his name to be used on that one! Back to class, ’13!

  • Ed

    I am not saying there are not exceptions, but generally cemetery’s are open, not totally enclosed as is the Grove. Think in reverse, what if it was always open, and then it was suggested that it be enclosed with sandstone walls, would not make any sense would it?

  • Townie

    Too funny. The committee suggests that the cemetery presents as a “forbidding walled off enclosure.” I think that’s how most of us view Yale.

  • L.Golden

    If anyone is interested in helping to preserve the Grove Street Cemetery, please consider signing the petition found here:

    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/preserve-the-grove-street-cemetery.html

    Normally, I’m not a “petition-type person”, but I feel very strongly about preventing modern encroachment onto one of New Haven’s most important historical, cultural and religious places. Encroachment is just as damaging to cemeteries as neglect. And demolishing large sections of the Prospect St. wall will have a negative effect upon the cemetery as a whole.

    If Yale, or their unofficial representatives, wish to beautify Prospect St., I completely agree with the point made by Anstress Farwell, the president of the New Haven Urban Design League. Tree replacement, more appropriate lighting and perhaps benches could be added – none of which requires to removal of a 160 year old National Landmark or the compromising of the “sacred space” found within.

  • MD

    The most amazing thing about being in the cemetery is that the noise of the city all around you is not heard. I think the wall should stay! The students walking up Prospect Street are not going to stop to admire an iron fence!

  • Annie

    While Yale may officially have “nothing to do” with the decision considering almost half to three quarters of the Members of the Standing Committee and Members of the Board of Directors are Yale faculty or staff I think they have quite a lot to do with it!

  • Almond

    The peacefulness inside the walls would be destroyed if it’s opened to traffic as along Grove Street.

    Plus, iron fences aren’t going to fix the unkept grass and the FedEx and LSF trucks that park on it. I’d prefer to see the effort go into landscaping the sidewalk instead.

  • yale arch 09

    i cannot understand how people (especially yale students) would think that a giant foreboding wall is an attractive feature to the campus. This is simply the knee-jerk reaction of people to oppose any change of the familiar. The Grove St. cemetery is beautiful and park-like. Creating an opening on Prospect St. would make for a more interesting, picturesque walk and reduce the sense of a large void existing between Science Hill and the central campus. Mr. Levin, tear down that wall!

  • grad student ’10

    I say keep the wall. Yale’s new college construction has already destroyed other historical buildings. It shouldn’t take the wall too. I like the serenity of the cemetery, walled off from the Prospect and Grove St traffic noise. It is a small sanctuary now, and that feeling will only be heightened once the new colleges are done on the other side of it.

    And seriously, what about zombies? They want to:
    a) disturb the final resting place of many potential zombies in order to

    b) replace a sturdy protective wall with a series of porous fences?!

    Madness!

  • Yale Historian

    “William Cameron…said the property should be left untouched since it is a national historical landmark.”

    Actually, the property is officially designated a National Historic Landmark by the federal government.

    This is a crucial piece of information, which the reporter neglects to mention. While I realize this is only a college newspaper, it would be great if the author did some basic factual research next time.

    For further information: http://www.nps.gov/history/nhl/

  • g

    TEAR DOWN THAT WALL!!! IT’S UGLY.

  • pierson

    Rebuild Prospect Street so that it is not a suicide run that kills students every year.

    it is unacceptable that Yale sits by as students are slaughtered on campus yearly by preventable traffic crashes.

    That would make the area more inviting than anything you could possibly do to the wall.

  • Larry

    The cemetery is open to one and all (much more so than the college courtyards for example). Come in and enjoy the tranquility created by the historic wall. The cemetery does not belong to Yale. I’m confident the wall will continue standing intact for years to come.

  • Local Color

    #9, Yale arch 09:
    You are correct: “The Grove St. cemetery is beautiful and park-like”, but it is NOT your campus. Your willingness to significantly alter a centuries old burial ground and landmark merely to provide students with “a more interesting, picturesque walk” is truly disturbing.

  • anon

    Keep the wall as is, but improve the lighting around it at night.

  • recent grad & fan of burrito cart

    Whether they end up replacing sections of the wall with fence or not, I hope some of these other ideas happen (either instead, or in addition): benches, some flowers, maybe better lighting, etc. That path could be a lot more inviting.

    And if you really want students and others walking around there to feel like it’s a happening area, subsidize a Roomba burrito cart to locate there and stay open late! With burritos in the evening, that block would go from dead zone to destination instantly.

  • CJD

    I love that wall, both inside and outside. Outside it’s warm, reassuring, settled stone with peeks of the taller grave monuments to tempt you inside. Inside, it makes the space peaceful, a rarity in this city. Keep it. Please.

  • eli

    @ dsmr:

    Is it possible you do not know the difference between “hallowed” and “hollow”? Another depressing sign of the times. I would say back to class with you and your hollow head, but you would not learn about hallowedness in a Yale class.

  • Y09

    From the website of the GSC:

    “Initial and quickly approved construction of the north wall was equally quickly followed by similar enclosures for the east and west sides. The problem of allowing some view of the grounds and yet erecting an adequate barrier was considered by such tasteful men as architect, Henry Austin and sculptor, Hezekiah Augur. They decided on the familiar wrought iron fence and the sandstone, Egyptian Revival style arch. Egyptian Revival was in vogue at that time and was considered sufficiently massive but without offense to denominational sensibilities. The gateway was dedicated with appropriate pomp and circumstance in July, 1845.”

    The point? Even way back when, this debate about the composition of the cemetery’s enclosure was a heated one (as much as a 19th C. architectural debate could be). So let’s hope all those concerned here avoid taking “sides” and consider the different things that are best for a cemetery of Grove Street’s vintage, eminence, and beauty. Yes, there is something to be said for a space so quiet that you could fall asleep on a sunny day within minutes.

    And yet, I never realized how gorgeous the cemetery was until I stepped inside a few days before my graduation by chance. What a shame that a space so terrific never receives its due appreciation except by those who walk all the way down Grove St (a main thoroughfare for no one) during visiting hours. It took me four years to see that which lay before my eyes, in its armor.

    Why not integrate it, in some meaningful way, into the landscape of New Haven? We think of “the Have” so much as a crime-ridden failed industrial city, but what if it actually tried to build upon its 17th century roots? This is not about Yale, which whether you like it or not, is inextricably linked to the history of New Haven. This is about New Haven and its history and making sure its inhabitants and visitors never lose sight of that. Unfortunately, it has been far too easy to lose sight of the Cemetery all these years. Continuing the same style of fence as was originally installed in 1845 around the east and north sides may introduce some less desirable features like beeping horns, but on the other hand, it will allow all the bottled-up character and history of this charming New England city to seep out into the modern world. In my mind, that’s a victory for both preservationists and city planners looking to revitalize a struggling community. It will nourish us all with a space that is sacred, surprising, soulful, and whimsical.

  • dsnr

    Dear Eli,
    Actually, when I read this article over coffee yesterday at around 8 a.m., the quote from the student said “hollow ground,” hence my comment of “hollow ground?” I see that it has been changed since then. Perhaps it was a typo that hadn’t been caught during editing?

  • Reverend Coffin

    When are we going to remove the gates from all the residential colleges? I’m sure walking from one side of town to the other through them would be much more aesthetically pleasing! Why deny that experience to all students and city residents? If Yale or it’s minions want to significantly alter a historic landmark for it’s own benefit, Yale should follow suit with it’s own grounds.
    And #13, thanks for the hysterical warning. I wasn’t aware that hordes of Yale students are slaughtered on Prospect Street each year. Amazing how well they hide that information.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    Why is it necessary to preserve buildings and architectural features simply because they are old?

  • Wall Fan

    Keep the wall! It is beautiful, and I enjoy walking by it every day. To improve the area, and make it more inviting, do something about the front of Becton!!!

  • The Contrarian

    I rather doubt there was heated debate about this issue in the mid-19th Century — more like Gentlemanly consideration. That won’t sit well in our age, when not only every Idiot may have an opinion, but every opinion must be treated seriously.

    But let me throw out a suggestion. Perhaps the geniuses at the Architecture School would take on a project of streetscape design that does NOT cut any holes in the wall. One might be surprised… and pleasantly so.

  • BK ’12

    Why isn’t the actual reasoning behind the discussion of tearing down the wall being heard here? Yale wants to create a pathway for students of the two new residential colleges, so that they don’t have to walk in a circle around the cemetery to get anywhere besides science hill. So the debate really is, should future students have the opportunity to take a much prettier and faster walk to get anywhere on central campus, or should the wall be preserved, keeping the sanctity of the cemetery but creating a less than ideal situation for 800 students? Should Yale have a say in this?

  • jamesymac

    How about a resolution that would maintain the existing historic integrity of the wall & keep motor-vehicular noise at bay simultaneously:
    Namely, via building up the periferal sidewalks around this much-storied cemetary so as to allow for appreciation on behalf of pedestrians both within & without.
    In this scenario, the existing wall strcuture is preserved in an unadulterated fashion.
    Just one individual’s opinion among many, stated in the most non-interloper of ways. –Thank.You— *J.McH*

  • Two Thoughts

    1) If the idea is to create a easier path for residents of the two new colleges by allowing them to walk through the cemetery rather than around it as implied by #26, why, exactly would anyone connected with the cemetery want hundreds of kids disrupting its peace and quiet?

    2) Though somewhat off-topic, if anyone wants to make the Yale campus more attractive, tear down Morse and Stiles.

    Actually, a third thought. #10′s point about zombies is spot on.

  • Tyh

    The first rule of Yale University is townies get away from our Yale University.

  • eli_mike

    As we used to say: “The dead shall be raised”… When Yale needs the room.

  • Anonymous

    @ Two Thoughts:

    Here here! Tear down the eyesores that Saarinen wrought!

  • mmr

    Traffic along Prospect is so much more of a problem than this wall. Why not work on the traffic first, and landscape space for cyclists and pedestrians? Why not also on Elm?

  • Get rid of it

    People are missing the ideal solution here…build the colleges over the cemetery. That thing just takes up valuable space that could be very useful to the University.

  • Jonathan Hopkins

    Here’s an idea:
    Make the street pleasant. This is the real goal, right? Changing the wall doesn’t make the street pleasant it just provides for a distraction away from the real unpleasantness of the street for pedestrians. Tackle the problem head on. Put a row of street trees along both sides of both sidewalks, which will create a beautiful vaulted walk way.
    The importance of the stone was is that it is constructed with a human scaled material, it is proportioned with a mass in a human scale and its pretty. There is a subconscious connection with stone walls like this that allow people to imagine the workers building the wall, and imagine being able to hold one of the stones in their hand. This is something that is lost in much of what Yale is building near this site and what it is proposing for the cemetery. People relate much less to a bunch of factory mass produced iron rods than they do to something like stone.
    The gargantuan garage that towers over Scantlebury Park, and the factory building along the canal trail are perfect examples of poor proportioning, scale, location, facade detailing, program and appropriateness. These buildings are the number one cause of lack of walkability in the area, especially considering how Dixwell is rejuvenating itself; Yale has really sent the neighborhood back several years with this crap.
    Yale has forgotten how to serve the individual; probably due to its focus on being a global institution and being world-renowned rather than being local, which is really to New Haven’s detriment.

  • marcz

    Tear down that wall! I’m dying to get in.

  • Recent Alum

    #33: Or better yet, build the two new colleges over the New Haven Green (less than one sixth of the Green would be needed, the small portion on the north-west side of the Green).

  • JE

    Why not resurrect the old plan to move Yale’s buildings elsewhere? Yale gets open space, DeStefano gets all his taxable land back, the cemetery stays walled up, and everybody’s happy!

  • gre79

    Besides building over the cemetery and the green, maybe we can fill in the harbor too for more parking! And knock down the churches on the green for a new student center and coffee bar. The jewish cemetery and Edgewood Park on Whalley have loads of space. Hey, it’s all for Yale and we trump all don’t we? And we wonder why we’ve had town/gown issues for 300 years.