On Lynwood Place, a one-block, one-way street behind Davenport and Pierson Colleges, students live in the borderlands between city and University. The street’s residents are an eclectic bunch: swimmers, “hipsters,” rowers, fraternity brothers and graduate students. But almost all are Yalies.
These students may live off-campus, but over the years this block has become more and more closely linked to Yale. Some students interviewed likened the experience of living off-campus to living in a residential college because the social landscape is as varied. Lynwood serves as an extension of Yale in many respects, they said, but houses foster a different kind of community than residential colleges do. And as students, administrators and city officials continue to question the state of the relationship between New Haven and Yale, especially after the recent raid on the Morse-Stiles Screw at Elevate Lounge, the residents of Lynwood see that relationship play out on their front steps every day.
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BECOMING A YALE NEIGHBORHOOD
When Arnold “Arnie” Lehrer bought an apartment building on Chapel Street in 1984, he had a vision: to fill it with Yalies.
“I worked very hard at it,” he said. “Pretty obsessively.”
By 1986, he’d filled a majority of his own building with undergraduates — few of whom had previously lived in the area — and had begun to help a friend who bought a property nearby to do the same.
Today, Lehrer owns two buildings: one on Chapel and one on Lynwood, and both are filled exclusively with Yale students.
Carol Lopez-Smith, leasing director for Pike International, the company that manages most of the buildings on the east side of the street, said only one of her tenants is not Yale-affiliated.
As the buildings on Lynwood have filled with Yale students over the years, the landlords have focused attention on the street’s appearance. Lehrer spearheaded an effort to cut back the branches of many of the trees in order to improve lighting and visibility on the street, and to repave the sidewalks and street. The influx of students has caused the University to take an interest in Lynwood Place as well: Yale has paid to put better lighting on the street, and Yale Security monitors it with cameras.
The cost of living on Lynwood has also increased, students on the street said. Lopez-Smith said the increase has pushed the outer boundary of the Yale bubble farther into the city as students seek cheaper real estate.
“Lynwood isn’t really the border anymore,” she said. “I’ve got Yalies living all the way up on Chapel Street. [Lynwood] might seem ‘fringe,’ but it’s one block off of Pierson College. So to us at Pike, Lynwood is 100 percent Yale.”
Both Lopez-Smith and Lehrer said they have never had a problem filling their buildings with students. Still, when James Rodriguez GRD’14 moved out of a Pike property of Lynwood for which he was paying $1,050 a month, he declared it “the best day of my life.”
Brian McGrath, district manager for the neighborhood improvement organization Chapel West, said he thinks the average New Haven resident also sees living on Lynwood as “too expensive.”
“It’s a Yale street,” he said. “It is not owned by Yale; it is only partially maintained by Yale. [But] Yale takes an interest in the street … They wouldn’t do that if Lynwood Place weren’t chock full of students.”
‘THEY’RE STILL OUR STUDENTS’
And Yale does look out for these students, Yale Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry said. The Yale Police deploy officers the area to augment the New Haven Police Department’s patrols, and students said YPD cars can be seen circling the block almost every night.
“It’s not a target, it’s just another area,” YPD Lieutenant Joseph Vitale said of Lynwood. “We patrol the area every day making sure everyone is safe, and if not we intervene … Lynwood is in within the footprint of our regular beat.”
Gentry said often the YPD, not NHPD, will respond to calls from areas where off-campus students tend to live.
“They’re still our students,” Gentry said.
Students interviewed said they know living off-campus has its dangers, but feel comfortable as long as they are careful.
But Lehrer said some of his tenants do not immediately understand that they lose some security when they leave Yale’s walls, adding that he loves his tenants and feels obligated to look out for them. His office is on the first floor of his building so he can shout hellos to all who enter; he knows each tenant’s name and apartment number; should the power go out again, he keeps candles ready under his desk. He also gathers his tenants for dinner every fall to introduce them to one another and talk to them about safety concerns in New Haven.
He said he started this tradition after an incident in the ’80s when most of the neighborhood lost power. That day, a graduate student in the history department, clad in just a tank top — no bra — and tight red shorts, walked out of the building to go study at a friend’s house. Lehrer said he was astounded.
“There were idiots running up and down streets,” he said, recalling the scene as one of complete mayhem. “I sent my superintendent to walk her to her friend’s house.”
Michael Blume ’12, who lives in one of Lopez-Smith’s houses on Lynwood, said he thinks off-campus Yalies tend to exaggerate the degree to which they are living in the real world.
“I feel like there’s this whole mystique about living off-campus,” Blume said. Many students act as if they are struggling on their own, he added, when in reality, their parents are paying the rent.
OUT OF THE ‘STIFLING’ DORM
But other students said they moved off-campus to be with their friends and develop lifestyles and relationships that suit their individual tastes and interests.
Inside 35 Lynwood Pl., a bookcase is attached to the living room door, and wooden furniture hangs upside-down from the ceilings.
“This is a house of people who like to create relationships,” Alice “La” Wang ’12 said of the community the house’s five inhabitants share.
Wang said she brings people together by hosting dinner parties, while her housemate Ricardo Hernandez ’11 thinks architecture and design are crucial to fostering relationships.
Hernandez said the house originally seemed like “a cheap alternative to living in a stifling dorm environment,” but now represents for him an opportunity to create a meaningful space outside the shadow of Yale, which he called a “huge and complicated entity.”
Wang said the housemates threw off the “constricting” influence of Yale by creating an environment “where things don’t all necessarily make sense.” Wang and Hernandez described the aesthetic of their house of curiosities as “Alice in Wonderland meets aristocratic revolution.”
The residents of the Palmer House, which is affiliated with the swimming team, often wake up to upside-down furniture — though not on the ceiling. But they, like the students at 35 Lynwood, said they moved off-campus to live with their friends and build a community.
“I just don’t feel like we really feel the need to branch out,” Chris Lu ’12 said, referring to the lack of cohesion among residents of the block.
Be they athletes or artists, the residents of the houses on Lynwood are very much Yalies. But students said when they step outside their doors, they can see that their block shares some of the issues of the larger city.
Two undergraduates sat on the stoop at 19 Lynwood on a sunny afternoon. About an hour after they left, two men took their places on the steps, pausing in the middle of sifting through a nearby trash bin to enjoy the sunshine and drink Dubra from a discarded plastic flask.