President’s house undergoing renovation

A $17-million renovation of 43 Hillhouse will include updating electrical and mechanical systems.
A $17-million renovation of 43 Hillhouse will include updating electrical and mechanical systems. Photo by Carly Lovejoy.

Though the President’s House at 43 Hillhouse Ave. showcased University Art Gallery pieces and hosted over 150 events a year, the Victorian gothic mansion — which has not undergone renovation since 1937 — had long required updates and was not ready for newly appointed University President Peter Salovey.

The University planned to renovate the house even before Salovey told the News in April that he would move into the residence, which has not been home to a Yale president since Bartlett Giamatti left in 1986, so the building has been undergoing a series of renovations to be completed in fall 2014, said Provost Benjamin Polak, who is overseeing the project. Woodbridge Hall Chief of Staff Joy McGrath said she is working to relocate the events normally held in the space during the $17 million project, which will include adding handicap accessibility and updating electrical and mechanical systems.

Penelope Laurans, Jonathan Edwards College Master and special assistant to the president, said the house was certainly due for a major renovation beyond just handicap accessibility.

“As far as comfort for a modern family, handicapped accessibility or the building’s systems,” Laurans added, “I am guessing one would not have wished to look much farther than the art on the walls.”

Vice President for Global and Strategic Initiatives Linda Lorimer said the Yale Corporation has been planning this renovation for over a decade, and had decided to schedule the construction for the next presidential transition.

An anonymous donor fully covered the renovation, said Vice President for Development Joan O’Neill. But the University scaled back the original size of the gift, Polak added, because he and the Facilities Department were able to cut about $5 million from the project costs by toning down the original 2010 renovation plans. It was more cost effective to purchase an energy-efficient, regular heating system to replace the current system of “greenhouse gases,” he added.

Polak said it is important to establish the precedent of using donors’ money wisely because then they will be more inclined to give again in the future.

Ninety percent of the costs for the $17 million budget, Lorimer added, are associated with upgrades to bring the building up to code and make it more accessible for public events, such as electric rewiring and installing fire sprinklers.

Salovey said he has not been involved with the project because of a conflict of interest in spending money for his new home, so the Yale Corporation authorized the renovation. He has not seen the plans, he added, but he and his wife are looking forward to moving in with their dog, Portia, next fall.

In addition to updating more practical aspects to the house, such as the security system and the old-fashioned heater for hot water, the University has hired prominent designer Thomas Jayne to spruce the space up.

New York City-based Jayne Design Studio, which emphasizes design with a “strong connection to history and space” on its website, confirmed Jayne is working on the project. Jayne could not be reached for comment while he worked on-site for a project in Montana.

Jayne has been quoted in magazines, such as Elle Décor, about his work on the President’s House.

Until the house is up to code and ready for the new president, McGrath said she will continue to find spaces across campus to host the different receptions and dinners traditionally held in 43 Hillhouse. For example, the reception after the Freshman Assembly usually held at the house took place inside of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and outside on the adjacent plaza instead. The dinner for new faculty next week will take place in the Refectory at the Divinity School.

Other relocated events will be moved to the Greenberg Center on Prospect Street, various local restaurants and Yale College Dean Mary Miller’s house.

Salovey and McGrath have not yet located a place for the students’ Halloween reception, though McGrath added she plans to keep the event close to Woolsey Hall where the Yale Symphony Orchestra performs.

Henry Farnam bequeathed the President’s House to Yale upon his death in 1883.

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