In its annual report on the state’s most important threatened historic places, the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation cited Yale for failing to take care of three mid-19th century buildings it owns around New Haven.
The report, issued this week, accused the University of “demolition by neglect,” a term used when a property owner justifies demolishing historic buildings by first letting them fall into disrepair and then claiming that repairs were too expensive.
The three buildings under scrutiny are 88 Prospect Street, a Greek Revival residence built around 1830; the Daniel Cady Eaton house, a Victorian Gothic dwelling built in 1865; and the home of former Yale President Theodore Dwight Woolsey, built around 1840.
Helen Higgins, executive director of the trust, said although Yale has never allowed any of the buildings on its integral campus to fall into disrepair, the University’s preservation of other buildings it purchases around New Haven has been a long-standing concern of the trust.
“One of our issues with Yale, and cities do this too, is that they get a historic building in their hands and then they just let it go,” Higgins said. “And by the time public outcry arises, they just make the excuse that it’s already too far gone to be saved.”
Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand said although he believes that no institution in the state of Connecticut has invested as much effort in historic preservation as Yale, this effort must be within the realm of what is financially reasonable.
“We’re always an attractive target,” Morand said. “But no institution has limitless resources.”
The report, which was written and edited by Christopher Wigren, deputy director of the trust, says that after Yale bought 88 Prospect Street in 1999, tenants were immediately kicked out and now officials say rehabilitating the house would be uneconomical. The Eaton house contained faculty offices until recently, but its maintenance has been minimal for years. And, after leases were not renewed in the shops in the ground floor of the Woolsey house, University officials have discussed expanding the small parking lot behind the house.
Higgins said the trust releases this report every September in hopes that the institutions mentioned will respond to the intense publicity and take steps to preserve and repair their historic buildings. Although the report merely issues recommendations that cannot be enforced by law, University Planner Pamela Delphenich said the University is taking the report into serious consideration.
“We have an agreement with the New Haven Preservation Trust that we will focus on the highest priorities for preservation,” Delphenich said. “We have also agreed, at the request of the New Haven Preservation Trust, not to demolish a structure until we’re sure of development plans for its site.”
The issue of “demolition by neglect” is only one of many discussed in the report. The trust is also concerned about environmental threats and buildings that are in danger of being torn down for commercial expansion. Other threatened historic places cited in the report include statewide dams, memorial sites, schools and houses in Greenwich, Norwich, Meriden, Bridgeport and Hartford.