As Yale prepares to demolish some of the buildings on the site of the two new residential colleges this fall, state officials and local preservationists are buzzing with talk of whether some of the structures can be saved.
Although they have no authority to stop the bulldozers, which could start work over the next few weeks, groups such as the New Haven Preservation Trust and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation are pleading with Yale to save seven historic buildings, including Hammond Hall, Brewster Hall, the Daniel Cady Eaton House and two houses on Prospect Street, as well as the Seeley G. Mudd Library.
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Among the preservationists’ complaints is the belief that the demolition of the buildings was a foregone conclusion.
But according to confidential documents obtained by the News, these very discussions occurred within the Yale administration several years before the University went public with its expansion plans and hired an architect. Administrators have had in their possession plans for the site that would have preserved Hammond Hall, although they have since decided that preservation would, aesthetically and functionally, cripple the new colleges.
“We, the University, studied all the buildings on the site and made this decision in order to have the new colleges be comparable to the renovated colleges currently on campus,” School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, whose firm is designing the colleges, said in an interview. “This is a highly charged, politicized issue.”
TWO PLANS FOR HAMMOND
It’s also an issue that the University has spent years debating.
About five years ago, as Yale officials began to plan for two new colleges, they called on the design firms Cooper, Robertson & Partners and Kieran, Timberlake Associates to study a variety of decisions that would have to be made about the new residence halls. The firms looked at the existing colleges in order to give administrators a sense of what amenities would need to be included in the new colleges and in order to approximate the size of the new colleges.
They scoured the campus for lots and sites that would be big enough for one or two residential colleges. And then, according to the documents, which were obtained by the News from a person familiar with the design process, they looked at the buildings on the site north of the Grove Street Cemetery to determine whether any could be reused as part of the new complex.
Stephen Kieran ’73, who heads the firm now known as KieranTimberlake, confirmed the authenticity of the schemes and said he and others involved in the study “looked at [the site] every which way.”
The answer the firms came back to Yale with was a definitive yes: Hammond Hall, the former Hammond Metallurgical Laboratory that has stood since 1904 as one of the few examples of Beaux-Arts architecture on campus, could be easily renovated to accommodate a new undergraduate theater. Yale shared that finding with the design team for the new colleges, led by Stern.
But Stern and Yale officials determined in recent months that even saving just Hammond Hall could compromise the layout of the new colleges. “It would look awful,” Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said. “It wouldn’t work.”
Now the designs for the project call for the demolition of all buildings on the site, including seven buildings listed on New Haven’s Historic Resources Inventory.
In this way, Yale “is not being responsible and not being respectful to the public interest for historic resources,” said Anstress Farwell GRD ’78, president of New Haven Urban Design League.
University President Richard Levin acknowledged that it would be possible to keep Hammond Hall as a theater, but said “it would impose major constraints on the siting and sizing of the courtyards and the workability of the college designs.”
ROAD TO DEMOLITION
As part of a process to demolish the buildings, Yale officials notified preservation groups and City Hall of its plans in June, starting a 90-day delay of demolition period that will end Thursday.
“Construction of the actual residential colleges … will not commence for a while, but it is necessary to prepare the site and do utility work and so we are moving forward with demolition now,” Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 wrote in the June 4 letter.
Preservation groups and architects soon reacted to the letter. On July 31, Farwell, Mudd Library architect Harold Roth ARC ’57 and Patrick Pinnell ’71 ARC ’74, a critic of the demolition plans who is author of “Yale University: The Campus Guide,” met with Stern to discuss the proposed design. At the meeting, the four discussed the razing of the buildings and the possibility of preserving Mudd and the other buildings.
“[Stern] certainly listened to our thoughts,” Roth said. “[But he said] the planning is well along and so there were obviously no decisions made at all as a result of that discussion.”
Stern told them to discuss their concerns with University Planner Laura Cruickshank, Farwell said. After receiving repeated invitations to meet, Cruickshank called Farwell on Aug. 21, saying, according to Farwell, that a meeting was unnecessary because the designs were already set. (Cruickshank did not respond to requests for comment for this article.)
The Connecticut Commission on Tourism and Culture also tried to intervene last week, but Yale officials are not budging.
“We in the University are ourselves preservationists,” Morand said in an e-mail message. “That said … no institution can survive and thrive if it chooses to remain frozen in time and not every single structure ever built is a worthy candidate for preservation forever.”
As early as Thursday, when the delay of demolition period ends, City Hall can give Yale a permit to demolish the buildings. Once Yale applies for it, the city can take up to 30 days to grant approval. City Plan Department Executive Director Karyn Gilvarg ARC ’75 said a demolition permit is a simple application that can be completed in as little as an hour.
WHAT IS LOST
Ultimately, preservationists said they are fighting a losing battle and Yale seems compelled to move forward with its plans, which Levin said are all but “set in stone.” Although the University has a freeze on construction and work on the colleges has already been delayed, Yale is proceeding with the demolition because it has already raised the necessary funds from donors and because the design calls for the entire site to be cleared.
Farwell said if the buildings are razed, the groups will still lament “the value of what was lost.”
Hammond Hall, which her organization researched in the groups’ efforts to delay Yale’s plans, will be missed by its longtime occupants, the members of the sculpture department, who worked there from the 1970s until they moved into their new building at 36 Edgewood Ave. in January.
“Hammond Hall was very dear to us because it had so much character and so much charm,” said Daphne Fitzpatrick, a critic at the School of Art. “The spaces were very eccentric; it was very inspiring for all these generations of students.”
She said there was never any serious attempt to appeal to the administration to save the building.
The School of Art did throw a big goodbye party for Hammond Hall last December, with food and performers for approximately 300 guests. And across from Fitzpatrick’s new office now hangs a worn and faded wooden sign that says in huge block letters: HAMMOND HALL.