What was once a clock factory will soon house artists, serving as their studios and homes.
The New Haven Clock Company factory, which during its peak served as one of the world’s largest clock manufacturers, will soon reopen as loft spaces for artists to both live and work. Bill Kraus, a consultant who restores historic buildings into artist live-work spaces, will work with a private developer as well as government and community organizations to repurpose the building, which is located near Wooster Square.
The factory was incorporated in 1853 and over the next century, it produced clocks and then watches before filing for bankruptcy in 1956. The factory finally folded in 1960.
The developers’ first task is to remove the site’s contaminants. Last month, surveyors identified radium, a highly radioactive substance in luminous paints often used to color clock dials, on the floors of the aged factory, said New Haven Economic Development Officer Helen Rosenberg.
“That’s always a problem with industrial buildings,” said John Herzan, preservation services officer at the New Haven Preservation Trust.
Rosenberg added that the site contained other hazards such as stray metals, oils, polychlorinated biphenyls and asbestos.
The funds for cleanup will hopefully come from government organizations, even though the state is experiencing budgetary difficulties, Kraus said. The NHPT has submitted letters of support for these efforts, Herzan said.
The project, which could possibly begin in a year, has been a long time in the making, Kraus said. He has been working with the Yagovane family, which owns the building, for more than 15 years, he added.
“I realized that buildings were being torn down unnecessarily in the name of economic development,” Kraus said.
Kraus has experience turning vacant retail buildings into housing. He led the 2004 conversion of Read’s Department Stores in Bridgeport, which was once New England’s largest such store, into a 61-unit complex of live-work lofts with gallery and retail space. The project “sparked” hundreds of millions of dollars into downtown Bridgeport, Kraus said, and is similar in scale to his current Elm City project.
But unlike the old Read’s Department Store, the New Haven Clock Company site is not completely abandoned. The location still houses Scores Gentlemen’s Club, a part of the area’s adult entertainment district, which the city hopes to close, according to its 2013 Mill River District Planning Study.
During its prime, the New Haven Clock Company employed more than 1,500 workers.