A committee of passionate city residents met virtually on Friday afternoon to discuss the rich history of the abandoned Goffe Street Armory in Dixwell, as well as possible renovation plans in the future. 

Originally occupied by the National Guard, the armory has been abandoned as a surplus since 2009 with ownership reverting back to the city. The utilization of the space has largely been dedicated to hosting Art Space’s City-Wide Open Studios, but has stopped in recent years due to needed repairs. The committtee, called the “Friends of the Goffe Street Armory,” is headed by Yale professor Elihu Rubin and Nadine Horton, a chair of the WEB Community Management Team, and is comprised of city leaders and residents, including Yale School of Forestry students Diane Boston ’20 and Jeffrey Wong ’20 who conducted extensive research on the armory. 

“There’s a ton of potential in this wonderful building and a great, strong community that surrounds it,” Boston said. “I am really excited about the future and I think the challenging times we are currently going through might make everyone stop and realize the potential uses of the armory and help it come back to life.”

According to Rubin, the armory’s rich social history is what makes this building so important. Built in 1930 for the Connecticut foot guard, the cavernous 150,000 square-foot space has meeting rooms, offices, lounges and a lobby space. In addition to hosting countless dog, antique and boat shows, the armory was also home to one Black Expo through the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as a ground zero for the National Guard during the 1970 Black Panthers trial. Through his research, Wong discovered the importance of the Black Expo in particular, as it was formed in the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. just after his assassination and meant to serve as “a New England-wide venture to celebrate black culture and support economic opportunities for the African-American community.” 

Despite many reconstruction plans being halted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Rubin hopes committee members can take this extra time to envision a thorough plan for the Goffe Street Armory. Boston focused her research on neighboring armory renovations such as the NewBurgh Armory, which is used as a nonprofit recreational space and community center, and the Swift Factory, which is located in Hartford and aims to “decrease city homelessness” through community-based spaces. She hopes that taking precedent from existing communities can help New Haven reutilize the historic space.

“Those are the kind of conversations we should be having so that we are prepared for if and when a real estate developer does come along and makes the city an offer we can’t refuse,” Rubin said.

In order for any of these plans to be possible, however, the armory must go under extensive repairs in order to be open to the public. Damaged interior, asbestos and a leaking roof are among some of the most pressing concerns, but in order for the building to be transformed into a comfortable community space, interior renovations must be done as well.

While funding for these repairs will take time, Rubin affirmed that some damages, including the leaking roof, have already been funded and are only awaiting city commitment to repair. Additionally, the building is already on the state historic register and is awaiting national registry recognition which would allow the armory to be eligible for the Save America’s Treasures grant program, according to Art Space owner Helen Kauder.

“From the beginning, this was a multi-purpose, civic-oriented structure, and drawing that connection is a really important one in building up local connection to the building,” Rubin said. “That’s the kind of enthusiasm we want to demonstrate to make sure that the mayor and the engineer’s office recognize that the building is important to our history, and that that history will inform the civic activities in the future.”

The Goffe Street Armory is located on 60 Goffe St. in Dixwell.

Noel Rockwell | noel.rockwell@yale.edu