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Monday, June 30, 2008

Preservationists press bid to save historic buildings

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Local preservationists are asking state officials to take a stand against the possible demolition of two old buildings in the historic Orange Street neighborhood.
Members of the local groups are alarmed that even though the owners of the buildings are trying to sell them, they could still tear down the structures after a 90-day "stay of execution" expires later this summer.
Demolition notices originally were posted at the entrances to 3 Trumbull St. and 714 State St., both of which are vacant, on April 15. Because the buildings are within an historic district, the demolitions automatically were delayed 90 days.
A third building with the same owner, Gary Letendre of 1 Aububon St., is at the intersection of Trumbull and State streets, between the other two buildings. But the preservationists do not consider that corner structure architecturally significant.
Although the original 90-day grace period will expire soon, Letendre has told a state preservation official he will not consider tearing down the buildings until Aug. 21 at the earliest, according to John Herzan, the preservation services officer for the New Haven Preservation Trust.
"We remain very concerned," Herzan said. "Both buildings are part of the historic fabric of the Orange Street area. Their absence, especially 3 Trumbull St., would leave a void in a cohesive streetscape. We think it would erode the neighborhood."
Letendre did not return a phone message requesting comment.
The board of the New Haven Preservation Trust last week voted to write a letter of concern to state historic officials about the future of the two buildings. Herzan said the content and timing of the letter are still being worked out.
Meanwhile, members of the New Haven Historic District Commission did write and send such a letter to Karen Senich, state historic preservation officer for the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, Historic Preservation and Museum Division.
The New Haven commissioners said they are "concerned with the planned demolition" of the two buildings.
The commissioners noted they met May 14 with Letendre’s representatives. "It was the consensus of the commissioners that the claim of structural deterioration as part of the justification for demolition was not adequately supported."
The commissioners also said the endangered buildings are contributing structures in the Orange Street National Register District and "contribute to the historic character of State Street."
They asked Senich’s group "to take action to prevent the demolition of these important historic resources. Your involvement and assistance will be greatly appreciated."
Herzan said local residents with an interest in this issue should also write to Senich at One Constitution Plaza, Hartford 06103.
Herzan said he contacted representatives of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation to suggest they list the two buildings on their "historic properties exchange" in their newsletter.
"But the owner has to consent to being listed, and he does not want it done," Herzan said. "This troubles me. If he is open to preservation, there’s no risk in doing this."
Helen Higgins, executive director for the Connecticut Trust, confirmed her group offered to market the two buildings on the properties exchange, which is a free service. Trust officer Todd Levine confirmed that Letendre, through his realtor, Press Cuozzo Realtors, declined the offer.
Stephen Press, co-owner of Press Cuozzo Realtors, said, "We do have a group that would keep the buildings up. They’re very serious; they’re doing their due diligence."
He said there are other prospective buyers. "The question is, can we find someone who could use the existing structures and make it economically viable?"
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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