January 23, 2013

With Arts Development Subject of Litigation, PU Is Demolishing Mid-19th Century Houses

To the Editor:

If Princetonians want to see something sad, they should drive down Alexander Street. Between the WaWa and Skillman Furniture, opposite the golf course, Princeton University is demolishing the pleasant mid-nineteenth-century houses that grace this major entry into Princeton.

These houses were considered for historic preservation some years ago, but protection was never granted, Why? Sometimes municipalities don’t get around to doing things they should do. And maybe historic preservation seemed less urgent for houses that already have gaps between them.

In contrast, northern Alexander Street’s 1834 houses remain intact within the protected Mercer Hill Historic District. But isn’t protection nearly as urgent for the few remaining houses below the WaWa that suggest how beautiful this streetscape also was?

And isn’t it cynical of the University to begin making way for arts classrooms by tearing down houses? Yes, the University owns those houses, and, yes, it has every legal right to destroy them. But, although the University’s arts classrooms recently received Planning Board approval, the development is still the subject of litigation. No fewer than three lawsuits seek to enjoin the University from building arts classrooms and moving the Dinky.

Shovels in the ground would be met with an injunction. Demolishing history and charm is a cheap way to create a fait accompli. Must Nassau Hall destroy an authentic gateway to its historic campus and our historic town, especially when a new University president will soon be appointed, one who may know better what our university owes itself and us?

Anne Waldron Neumann

Alexander Street