June 2, 2021

Urging Municipality to Designate Western End of Prospect Avenue as Historic District

To the Editor:

I am writing to urge the town to designate the western end of Prospect Avenue as a Local Historic District. Part of this neighborhood is currently on the National Register of Historic Places, but unfortunately, that does not seem to be enough to fully protect it.

I’ve lived in Princeton for half my life, much of which I’ve spent studying or teaching aesthetics, art history, language, and literature at the University I love. Every day for some two decades, I’ve relished walking, running, or riding up Prospect Avenue, taking in the charm of the Queen Anne Victorians to the right, and the grandeur of the 19th and early 20th century Eating Clubs to the left. As I’ve climbed the hill to the University, the historic character of these buildings has helped me transition to a community committed to the life of the mind and service. I understand why some have called our majestic Prospect Avenue the Champs-Élysées of Princeton.

In recent years, I’ve noticed that the Queen Anne Victorians have not been well tended to; the paint has been left to chip and the exteriors have fallen into some disrepair. Since the University has tremendous financial resources for new construction projects, I’ve wondered why its building managers have not better cared for the structures already under their charge.

Now to my dismay, I’ve learned that the architectural firm the University has hired wishes not only to tear down these lovely turn-of-the-century Victorians, but also to move the stately Club Courthouse away from Eating Club Row. Replacing it at 91 Prospect, the architect proposes a futuristic engineering complex, with strong horizontal lines of concrete and glass. The aesthetic of this new structure would be incompatible with the historic Prospect streetscape; it would encroach on the residential area nearby, and it would seem to provide a precedent for other historic buildings on Prospect to be destroyed or removed.

I call on our town to save the four historic buildings on this jewel of an avenue and to reject the replacement of the Club Courthouse by jarring new construction. As there is no shortage of land owned by the University; its architects should return to the drawing board and find another, more suitable location or design for the proposed engineering building.

Finally, as a Princeton alumna, a historian of aesthetics, and a concerned citizen, I request the municipality to designate the westernmost block of Prospect Avenue as a Local Historic District; this would ensure the appropriate long-term stewardship of this Princeton treasure.

Dr. Éva Martin
South Harrison Street