University’s Proposed Prospect Avenue Entrance is Detrimental to Public Interest
To the Editor:
We write with great concern about the University’s plans that will denigrate the Princeton Historic District and Prospect Avenue — a major public street — and we seek the help of the mayor and town Council in preventing this. The University’s proposed new Prospect Avenue entrance to its ES+SEAS development is detrimental to the public interest, and, as the Historic Preservation Commission unanimously recommends, the Planning Board should deny the University’s variance request.
We admire the University, but until its public presentation on May 27, the potential damage of its Prospect plan — just a 3 percent portion of the enormous 666,000 sf development – was generally unknown. The entrance violates National Park Service Guidelines by: 1) unnecessarily dislocating the former Court Club at 91 Prospect from Eating Club Row, out of the Princeton Historic District and off the National Register, to an isolated site across the street; 2) demolishing three perfectly viable and historically significant Victorian houses identified for preservation by the HPC and the Master Plan, and 3) erecting at 91 Prospect a new building and landscaping that will be incompatible with the historic streetscape.
In its report on a proposed municipal Prospect Avenue Historic District, named the Club Row Historic District in the Master Plan, HPC cited the houses as “part of the District’s visual and institutional history.” Notable scholars have lived in them, including Erwin Panofsky, “the most important art historian of the 20th Century,” and a “good companion” to fellow-refugee Albert Einstein. Indeed, the full history of the houses is yet to be discovered.
The groundswell in opposition to the threat to Prospect Avenue has been remarkable. A community petition at change.org/saveprospect has garnered over 800 signatures and counting. News articles, letters, and posts have documented widespread support for preserving Prospect as a transition between institutional and residential life. Nearly 80 community members attended the HPC meeting, and the overwhelming majority spoke in support of saving Prospect’s history, environment, and streetscape. The University presented no compelling justification for moving Court Club and denigrating the Princeton Historic District.
If implemented, the proposed entrance will establish a beachhead on Prospect for the future removal and demolition of other clubhouses and residential houses, and also set a precedent for the denigration of other historic districts. The development will waste the embodied carbon in existing buildings, contradicting the town and the University’s sustainability goals. It will also send a destructive message to students and the community that trampling Historic District preservation, Master Plan provisions, and sustainability is acceptable.
Please advise the University to redesign its proposed Prospect Avenue entrance to respect the public interest by complying with National Register Guidelines for Historic Districts, provisions of the Princeton Community Master Plan, and sustainability goals, by keeping Court Club in place, and preserving the three Victorian houses for much-needed mid-level housing.
Thank you for your attention to this matter of great concern to your constituents.
Lauren B. Davis