July 28, 2021

Prospect Treasure Should Be Given Care and Protection It Deserves

To the Editor:

Prospect Avenue’s Eating Club Row, a contiguous collection of 16 majestic turn-of-the-century clubhouses, is a Princeton icon and unique in the world. The architectural grandeur of these exquisite manors rivals that of Newport’s magnificent mansions.

Across the street are the three sisters of Faculty Row, the Avenue’s oldest buildings. These Queen Annes tell a different story, a story rich in the humanities and the lives of the brilliant thinkers and refugees who lived and worked in them over the past century. Their graceful presence completes Prospect’s history, one not entirely about eating clubs.

W. Barksdale Maynard called Prospect, “the most beautiful suburban street in America.”

The University seeks a variance to move the Court Clubhouse out of the National Register Historic District and into a residential buffer zone, razing the three Victorians. Why would they denigrate a Historic District, when changing just 3 percent of their vast 15-acre proposal would avoid the sprawl and protect the legacy of our grandest public avenue?

The University hasn’t presented any educational or research imperative for this to happen in that exact location, especially with so many alternatives. The Rabinowitz-Simpson building at 20 Washington Road — a historic preservation triumph — is just one example.

Our town’s director of planning writes: “Considering historic preservation as well as sustainable development and the need for housing in Princeton, staff is concerned that three large viable residential structures are being destroyed in order to move a contributing element of Eating Club Row from its current and original location.”

Will the University listen?

The Historic Preservation Commission was unanimous in their recommendation to deny the proposal.

Does the University care?

PU representatives have threatened to obliterate the stately Court Clubhouse from the Historic District if the town doesn’t approve the variance required to move it and demolish the Victorians instead. Effectively, they are saying: “I will do harm — but if you resist, I will do worse harm.”

Is this truly what things have come to in Princeton?

In a 2016 meeting with town officials, President Eisgruber said: “I was thinking about how much we share between the University and the town. We have to work through tough issues, and, as we have acknowledged in the past, there will be frictions between our University and our town. But [we work] from a common core of values where the University has to be willing to help the town and the town has to be willing to help the University. We did grow up together and we will continue to grow together.”

Can we hold the University to its word?

This is a special thing we have here. It is not found anywhere else in the world. If we lose it — if it gets dismantled — it’s gone … forever.

We’ve been entrusted with a treasure, and we should give it the care and protection it deserves, for the benefit of present and future generations.

Please sign the community petition at change.org/saveprospect – and attend the critical Planning Board meeting online on September 23 at 7 p.m.

James Bash
Harrison Street