October 27, 2021

Thanking Everyone Who Worked to Achieve Prospect Avenue Compromise

To the Editor:

As a Princeton alumna and longtime resident, I would like to thank everyone in town and at the University who has worked to achieve the Prospect Avenue compromise. I am grateful, proud, and relieved to know that my alma mater does what its professors teach its students to do: listen, work together wherever we can, and seek better solutions.

It is heartening to know that all four historic buildings in question, Court Clubhouse and the three Queen Annes of Faculty Row, will be restored to their former and inspiring beauty. It’s encouraging that the University heard the pleas of the surrounding community and its alums and pledged to support a local historic district on Prospect. It’s fitting that the oldest buildings on the Avenue, the Victorians at 110 and 114, will once again be put to residential use and will be honored for their roles in Princeton’s history as homes of luminaries and sanctuaries to refugees. It’s reassuring that the University will work with stakeholders to develop a landscape design for the new building at 91 Prospect that will be compatible with the avenue’s historic streetscape.

Let’s not stop with this victory. At present, there is nothing residents can do to prevent teardowns of architecturally or historically significant buildings (such as the fine brick house at 164 Prospect) if they occur outside of a historic district or when no variance is required. But our future can be different. We must refine and strengthen the historic preservation ordinances already on our books and seek to address wanton teardowns from as many angles as possible, both within and without established historic districts.

For example, we could follow other New Jersey towns and National Trust guidance and enact a general demolition review law — separate from historic preservation ordinances — to delay the razing of all structures over a certain age, regardless of known significance (see J. H. Miller, “Protecting Potential Landmarks Through Demolition Review”). A general demolition review law wouldn’t avert all destruction of lovely older homes, but it would ensure a months-long review process by the Historic Preservation Commission and could deter those seeking to make a quick profit. Princeton Council will soon be revising our Master Plan, and strengthening our preservation provisions should be central to that effort.

For now, though, let us take a moment to celebrate this coming together of town and gown to preserve and restore Prospect’s Court Clubhouse and three historic Queen Annes. This compromise is the right and reasonable thing to do. It honors our cultural and human heritage while providing the structures and spaces necessary for future scientific collaborations and innovations. A Theorist Pavilion of the 21st century will soon look across the street upon Theorists’ Parlors of the 20th. Congratulations to the great many community members who made their voices heard in this process. They have mattered and continue to matter!

Éva Martin ’06
Harrison Street