A 21st Century local hero and a “jewel of 19th Century reality” were among the people and buildings recognized at the 2018 New Haven Preservation Trust awards ceremony.
The hero: retired longtime City Plan Executive Director Karyn Gilvarg.
The jewel: Henry Austin-architected little Trinity Church Home Chapel building at 301 George St.
They both received warm accolades from 50 people gathered on the second floor of city hall Tuesday afternoon for the fifth annual New Haven Preservation Trust event. This year’s theme: “saving New Haven.”
Gilvarg was given the Margaret Flint award, named for a 1970s-era president of the NHPT who quarterbacked fights including for the preservation of the library and the Church Street post office, now the federal court building facing the east side of the Green.
“She’s made preservation a cornerstone of our city’s future,” said NHPT awards committee chair Duo Dickinson. He hailed Gilvarg’s service, characterized by “integrity, fairness, encyclopedic knowledge” of the city and — count them — approximately 1,500 applications for construction or land use change that she oversaw during her 23-year tenure.
That’s what earned her his sobriquet “local hero.” Her old City Plan colleague Joy Ford said preservation came to Gilvarg naturally and deeply: “It’s in her chemistry.”
Sam Gardner, a principal with Gregg Wies & Gardner Architects, accepted the trust’s Merit Plaque honoring sensitive adaptive reuse. His firm was hired by Robert Smith, Metro-Star Properties developer, to put in a block’s worth of market and luxury apartments on various plots of the old Salvation Army site between Crown and George, College and York.
In the middle of the evolving block sits a chapel building, the 1868 survivor of a small compound of five original buildings that had originally been given to Trinity Church on the Green to serve parishioners as well as the indigent.
Gardner described the chapel building as a falling-down mess. Smith bought into preserving the Austin chapel’s exterior, while the insides — with some trusses and uniquely shaped spaces and elegant old windows preserved — have become apartments.
The chapel, with a staircase column attaching to the adjoining new building, combined with the two apartment buildings facing George Street add up to about 78 apartments, just finished and now renting, Gardner said.
Bricks, dormers, new windows, and a new slate-like roof all make the chapel building look old and new at the same time. Or as Dickinson said, “a jewel of 19th Century reality.”
Usually preservation organizations come in at the tail end of battles as rescuers. This instance was different. “He [Smith] was grateful that the trust was involved early and was happy to engage from the beginning. This was a great balance between a developer’s initiative and preservation, ” Gardner said.
The trust’s Landmark Plaque was awarded to the Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church, a congregation nearing its 200th year and today in a building, from the 1968 redevelopment era, that Dickinson, paraphrasing New Haven architectural historian Elizabeth Mills Brown, called a crystal over a moat commanding its space.
Architect Bob Grzywacz nabbed the House Preservation Award for his loving restoration of his 23 Foster St., 1886 Queen Anne-style home.
The decades-long labor of love included replacing a 60-year old roof, which included removal of three layers of asphalt shingles and replacing all that with new wood shingles. He recently finished repainting the entire exterior in a mix of colors that took six months to implement.
The citation hailed the work as “40 years of thoughtful devotion.”
Gilvarg reviewed the success of preservation in New Haven, including the creation of the historic districts and many individual buildings. She cited failures as well, such as not being able to preserve the Phoenix Building on Chapel Street.
Among buildings under current “threat” she included the Goffe Street armory and the old Hamilton Street clock factory, although she expressed hope that rescue is on the way for the latter.
And she cited the many one-to-three family houses, many with lead paint, throughout the city. “They are not easily replaced. They must be abated and cared for, she said.
Citing the importance of preservation as providing context and stories for the human beings who inhabit a place, she said preservation “is not just ‘relics.’ It’s a value.”