The nearly 100 year-old S.Z. Field building—which once shook with vibrations of printing presses, then was left for dead—reopened for business as part of a complex with 65 new apartments, many with original wood floors, brick, and beams.
New Haven’s preservationists made sure the historic buildings’ death sentence was commuted. In the process, a downtown block already thriving with nightlife (cafe 9, Skappo) and preserved gems like the Firehouse 12 jazz club/studio and the Organschi architects’ lair, has a new sturdy anchor and testament to living history.
The preservationists were on hand Wednesday afternoon at 38-44 Crown St. to celebrate the buildings’ rescue with Doug Hitchner, project manager for the developer, Philadelphia based PMC Property Group.
David Nyberg, who was in business with PMC, obtained one of the buildings for $500,000 from the city with the promise to restore it. He got the other two from private parties. Then the historic buildings fell apart through haphazard gutting and neglect. Under public pressure, PMC took over the project from Nyberg and started the rescue work at a high pitch this January.
PMC transformed facades to reflect the way the buildings looked a century ago. The period-appropriate designs include having 16 panes above another 16 in the windows with real, not glued on, mullions, the pieces of wood surrounding the glass. That allows for true divided light and a rich play of light and shadow.
Many of the apartment interiors make use of the original wood floors, original beams, brickwork, and different levels for a non-cookie cutter feeling.
Anstress Farwell, whose New Haven Urban Design League teamed up with the New Haven Preservation Trust for the preservation effort, called the restoration nothing short of “an extraordinary feat,” especially in a down economy.
In the three inter-linked buildings, the 65 apartments feature 12 two-bedrooms, and the balance one-bedroom, with a single commercial space on the street front of the Field Building. The monthly rents range from $1,150 to $1,575, according to property manager Lynda Cox, and after a month of showing, four have been rented.
“This shows historic preservation is economic development,” said New Haven Preservation Trust president Pedro Soto.
“You’re bringing back the history of the city, but [also] bringing them back to the grand list.”
A crowd of 30 people toured the model apartments. “Had these been done poorly, there’d be less interest,” Soto said.
NHPT Vice-President Bob Grzywacz said he was particularly moved by the “embodied energy” of the building. He said that consisted of the flow of energy from the past, from those who once made bricks and cut beams and did the designs that is still palpable in the building’s aura.
The complex’s neighbor across the street, Rob Greenberg of nearly 100-year-old ACME Furniture, said he had but one quibble: “I applaud this, I think it’s awesome. My main concern is they should put retail all across the street level,” that is, not only in the Field Building but in the two storefronts of the adjacent building.
“This was the most vibrant commercial neighborhood in the city,” Greenberg said. Having more retail space forces the developer to be more involved in the area and to encourage business, he said.
Gryzwacz said he did not want to criticize the developer, Farwell commented that in the best of all possible world she agreed. However, in the current economy, with a lot of vacant storefronts, she understood the choice. “We don’t have a market supporting” storefront retail at the moment, she said.