A developer planning to resurrect the popular Delaney’s Restaurant & Tap Room in Westville Village told neighbors Wednesday night that he has taken pains to preserve what made the spot beloved, down to the same number of tables, operating hours and staff.
But, much to neighbors’ disappointment, the century-old building’s look won’t be making a comeback.
That nostalgic sentiment was shared Wednesday night at a meeting hosted by Westville Village Renaissance Association (WVRA).
Neighbors gathered at Lyric Hall to hear about the design and offer feedback to architect Leon Mularski, Jr., and developer Lior Israel.
Fans of the old Delaney’s Restaurant & Tap Room, a 1900 building that burned down in a 2014 fire, said they want a building that looks from the outside closer to what they remember. Echoing these critical comments about the design made by readers in the Independent, they said they wish the new building going up at 882 Whalley Ave. just would have a bit more personality.
But they added they’re still likely to support the developer when he goes before the Board of Zoning Appeals next Tuesday to apply for special exceptions for side-yard requirements, limited parking and a liquor license in order to start rebuilding on what has been a vacant lot at Central Evenue and Whalley since the fire.
In total, the project is expected to cost $3.2 million, according to Lior. Spanning 23,500 square feet across three floors, it will feature a 180-seat restaurant on the corner and 22 apartments above, with a mix of seven one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom units on each floor.
Mularski guessed that they team would start construction before summer and wrap up by the end of next winter.
In the meantime, he said, he’s still improving his designs. He recently rounded off a sharp edge at the corner into a gradual curve, out of which canopies will extend above Delaney’s seats. He also tried to soften the gables.
And at the meeting, he tested out the way adding shutters around the windows would change the look.
Next at the top of his to-do-list, he’s trying to figure out what to do with the side facing Central Avenue. From a column, recessed balconies extend out parallel to the sidewalk, adding rhythm to the upper floors and making the building more approachable. “That’s why there are jut-outs, instead of monoliths,” he explained. But Mularski doesn’t like how blocky the middle portion still feels; he thinks there’s something missing.
“We’re trying very hard to scale down and keep a neighborhood feel,” he said. “It’s hard to take a modern design and make it look old.”
Tom Ciancia, a pianist, said he was pleased to have a developer in the area, but he wondered if the building felt right. “I’m not an architectural expert, but it seems a little modern, with a few throwbacks,” he said. “Is there any way to keep on the style of what it was?”
Jaime Kane, a teacher at the Westville Community Nursery School, agreed, saying the building design lacks the “historic charm” of its predecessor. “I recognize it’s new, and I feel grateful and fortunate that we’ll have vibrant housing and restaurants again on the main street of Westville, but I think there could be more with the facade,” Kaine said.
State Rep. Patricia Dillon said the neighborhood is depending on the architect to get the design right. For too long, she said, Westville’s been seen as a drive-through on the way to Bethany, but with Delaney’s as a centerpiece, the area has a chance to stop motorists.
“Is there something that grabs you?” Dillon asked. “Makes you go to the business across the street? Builds on what you’ve already done?”
Several constituents who contacted her said it didn’t; judging from the pictures alone, she hadn’t made up her mind.
Daniel Eugene, an artist, suggested adding a splash of color to the building with murals. “I wonder if that might be a solution to a boring or overly conventional street facade,” he said. Mularski said he’d been in talks with WVRA about displaying local artists’ work, but they hadn’t committed to anything yet.
The city is also looking into what it can do to activate the streetscape, said Michael Pinto, the deputy traffic and parking director who lives a few blocks down from Delaney’s. Along the short block where Central Avenue begins, between Fountain Street and Whalley Avenue, there’s talk of creating a pedestrian walkway and room for outdoor seating. The city doesn’t have permission to close down the street itself, because it’s currently on a state bus route, he added.
In addition to sending Mularski back to the drawing board, Israel said, he is doing what he can to preserve a historic feel, including with building materials.
For instance, the exterior will be made with real bricks, he pointed out. “We could have made it cheaper with vinyl siding,” he noted, as neighbors booed and hissed. “I promise it’s not going to be vinyl. We’re willing to spend money on expensive bricks, so the look is antique.”
“Thank you!” someone yelled out.
One big outstanding question is whether Peter Gremse, the former manager, will return. Gresme made an appearance at the meeting Wednesday night; he stayed mum about whether he could commit to a return.