In the late ’60s, it was New Haven’s very own Haight-Ashbury (pictured). Later it became a blighted eyesore. Today? An upscale duplex. It’s for sale — if you’ll live there.
An open house was held at the property, 203 Dwight St., Wednesday evening, hosted by Neighborhood Housing Services. The not-for-profit agency rescued and renovated the building anchoring the corner of Dwight and Edgewood.
The event marked the placement of the house onto the market, available for purchase by an owner-occupier only.
Friends and donors of NHS toured the fancy digs, marveling at the building’s transformation and complimenting Henry Dynia, the designer. Also present was a nostalgic Raffael Dilauro, the proprietor of Group W Bench. His hippie boutique is now on Chapel Street; he has fond memories of when the store first opened back in 1968 in what is now a posh new apartment.
A Unique Property
“This is an unusual project for us,” said Jim Paley (pictured at left), executive director of NHS, standing in front of the building’s colorful new facade. Neighborhood Housing Services normally focuses specifically on remodeling old properties to create low-income housing. But 203 Dwight St is for sale at market rate. Paley explained that this particular project was more about neighborhood stabilization and revitalization than low-income housing creation.
That’s why the deed contains the anti-absentee-landlord condition. It states that whoever buys the property (for a mere $449,500) must live in it for at least five years. (Click here for more background on the project.)
When asked if he was worried about trying to sell a nearly half-million dollar house in the current housing market, Paley said that the the novelty and stylishness of the duplex would make it attractive to buyers. “This is a unique property that is going to appeal to someone who is just going to love it.”
NHS purchased the building (pictured) from the city for $75,000 and sank about $350,000 into the renovations. What had been two abandoned stores now contains two apartments, one designed as an owner-occupied flat and the other as a rental unit. Paley speculated that the rental side would be “ideal for Yale grad students.”
Paley said that neighborhood residents had worked with the city to ensure that no absentee landlords would be buying the building. “This thing had been blighted for so long, the neighbors had just had it,” said Paley.
“It was a rotting mess,” said Henry Dynia (pictured holding a photo of the original Group W Bench), describing the state of the property prior to renovation. Dynia, NHS’s director of design and construction, masterminded the renewal of the building. He said that the building had suffered from years of neglect and was filled with water and mold.
“It was hideous,” he said, standing on the sidewalk with a light bulb in his hand, ready to put the finishing touch on the bedroom lighting.
Moving inside, Dynia began to give a reporter a tour of the apartments. It was slow going, with people constantly interrupting to congratulate him. (“Nice job, Henry!” “This is sooo nice.” “It looks beautiful!”) He managed to show it all.
With obvious pride, he pointed out the storage spaces that had been worked into the small apartment, the marble-lined bathroom (equipped with a jacuzzi tub), the private roof deck (with gas hookup for a grill), even the dry and spacious basement.
In the master bedroom of the “owner’s apartment” Dynia pointed out the window to the neighboring Rainbow Park, a small fenced-in green space right next to the building. “This has been here since the ’70s,” he said. “This was the Haight-Ashbury of New Haven.” When Group W Bench occupied the building, he explained, everyone used to go and buy their rolling papers in the store and then go smoke pot in Rainbow Park. More recently, neighborhood families reclaimed and beautified the space as a play area for children.
Up on the roof deck Wednesday eveing, Raffael Dilauro (pictured with Linda Papa, left, and Kathy Fay, rehab specialists at NHS), the owner and founder of Group W Bench said that he agreed with the Haight-Ashbury label.
Dilauro’s store occupied the building for a few years, starting in 1968. Dilauro wasn’t sure when he had moved the business to Chapel Street. “‘72? ’74?” he said, shrugging. “Around ’74. Let’s say ’74.”
“The neighborhood still feels good,” he said, “and it seems a lot safer.” Dilauro said that he had had to get a dog because people were breaking into the shop after it first opened.
The dog solved some problems and created others. It bit the mailman (Dilauro paid him $25 dollars), and it landed Dilauro in court because it barked all night. He was defended by Attorney George Johnson. “He was the lawyer for the Black Panthers,” said Dilauro. At the trial, one of Dilauro’s neighbors testified that “the dog has stopped barking but I still hear it.”
“It was sort of like an Arlo Guthrie thing,” said Dilauro happily.
Another fond memory was the big old forced hot air furnace in the store’s basement. “We used to line the furnace with a pound of incense and then fire it up,” he said, laughing. The furnace would then saturate the store with incense smoke.
“Overall it worked well for us here,” he said.