Restored Home Eyed For B&B

When last we left the former crack den and brothel at 9 Austin St., owners Thea Buxbaum and Rebecca Gratz had restored the 1820s Greek Revival house to its former grandeur—but weren’t sure what to do with it.

They know now what they want to do—open a bed and breakfast. Tuesday night they’ll ask the Board of Zoning Appeals to let them do that in an area zoned RM-1, medium density residential.

If the board says yes, the Austin Street Inn, with four guest rooms and a two-bedroom suite, would be scheduled to open in the next couple of months.

Click here to read a previous article about the house.

Buxbaum, 43, a driving force behind Westville center’s renewal, said that the house so far has cost about $525,000 to purchase and restore – with the restoration taking the lion’s share of $370,000.

The money came from “part of my kids’ college fund, part of my retirement and money borrowed from family,” she said.

“I would love to live in the house, but I can’t afford to,” she said. She now lives on the north side of West Rock Avenue, quarters that include the workshop of her husband, sculptor Gar Waterman. They have a son, Geffen, 5.

Buxbaum said she is sure the inn will be a success because of its location. People visiting children at Southern Connecticut State University and Yale could stay there rather than at hotels closer to downtown or in surrounding towns.

The idea of running an inn came naturally to her and her partner, Buxbaum said.

The Elm Shakespeare Co. had rented the house over the summer and expressed an interest in doing it again this year, which propelled her toward the bed and breakfast idea.

Then pieces started falling into place. The Columbia Mattress Co. offered her furniture if she would reupholster it. Calls to the firm seeking comment were not returned.  “I grew up doing costumes for the theater,” she said. Then came paintings that were loaned by the Kehler-Leddell gallery in Westville Village. (Most are for sale.)

Click on the video for an art tour of the public areas of the house.

Buxbaum said she ran a summer inn in Maine a few years ago. “I had 10-15 people for each meal. This only is breakfast,” she said.

“I am really good at beds and toilets,” she added.

People who stay at the inn would pay “about as much as the downtown hotels charge,” she said.  The Omni Hotel at Yale charges about $140 a night, according to its website.

Buxbaum said the inn also would offer special packages, such as spa treatments or a day with a personal trainer.

Buxbaum will bring to the zoning board “at least 10 letters of support, the support of three aldermen and lots of people in Westville,” she said.

Aldermanic President Carl Goldfield, whose 29th Ward includes Austin Street, initially expressed concern that the plans might allow people other than guests to frequent the property, but said he has been assured that won’t be the case.

He predicted the zoning board would approve the request. He hasn’t heard any opposition from people.

People who answered the phone at two of the city’s bed and breakfasts declined to comment on whether the market could support another local offering. Ginny Kozlowski, executive director of the Connecticut Hotel and Motel Association, said the market could easily sustain another bed and breakfast.

Visiting professors prefer more intimate bed and breakfasts over hotels, she said. Same with European visitors.

Koslowski called Buxbaum’s plan to offer spa treatments and other activities “good niche marketing.”

New Haven has three bed and breakfast:, the Farnam on Prospect Street, the Touch of Ireland on Whitney Avenue and the Historic Mansion Inn on Chapel Street.

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posted by: Morris Cove Mom on March 8, 2010  12:03pm

Sounds great…until you notice the line “She can’t afford to live there.”  Why?  Is it New Haven’s insane property taxes that are continually on the rise, or is it just another case of biting off more than you can chew/subprime mortgage?  Thanks for restoring the house, and in part erasing its awful history.  But what now?

posted by: East Rocker on March 8, 2010  2:33pm


How about because the house is really big?  According to the article, it has six bedrooms.  How many people can afford a newly refurbished six bedroom house?

But running it as a business could still make sense for her…

posted by: JB on March 8, 2010  3:40pm

Stunning home!  Thank you to the people who saved it.

posted by: Stoner on March 8, 2010  5:21pm

Observed daily from exterior as this house got restored.  Absolutely terrific job.  It was so close to demolition and now really looks great.  I am shocked, but now understand how Thea did this… $370,000 in renovation.  Of course the structure is not feasible as owner occupied for even people of better than modest means.  The B&B is an interesting idea.  Is the building viable now as apartments?  If it were to be a B&B, then Thea should join with neighbors to push for restoration of the riverside walk from the ball fields to, well, her house.  That flood gulleys from two years ago have not yet been filled at a bridge is a disgrace.  And the canyon along the river with fencing on both sides is rather scary, considering bikes and pedestrians both use the pathway.

posted by: Sunday on March 8, 2010  5:56pm

What a great ideal. This is what Beaverhill need instead of bars and mayhem. I support this ideal 100% so should the community. I would tell my friend to live there when in town. Better a bed & breakfast than another sober house poping up in the area.

posted by: Random Local on March 8, 2010  7:38pm

Best wishes on the venture.  Good location with the West Rock, SCSU, gallery’s and bar’s.  Sound like a good time to pitch for the downtown free trolley to come out to Westville at least on weekend a couple time a day.  As a B&B at least it would be empty like the building on the corner of Whalley and West Rock or Fitch and Blake or the building next to New West.  The last thing we need is dumping any money into a building that just stays empty.

posted by: robn on March 9, 2010  12:53pm

I really appreciate restoration, but zoning variances aren’t supposed to be granted on the basis of financial hardship. Whats the hardship?

If there is none then either they have to apply for PDD like Yale did for the SOM or they should lobby for the zoning law to be changed.

posted by: Elaine Braffman on March 9, 2010  4:44pm

Thea, you are so good for Westville and the entire city. Being creative and not being afraid to try something new is two of your many strengths. When I saw this structure renovated to its original form, wow, amazing. Good luck my friend!

posted by: Cinda Cash on March 10, 2010  5:19am

I lived in that building from 1969-71.  It was owned by a man who lived on West Rock Avenue and it was used as an off campus girl’s dormitory for about 30 or so young women who attended SCSU.  I was hired as the “house mother” and managed the “girls” and the house.  I was provided a small apt and a small monthly stipend by the owner.  Through the years I would sometimes drive by and see the continual disrepair of the building.  I am so happy that Thea and her partner renovated the building as it is a wonderful asset to the Westville community.  Seeing the building brings back many memories.  Congratulation to all involved in bringing this beautiful building back to life!