Touring a freshly renovated building at 250 Crown St., 25 members of the New Haven Preservation Trust had to side step some boxes and a bit of the normal chaos associated with students moving into new digs. But this was no ordinary “rooming house,” and the new tenants, no ordinary students.
Members of the Yale University “Baker’s Dozen,” an a capella singing group founded in 1947 that tours both nationally and globally, recently relocated from their “rundown house” on Howe Street into the newly renovated Crown Street building, which dates to 1910, according to real estate records (though members of Preservation Trust believe the actual date may be 1845 or earlier).
The handsome Greek Revival structure, which abuts the popular Bar restaurant, is a rare, residential jewel among a sea of parking lots and restaurants. Part of the original Crown Street neighborhood, it once served as an oyster house, its basement a receptacle for oysters brought
in from the nearby West River of another era.
The house, which had been family-owned and occupied, was eventually vacated. The owner refused to sell to developers that showed interest in razing the building or converting it to anything but residential property. Languishing on the market for a period, the house was eventually bought by Pike International, among New Haven’s largest residential real estate management companies.
“WTF,” read a large sign in the middle of the building’s facade the day of the tour, which took place last week. There may be a hidden message in the social media shorthand, but the letters are underscored with a question: “Why the fuss?”
Leading the tour, architect Fernando Pastor, who has worked on a number of New Haven area projects, described the fuss involved in the renovation, which involved tailoring the building to “cohort,” or rooming-house living. Pike has done that for a number of projects in the Crown Street area for Yale teams and groups, at the so-called “hockey house,” the “basketball house,” the “rowing house,” and now the “Baker’s Dozen Haus.”
Wednesday’s tour provided New Haven Preservation Trust members with a counterpoint to a pre-renovation tour they had experienced eight months earlier. A first floor tour highlighted some original features such as the random pine plank floors, marble fireplaces, and an original cast iron radiator, that while not functional, provides a visual window on the building’s mechanical history.
At the request of Baker’s Dozen, a 100-year old door from the original house, complete with an etched window bearing the group’s logo, was installed between the foyer and kitchen.
In a departure from much of the preserved antiquity, the kitchen boasted new appliances, granite counters from a local distributor, and new cabinetry, that while not at the high end, were chosen for their ability to withstand the rigors of group living.
Tall windows and high ceilings, architectural elements that are original to the structure, provide a light-infused environment. But much of what makes the renovated house so livable is the investment in mechanicals. Contractor Jose DeJesus noted the new HVAC system for heating and cooling, the on-demand water heater, the low ER crystal, six-over-six windows, new plumbing and electrical systems, and a new slab basement floor. A plumbing inspection scheduled on the day of the tour was expected, along with a final certificate of occupancy shortly thereafter.
As an architect who champions a preservationist approach to housing development, Pastor emphasized the potential for well-designed housing in the city. His late father was an urban planner in Buenos Aires and headed up restoration and reconstruction efforts after a
devastating earthquake in 1944. “I have this in my blood,” Pastor said.
New Haven Preservation Trust Treasurer Susan Godshall seemed to express the consensus of the tour group: “The Pastor and Pike International team are great assets for New Haven. They understand the richness and value of the housing stock and try to preserve as much as they can.”