Standing amid the soaring ceilings and architectural splendor of the 19th century Anderson Mansion, Shmully Hecht vowed to prevent a “crime”—by reviving the East Rock treasure.
“This is the greatest architectural icon in the city and possibly the state,” Hecht (pictured), one of New Haven’s busiest property owners, declared on a tour of the building at 442-444 Orange St. Hecht’s not-for-profit, the Shabtai Jewish global membership Society at Yale University, has bought the mansion for $1.5 million, according to city records. He’s now planning to renovate the mansion to restore it to grandeur and then have the society relocate there from its current Crown Street headquarters.
It would be “criminal” to convert the building to something other than its new, intended use, Hecht argued. He offered that his first visit to the building was to assess the building’s real estate potential, an idea that quickly changed after speaking to a cousin who saw the potential in preserving the building’s historic features and structure.
The Shabtai Society cofounder (along with, among others, then Yale law student, now U.S.. Sen. Cory Booker) said he plans, among other changes, the installation of a new commercial grade kitchen for Shabtai events. One could envision shelves of books rising to the ceiling as Hecht moved through several rooms that will serve as the new library. On the first floor just off the foyer, Hecht pointed to a great room that will serve as a ballroom and conference space (pictured).
Built in 1882 by John C. Anderson, the son of a wealthy New York tobacconist, the 17,000 square-foot mansion is listed in the National Registry of Historic Places and has served in the past as a school and office building. Though it was updated in 1995, the mansion retains most of the original interior and exterior appointments characteristic of the Victorian-era French Second Empire style.
From the ornate, cast-iron cresting above the mansard double sloping roof ridges and dormer windows, to the elaborate cast-iron fence that graces the front lawn, decorative architectural elements abound. The sturdy brackets and molded cornices of the building’s exterior, carved porch pillars, and prominent center tower all harken back to the Victorian era when lavish detail was the currency of opulence.
Inside, sunken wood panels, carved ornate pediments and trim, together with marble fireplaces and massive stained glass windows, are remarkably well preserved and poised to inspire an upcoming generation of leaders and visitors.
Hecht called the acquisition of the Anderson Mansion nothing short of “miraculous.” Much is owed to serendipity and good timing,along with financial backing from benefactor and businessman Benny Shabtai and family, who began the endowment process by facilitating purchase of the mansion, and from whom the Shabtai Society takes its current name. Formerly called Eliezer, and Chai Society before that, Shabtai House is presently located in adjoining brownstones on Crown Street. Purchase of those buildings was also made possible by Shabtai. The society has outgrown its current space.
The club will continue to bring global Jewish and non-Jewish leaders to “engage and help groom a new generation of leaders drawn from the campus’s best and brightest, with a commitment to service and making the world a better place” said Hecht. Shabtai will also build on its tradition of being a place for prayer and study, and a place for community-building through its array of activities that include dinners, symposia, lectures, art exhibits, movie screenings and social events, as well as providing short and long term residency for visiting scholars and guests. To date, Shabtai has hosted over 350 prominent guest speakers from the fields of academia, arts and entertainment, literature, journalism, business, politics, important judges, and Israeli leaders and legends. This year alone, Shabtai has hosted 50 speakers including most recently, Jonathan Klein, CEO and cofounder of Getty Images. Klein, who grew up in South Africa amid the throes of apartheid, delivered an impassioned talk about the power and impact of good photographic imagery, as students and guests completed a large family-style dinner.
An endowment campaign to remodel and furnish the building’s interior and sustain activities over the long haul is now underway.