Historic homes spared from demolition

3367+Whitney+Avenue+is+one+of+the+historic+homes+being+saved+from+demolition.+

3367 Whitney Avenue is one of the historic homes being saved from demolition.

Matt Grahn

3367 Whitney Avenue is one of the historic homes being saved from demolition.
[/media-credit] 3367 Whitney Avenue is one of the historic homes being saved from demolition.

Quinnipiac has been in the process of demolishing former rental houses on their land along Whitney Avenue to free up space for other university uses. However, three houses on those properties of historic value will still stand.

Most of the demolition took place earlier in the year, but due to a Hamden ordinance, houses of historic value must be given a 90-day wait period before being cleared. However, it was decided during a Nov. 16 meeting between Quinnipiac and Hamden that three of the six houses of historic value will be given reprieve, according to Ken Minkema, president of the Hamden Historical Society.

Of the three buildings that will be spared, located on 3217, 3367, and 3369 Whitney Ave., two of them are on historic registries. 3217 is on the Historic Buildings of Connecticut list, and 3369 is on both that list and on the National Register of Historic Places, according to a letter that Minkema wrote on the Hamden Historical Society website.

Minkema said that the school was understanding of his groups’ needs.

“We’re gratified that the university is willing to do some of this important preservation work in cooperation with us,” he said.

However, Quinnnipiac will begin to tear down the buildings on 3235, 3335, and 3341 Whitney Ave. before the semester is over, according to John Morgan, associate vice president of public relations. Minkema still regrets not being able to save all the houses.

“When you make a change to the landscape like [demolition], you do lose a bit of a community’s memory. That’s important,” he said.

Minkema explained that the older buildings represent not only Hamden’s history in agriculture and manufacturing, but also the stories of people from the past.

“[The houses] represent family histories that will be no longer represented there,” Minkema said. “Not just the physical structures themselves, but the memory of the family will only be available in pictures and historical files.”

Sophomore Aaron Treinish understands the concern that Minkema has.

“I think that they should keep the historical aspect of the houses. I mean, history’s something that everyone should look back on and learn [from],” Treinish said.

Joe DeRisi, a local contractor, sent an email to Sal Filardi, Quinnipiac’s vice president of facilities and capital planning, when he first heard about the school’s plans. He said that people familiar with his business were bringing it to his attention on Facebook.

“Our position is that we always support saving historic buildings, but when they must be removed, deconstruction is a better alternative than demolition because it eliminates waste, produces good materials and creates jobs,” DeRisi said, paraphrasing his email to Filardi.

Urban Miners, DeRisi’s business, specializes in the process of deconstruction, which he said is taking a building apart, piece by piece, while saving parts to be reused. DeRisi said that the parts are then usually donated to nonprofit groups for resale.

Normally, DeRisi wouldn’t get involved in a project as far along as he feels that Quinnipiac’s deconstruction along Whitney Avenue is, but, as a “preservationist first,” DeRisi feels that saving some of the structures would be better than nothing.

“My view is that if you save all the elements of the building, then you’re still saving the building and materials that aren’t replaceable, even though you do lose form and context,” he said.

Minkema, who grew up in Hamden, feels that not only the current Whitney project, but also other activities the school has done in recent decades are challenges to the local culture.

“We have to recognize that Mount Carmel is changing, and that can be a good thing. It’s a hard thing for many residents to accept because Mount Carmel has been a relatively rural and low population area since the 1700s, but the presence of Quinnipiac University now and the rate at which it’s growing, that represents a significant change in the nature of that area,” he said.

Minkema feels that, even though it can be expensive, there is a benefit for the school to be able to preserve houses in the area.

“As an institution of higher learning, we hope that [Quinnipiac] would value history, whether it’s in the form of a house, or otherwise,” he said. “Secondly, I think it’s important in terms of relationships with the town.”

Minkema hopes that both the school and the town are able to respect each other as the process goes on.

“The people of Hamden are concerned with some of the issues relating to the impact the university is having on housing and other issues,” Minkema said. “But by the same token, if everybody can be considerate of everybody else, we can move forward. We can be a thriving community together.”