Three Victorian houses on Prospect Avenue, threatened by demolition to make way for the relocation of the former Court Club eating club building from across the street, have been saved from the wrecking ball.
Three days before the Princeton Planning Board’s Oct. 21 meeting to act on a minor site plan application that would have required demolition of the Queen Anne-style Victorian houses at 110-116 Prospect Ave., Princeton University officials submitted a revised site plan that would preserve them.
The Princeton Planning Board approved the minor site plan application, which moves the house at 110 Prospect Ave. to the rear of the houses at 114-116 Prospect Ave. The former Court Club building at 91 Prospect Ave. will be moved across the street to occupy the former site of 110 Prospect Ave.
Princeton University initially was seeking minor site plan approval to tear down the three Victorian houses because it needed room for the Court Club building, which houses the offices of the Dean of Research.
A variance was needed to permit a 105-foot buffer between the Court Club in its proposed location and the adjacent Prospect Apartments. The apartment building is next door to 116 Prospect Ave. The minimum buffer is 250 feet.
The demolition-and-relocation plan was key to Princeton University’s planned development of the Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (ES+SEAS) complex – about 3% of which would sit on land occupied by the former Court Club at 91 Prospect Ave.
But historic preservationists, led by the Princeton Prospect Foundation, objected to the proposed demolition. An online petition opposing the plan was signed by more than 1,700 people.
Princeton University – which at first had balked at options presented by the Princeton Prospect Foundation to save at least two of the houses – worked with the objectors to find a solution.
In a memorandum submitted to Princeton municipal planning officials in advance of the Oct. 21 Planning Board meeting, Princeton University officials agreed to relocate the four buildings. Officials said that if the latest plan would be approved – which it was at the Oct. 21 meeting – then the university would agree to several conditions.
Princeton University agreed to support creating a new local historic district to be approved by the Princeton Council. It would be called the Prospect Avenue Historic District, and would increase the boundaries of a previously proposed local historic district that was never enacted.
The proposed local historic district would encompass a portion of Prospect Avenue, beginning at Washington Road and stopping at Murray Place on the north side of the street. It would not include the academic buildings on the corner of Washington Road.
On the south side of the street, it would include all of the eating club buildings, beginning at Washington Road and stopping two lots short of Fitzrandolph Road. The eating clubs on both sides of the street, which historically have met students’ needs for food and social activities, would be included.
The proposed district would include the Ferris Thompson Gateway and brick wall, which led to athletic fields on the north side of Prospect Avenue. The athletic fields have been redeveloped for other uses by Princeton University.
A local Prospect Avenue historic district was first proposed in 1992. The Princeton Community Master Plan’s historic preservation element recommended creating the Club Row Historic District, but no action was taken.
Most of the area of Prospect Avenue is included in the larger Princeton Historic District, which was entered on the State Register of Historic Places in 1973 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
The Princeton Historic District encompasses a large swath of the former Princeton Borough, including most of the Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary campuses and parts of Mercer Street and Nassau Street.
Unlike the state and national Register of Historic Places, a property included in a local historic district would require a review by the Princeton Historic Commission for alterations or additions visible from the street.
Princeton University also agreed to submit an application or nomination to the state Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service to request a boundary line adjustment to add the affected buildings – plus the Prospect Apartments at 120 Prospect Ave. – to the Princeton Historic District.
The Ferris Thompson Gateway and associated brick wall, adjacent to the newly relocated Court Club house, would be included in the revised boundary. The submission would be made within six months of relocating the Court Club and 110 Prospect Ave.
Princeton University officials agreed to rehabilitate 110-116 Prospect Ave., which have deteriorated. The houses at 110 Prospect Ave. and 114 Prospect Ave. will be renovated for residential use. The former Court Club building and 116 Prospect Ave. will continue to be used for offices.
“(This plan) respects the tradition of the street and makes a park-like setting where all of the buildings can be seen together,” Princeton University Architect Ron McCoy told the Planning Board at its Oct. 21 meeting.
It demonstrates Princeton University’s support for historic preservation, McCoy said. A local historic district would offer more protection than a listing on the state or national registers, he said.
Princeton Councilwoman Mia Sacks, who sits on the Planning Board, praised Princeton University officials.
“I want to tell you how incredibly thrilled I am,” Sacks said.
It is important for the town and the university to listen to one another, Sacks said. This “bodes well” for future interactions between Princeton and Princeton University and how they can work together on future land use projects, she said.
“I, too, did a happy dance,” Planning Board Chairman Louise Wilson said.
Wilson described the revised plan as an “elegant solution.” It was a tough application and she admitted to losing sleep over it.
Architectural historian Clifford Zink, who worked with the Princeton Prospect Foundation to offer alternate designs, thanked Princeton University officials for their recent cooperation to “break the logjam.”
Zink also thanked the Save Prospect Coalition and the 1,700-plus signers of the petition opposing Princeton University’s initial plan to demolish the Victorian houses and to move the Court Club building across the street.
Zink is the author of “The Princeton Eating Clubs,” which traces the history and architectural design of the eating clubs. The clubs, which are not affiliated with Princeton University, serve the same function as fraternities and sororities.