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Proposed Prospect Avenue Historic District includes Princeton University’s undergraduate eating clubs

The Historic Preservation Commission has declined to endorse Princeton University's plans to tear down three Victorian houses on Prospect Avenue and to relocate the former Court Club building across the street to the land occupied by the three houses.

The Princeton Council has introduced an ordinance to create the Prospect Avenue Historic District, which – if approved – would make it the town’s 21st historic district.

A second reading and public hearing on the ordinance is set for the council’s July 11 meeting. The meeting, which is on Zoom, starts at 7 p.m.

The proposed Prospect Avenue Historic District is centered on Princeton University’s undergraduate eating clubs, which are not affiliated with the university.

The proposed district includes 15 undergraduate eating clubs – 11 of which are still used for that purpose. And three Victorian houses at 110, 114 and 116 Prospect avenues. They line both sides of Prospect Avenue, between Washington Road and Murray Place

The eating clubs meet the students’ needs for food and social activities. Their function is similar to the Greek fraternities and sororities on many college campuses, officials said.

The proposed local historic district encompasses a portion of Prospect Avenue, beginning at Washington Road and stopping at Murray Place on the north side of the street. It excludes the academic buildings on the corner of Washington Road and Prospect Avenue.

On the south side of Prospect Avenue, the proposed district stops two properties short of Fitzrandolph Road.

The three-story brick apartment building on the corner of Prospect Avenue and Murray Place is included in the proposed local historic district.

The proposed district would also include the Ferris Thompson Wall and gateway, which lead to the former athletic fields on the north side of Prospect Avenue. The fields have been redeveloped for other uses by the university.

This is the second time a historic district designation has been proposed for Prospect Avenue. The first was in 1992, but it was never enacted. The Princeton Community Master Plan’s historic preservation element recommended creating the Club Row Historic District at that time.

The impetus for moving ahead with a local historic district – 30 years after it was first proposed – stems from Princeton University’s plans to demolish three Victorian houses and move another building to their site to make way for a campus project.

The demolition-and-relocation plan was key to the University’s planned development of the Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences complex – about 3% of which was proposed to sit on land occupied by the former Court Club eating club.

A compromise was negotiated that saved the three Victorian houses and allowed the Court Club building to be moved across the street. Princeton University has supported a proposed Prospect Avenue Historic District.

Most 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 includes most of the Princeton University and Princeton Theological campuses, and parts of Nassau Street and Mercer Street.

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