Residents start petition calling on Princeton University to reconsider plans to demolish three Prospect Avenue homes and move former Court Club

The three houses university officials want to demolish on Prospect Avenue.

Some residents have begun a petition to protest Princeton University’s plans to demolish three large Queen Anne Victorian homes on Prospect Avenue and replace them with a former eating club building that is currently located on the other side of the street.

In recent years, the university has demolished homes on Alexander Street and Olden Street to make way for new buildings, such as the arts and transit neighborhood buildings. Several other new developments and changes in town, including new proposed on-street parking regulations, have caused some residents to raise concerns about the future of the town that is known for its historic charm.

Princeton University officials are seeking minor site plan approvals and variances to move the Court Clubhouse at 91 Prospect Avenue across the street to 110-116 Prospect Avenue. Court Clubhouse was an eating club called the Court Club from 1928 to 1964. It currently serves as the office of the dean for research at the university. The three large homes at 110, 114, and 116 Prospect Avenue would be demolished to make way for the Court Club House. Two of the homes, which were used for housing, are vacant, and the third is being used as an office and computer research lab. The properties bring in more than $84,000 in property tax revenue annually, according to public records. The university is seeking a hardship variance from the local planning board to move Court Clubhouse. The land at 91 Prospect Avenue would be used for part of the university’s environmental science and school of engineering and applied science complex.

Prospect Avenue south
The former Court Club on Prospect Avenue.

Municipal staff members expressed concerns about the project in a memo to the site plan review advisory committee, calling on the university to preserve the three homes and to consider incorporating the building at 91 Prospect Avenue into the proposed environmental science and school of engineering complex,allowing the three large homes to be preserved and renovated for housing in a town with a major housing shortage. Staff members noted also that the Princeton Community Master Plan recommends the designation of the “Club Row Historic District” along Prospect Avenue to preserve and protect the houses that were built as private dining clubs along Prospect Avenue. The former Court Club is part of the proposed district and is listed on the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places.

The Princeton Prospect Foundation has put together a 19-page presentation about the proposal. The foundation argues that the university’s plan would destroy three historic houses, insert an incompatible building into the landscape, irreparably harming the historic district and Prospect Avenue streetscape.

Many residents in the neighborhood also oppose the project, saying the changes are not necessary and will ruin the character of the street dubbed by one author as “the most beautiful suburban street in America.”

University officials have argued that the project, part of the school’s East Campus plan, is necessary to make way for the new environmental science and engineering complex in order to attract the best and brightest scholars and researchers to the engineering department.

The site plan review advisory board recommended Thursday that the application move forward. Princeton Historic Preservation Commission will discuss the application at 3 p.m. on Monday, June 7. A planning board hearing on the proposed project is set for 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 17. The petition, started two days ago, has been posted on

Image from the petition opposing the project.

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  1. The best and brightest students will still come even if those homes stay! What nonsense.

  2. Princeton University doesn’t give a crap about residents or even its own faculty who are residents. Maybe it doesn’t even care about alienating potential donors who belong to eating clubs, now that it operates like a gains hedge fund with billions and seems to care about appeasing giant donors like it did Peter Lewis for the arts center that was sold to the community as a place that would allegedly become Princeton’s Lincoln Center and provide all this extra space for community gatherings and nonprofits to practice and perform. In reality it’s an ugly complex that is basically professor offices and practice rooms.

  3. The town of Princeton lets the University do whatever it wants, and the University gives back as little as possible to the town. There will be protests, petitions, and town halls, and even if 90% of the town objects, the local government will relent with some sort of closed-door meeting, and those buildings will come down.

  4. WTF! Our town sorely needs every bit of housing it can get….. or keep. I think the municipal staff’s suggestion that the new environmental science complex incorporate the former Court Club, at its present location, makes great sense. Surely the University can find an architect who understands historic preservation, and can design the new facility while still maintaining the current streetscape and look of this historic building. I would hate to see my Annual Giving dollars go toward wastefully moving this former club across the street, when it is so unnecessary, and looks like it would cost a bundle. To say nothing of participating in the destruction of three buildings which can no doubt be subdivided to provide even more needed housing!

  5. Princeton is a company town, the university being the big corporation. We are all just the slaves to the big corporation. We pay outrageous taxes to live here, and the university’s attitude is that we should be grateful, that the town wouldn’t be what it is without them. Well they wouldn’t be what they are without the town either. Why should the university build housing for its staff when the town residents are doing it for them by approving all these developments that will also include affordable housing? The university charges basically market rate for its housing, and many of its own staff and postdocs can’t afford to live here. So instead the town is promoting density and more housing units. Residents will foot the bill for some of this, sometimes in the form of taxes not being paid by developers like AvalonBay who are getting sweetheart deals. Planet Princeton should look into what percentage of new apartments and affordable units go to university affiliates (and not lower income people of color, as we would all wish). I just heard from someone yesterday that the percentage of affordable units going to university affiliates is very high. Someone should expose this. The university should be creating and footing the bill for housing for its people, especially when it has so much land to do so. Basically were are the serfs serving the king. We were okay with it for a long time because we got our bucolic streets and lived in a beautiful place we could brag about. But now the destruction of beauty and much of what made Princeton special, the high taxes, and the horrendous traffic in this town governed by amateur council members who arrogantly think they are experts is making this place unbearable. It is so sad to watch, like watching a slow train wreck. And yet they pat themselves on the backs and think they are doing such a great job. Makes me want to move to Pennsylvania or Delaware. I wonder how other Ivy League towns are faring these days and if those schools treat their town residents with such disregard. Maybe Harvard doesn’t have the weak local government we do and they actually push back sometimes.

  6. The University is made up of individuals, most of whom make great contributions to our town.
    There are a few individuals, or perhaps an individual, who are/is behind much of the historic architectural destruction and incongruous construction of the last 10+ years.
    No one is indispensable. No one is above being fired and replaced.
    Princeton University is supported by alums, donors, and the Trustees. These folks should get together in face of the fact that the current architectural path is damaging the Princeton brand.
    The University needs a new architectural team that respects the importance of the historic and old world feel in the appeal of the University to scholars, researchers, businesses and donors; they need architects that want to honor and uphold the uniqueness of Princeton’s historic charm, rather than diss it and destroy it in favor of personal ambitions, “progressive architecture,” and vanity projects.

  7. Even the affordable housing units have their problems. One of the “low-income” units in Princeton has a financial vice-president as its owner. He definitely worked the system. I would have thought he would have been caught by now.

  8. I should like to know who these university people are who make great contributions to the town. In the 40 some years I have been here, I personally can’t think of one, unless one is thinking of the world at large. But for Princeton itself, I’m sure there have been a few, but not enough. The university is a Forbidden City deliberately cut off from Princeton so great minds will rightly not be disturbed in their work but also so mediocre minds will not be exposed. No one who knows about the state of the world’s ecology both natural and economic should be talking about a university’s obligation to protect charm.

  9. It’s about more than protecting “charm.” It’s about preserving history and protecting the environment. How are tearing down housing, moving a building across a street sustainable practices? The university doesn’t seem to care about the town it lives in or its neighbors. Look at the dreadful arts center. It shows the failure of the university’s thinking. It’s not what it was hyped up to be when it was just a proposal. And now the Dinky is about to face extinction and be replaced by a bus.

  10. I couldn’t agree more. But 1) this is not the first time the University has done this. There was, as I remember, a house demolished on William Street and another sold for a dollar and moved to a place not far from Dicky MvClosky’s on the other side of Nassau, where it functioned as a liquor store. At the time, I wrote an editorial for the PACKET saying it to be a disgrace for sundry reasons. One is indeed fighting a Quixotic battle with such things, but since January 6, I have decided to fight said battle with the short time left to me on this earth. 2) Nothing against charm but, whether we like it or not, the university(ties) is teaching an outmoded form of education, no matter how worthy or intelligent those lucky enough to enjoy it may be. This is a complicated topic and here is not the venue for it. Suffice it to say that an education that focuses on personal achievement, almost no matter what the cost to the majority of the world’s population and to its natural environment (I hate the term), not to mention to traditional American values, needs to be deeply scrutinized. I once gave a speech in the University Chapel about this. I said that individuals indeed make a difference, but that the United States will not change its self-destructive course until forced to by some major event. Corona? Tacere est consentire, Thomas Moore tells us. Throughout this fiasco in Washington, not a word (Did I miss something?), at least locally (but all self-destruction is local)” from the University or the majority of its members about it. The purpose of a college education, William James said, is to recognize a good person when one met one, not to scratch and claw one’s way over her to get to some mirage in the desert. Ted Cruz be my metaphor.

  11. This part of the “East Campus” expansion is definitely not necessary.

    The University can get the same expanded footprint of office space, classrooms, dorms along Ivy Lane and Western Way . . . snaking up to Prospect withOUT removing one of the historic Princeton Eating Clubs and taking three large’ish proximate-to-town-&-gown homes out of circulation. The unbroken line of historic clubs down Prospect Ave, IS the point of the historic district.

    I am a Board member of the Princeton Prospect Foundation; We are alumni who dearly love the University AND understand the goals of this expansion, and believe there are alternative ways to achieve the same goals without as much damage.

    We know the University has a big ego, unlimited funds, and takes it very hard if/when mere mortals try to say “No.”
    This will be a good test to see whether alumni, historic district supporters, and local citizens can band together and say, “No, not this way . . . (there are other ways!).

  12. “Arts and transit neighborhood”–I can’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of this formulation every time I encounter it. As though these two things in any way go together. As if such a thing actually exists. Perhaps we can sell people on the idea of a “dining and landfill neighborhood,” or an “exercise and banking neighborhood.” The term is silly BS used to put a positive spin on a massive redevelopment that benefitted only the university.

  13. Looks like the Lewis Center was just a warm-up to this planned East Campus…

    The entire Lewis complex (including surrounding landscaping) is “just” 5 acres, which is one-third the size of what they’re talking about here!

    Wish whoever’s in charge of these expansions would realize why so many of us wanted to come to Princeton in the first place. Hint: it wasn’t for soulless boxes of cement and glass, which have no shortage in so many other places.

  14. When I learned of the plan to move Court Club as part of the East Campus plan, I drove to the site to take a look. Sitting in my car looking at the Court Club building it was inconceivable that anyone would conceive of moving such an enormous, historic structure across the street. There is the damage to the historic streetscape on the National Register; the destruction and disruption to the Prospect Avenue neighborhood that will be caused during the process; the likely damage to the building itself as it’s being moved and also to the foundation of the neighboring former Key and Seal Club to one side. On the other side is an empty lot that is there for the taking to create a passageway from the new East Campus to University property across Prospect Ave. I’d like to know how much money the University has budgeted for all of the costs to move Court Club and re-establish it for its new purpose on the other side of the street, and how that compares with the cost to save the Historic District with a smarter alternative.

  15. Thanks for this ! There are a lot of people who care about community here; they just don’t have any power in a Princeton U world.

  16. So sad to see Princeton University trash its surroundings. The town can’t take more traffic and more people.

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