Residents call on council to convince Princeton University to preserve Prospect Avenue buildings

Dear Mayor Freda and Town Council,

We write with great concern about Princeton University’s plans that will denigrate the Princeton Historic District and Prospect Avenue, and we seek your help in preventing this. Under municipal ordinance, the university cannot implement its planned entrance on Prospect “as of right.” This small portion of the university’s ES+SEAS development plan is detrimental to the public interest, and, as the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission unanimously recommends, the Princeton Planning Board should deny the university’s variance request on June 17.

We request your assistance in persuading the university to redesign its proposed Prospect entrance to benefit the public interest by complying with National Register Guidelines for Historic Districts, provisions of the Princeton Community Master Plan, and sustainability goals.

We admire the university and are generally enthusiastic about the new engineering complex planned for Ivy Lane and Western Way. However, until the May 27 SPRAB presentation (which we believe was the first open explanation to the general public), most of us were unaware of the full parameters of the 666,000 square foot development and the damaging effects of its easternmost Prospect Avenue entrance, a 3% portion of the overall project.

The university’s plan on Prospect – a major public street in Princeton – violates National Park Service Guidelines by 1) unnecessarily dislocating former Court Club at 91 Prospect from Eating Club Row, out of the Princeton Historic District and off the National Register, to an isolated site across the street; 2) by demolishing three perfectly viable and historically significant Victorian houses identified for preservation by the HPC and the Master Plan, and 3) by erecting at 91 Prospect a new building and landscaping that will be incompatible with the historic streetscape.

The Historic Preservation Commission has listed the three houses as contributing buildings in a suggested locally-designated Prospect Avenue Historic District, named in the Princeton Community Master Plan as the Club Row Historic District. All three were an integral part of the Prospect Avenue streetscape before any of the existing clubhouses – “part of the District’s visual and institutional history,” as described by the HPC. They served as homes and refuges for important thinkers over the past century – including Erwin Panofsky, “the most important art historian of the 20th Century” and a “good companion” to fellow-refugee Albert Einstein. Indeed, the full history of the contributions of the residents of the three houses is yet to be discovered.

The groundswell opposing the unjustified damage has been remarkable. A community petition – – has 840 signatures and counting. Local news stories, letters to the editor, and comments have generated widespread concern for preserving Prospect’s traditional and current role as a transitional area between institutional and residential life. On June 7th, nearly 80 residents attended the Special Historic Preservation Committee meeting; the overwhelming majority supported saving Prospect’s history and streetscape. The university presented no compelling justification for moving Court Club and damaging the National Register Princeton Historic District and Prospect Avenue.

If implemented, the university’s development on Prospect Avenue will also unnecessarily and unjustifiably:

  • Disrupt Prospect Avenue’s transition from residential to institutional use by implanting a jarringly incompatible structure and landscape in a nationally distinguished and historic public streetscape.
  • Insert a development beachhead on Prospect Avenue that will ultimately lead to the removal and demolition of other clubhouses and residential houses in the future.
  • Waste the embodied carbon in existing buildings, contradicting the town and the university’s stated goals for environmental sustainability to combat climate change.
  • Send a destructive message to students and the community that trampling historic district preservation, master plan provisions, and sustainability goals is acceptable.

In sum, the considerable detriments to the public resulting from granting a variance to move Court Club from the historic district and to demolish three distinguished houses will far exceed any public benefits.
We are confident that the university can successfully work with its team of star architects to revise the tiny portion of its ES+SEAS project on Prospect. The university can use its existing open space for its proposed pavilion, keep Court Club at 91 Prospect within the historic district, and preserve the three Victorian houses for mid-level housing, much needed in Princeton.

Please advise the university to benefit the public with an appropriate redesign of its Prospect Avenue proposal.

Thank you for all your service to our community, and your attention to this matter of great concern to your constituents.

Sincerely yours,
Martha Rinehart, Harrison Street
Charles Wampold, Harrison Street
Lauren B. Davis, Gallup Road
Barbara Parmet, Harrison Street
John Heilner *63, Howe Circle
Mary Heilner, Howe Circle
Megan Testa, Stanworth Drive
Louis Hamilton, Murray Place
Lydia Hamilton, Murray Place
Cindy Jaquet, Harris Road
Clifford Zink, Aiken Avenue
Maureen Quap, Linden Lane
Katherine F. Foster, Redding Circle
Éva Martin *06, Harrison Street
Ruth Callahan, Hornor Lane
Driss El Youssoufi, Harris Road
Aliya El Youssoufi, Harris Road
Naïm El Youssoufi, Harris Road
Marwan El Youssoufi, Harris Road
T.J. Elliott, Cedar Lane
Faith Bahadurian, McKinley Court
James Bash, Harrison Street
Lydia Robinson, Longview Road
Phyllis Wright, Stuart Road