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Demolition begins for a historic building in New Haven despite protests

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Crews began tearing down an historic building in the Elm City Thursday morning, despite the efforts of a local preservation group, which started an online petition.       

New Haven resident Tony Griego was up before the sun for one last chance to photograph the Brewery Square Gatehouse.

“I’ve been taking pictures for 50 years of buildings that I thought were going to be destroyed in New Haven,” Griego said.

In the 1880s, this complex at the corner of River and Ferry Streets was built as a brewery. In the 1980s, most of it was transformed into the Brewery Square Apartments, but the gatehouse was left empty and, preservationists say, neglected.

“The roof collapsed due to snow a few years ago, which, of course, that could have been prevented by shoveling the snow off the roof, and it has sat ever since,” said Elizabeth Holt, Director of Preservation Services for the New Haven Preservation Trust.  

The New Haven Preservation Trust got 1500 people to sign an online petition to try to save the gatehouse, because it is designated historic, and it is in an historic district. but the Massachusetts-based company that owns it had other ideas.

“The owner went to the historic district commission back in August for a certificate of appropriateness to demolish the building,” said Holt. “They were denied.”

So why is the demolition moving forward? No matter how historic the building is, it is still private property. Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for the city of  New Haven, says the city can urge and encourage private property owners to do certain things, but cannot force a private property owner to restore an historic building.

“What finally prevailed was the city’s responsibility to ensure public safety and the growing concern that the deteriorating condition of the building was posing a public safety risk,” said Grotheer.

So the city issued an emergency demolition order, and brick by brick, the gatehouse is coming down. Preservationists call it “demolition by neglect.”

“Developers and people who own buildings let the buildings decay,” said artist and collector Robert Greenberg. “That decay gets the building inspector and the fire department in there and they say you have to tear the building down.”

The brewery had several difference names: Yale and Quinnipiac among them. Greenberg still has one of the Quinnipiac bottles from the brewery, and a wooden case stamped with the Yale Brewery logo.

“Back then, Yale Brewing was a very famous company here in New Haven for beer,” said Greenberg.

Now, preservationists want to make the brewery famous as an example of how not to preserve New Haven’s history.

“It’s a shame what we’ve lost here in New Haven. I know the preservation trust does the best it can. People call it progress,” Griego said. But does it look like progress to him? “No it doesn’t.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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