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Princeton Town Council to consider Prospect Avenue a local historic district

<h5>Colonial Club is one of 11 active eating clubs on Prospect Ave.</h5>
<h6>Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Colonial Club is one of 11 active eating clubs on Prospect Ave.
Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian

The Princeton Town Council will soon consider a proposal for the creation of a “historic district” along Prospect Avenue between Washington Road and Murray Place, an area that includes all 11 eating clubs. The proposal, if passed, would significantly limit the University and eating clubs’ abilities to alter the streetscape without the town’s approval.

According to Sandy Harrison ’74, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Princeton Prospect Foundation (PPF), the Princeton Town Council is expected to take what may be a final vote on the matter in a public meeting on March 14.

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The Town Council’s review follows unanimous approval of the proposed district by the Princeton Planning Board during its meeting on Jan. 6, 2022, and a similarly unanimous recommendation by the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission on Nov. 15, 2021.

“The creation of a Prospect Avenue Historic District,” Harrison said, “is a big deal long term.”

If the local historic district is adopted, the eating clubs and the University “can’t dramatically change the exterior or do anything without town approval,” he noted. “So, it protects the integrity of the architecture and the buildings themselves.” The historic district would protect the landscape of the area, according to Harrison.

The University largely supports the plan for the historic district, and Ayana Gibbs-Okoya, a spokesperson for the University, told The Daily Princetonian that the proposal, if approved, would not interfere with the University’s ongoing expansion, including a new facilities for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. 

Harrison said in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that the change could have broader implications as well. “I also think that the town and gown relationships are now going to improve, too,” he said. 

As detailed in the nomination report, submitted by the PPF as part of the months-long review process, the proposed Prospect Avenue Historic District is set to consist of “sixteen grand clubhouses from the final stage of development, three houses from Prospect’s earliest development that later became residences of notable faculty, a monumental wall and gate representing the rise of college athletics and its connection to the eating clubs, and Princeton’s first major apartment building expanding faculty housing, all erected in period styles in the five decades from the 1890s through the 1920s.”

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According to the report, 11 of these clubhouses continue to “serve their original function as private undergraduate eating clubs — Tiger Inn, Ivy Club, Cottage Club, Colonial Club, Cap & Gown Club, Cannon Dial Elm Club, Charter Club, Tower Club, Quadrangle Club, Terrace Club, and Cloister Inn.”  

The report added that “designation of the Prospect Avenue Historic District as a local historic district was proposed in 1992 in a full report to the Princeton Borough Historic Preservation Review Committee,” but noted that the “proposal was tabled at that time due to concerns from a few of the property owners.”

The current proposal has previously gained support of the Graduate Interclub Council (GICC) and the University. 

Schuyler Kean ’22 and Savannah Hampton ’22, outgoing President and Vice President of the Interclub Council (ICC), did not respond to requests for comment from the ‘Prince.’

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In an Oct. 7 2021 memo, the PPF and GICC stated their support for "the establishment of a local Prospect Avenue Historic District currently under consideration by the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission.”  

Similarly, the University affirmed its support in an Oct. 20, 2021 memorandum of understanding (MOU). As part of that MOU, the University agreed to “support the creation” of the historic district, given approval to relocate the building at 91 Prospect — which at one point existed as Court Clubhouse, a defunct eating club — to across Prospect Avenue into the proposed district, which also would include the relocated 110 Prospect Avenue structure, and the existing 114, 116 and 120 Prospect Avenues structures, as well as the Ferris Thompson Gateway.

In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Gibbs-Okoya explained that “the University has long contributed to the historic fabric of the community through the significant financial investments made in maintaining and restoring campus structures, including many of the buildings that would be part of the new” historic district. 

“We don’t anticipate that the new historic district will be an impediment to the thoughtful, long-term capital planning by the University that encourages a compact and walkable campus [with] biking, walking and use of mass transit,” Gibbs-Okoya added.

Gibbs-Okoya noted that “the relocation of 91 Prospect and 110 Prospect is anticipated to take place during summer 2022.”

The PPF website states that the University’s commitments emerged from “a reasonable and viable compromise agreement with the University which will preserve three historic Victorian-era houses that had been targeted [for] demolition as part of the huge new Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Science building complex to be located adjacent to the eating clubs.” 

The Princeton Planning Board initially accepted the University’s plan as part of its review of the proposed relocation of the Court Clubhouse during its Oct. 21, 2021 meeting, and unanimously approved that relocation as part of its Jan. 20, 2022 meeting.

Michael La Place, the planning director for the town of Princeton, praised the University’s commitments with respect to the Court Clubhouse relocation and the proposed historic district during the Jan. 6 Planning Board meeting. 

“I really wanted to commend the University for being a partner, and not only in supporting this historic district and the outcome with the new complex being proposed that will result in saving four historic structures, but also a commitment to making Prospect Avenue, which is one of Princeton’s grand avenues ... what it once was and maybe even enhance it to be even nicer than it’s ever been, as far as reintroducing large shade trees along the street, hopefully doing enhanced lighting, [and] work[ing] on the gate of the former athletic field and the historic wall,” said La Place.

Ruth Sayer, a resident of Princeton for 50 years, added that it is “very important” that the historic district be created “so the buildings are preserved and we can maintain our Champs-Elysées.”

Madeleine LeBeau is a News Contributor for the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at mlebeau@princeton.edu, on Instagram @madeleinelebeau, or on Twitter @MadeleineLeBeau. 

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