NewCanaanite.com received the following letters in the past week.
I was born and raised in New Canaan and I am in the business of restoring and protecting historic structures. My father, Philip Rose, started, developed and ran the New Canaan YMCA for 30 years.
It is simply unnecessary and counter to the interests of a New England community to destroy a landmark building such as the Library.
Architecture is the art of meeting challenges presented by the land, regulation, the neighborhood, and the client, and history.
Failure to protect the original library building and incorporate it into an expanded facility that meets the needs of the community is a failure of town government to set priorities. It is not because it cannot be done, it is only because the owner, in this case, New Canaan Town Government, isn’t requiring it.
In an age where private property owners are subjected to regulation and intrusion into their private property rights in recognition of the importance of protecting historic structures and neighborhood character, it is nothing short of bizarre that the destruction of the original library building facade and mass is even being considered.
The entire legacy and evolution of the New Canaan library, from the original building to its subsequent additions and particularly the historic streetscape the Library presents to the north and east elevations should be protected for all future generations.
It is an American theme to upgrade and improve and often to replace but only through past failures have we come to value preservation as part of the need to evolve our buildings in this dynamic society and economy. To not improve and expand the Library to meet the needs of the community would be a failure of even greater significance, but it doesn’t have to require the obliteration of the past.
Any architect worth their salt can design an extraordinary expansion of the library for the community while incorporating and protecting the prior iterations of how those same needs were met in prior eras.
I would argue that an Architect that fails to find such a solution and fails to convince their client to set such priorities is a failure in their efforts. One could even wonder if such an architect is selfishly pursuing a plan they prefer for their own legacy than one that protects history. Certainly Centerbrook has proven they can do both.
On a grander scale, the New York public library has expanded, and is, successfully expanding its facilities and services for a vastly different city than when the building was originally built. But they accomplished it while protecting the landmark building facades that are so important to the cityscape. They even found a way tp protect the iconic bookshelves that were so unique and important to the library’s history.
What is New Canaan’s excuse? If the original library is lost it will rest on the shoulders of those that failed to protect it.
Doing the right thing is not always obvious, but it is this time!
Eric M. Rose
The architect, Alfred H. Taylor was a 1911 prize-winner – the prize being the opportunity to build the 1913 Library to his designs. His sketch and plan were selected from those of a group of well-qualified New York architects, who all summered in New Canaan. But, above all, they designed in the NEW Beaux-Arts style!
Taylor had interned with the New York City architectural firm Jardine and Jardine for 12 years. He apprenticed under William Winthrop Kent, the firm’s principal designer at that time. Kent had apprenticed under Henry Hobson Richardson, widely considered to be the principal architect in developing the small American public library as a building type, differentiating functional areas.
In 1889 Taylor opened his own office on Broadway, and had a house on 7th Avenue. He designed at least three magnificent banks in New York, Pawtucket, RI and Baltimore Md., in the Beaux-Arts Style, between 1903-1905.
There was only one other building in downtown New Canaan in this NEW style: the Town Hall, built in 1910, designed by the New York architect Edgar Josselyn. He had won a traveling scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux- Arts in Paris, and became a founding member of the Society of Beaux-Arts Architects in New York.
Contemporaneous with the new library was the 1913 New Canaan Savings Bank next to Town Hall, designed and built by the Hoggson Brothers. Noble Foster Hoggson, son of an engraver from Glasgow, graduated from Yale, studied architecture in Europe, and specialized in designing and writing books about bank buildings.
These three structures were the first glimmering in New Canaan of the City Beautiful movement, taking hold in big cities and small villages like New Canaan in the early 20th century.
March 17, 2021
Despite what you may hear from the Library spokesperson about our 1913 building:
1. The Main Street facade and the entire Cherry Street façade of 1913 and 1936 remain in excellent condition;
2. Half of the south façade – including the major window opening, eaves (cornice) and parts of the walls remain standing and are still visible and no one knows what the now interior walls contain;
3. The south half of the west façade was removed for in 1979. Our preservation architects have not been given access to conduct probes to determine the extent of the survival of the north half, which the 1979 architectural plans suggest remain in place.
No matter how much remains of the older structures, we will reconstruct these walls and preserve the remaining original interior.
Furthermore, we will install heating, air-conditioning, plumbing, and handicapped bathrooms.
We will work with the tenant to complete the interiors as they wish, whether it be for private business use or community enjoyment.
All for a cost of under $1 million, estimated now at about $800,000.
We love our old library building and will go to great lengths to preserve, protect and re-program that historic structure so that future generations will be able to appreciate its architecture and our town’s history.
Sincerely, Mimi Findlay