Special Committee to Evaluate Options for Future Use of Historic Havemeyer Building

On Tuesday before Thanksgiving, a newly formed special committee appointed by First Selectman Fred Camillo – the Advisory Committee on the Havemeyer Building – held an initial meeting via Zoom.

Originally, the building was a gift to the central Greenwich Meeting House School district in 1892 by Henry Osborne and Louisine Havemeyer. The building was completed in 1894.
Henry O Havemeyer finished his formal education at the age of 8. He became an apprentice in the family’s sugar refinery in Brooklyn at the age of 15, and worked his way up the ladder to become the principal partner in the firm by 1876. Havemeyer, the “Sugar King,” became president of the American Sugar Refining Company in 1891. His wife, Louisine, in addition to being a patron of impressionist art, was one of the more prominent contributors to the suffrage movement in the US.
The Havemeyers held a design contest and selected architects Loring & Phipps, who went on to build a remarkably similar building, Miner Hall at Tufts University in Massachusetts, in the same year.
Both buildings evoke a sense of permanence that has been described as “anchored to the earth.”

The committee is chaired by Andy Duus (R), who served four years on the Board of Estimate & Taxation.

Members include from the BET Bill Drake (R) and Miriam Kreuzer (D), from the BOE Joe Kelly (R) and Christina Downey (D).

Additional members are Amy Courage, a local architect experienced with historical preservation and adaptive reuse, and John Lucarelli who has a real estate background.

The stated purpose of the special committee is to identify, evaluate and possibly recommend potential options for the future use of the Havemeyer building and the site.

The building is a contributing structure to the Greenwich Municipal Center Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“This apparently has been a dialogue that has gone on for many years. The most recent dialogue began early this year with Fred and others in town,” Duus said. “The condition of the Havemeyer building is getting worse.”

Greenwich has successfully repurposed many of its historic buildings.

The former Greenwich High School (until 1970) on Field Point Road was repurposed as today’s Town Hall. Greenwich’s old town hall on Greenwich Avenue, built in 1905 in the Beaux Arts style was converted into the senior center and arts center. The post office, built in 1917, was restored and adapted as commercial space for RH. The building that is today home to Douro at 253 Greenwich Ave, with its vaulted arched ceilings and multi-level dining rooms, was originally a bank. The list goes on and on.

South side of the Havemeyer building with current Town Hall in the distance. Though constructed as an elementary school, eventually high school classes were taught in the Havemeyer building.
Havemeyer’s architects, Loring & Phipps, built the remarkably similar Miner Hall at Tufts University in Medford, MA.
Plaque at the entrance to the Havemeyer building noting the gift of Mr. and Mrs. H.O. Havemeyer to the town in 1892.
Deed from the sale of land from Daniel S Mead for $45,000 to “The Meeting House School District” in Greenwich on Oct 26, 1891.
Advisory Committee on the Havemeyer Building chair Andy Duus. Nov 22, 2022 via Zoom

“For the first time in my memory there has been some willingness by some on the Board of Education to change their venue for the offices of the senior Greenwich Schools leaders,” Duus said. The building is home to School district administration and is tax exempt.

“The cost of renovating the building appears to be higher than what the town can afford currently, particularly given all the other projects we have going on in the next couple of years,” Duus continued. “So, the purpose of this committee will really just be fact-finding and to advise the First Selectman what the alternatives might be.”

Duus said there were several areas to focus on, starting with the town’s legal latitude, given there were conditions on the original grant from the Havemeyer family and additional conditions might have been imposed by the son of Henry O Havemeyer in 1919, when a special fund to help maintain the facility was established.

Letter to Judge William Hirschberg from assistant Superintendent of Greenwich Schools dated October 23, 1966 asking about conditions preventing the BOE from discontinuing the use of the Havemeyer building for educational purposes, and the possibility of applying the benefits of the Havemeyer Trust Fund to a new Havemeyer Building if it were to be built on existing high school property at the time.
Letter from Judge William Hirschberg back to Assistant Superintendent Wolffer of Greenwich Schools Nov 23, 1966 saying the trust would revert to the donors and their heirs, as noted in Article FIFTH, if the buiding was not used for the purpose intended by the late Henry O. Havemeyer.
“In case of the destruction or abandonment of said school building or the neglect or refusal of the authorities to continue its use as intended by the said Henry O. Havemeyer, or if for any reason it shall be impossible for the income from said fund to be applied for the purposes herein intended, the principal and any accumulation of income shall revert to the parties of the first part and their heirs.” – Article FIFTH
Back of Havemeyer building. Nov 23, 2022

The second area of analysis will be the building itself.

“Some of this will depend on how it might be repurposed,” Duus said. “We need to get our arms around the condition and commence a study to help us deal with that.”

The third issue, he said, will be the willingness of the BOE to proceed down a new path.

“We need to do some work in terms of what space the town might have elsewhere, or what we do in terms of private space here in town,” Duus said, adding that the presumption was that there would be no incremental cost for the schools.

Greenwich Center for the Arts

Finally, Mr. Duus said it would be helpful to understand the effort of the non-profit Greenwich Center for the Arts who sought to convert the facility to an arts center back in 2007-2008.

Back in 2008, the Greenwich Center for the Arts, whose board of directors included Stuart Adelberg, Marv Berenblum, Mary Corson, Bea Crumbine, Mary Himes, Peter Malkin, Betsy Mulcare, Christine Owens, Emily Ragsdale, Creighton Reed, FiFi Sheridan and Heidi Smith, proposed the building be restored and reimagined as and arts center featuring both the 400 seat proscenium theater and a 125-seat black box theater, as well as classrooms, rehearsal spaces, studios and a café.

The GCA said at the time that Bill Havemeyer, grandson of original benefactor Henry O Havemeyer, that he endorsed the building’s “worthy adaptive reuse and restoration.”

In a public presentation of the Greenwich Center for the Arts in 2008, Stuart Adelberg noted a particular challenge to repurposing the building.

He said that in the 1890s, steel construction was not widely in use as it is today.

“The reason this is relevant is that it speaks to the challenges in altering the facility for different uses. All of the walls are load bearing, which means and extremely expensive challenge,” Adelberg said.

Students gathered on the lawn of the Havemeyer building in 1901.

Adelberg said a community arts center would benefit all residents and harken back to a time when Greenwich Avenue was where residents congregated.

Another GCA board member, Mary Himes, said during that same 2008 meeting that Greenwich residents shouldn’t have to go to Port Chester, Stamford, Norwalk, SUNY Purchase or New York City to appreciate high quality art.

“So we came up with the idea for an arts center when the BOE stated that they needed to find new office spaces because Superintendent Dr. Larry Leverett stated Havemeyer is ‘crumbling,'” she explained, noting the building was not ADA compliant and wasted large amounts of space.

“There is a beautiful theater with a proscenium just wasting away,” Himes said.

In fact, Mr. Adelberg said a drop ceiling had been put in place in the disused theater to house the building’s HVAC systems.

“You can see the proscenium arch over the original stage, which has a Latin inscription which roughly translates to, ‘For the Community and Its People,'” he said.

Architect Peter Gisolfi said the proposal for the first floor theater could be reoriented and a new stage house built with a true proscenium arch theater with fly space to accommodate all types of drama, and include an orchestra pit. He said the GCA also proposed that the first floor have a black box theater, café and lecture hall.

Gisolfi noted the bearing walls followed the sides of the corridors, and the GCA proposal was to respect that.

In the end 52,000 sq ft of space would be dedicated to the arts.

During a 2008 GCA presentation, architect Peter Gisalfi showed a rendering of a lobby and black box theater starting on the first floor and cutting down to the lower level. March 31, 2008

Last week Mr. Duus suggested the new committee hold monthly public meetings.

“This is an open process. This is being recorded. All documents will be in the public domain,” he said.

Committee member Joe Kelly said, “I’ve been speaking to Fred (Camillo) about this for a year-and-a-half or two years, and the building is not getting any better. Looking at our capital budgets, which are large and we have a lot of needs for our schools, wouldn’t put Havemeyer as a high priority on those capital budget needs. Basically, we’re in a building we can’t afford to improve.”

“An alternative would be interesting. The people who inhabit Havemeyer – basically, they’re cool with moving on to something better because the building is old, and it has features that a newer building or office facility can better address,” Mr. Kelly said.

Committee member Christina Downey said it was important to make a decision about what is right for the town. “The staff will do whatever it’s told to do,” she said. “We’ll certainly take their input into account.”

Ms Downey said the committee’s starting point should be to research the historic documents, because, she said, “legal latitude all flows from that.”

“We do have latitude,” Mr. Duus said. “There will be no suspense there.”

He said the only issue would be accessing the existing maintenance fund. “If we repurpose the facility – the building – we will lose access to that maintenance fund,” Duus said.

Ms Downey said it was unclear from the documents whether the building was intended to be granted to the Town or to the school district.

Mr. Kelly said he wondered whether the printing facility in basement of the building might be outsourced or moved to town hall.

“There is a clutter and gathering of old and historic old junk piled up in that building,” Kelly said, adding he’d like the committee to tour the building and that any historic relics should be preserved.

Mr. Kelly said about 100 people work in the Havemeyer building today.

“Our interest is our employees, our board of education staff gets equal to or greater accommodations. I know Fred is on board with making sure our staff is taken care of,” Kelly said.

Committee member Bill Drake said he would research the location of the building drawings.

The committee will also take a look at the KG&D 15-year master facilities plan for the district for any analysis of Havemeyer building.

Mr. Duus said he would gather the building documents and records.

Forum to discuss plans for an arts center in Greenwich, CT, housed in the historic Havemeyer Building in downtown. Moderated by JoAnn Messina, introduced by Peter Malkin. March 31, 2008

Stuart Adelberg, a GCA board member, shares the history of the Havemeyer Building on Greenwich Ave.
Greenwich Resident and GCA Board member, Mary Himes talks about the benefits of creating an arts center in a renovated Havemeyer building in downtown Greenwich, CT.
Architect, Peter Gisalfi shows how the Havemeyer Building in Greenwich, CT might look after renovations into a performing arts center.
Q&A included questions about steps to get the proposal approved by Board of Selectmen and the RTM.

GCA YouTube Channel has videos from the March 31, 2008 presentations.

Henry Osborne and Louisine Havemeyer also gave seven acres of land in Old Greenwich to the town and donated an additional $10,000 to the $20,000 appropriated by the town to enable construction of a satisfactory building.