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Group working to save historic New London home from bulldozer

By Lee Howard

Publication: The Day

Published 09/28/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 10/04/2012 10:38 AM
Owner would demolish 1828 Greek Revival on Ocean Avenue to create Ocean Pizza parking lot

Correction: Saos LLC purchased a house at 94 Ocean Ave. in New London on June 22, 2012, from Constandinos Provatas, according to city land records. Information about the ownership of the property was incorrect in this article.

New London - A tiny yet architecturally significant 1828 Greek Revival house squeezed between Ocean Pizza and a three-story home on Ocean Avenue is in danger of being knocked down within the next month so the lot can be used for restaurant parking.

The leader of New London Landmarks, the city's historic preservation group, says she is fighting an uphill battle to save the historic home at 94 Ocean Ave., one of the first built on the south side of the city in an area that likely was largely farmland in the early 19th century.

The problem, says Landmarks Executive Director Sandra Chalk, is that the city allows only 90 days for preservation groups to find ways to save homes in danger of demolition - not nearly long enough to make all the arrangements in most cases. The state, by contrast, will hold up demolitions for as long as 120 days to allow preservation groups to save significant buildings, she said.

"It's a classic New London situation," Chalk said last week. "We don't have a lot of time."

After a two-month effort to find an alternative plan, Landmarks has secured a promise from the home's owner, Ocean Pizza operator Constandinos Provatas - who bought the house in June for $70,000 - to sell the building for $1 if someone can move it.

She also has secured help from Richard Humphreville, chairman of the city's Historic District Commission, to arrange a move, but Landmarks still needs to find someone willing to pay for the move and to find a spot for the 860-square-foot home.

Provatas, who could not be reached for comment, wants the house torn down to make way for a parking lot accessible from Ocean Avenue to serve Ocean Pizza customers. A lot off a side street that runs behind the pizzeria is hard to access because of a street that is one-way in the wrong direction, and Provatas has rejected an idea suggested by Landmarks to make the street two-way in one small section to allow better access.

"He wants (the house) down right away," Chalk said. "That's the real crisis."

Chalk said Landmarks stepped in after realizing the historic value of the home, which was built by Isaac Thompson, an entrepreneur involved in starting up the Savings Bank of New London, the Union Insurance Co., the New London Female Academy and an early ferry company. One of the home's first tenants was Daniel Penhallow, a stonemason whose work reportedly was in demand during the city's whaling era.

"The house is historically significant," Chalk said. "The architectural details are still there. It was a nice house when it was built."

The house, its windows boarded up, has deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and would have to be completely renovated, Chalk acknowledged. But she believes the corner pilasters and classic eyebrow windows are worth preserving.

"It's not a big house," Chalk said. "This is practical. This could be done."

l.howard@theday.com

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