What does it take to get New London turned around? Our schools are failing so the state brought in a "Special Master" to tackle the problem. The property taxes are appallingly high so our City Council has been seriously addressing the waste and excesses of our local government with the prospect of another referendum.
However, one important issue remains to be seriously remedied, the continued destruction of our city's historical structures. Our heritage is rapidly vanishing. Once again, we are faced with the almost certain death of another one of our historic houses. The 90-day waiting period imposed by the Historic Commission expired Friday, and unless the owner changes his mind there is virtually nothing the city can do but watch the wrecking ball swing.
Ocean Pizza, a great place to eat, owned by a gentleman of a person, Sam Vifidia, has purchased the property next door in order to expand parking and provide better access to its rear parking lot. On this property rests an 1829 Greek Revival House built by one of New London's prominent merchants, Isaac Thompson, the founder of New London Savings bank and a man of many other accomplishments.
The building itself is only 20-feet by 21-feet, but radiates charm. It is the oldest house on Ocean Avenue. But the owner of Ocean Pizza wants it torn down or moved.
This building could stay right where it is and actually benefit Ocean Pizza. New London needs to start thinking about how to save rather than tear down. Claire Dale, Barbara Timken and the Savings Bank of New London are among several individuals and organizations who have shown the foresight in preserving period structures in New London. But other than these few examples, the destruction of our heritage continues almost unabated.
This trend must be stopped if there is to be anything left in New London for people to see. Look at the towns who are proactive in saving their historic structures: Mystic, Stonington, Old Lyme and Essex to name a few surrounding towns. Newport, R.I. and Portsmouth, N.H. are other stellar examples of historic preservation. All these towns and cities are booming as a result.
It ultimately begins with the individual citizen and how that person views New London balanced against his or her personal needs. Saving this tiny Greek Revival and also enabling Ocean Pizza to get more parking and an access road is quite doable. Ocean Pizza would benefit. It paid off for my business when I moved my first $1 house 33 years ago. Despite the tremendous destruction which has already taken place in New London, there is still time to reverse this decline.
Please, drive up and see Strawberry Bank in Portsmouth and ask how that miracle came to be. Stop by Ocean Pizza for lunch or dinner and ask Sam to save this Greek Revival. Do it for New London.
Richard Humphreville is an historic preservationist. He lives in New London.