Burned-out buildings’ fate unclear

14 March, 1990 (estimated)

Burned-out buildings’ fate unclear

Tenants, neighbors petition PU to restore ‘look, feel’

By Patti Wiesser
Staff Writer

Despite the hopes of dozens of area residents, the fate of the charred buildings at 179 and 183 Nassau Street looks bleak.

“Given the extent of damage, which our structural engineers inform us is greater than readers of the local press may appreciate, it is unlikely that we will be able to salvage much of the existing structures,” said Robert Durkee, Princeton University vice president for public affairs. The university owns the buildings that were destroyed by fire last month.

Eugene McPartland, university vice president for facilities, however, cautioned that, although a preliminary structural evaluation of the buildings has been completed, officials are far from deciding the destiny of the Nassau Street landmarks.

“We do have preliminary (results) now, but we —.haven’t fully evaluated it yet or gone over it yet with the borough people,” said Mr. McPartland, later adding that it would be premature to comment on the report.

In addition, borough officials have not yet reviewed the findings of New York engineer Peter Galdi, he said.

Calling the report “just part of the puzzle,” Mr. McPartland said it and alternatives will be discussed by the university before a team evaluates the best approach to construction and related costs.

Demolition may have to be an option but, easing the possible blow, university officials have indicated that a similar structure for the former businesses is probable.

“Our goal, one way or another, is to re-establish as fully as we can the mix of uses and the ambiance that: existed in that area before the fire, with as many of the previous commercial tenants and as much of the’ previous look and feel as possible,” said Mr. Durkee. Earlier he had Wed. “We will see if there is anything that can be safely restored, while also examining our , alternatives for rebuilding.”

Although not overjoyed by the prospect of demolition, Tom Block. whose Thomas Sweet lee Cream and Chocolates stores were destroyed by the fire last month. said it would not be terrible if a similar group of buildings was constructed at the site.

“I feel comfortable with the fact that they (university officials) will bring that complex back,” said Mr. Block.

Meanwhile, Mr. Block said Easter chocolates are 1 expected to be sold at the Thomas Sweet’s Palmer Square location while he looks for a temporary spot to sell chocolate products.

Ray Wadsworth. owner of Wadsworth’s Bakery. another business ravaged by the fire, said his establishment would probably be history’. if the clump of buildings is torn down. He has been asking citizens to write letters to the university, urging the institution to restore the buildings.

Many people — some acting independently—have taken him up on it.

More than 80 area residents signed a statement, which was sent to the newspaper. that said they are against knocking down the buildings devastated by fire. Besides Wadsworth’s and Thomas Sweet, Zorba’s Grill and the American Diner were destroyed in the blaze.

“As concerned citizens, we emphatically oppose the planned demolition of the fire-damaged buildings at 179-183 Nassau Street … We believe that these buildings have historic significance and that their beauty and history be preserved for future generations to appreciate the architectural craftsmanship which is a major part of our nation’s heritage,” said the petition.

Other area residents, apparently also of the mind that the pen is mightier, have sent letters to Princeton University President Harold Shapiro urging him to restore the gutted structures.

One such person, local businesswoman Maria DePinto, hand-delivered her letter to the president’s office last week.

“We’ve got to get those people (the business owners at 179 and 183 Nassau St.) back in there,” said Ms. DePinto, the co-owner of Boutonniere By Guy on Nassau Street.

Ms. DePinto recalling her morning visits to Wadsworth’s for a daily cup of coffee lamented, “i really miss that place… it was such a nice family — everything they made was excellent.”

Before the fire, her latest obsession from Wadsworth’s were the raisin brioches, she added.

Lee Spellman, a local resident also intent on saving the historic buildings on Nassau Street, she said is disturbing a flier that says “Wadsworth’s — let’s rebuild the bakery. Write President Shapiro, Princeton University.”

After Triangle Repro Center donated the paper and printing for the fliers, Ms. Spellman tacked them up at community kiosks ad businesses on Nassau Street as well as  at the Princeton Shopping Center.

Reflecting on the cluster of structures she is so intent on preserving, she said, “It’s like a cancer when you look at that building. I’m hoping the university will really consider restoring it.”

Ms. Spellman said Mr. Wadsworth prompted her to write letters when she asked him what she could do to help her after the fire.

“It’s nice to see a really gung-ho family. I think they made a contribution and I just want to help them,” said Ms. Spellman, referring to the Wadsworth clan.

“People in Princeton really have been so supportive,” noted Mr. Wadsworth. “I guess the bakery and what we had there really meant a lot to the town.”

Ms. Spellman said her next step is putting together another petition that supports preservation of the buildings.

It will echo the urgings of four recent letter writers, who signed correspondence that said, in part, “many of us in Princeton are concerned that the university will remove the remnants of the existing building and replace it with a building totally out of character with the town and its surroundings… it would be a shame to lose one more link to the past and our history. If possible, it would certainly be wonderful if the building could be restored with the present facade and a return of the current tenants.”

Jefferson Road resident Monica Cuffner, one of the signers, said of the 150-year-old structures, “We all loved them.”

Mr. Durkee, who said the university received about a dozen written requests to save the bu8ildings, is responding to each correspondent.

Apparently the university, too, shares the residents’ sentimental attachments to the mansard-roofed buildings.

“This was a tragic experience for the tenants of those buildings, for the university and for the community,” commented Mr. Durkee.

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