Good neighbors rally to comfort devastating fire’s victims

Princeton Packet
2 March, 1990

Good neighbors rally to comfort devastating fire’s victims

Mr. Rogers would be very proud of Princeton this week. The residents elevated the meaning of the word good neighbor to new heights by reaching out with their hearts, souls and pocketbooks to help those who suffered devastating losses because of the fire early Monday morning on Nassau Street.

Princeton’s volunteer firemen and fire-fighters from four neighboring communities — all appropriately honored by Princeton Borough Council Tuesday night — fought fire and frostbite for nearly seven hours.

Across the street from the blaze, Cox’s —opening up at 5 a.m. —began dispensing free hot food and drinks to the firefighters. At the end of the day, another neighbor, Leonard LaPlaca, owner of Nassau Interiors instructed Cox’s to put the firefighters’ food -tab on his bill.

All week, the victims have received hundreds of phone calls, cards, food, gifts —although one concerned Princetonian complained how hard it was to find gifts of good cheer for businessmen whose business it is to sell gifts of good cheer, i.e., candy and ice cream from Thomas Sweet’s and baked goods, flowers and balloons from the Wadsworth family.

Princeton businessmen, particularly Rob-ert and Henry Landau of Landau’s, and borough officials are working to find creative spaces from which Thomas Sweet’s and Wadsworth’s could continue to peddle their wares and not miss out on the Easter season. The idea, said Robert Landau, would be to preserve the integrity of the .family-owned businesses that over and over again have displayed a generous commitment to the community.

Now that the smoke has cleared away, residents have started talking about the preservation of the physical structure itself.

Princeton University in the mid-1970s was the ultimate good neighbor when it embarked upon a reportedly million dollar project to preserve the historic 19th century Nassau Street block immediately east of Washington Road. The university moved historic homes from Williams Street to create Nassau Court and renovated the buildings on Nassau Street with tremendous-concern for aesthetics, history and quality construction.

The resultant spaces turned out to be not only a resounding architectural and historic success, but also a lifestyle success. The space worked. The intimate ambiance of the block gave a life to that end of town that never existed prior to the renovation.

The most neighborly thing to do on the part of all parties involved is to avoid the quick-and-easy and less expensive solution to rebuilding and look carefully at preserving what can be saved. Any structure too far gone should be rebuilt in a style harmonious with — but not imitative of — the neighbor-, ing buildings.

We applaud borough officials for already putting up a fuss when federal investigators for the sake of expediency put pressure on the borough to demolish more of the structure than necessary.

According to one borough official, half of the building appears strong enough to remain. Even though the building is in a historic district, the ordinance states the property owner could demolish it if it is unsafe or if the landowner proves it can be put to no “reasonable use.”

It is our hope that university and borough officials will start negotiating immediately to find “reasonable use” as a viable alternative to a useless pile of demolished rubble.

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