Say it ain’t so: the Dun­can goes up­scale

New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - Ran­dall Beach

They don’t fit any­more in down­town New Haven, those long-re­sid­ing ten­ants of the his­toric Dun­can Ho­tel.

They don’t fit any­more in down­town New Haven, those long-re­sid­ing ten­ants of the his­toric Dun­can Ho­tel.

This is a time of bou­tiques and lux­ury, not sin­gle-room oc­cu­pancy.

But still, many of the Dun­can’s 38 per­ma­nent res­i­dents were shocked by the news in early Au­gust that their home was be­ing sold, for a mind-bog­gling $8 mil­lion, to AJ Cap­i­tal Part­ners, and that they will have to clear out by Nov. 11.

Last Mon­day af­ter­noon, I sat with one of those long-term ten­ants, Kevin Sanchez Walsh, in the Dun­can’s splen­did old-world lobby, with its an­cient leather chairs, dec­o­ra­tive wall plates and black-and-white pho­to­graphs of long-ago New Haven. A weigh-your­self-for-a-penny ma­chine re­mains in the cor­ner.

“The only place you’re go­ing to see some­thing like this any­more is in old movies,” Walsh said.

Yes, like an Al­fred Hitch­cock movie. Just be­yond the front re­cep­tion desk is a creaky metal cage-like el­e­va­tor that can be op­er­ated only by one of the Dun­can’s friendly staffers. A sign posted within its tight space an­nounces: “You are now rid­ing in the old­est hand-op­er­ated el­e­va­tor in the state.” That el­e­va­tor was built 100 years ago.

In the lobby sits a ro­tary phone, which is what visi­tors dial to reach the ten­ants.

Walsh, 55, told me he has no idea where he will go when the Dun­can closes for its up­scal­ing ren­o­va­tion. The Dun­can’s owner, Stir­ling Shapiro, said he made sure that the new owner en­listed the Glen­dower Group, a non­profit af­fil­i­ated with the New Haven Hous­ing Author­ity, to help the ten­ants find new lodg­ing. As of last Fri­day, about 20 of the 38 res­i­dents had been placed in al­ter­nate hous­ing.

But Walsh, a free­lance artist, il­lus­tra­tor and mu­si­cian who uses the stage name Kevin Saint James, has lit­tle cash on hand. His de­fi­ant in­de­pen­dence has cost him; he is a 1985 Yale grad­u­ate. He told me he played for the Yale foot­ball team and be­longed to Skull and Bones, the ex­clu­sive Yale se­cret so­ci­ety.

Walsh said he is do­ing lit­tle to look for a new place. But Shenae Draughn, Glen­dower’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent, said her peo­ple are work­ing to find an af­ford­able apart­ment for him. She said so­cial work­ers are help­ing the hard­est-to-place ten­ants and pay­ing their se­cu­rity de­posits.

For now, Walsh has his nice view over­look­ing Chapel Street’s art district from the fifth floor (the build­ing’s top level) of a cramped room filled with his re­mark­able draw­ings and paint­ings and work desk. He pays $300 per week, some­what higher than the other ten­ants be­cause he has his own bath­room rather than one down the hall, a larger amount of space than the other units and that ex­pan­sive view.

Walsh de­clined to be pho­tographed for this story but he agreed to open up his room for a photo ses­sion with two other

long-time ten­ants. He let one of them, Elaine Sands, pose while hold­ing a draw­ing he did of his great­grand­fa­ther, Daniel Walsh.

Stacey Lewis, 52, had come up from his small third-floor unit to be a part of the New Haven Regis­ter photo. When I spoke with him last Mon­day and again last Thurs­day, he was ner­vously won­der­ing where he would end up af­ter the Dun­can closes. He re­peat­edly told me how dif­fi­cult it would be to find a rent as cheap as his Dun­can weekly rate of $180 per week. But then Draughn told me last Fri­day that they had just found an apart­ment for him in West Haven.

Lewis said he is paid min­i­mum wage at a fast food restau­rant, which he reaches by rid­ing his bi­cy­cle down the Bos­ton Post Road (Route 1) to Or­ange.

He told me that be­fore he found his room at the Dun­can three years ago, he was home­less. “I slept in Edge­wood Park, behind empty build­ings.”

Sit­ting on the edge of his bed, Lewis said, “If I don’t get an apart­ment by Novem­ber, that’s where I’ll be again: home­less. I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen to me.”

When asked how it’s been liv­ing at the Dun­can, Lewis said, “I love it. It’s peace­ful. I can rest. I have a place to come home to, a place that I can fi­nally call home.”

As for Sands, last Fri­day she moved out of the Dun­can be­cause she had been placed in a stu­dio apart­ment nearby. She is 66, a re­tired Yale cus­to­dian whose in­come is bol­stered by So­cial Se­cu­rity dis­abil­ity pay­ments for her knees and shoul­der prob­lem. She uses a cane to get around. She doesn’t own a car.

I asked her how it’s been liv­ing at the Dun­can, where she has spent most of the past 11 years. “I like it. I can come out onto the street, there’s a bus stop. My doc­tor’s of­fice is close by, the movies (Cri­te­rion Cin­e­mas). I can walk to Stop & Shop.”

She com­plained that the “old­est” el­e­va­tor fre­quently broke down, which was a prob­lem for her, given the need for a cane and the fact her apart­ment was on the fifth floor.

But, she added, “I’m gonna miss this ho­tel, be­cause of the peo­ple. I got used to it. I re­ally got used to it.”

Last Wed­nes­day, I stopped in at Shapiro’s of­fice ad­ja­cent to the lobby, which for me was a re­peat visit — 30 years ago, I wrote a cover story for the New Haven Ad­vo­cate about the Dun­can. It was head­lined “Rooms With A View.” A framed copy still hangs in the lobby.

At that time, I listed some of the celebri­ties who have stayed at the Dun­can be­cause of its charm and prox­im­ity to New Haven’s the­aters. They in­cluded Jane Fonda, James Earl Jones, Jon Voigt, Christo­pher Walken, Kevn Ba­con, Jodie Foster and Colleen De­whurst.

And John Hinck­ley, Jr.! One of the Dun­can’s des­per­a­does, he checked in there in the spring of 1981 to stalk Foster while she was a stu­dent at Yale. Then he checked out and went down to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., where he shot and wounded Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan in an at­tempt to win her love.

Shapiro has framed pub­lic­ity pho­tos of many of those celebri­ties on his wall (not Hinck­ley). He said the new own­ers want to re­tain many of the Dun­can’s clas­sic fea­tures, such as the lobby mem­o­ra­bilia and pre­serv­ing the bones of the front en­trance and the lobby it­self.

Shapiro said through the years he has “turned down many suit­ors” who wanted to buy the ho­tel. He fi­nally agreed to sell it on be­half of the fam­ily trust be­cause he re­cently turned 69 and has been work­ing there for 47 years. He took it over when his fa­ther, Harold Shapiro, re­tired. The elder Shapiro bought the Dun­can in 1950. The build­ing has been there since 1894.

Shapiro cred­ited the Dun­can’s gen­eral man­ager, Richard Longo, who has been the man behind the front desk for 35 years, as “the rock” that kept it go­ing.

Both Shapiro and Longo will end their du­ties at the Dun­can by the end of Novem­ber, a few weeks af­ter the last ten­ants move out. Shapiro noted peo­ple can still rent a room nightly at the Dun­can (it has 90 rooms). Daily rates range from $100 to $130.

Shapiro beamed when I told him I stayed there for one night with my wife in 1985, just to see what it was like. Funky­town! You can’t for­get those musty hall­ways with the flo­ralde­sign car­pet­ing.

Shapiro ad­mit­ted to be­ing sen­ti­men­tal about los­ing the Dun­can and hav­ing to tell the owner of Thai Taste, in the space be­low the ho­tel, that he too will have to va­cate.

“They’re go­ing to do some ma­jor work here,” Shapiro said of the new own­ers. “From what I’m hear­ing, it could be closed down for a year, at least.”

He de­scribed the fu­ture look of the Dun­can as “a bou­tique ho­tel, up­scale.”

That kind of talk in­fu­ri­ates Walsh. “Look at the busi­nesses down­town and how they’ve been re­placed and bou­tique-fied. There are no more low rents down­town any­where. Poor peo­ple should not be in the city, that’s the mes­sage. You can get fancy food in any di­rec­tion but you can’t get ba­con and eggs or a $3 beer.”

PE­TER HVIZDAK / HEARST ME­DIA CON­NECTI­CUT

Elaine Sands, 66, left, holds a por­trait of the great-grand­fa­ther of artist/il­lus­tra­tor Kevin Sanchez Walsh, with Stacey Lewis, 52, in a room of at the Dun­can Ho­tel on Chapel Street in New Haven that is the home and stu­dio of Mr. Walsh. Sands and Lewis, along with Walsh, are long-term res­i­dents of the af­ford­able Dun­can Ho­tel who must leave be­cause it is will be de­vel­oped as an up­scale bou­tique ho­tel.

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