De­spite de­mo­li­tion talk, for­mer West End li­brary still stands

Connecticut Post (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Brian Lock­hart

BRIDGE­PORT — Six months af­ter the owner of the for­mer West End li­brary an­nounced its pend­ing de­mo­li­tion, the nearly 100- year- old San­born build­ing is still stand­ing, at the busy in­ter­sec­tion of Fair­field Av­enue and State Street, a tri­an­gle of land a few blocks from down­town.

And while the struc­ture’s days may re­main num­bered, owner Bur­ton Stevens, in a re­ver­sal, said he will not be the one to take it down.

“I’m go­ing to sell the prop­erty with the build­ing stand­ing,” said Stevens, a Wood­bury res­i­dent who pur­chased the site in 2008 for $ 1 mil­lion.

That is a mod­est vic­tory for preser­va­tion­ists. As of last July, Stevens, who had been un­able to rent the San­born and was weary of the hefty $ 30,000 an­nual tax bill, had a sale pend­ing with de­vel­oper Richard Kor­ris. And as part of that deal, Stevens was go­ing to knock the empty li­brary down.

Stevens had also pledged at that time to de­mol­ish the struc­ture if the deal with Kor­ris fell through.

More re­cently, Stevens said, “I know there’s a groundswell of in­ter­est in keep­ing the build­ing up.”

Some City Coun­cil mem­bers, par­tic­u­larly Peter Spain, and com­mu­nity ac­tivists have been try­ing to find a way to save the San­born, which, af­ter the li­brary closed, housed a bank in the 1990s and then Aspira, a youth de­vel­op­ment pro­gram.

Voices for preser­va­tion

Com­mu­nity ac­tivist and ex- Town Clerk Alma Maya, who in the 2000s ran the Aspira pro­gram, was also push­ing for preser­va­tion.

And since last sum­mer U. S. Rep. Jim Himes, D- Conn., a for­mer mem­ber of the Aspira board, lent his clout to the preser­va­tion ef­fort.

Stevens said Kor­ris re­mains in­ter­ested, but it will now be up to the de­vel­oper to take the li­brary down if and when he buys it.

“If he in fact does buy, he’ll de­mol­ish it,” Stevens said. “If he doesn’t, then I don’t have any im­me­di­ate plans to de­mol­ish the build­ing.”

Kor­ris’ zon­ing at­tor­ney, Ray­mond Rizio, said his client is still pre­par­ing plans and se­lect­ing ten­ants ahead of ob­tain­ing the nec­es­sary zon­ing and build­ing per­mits in the com­ing months.

“I think he is hop­ing to do some type of re­tail,” Rizio said, adding, “I don’t think there’s a way to pre­serve the build­ing and have it make any eco­nomic sense.”

A few years ago, Kor­ris made over the 1950sera King Cole Su­per­mar­ket lo­ca­tion where Park Av­enue and Pe­quon­nock Street meet Route 1.

“He’s a very well- es­tab­lished city de­vel­oper,” Rizio said.

New Eng­land feel

The ex- li­brary is a 13,000- square- foot brick build­ing with a large porch, white col­umns and cupola, sit­u­ated next to a park. It looks like it could be a town hall in any num­ber of small New Eng­land towns, and is a stark con­trast to the more ur­ban and in­dus­trial build­ings in the sur­round­ing neighborhoods.

The only mod­ern touch is a Puerto Ri­can her­itage mu­ral on part of the ex­te­rior that ac­tivists also want to sal­vage.

“It’s just a beau­ti­ful build­ing,” Himes said in an in­ter­view Thurs­day. The con­gress­man said he was not only driven to join the ef­fort to save the San­born by his time with Aspira, but also be­cause “cities are made rich by pre­serv­ing their ar­chi­tec­tural her­itage.”

“I have had a num­ber of con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple in and around this trans­ac­tion, just ex­plor­ing will­ing­ness to slow down and maybe con­sider ways to pre­serve the build­ing,” Himes said. “I haven’t pres­sured any­body. Eco­nom­ics are eco­nom­ics. But I was re­ally hope­ful we could find a way to find eco­nomic value in the build­ing’s preser­va­tion.”

He hoped to be part of any con­tin­ued talks — since the sale to Kor­ris is still pend­ing — ei­ther with that de­vel­oper or with “other po­ten­tial buy­ers.”

Spain urged Mayor Joe Ganim, who is run­ning for re- elec­tion this year, to be­come more di­rectly in­volved. Spain would also like to get the build­ing placed on state and na­tional his­toric reg­is­ters.

“What’s most im­por­tant right now is for the mayor to take bold pub­lic lead­er­ship to en­sure the li­brary ( and) the unique Puerto Ri­can-Amer­i­can her­itage mu­ral on the front of it are pro­tected for pos­ter­ity,” Spain said in an email. “Bridge­port’s re­main­ing ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory is a trea­sure we should lever­age for our city’s 21st cen­tury re­vival and for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Michael Tyrrell, of Fair­field, an ar­chi­tec­ture and ur­ban de­sign con­sul­tant who has joined the ef­fort to save the San­born, agreed.

“It would be a great civic legacy project for Mayor Ganim if he could lend his sup­port,” Tyrrell wrote in an email. “This build­ing is such a won­der­ful gate­way to­ward down­town, and a proud land­mark for the West Side.”

Ganim’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor, Tom Gill, said he at­tended one meet­ing about sav­ing the San­born and has spo­ken with Spain about it. Gill said the trans­ac­tion be­tween Stevens and Kor­ris is a pri­vate one and that the city is in no po­si­tion to buy the li­brary.

But, Gill added, were a de­vel­oper in­ter­ested in talk­ing to the city about sav­ing it, “We’d be open to that.”

The for­mer West End Branch Li­brary in Bridge­port.

The for­mer West End li­brary build­ing in Bridge­port, also known as San­born Li­brary. It was built in 1922.

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