Despite demolition talk, former West End library still stands
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.