New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)
Historic building demolished; structure’s integrity was ‘frightening’
NEW HAVEN — Time ran out.
Four of five buildings that constituted one of the last remaining examples of New Haven’s storied industrial past are being demolished. The five co-joined buildings with party walls made up H.B. Bigelow Co.’s industrial steam boiler factory at 198 River St.
New Haven Abatement and Demolition, which
began working at the site Monday, had reduced portions of the structure to piles of brick and metal by late Thursday.
Greg Bodytko, one of the owners of the firm, estimated it would take a few more weeks to carefully bring down other sections and remove the debris, leaving only the 3-story building nearest James Street.
“These beams are so rotted out, it is unbelievable. I’m surprised it is still standing,” said Bodytko. “It is scary in there.”
“There were numerous ... people (living there), needles everywhere, but it is the actual integrity of the building that is frightening,” Bodytko said. “I’m surprised it made it through this winter.”
“The roof has been open for decades,” Dave O’Connor, the general manager, said.
Loose bricks could be seen pulling away from the cityowned building.
Pointing to the three-story part of the structure, he said it was in better shape with an intact roof, although Building Official James Turcio thought it also was compromised.
Bodytko said there are three two-story sections and a small garage that will go. He said the demolition “has to be done methodically.”
Turcio said there were no lateral supports left in portions of the building and two of the roofs had collapsed, one of them pancaking the second floor to the ground.
He said individuals experiencing homelessness apparently would access the site from an encampment near the Quinnipiac River. He said it was dangerous for them to be inside, as well as for his staff to go in and remove the mattresses.
“It is a hell of a liability for the city,” Turcio said, for people to be sleeping in there.
The city has worked for years to tap grants to stabilize Bigelow, which once fabricated huge industrial boilers that were sold around the world.
With a pulley attached to a girder, the boilers would be lowered through large, secondfloor doors and placed on train cars that ran along River Street. This was because the front doors were too small.
The upper-level loading doors are considered key historic elements, but they will be part of the demolition.
City Planner Aicha Woods said the preservation community was feeling a “sense of mourning.”
Woods said the loss of much of this building was problematic, but it could also mean the end of the River Street Historic District, which brings financial benefits, particularly tax credits to investors for preservation and adaptive reuse.
The city some five years ago had demolished the former National Pipe Bending Co., the second major industrial building on the street.
Both buildings were part of the last historic industrial cluster in New Haven.
Woods said it is not only the end of a major portion of a specific building, “but the loss of what could have been.”
“It is just a question of timing and the city couldn’t rally around a cohesive vision” that prioritized the historic elements, the planner said.
“Too bad the historic fabric won’t be part of what drives that vision” in the future, she said. Woods said she doesn’t feel the structure ever was secured. She said the issue of people living in the building was a policing problem.
Susan Godshall, a member of the New Haven Preservation Trust and the Historic District Commission, said a stabilization plan was developed a year ago after Tropical Storm Isaias with the help of the State Historic Preservation Office, Preservation Connecticut, the trust, city staff and an architect who toured the building.
She said, however, the city had failed to board it up and keep squatters out.
Godshall said she thought it would have been less costly to secure the building rather than having to demolish a large portion of the Bigelow boiler factory.
A request for proposals for a firm to come in and put the stabilization plan — which was paid for by the state — into effect was drawn up, but there is a question of whether it still is viable.
“It is an asset to the city. It is a resource,” Godshall said of the Bigelow factory.
She questioned whether a municipality legally can condemn its own building.
“Why didn’t they maintain it?” she asked. She said having squatters was nothing new and there are ways to deal with that.
“The liability was mine and the city’s was enough,” Turcio said of preservation concerns. There were “25 years to fix this and still nothing,”
Todd Levine, an architectural historian with the State Historic Preservation Office, said he is looking for reasons as to what drove the decision to demolish part of the structure now.
“We are trying to find answers. It is a big surprise to us. What is the sea change” that justified demolition, he asked.
“It just seems odd to me. We thought we were moving toward a solution,” Levine said. He said he is looking for the “proper paperwork.”
The city was the recipient of two $20,000 grants to analyze the property for stabilization and adaptive reuse, which had led to the development of a request for proposals to design a plan to maintain the structure.
Woods said River Street may still become an “awesome” destination with two breweries planning to locate there and Jaigantic Studios proposing a major movie production center if it can get enough land.
Woods said the city could not get Federal Emergency Management Agency money to stabilize the building after Isaias inflicted more damage.
She said the New Haven Preservation Trust was planning to tour the building Monday, but the members were told Friday that it was too dangerous.
Bodytko said the bricks will be recycled, as well as the scrap metal, and he hoped some of the beams would be reused. He said the demolition drew a small crowd Thursday.
He said the three-story structure is expected to be renovated by Capasso Restoration, which brought back 190 River St. that will be leased to Armada Brewing.
“He did a great job,” Bodytko said of that building.
Godshall and architect Duo Dickenson, in an opinion piece in the New Haven Register a year ago, made a case to save the building and mentioned some tidbits of Bigelow’s history.
They said New Haven was transformed to a manufacturing center starting in the 1870s to World War II and Bigelow made River Street a “center of metal fabricating industry.”
Also, the New Haven Railroad experimented with electric power engines on River Street which led to the electrification of the New Haven main line.
“Today the sad red brick remnants of the Bigelow Boiler factory stand alone as a reminder of the busy industrial streetscape from this period,” they wrote.