National Register Historic District
The Chapel Street Historic District is a mixed-use area including 102 commercial, residential and institutional buildings and consists of approximately 5-1/2 city blocks in the center of downtown New Haven. Most of the building stock dates from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Chapel Street Historic District as a whole is a good example of a mixed-use area with a strong commercial core and viable residential sections. The Chapel Street Historic District represents the evolution of New Haven commerce, the growth of its cultural life through the construction of its theaters and the development of urban residential styles of architecture. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 5, 1984.
Most of the fabric of the Chapel Street Historic District dates from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but the origin of the basic street plan and the use of the land for residential and commercial purposes extends back to the settlement of the New Haven Colony in the early seventeenth century. The original seventeenth century town plan for New Haven was comprised of nine squares: eight squares surrounding a central square that became the New Haven Green. Nearly all the Chapel Street Historic District was part of the southwestern section of this nine-part grid. In the eighteenth century, the commercial potential of Chapel Street began to develop in earnest. When Yale College was established, it brought a new infusion of funds into the pockets of the citizens of New Haven.
The residential architecture of the early nineteenth century is well represented in the Chapel Street Historic District. The oldest structure, as well as the oldest residence in the district, is the Federal style Ira Atwater House (c.1817) on the corner of College and Crown streets. This substantial brick townhouse is set with its gable end facing College Street and is the only Federal style structure in the district. The early nineteenth-century prosperity of New Haven is expressed in the district by a number of Greek Revival townhouses. The Greek Revival style was popularized in New Haven largely through the work of Ithiel Towne and Alexander Jackson Davis, who designed a number of significant Greek Revival structures.
Between 1825 and 1845 the commercial core of New Haven began to expand, changing the residential character of the district, and introducing the commercial theme that still dominates the area. The Townsend Block, a 4-story commercial block built at 1004 Chapel Street c.1831, is one of the earliest masonry commercial blocks still standing in New Haven. A major change during the last quarter of the nineteenth century was the introduction of legitimate theaters to downtown New Haven. The first theaters were remodeled beer halls and commercial buildings, like the Grand Opera House, once located one block east of the district, and opened in 1869. The oldest legitimate theater still standing in New Haven, the Hyperion Theater, is located on College Street.
The late nineteenth century did not just bring theaters to the downtown; it also brought a change in the way that people lived and how the buildings were used. Yale was rapidly expanding and the need for student housing resulted in the construction of Warner Hall in 1892 at 1044 Chapel Street and the Hotel Majestic in 1894 at 1151 Chapel Street, both near the Yale campus. These two highly significant private dormitories remain almost entirely intact and because few communities in the state faced the same needs for housing numerous students during this period, they are an unusual adjunct to the usual downtown core. The quality of their design reflects the amenities they offered in their heyday, and the tastes of the people who lived there. The construction of these private dormitories foreshadowed the popularity of the apartment house during the early twentieth century. Many people moved to the suburbs during this period, but a staunch core of industrialists and Yale professors continued to live within the district.
The present appearance of the Chapel Street Historic District is largely a product of early twentieth-century construction and remodeling of older buildings during the same period. The Chapel Street Historic District has always been part of the lively and important downtown core of New Haven. It reflects the growth of New Haven over a period of more than one hundred and fifty years. Within the boundaries of the Chapel Street Historic District are numerous fine intact examples of various residential and commercial styles, and some of these were designed by nationally known architects and prominent New Haven firms. Many of the buildings in the Chapel Street Historic District, though not historically significant, are good representative examples of nationally popular styles or contribute to an intact streetscape. The commercial, social and cultural life of New Haven is reflected by these buildings. The quality of the architecture in the Chapel Street Historic District is fine; a number of leading New Haven and out-of-town architects lavished their attention and considerable skills on a number of buildings in the district. The consummate handling of mass, proportion, and detail by a number of unknown builder/architects is also apparent in the district, particularly in the nineteenth-century townhouses. Although a variety of styles, ranging from Federal through Art Deco, is represented in the district, the area's cohesiveness, reinforced by uniform set-backs, a general low-rise profile, common materials and few intrusive newer buildings and parking lots, is the dominant feature of the district. Hemmed in on two sides by modern redevelopment efforts, the Chapel Street Historic District is defined in part by its contrasts with new construction and by its contrast with the more residential Dwight Street Historic District, the open space of the Green, and the academic plan and style of Yale University. The Chapel Street Historic District is exciting because its buildings continue to function within the context of a mixed-use area. The contrast between the tightly packed, tall commercial buildings and, just a block away, a row of tree-shaded residences only enhances the strengths of the district.