National Register Historic District
The Whitney Avenue Historic District is significant as a well-preserved middle- and upper-class residential neighborhood, which reflects the suburbanization in New Haven during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. It is architecturally significant as the most extensive and well-preserved collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century domestic architecture in New Haven. The houses in the district embody the distinctive characteristics of several periods, including locally outstanding examples of Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial Revival, Tudor Revival, and other styles. The district is roughly bounded by Burns, Livingston, Cold Spring, Orange, and Bradley Streets and Whitney Avenue. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 2, 1989.
Whitney Avenue originated as an early road leading from central New Haven northward to Hartford. It was improved as a turnpike in 1789 by the Hartford and New Haven Turnpike Company. The land along the turnpike remained undeveloped until after the Civil War, with the exception of several large farms and estates and a small cluster of homes built in the 1830s and 1840s for workers at Eli Whitney’s Armory, located across the town line in Hamden.
After the Civil War, the area began to develop into a middle-class neighborhood, occupied by attorneys and other professionals who began moving beyond the limits of the Orange Street neighborhood to the southeast. Speculators and real-estate developers purchased large parcels from the old estates and subdivided them, creating new streets. Building activity was strongest during the 1880s in the Orange Street area; leading New Haven architects designed many of the houses, which retain a continuity of building shape and layout while differing in details.
Beginning with the World War I period, when New Haven’s population reached a peak of 160,000 and its many arms-related manufacturing businesses boomed, speculators began erecting large apartment complexes throughout the district, with the largest concentration on Whitney Avenue. At this same time, institutional buildings connected with Yale University began to encroach upon the area, especially on Whitney Avenue. In addition, a number of large homes were purchased by Yale or organizations affiliated with the university. After World War II, many houses on Whitney Avenue were converted to offices or rental space, and several mansions were demolished to make room for new development.
The origin of the area as an upper- and middle-class residential neighborhood gives the district architectural qualities unmatched in other areas of New Haven. During the 1890s, Whitney Avenue blossomed into a boulevard lined with architect-designed houses of fashionable styles, which mingled with the surviving buildings of the large estates from which their lots had been carved. While comparable domestic architecture can be found elsewhere in New Haven, the Whitney neighborhood’s large lots, deep setbacks, and exceptionally wide roadway made it a unique setting for large, impressive homes. Newer construction after the 1890s on surrounding streets near the avenue, such as Humphrey, Bishop, Edwards, and even to some extent Willow Street, echoed this feeling of grandness on a more broken landscape punctuated by rises of ground and heavily treed lots which partially hide the residences. The opening of Livingston Street between 1910 and 1929 provided another opportunity for builders and architects to continue development of this character.
Three attributes in particular contribute to the district’s architectural significance: 1) the large number of individually distinguished examples of 19th- and early 20th-century domestic architecture: large, highly ornamented houses which epitomize the styles of the period; 2) the intense concentration of well-preserved buildings from the period, with a negligible number of substantially altered and noncontributing buildings; and 3) the physical setting of broad shady streets, recalling the qualities which made the neighborhood so desirable in its day.
The district’s individual buildings are particularly notable in illustrating the evolution of the Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival styles in New Haven.
Queen Anne houses in the district display the asymmetrical massing, complex rooflines, varied exterior materials, and combined the classical and medieval detailing which are the defining characteristics of the style, valuing a picturesque appearance, interesting interior spaces, and large comfortable rooms. Among the district’s notable examples is the house at 357 Whitney Avenue. Built in 1897, it is one of a row of large Queen Anne houses which reflect the contemporary description of the southern end of Whitney Avenue as a row of baronial castles. Its tower, dormers, complex roofline, and overhanging stories create the picturesque asymmetry valued in the style; it has the characteristically varied exterior surface materials (brick and slate); and its detailing is typically eclectic, with medieval oriel and paneled chimneys and Classical porch columns. Other Queen Anne houses in the district feature such characteristic details as terra-cotta embellishment, elaborate stained-glass windows, fishscale and other patterned shingles, ridge cresting, half-timbered gables, and Eastlake-inspired woodwork in the bargeboards and peak ornaments.
Several Shingle style houses in the district reflect the avenue’s long history as a setting for estates. The 1890 Charles Atwater House at 321 Whitney Avenue recalls McKim, Mead and White’s William Low House of Bristol, Rhode Island, in its low, spreading roof and banded fenestration with windows separated by panels. The home was designed by the nationally renowned firm of Babb, Cook and Willard. The Abner Hendee House at 703 Whitney Avenue (c. 1900) also expresses the horizontality of the style, while 244 Livingston Street (1909) is a more modest example, its cobblestone foundation and wood-shingled exterior expressing the affinity Shingle-style architects and builders felt for natural materials.
The district’s Colonial Revival houses illustrate the whole spectrum of the Colonial Revival movement. Many of the Colonial Revival homes on Whitney Avenue, especially the earlier ones, continued the form and spirit of Queen Anne houses of the period and utilized Colonial architecture simply as another source of ornament. For example, the house at 591 Whitney Avenue (c. 1909) freely combines Colonial elements without reference to any single prototype. A nearby contemporary house, built for real estate developer Charles T. Coyle, with its two-story Ionic portico and a prominent hip roof, illustrates a level of the Revival in which the most grandiose of Colonial features are combined into a large, symmetrical composition (569 Whitney Avenue, 1910). In contrast, the Rudolph Steinert House (1908) at 469 Whitney Avenue marks an early appearance of a phase of the Colonial Revival in which houses employed an accurate reproduction of period features and details. The Dr. Henry Hessler House at 370 Livingston Street (1929) is similar to the Steinert House, with a more modest portico and more restrained use of detail. It was designed by J. Frederick Kelly, whose measured drawings and writings in Early Domestic Architecture of Connecticut made him one of the chief exponents of the accurate reproduction phase of the Colonial Revival. The house at 340 Livingston Street, built in 1929 for contractor Ray Reigeluth, marks the local apogee of this trend.
Houses and other buildings deriving inspiration from English Tudor prototypes began to appear in the district in the early 20th century. One example is the Dr. Edwin Butler house at 640 Whitney Avenue, (1913) which displays such characteristic features of the style as a masonry (tapestry-brick) exterior, steep gables, and Tudor Revival detailing, such as crenellation, label molds, and diamond window panes. Other houses in the district are typical of the style’s English Cottage mode, embodying such characteristic features as stucco exteriors, half-timbering, and steeply pitched gable roofs.
Although the Queen Anne, Shingle, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival styles account for the vast majority of the houses, there are many other styles represented in the district, often with unusual or inventive architectural ornament. These include houses which pre-date the area’s major period of expansion, such as the George Mason House at 749 Whitney Avenue, a typical Italian Villa with unusual leafy or feather-like porch-post capitals (c. 1848); the Richard Everit House at 641 Whitney Avenue (1867), whose steep roof and finely scaled gable ornament epitomize the Gothic Revival style; Victorian houses of mixed inspiration, such as the Samuel York House at 233 Edwards Street (1876), with such Victorian features as a mansard roof, exposed Stick-style “framing,” bargeboards with quatrefoils, and a bracketed cornice; and the Colin Ingersoll House at 475 Whitney Avenue (1896), a prominent example of the Chateauesque style designed by noted architect Joseph Northrup, with the characteristic masonry construction, slate hip roof, medieval detailing, fleurs-de-lis, and prominent tower. The profusion of styles in the district reflects a wide diversity of sources for architectural inspiration.
The mass of late-19th and early-20th century houses in the district complement these prominent individual examples. They are well-preserved, and possess integrity of setting and a common repetition of elaborate porch trim, shingle gables, stained glass windows, and pediment entries, creating cohesive streetscapes throughout the district. Although less fully detailed than the mansions, these houses allow the district to illustrate the full range of Victorian and early 20th-century architecture.
Outbuildings in the district also enhance its significance. There are several elaborate examples of late 19th- century carriage houses, which complement the Queen Anne style of their main houses. The district’s many “automobile houses,” some as early as 1907, also reinforce the district’s sense of time, and several of the garages use materials and detailing similar to the domestic architecture of the district.
The district’s apartment blocks, churches and schools reinforce the architectural cohesiveness of the district by providing institutional examples of the revival styles which characterize the area’s houses. Although larger than the houses, these buildings exhibit similar materials, workmanship and ornamental details, and thus complement the residential scale of the district. The Worthington Hooker School (180 Canner Street, 1900) is well-preserved illustration of the exuberant Classicism of the Beaux Arts movement. Several of the churches in the district are individually distinguished as representative examples, exhibiting the distinctive characteristics of Late Gothic Revival and Romanesque styles.