Over the course of the 1800's, Louis Comfort Tiffany and Amos Lockwood built a series of mills in East Brooklyn, Connecticut's "Quebec Square" neighborhood. Today, little is left of these mills; much of the complex (1952 Aerial) burnt down in 1961, but some of their structures remain. Their conditions range from habitable, to condemned, all the way to crumbling alongside the Quinebaug River. Noteworthy for both its history and aesthetic, the “Quinebaug Mill/Quebec Square Historic District” was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The impressive ‘shed’ of the mill still stands in slow decay, but even more visible are the worker housing developments built by Tiffany and Lockwood.
While the jobs were lost, the 57-unit, single-story Quebec Square and the 27-unit, two-building, two-story Tiffany Place remained occupied. However, the area had a hard time recovering from the loss of the mill and the neighborhood began to acquire a negative reputation. In the 1980’s, as the beautiful brick buildings were receiving their historic designation, they were also being converted into ‘affordable housing’ by the state. In 1992, the two-story Clifford B. Green Community Center was built between the developments and featured a daycare and playground. While the new brick construction, with solar panels, complemented the neighborhood, the worker housing would begin to show its age.
Quebec Square continues to hold tenants and regularly receives minor repairs and improvements, but structural issues afflict Tiffany Place. The larger building was found to have moved from its foundation and was condemned in 2006. The decision was made to close the Tiffany Place development until repairs could be made. Structural braces were added to the large building and still act as a stopgap. “It’s a very unsustainable situation right now,” said Austin Tanner, former First Selectman and local dairy farmer. The last Tiffany Place residents moved out in 2011, and the buildings remain unoccupied and fenced off, condemned to wait for grants or the right investment group to come through.
With the turnover of a large portion of the neighborhood, the community center has also struggled. The daycare closed, and the building has been used intermittently as; storage, a town hall annex, a potential probate court location, and the physical address of the Brooklyn Housing Authority (BHA). The town of Brooklyn has recently invested in upgrades to convert the lower-level daycare facility design into a ‘recreation center’ for teens. Response to the proposal has been tepid, and it is likely that any rebranding of the community center will prove ineffective until Tiffany Place families return to the neighborhood to support it.
The BHA has sought to sell the Tiffany Place development, with difficulty. Its designation as a historic district complicates re-development, as does the stipulation that the buildings remain ‘affordable housing.’ On behalf of the BHA, Eastern Connecticut Housing Opportunities (ECHO) has secured grants for the design and other pre-development expenses of the Tiffany Place buildings. However, the state denied the BHA’s State-Assisted Housing grant application which would have subsidized construction. When compared with its much larger grant competitors, Tiffany Place’s mere 27 units were not considered the best value for investor dollar.
Without intervention, the Tiffany Place development could go the way of the mills. The current season of grant-seeking has begun, with deadlines in late April; BHA and ECHO will be asking again, with refinements to their proposal. ECHO’s Peter Battles recommends going forward with construction immediately, with the grants they do have. There are many reasons for this, most importantly, that of getting the ball rolling, because there are time limitations to the grant awards. “We cannot sit on this funding indefinitely.”
Are historical designations and affordable housing stipulations barriers to property rehabilitation and development? Is a small housing project a worthwhile public investment? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Credits: Images by Dan Malo. Data linked to sources.