The fate of the Victor Christ-Janer house is in limbo following the owner's Aug. 30 application for a demolition permit.
The Historical Review Committee was to meet Thursday, Sept. 20, to discuss whether to approve a 90-day delay for the demolition, which the committee can do under the Town Code if it finds that the house has significant historical or architectural value. The 90-day delay would offer a chance for those who want to save the house at 77 Frogtown Road to work out a deal or arrangement with the owner to keep it intact; the town has no power to stop the demolition.
The two sides could have until Nov. 28 to make arrangements to save the house, called by one side "a gem" and the other side "a pit."
According to his New York Times obituary and a news release from the Building Conservation Association, Victor Christ-Janer was a nationally renowned architect most active in the mid 20th century. He lived in New Canaan and designed several buildings in town, including the post office, New Canaan High School and Walter Stewart's market.
Christ-Janer was also the architect for many large projects across the country, built in the modernist style, including the Carthusian monastery Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, Vt., and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester in Bedford, N.Y.
He also designed and built his own house, which stands, for now, at 77 Frogtown Road.
The story goes that one day in 1948, on a trip from New Haven to New York City, his car broke down in New Canaan. His wife saw a piece of land on Frogtown Road and decided that she wanted the couple to live there. A week later, Christ-Janer bought the property and shortly thereafter began to design a house for it, which was completed in 1952. Christ-Janer died in 2008, and the property was given to his family.
After the better part of three years on the market, the house was sold to a buyer who wished to renovate it but keep intact. Upon inspection of the house, the owner learned that such renovations would be prohibitively expensive and sold the house to Lindsay Warren, of LTW Builders, who does not plan on saving the house.
"I'm going to knock it down and build a single-family residence," he said in an interview.
When people found out that the house was scheduled for demolition, historical preservation groups became active, writing letters to Brian Platz, the town's chief building official, who forwarded the issue to the Historical Review Committee Chairman Mike Farrell. Under section 12A of New Canaan's Town Code, if the Historical Review Committee deems the house of significant value to the town, the demolition can be delayed even though the building is privately owned, with the owner absorbing any resulting cost during delays in development.
Warren said the issue comes down to rights, specifically property rights.
"I don't think it's fair. I bought the house. I paid for it. This is America. I should be able to do what I want with my property," said Warren, who is from India.
Mimi Findlay, president of the New Canaan Preservation Alliance, which hopes to speak with Warren about alternative plans for the house, didn't disagree, but made her argument in terms of public utility.
Warren, she said, "happens to have an extraordinarily important house. There is a greater good in preserving the house than in tearing it down. The town has a right to talk with the owners to try to get grants and do proactive things to help him change his mind. The house is part of New Canaan's heritage and although he has every right to destroy it, it would be a devastating loss."
The house is not on any register of historic buildings.
Warren noted that if people were insistent upon saving it, groups could have raised the money to buy and rehabilitate the house while it was on the market for nearly three years, rather than delay his plans once he was ready to begin development of the property.
Findlay said it was not until the "impending crisis" of demolition was brought up that people from around the country started discussing saving the house, citing many letters from outside the area have been sent to Platz in hopes of postponing demolition.
Platz confirmed that Christ-Janer's family could have included a clause in the deed to prevent the house from being torn down, though he said he believed doing so would have significantly reduced the value of the property.
One of Christ-Janer's daughters, Katherine, who lives in Trumbull and has written letters advocating a delay in the demolition, was unavailable for comment.
email@example.com; 203-972-4413; @Woods_NCNews