Victor Christ-Janer’s own house slated for demolition in New Canaan
August 28, 2012
August 31 Update: On Thursday 8/30 the New Canaan Historic Review Committee voted to put in place a 90-day delay on the demolition of the Christ-Janer house. This encouraging outcome was accompanied by discouraging news. On 8/24 the portion of the site with the house was sold to LTW Builders of New Canaan, which has plans to replace the Christ-Janer house with a new house of the McMansion variety. We will provide further updates as we have more information.
Victor Christ-Janer was part of the first wave of Modern architects living and working in New Canaan. In 1948 he and his wife bought a 5-acre lot and between 1949 and 1952 Christ-Janer designed and built a house for his family. He died in 2008, in this house, at age 92. A demolition permit is now pending.
The house at 77 Frogtown Road is outstanding for its siting, its simplicity, its flexibility and its spatial surprises, including a two-story entry, which was unusual for a 1950s Modern. Holiday Magazine noted the spatial success in a 1952 feature article: “Victor Christ-Janer gets an extraordinary feeling of space in a small house by making it possible to see through glass in three or four directions from almost any point in the house, and by a long, sweeping hall which carries across a ‘bridge’ above on open patio on the lower floor.” The house was built well and diligently maintained over the years and remains significantly intact.
Those who practiced with Christ-Janer recall a very independent architect and artist who never sought publicity, recognition or awards for his commissions; a thinker who even bragged about his desire to avoid publicity. This could explain why the Christ-Janer house is far less familiar than its contemporaries.
In 2010 the Christ-Janer family sold the house to purchasers who said they planned to renovate the house. After supposedly preparing renovation plans and then deeming them too expensive, the new owners are working with a local developer/builder to split the property into two lots, demolish the Christ-Janer house and build anew. The owner and developer filed for a demolition permit last month and declined to list the house for sale as an alternative given their change of plans. Christ-Janer envisioned the 5-acre lot being divided between his two daughters and drew plans to show this alternative. Preservation architects in New Canaan confirm that the property can be subdivided in a way that allows the main house to remain and a new house to be built on the second lot. This option is not being considered by the owners.
The Christ-Janer house was not included in the 18 houses added to the Connecticut and National Registers of Historic Places as part of a “multiple-site” listing in 2010 because current owners had to proactively participate in that effort and the house was in transition. A meeting of the New Canaan Historical Review Committee is currently scheduled for Thursday August 30 to hear testimony on a 90-day demolition delay. Letters opposing the demolition have already started coming in but more are needed. While this is only a delay, it does buy time to look for possible alternatives. Please take a few minutes to write a letter asking the Historic Review Committee to pass a demolition delay. Send copies of your letters to email@example.com so we can be sure they are entered into the record at the hearing.
Letters should be addressed to:
Brian Platz, Chief Building Official
Town of New Canaan
77 Main Street
New Canaan, CT 06840
via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
via fax: (203) 594-3121