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'White House' Tapped as Historic on Local Level

The move opens up more state and federal funding for repairs and renovations, but does not guarantee the mansion at the entrance to Stratford's Shakespeare Theatre will not get demolished.

Town Council members Monday approved a "local historic property" designation for the John Benjamin House -- aka the "White House" -- which sits on Elm Street at the entrance to Shakespeare Theatre.

The label on the local level means the Greek Rivival building, circa 1840, has a better shot at securing state and federal funding through preservation grants, which can help pay for repairs and renovations at the shabby mansion.

But before the , Council Chairman Joseph Kubic (R-9) had a question for Town Attorney Tim Bishop.

"If the [Shakespeare] theatre fails, can the White House be removed?" he asked. To which Bishop responded, "It can."

After the vote, Bishop told Patch, "There's a statute of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) that basically says it can be removed if there's no reasonable alternative to demolition."

Adding the White House to the town's list of historic properties -- it was already recognized as such on the state and federal level -- does not change that law, Bishop said. One thing that does change, he said, is how the could act if town officials decide to scrap the building.

"If it was about to be destroyed, the Historic District Commission could find a buyer for it within 90 days," said Bishop, adding, "I think they'll do a nice job to restore -- there's a lot of energy behind it."

believe the defunct building can be transformed into a not-for-profit center for the arts, which can display Shakespeare Theatre archives such as those recently at the .

"I want Stratford to be one of the best towns in the country," resident Karen Rodia said during the public forum that preceded the Council meeting last night. "We have potential."

Rodia brought with her to the podium a recent copy of the Smithsonian Magazine that she said included a list of the top towns in America. The potential Stratford has to make this list, Rodia said, lies in how town officials treat its forest, shoreline and Shakespeare Theatre.

In an effort to explore potential options for the fabled Stratford theatre, the town hired an agency called the Arts Consulting Group. The agency recently presented into the long-shuttered theatre that once staged plays starring famous actors, the likes of which included Katharine Hepburn.

The concepts ranged in price from $3.2 million for a "temporary," summer theatre that would host 30 to 40 events a year, to $29.6 million for a venue that would be open year-round, put on 192 events a year and potentially rake in $2 million in annual revenue. All options would rely heavily on an ambitious fundraising campaign.

At last night's Council meeting, Stephanie Philips (D-2) brought up the fact that there's $2 million in bonded money already approved by the Town Council for the Shakespeare Theatre. She asked Mayor John A. Harkins if it'd be possible to use some of those funds to bring the theatre and White House up to code for public access. 

She requested and about $200,000 for the White House.

Harkins said it would be "ill-advised" to free up that money before the Arts Consulting Group finishes its study, which is expected to be completed in a couple months.

"We are heading into the right direction," Harkins said. "We'll have a clear picture in the fall."

Jim Ravis July 10, 2012 at 12:21 PM
Sad that the money is just sitting there and the town is paying interest on it but not using. In the mean time the house is getting worse. I would love to get in the house and start fixing that up. I would like to see the Patch follow up what a few people brought up at that meeting regarding double billing, use of Snow Flake Vet in Milford, etc. Seems to be some serious allegations.
Jason Bagley (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Hi Jim, I plan to follow up. I've been in contact with Mr. Griffin these past few weeks and am currently looking into the allegations. Thanks.
George E. Mulligan July 10, 2012 at 02:00 PM
White House roof may be finished? They've worked on it the last couple weeks. It included a sky light. I was told much of the "Stratford Shakespeare treasures" which were a hugh hit with the Public in Fairfield were found in the attic. Harkins, like Miron seems to hoard unspent BOND MONEY? I love to know detailed SPECIFICS on HUNDREDS of MILLIONS in BOND MONEY????? HUNDREDS of MILLIONS? YUP! May 2011, Malloy Town Council Bonded / Rebonded $ 103 Million. That was only May 2011. They BONDED between $ 10 - $ 15 Million in Capital improvements in 2010 & 2011 each year. They Rebonded some PENSION BOND money laying out $ 11 + Million in principle to drop annual repayments from $ 9.1+ Million to $ 7.6+ Million. > SOUND FISCAL POLICY? Unfortunately ANNUAL PENSION SHORTFALL keep going up over $ 1 Million a YEAR ALL of YOU ( & me) pay OVER 2 MILLS - OVER $ 10 Million a year to PENSION Shortfall which keeps going up. Of the TOP 29 PENSIONS - About $ 2.6 Million or average about $ 85,000 annually - 26 PENSIONS go to MANAGEMENT: Police Chiefs Deputy Chiefs Captains Lieutenants (Sageants & Detectives aren't managers - but like supervisors) Fire Chiefs Deputy Chiefs Lieutenants Fire Marshall Town Clerk PW Directors Department Heads Supervisors In December, there were allegations related to alledged LOOTING of a 90 year old woman's home with Animal control people alledgedly involved? I know nothing about Milford Vet/double billing?
Mary Ann Jackson July 11, 2012 at 01:07 AM
why don't they fix the house up and use it as a museum with the items they found in the attic.
k-9 lover July 11, 2012 at 01:09 AM
Those were some serious allegations made last night regarding the stfd acos, snowflake kennals of mlfd, and the 501c3 orginization known as stars.fees under the guise of "donations".stars taking over ownership of animals then still billing the town? Jepson are you listening? Irs? Anyone home?
Know what's going on July 11, 2012 at 12:04 PM
Why aren't we looking into the sweetheart pension deal Harkins cut with the new deputy police chief? You want to talk about stealing tax dollars, just look closely at that deal -- and the whole pension fiasco we've got going in the Town. And here's a suggestion from the other night we ought to pay attention to -- our new Economic Development director. I've heard her complete focus is on Brownfields and nothing else. Let's make sure we insist on a 90-day report of what she's done and what her plan is for the next two years. How about a little commercial development?

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