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."