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'White House' Takes Step Toward Recovery

Town Council approves a resolution that would add the building, located at the entry to the Shakespeare Theatre, to the Stratford Historic District. Members said the move will open up funding for repairs and renovations.

Perhaps it was a resident's comment that spurred the Stratford Town Council to act on an agenda item which had been tabled since May.  

"You're stalling too much," Walter Rimkunas told the Council during a public hearing before its meeting Monday night. "C'mon fellas, do something over there, don't keep pushing it off."

Rimkunas was referring to the John Benjamin House, located at the entrance to the Shakespeare Theatre.

The resident urged the Council to approve the resolution to incorporate the Greek Revival building, circa 1840, into the and, as the resolution stated, "afford it all the protections and considerations applicable thereunder."

And the Council complied, unanimously passing the resolution six months after it was first tabled at the Council's May 9 meeting.

Forward Thinking

Matt Catalano (R-3) read aloud the resolution to fellow Council members. Catalano, a former stagehand himself, has been a leading voice for transforming the defunct building into a not-for-profit center for the arts. But before that can happen, a hole in the roof needs to be patched up, as well as other infrastructure concerns.

"I’d like to see this building get a roof before winter," Catalano said at a building needs committee meeting over the summer.

Being recognized on the Stratford Historic District registry at the town level opens up state and federal grants through the Historic Restoration Funding Program, which can pay for repairs and, farther down the road, renovations. In reciting the resolution to Council members, Catalano said this funding is "already in place."

Support for Renovation

Though it's unclear what caused the Council to delay action on the resolution until its Nov. 14 meeting, all who spoke on the subject Monday backed the approval completely.

"Councilman Catalano is the best speaker because he's convinced me this is the right thing to do," said James Connor (R-8).

"History is culture and art is culture," said David Fuller (D-6). "This right here is a combination of both history and art. This is truly something that is part of Stratford's identity."

Archives from the White House are currently on display at . Exhumed from the White House and showcased at the gallery are: original costume designs, sketches, props, notebooks, and even a letter from Ed Sullivan soliciting Katharine Hepburn in exchange for a $10,000 check to the Stratford theatre.

"All this neat stuff, we're going to move home, where it should be," Catalano told Stratford Patch when we checked out the exhibition.

Jason Santi (D-4) said he is also in support of renovating the White House into a museum or a center for the arts.

"A little money and a little tough love and care and we can get this thing up and running," he said.

What do you think should become of the 'White House'? Share your ideas in the comments.

stratforddogpark@gmail.com November 16, 2011 at 01:55 PM
Absolutely turn it into a non-profit. Apply for grants and get the place back to its original beauty. Then hire an individual with a background in performing arts, American history or Shakespeare to work 8-5 at a reasonable yet conservative salary. Advertise the property as a museum where individuals and schools can come and tour for a recommended donation of two or five dollars. If every fifth grade class in the state came once a year, it would definitely make enough money to stay operational.
George E. Mulligan November 16, 2011 at 04:27 PM
As a NON-PROFIT, extra monies raised go to the GENERAL FUNDS & NOT to politically connected people. Wouldn't it be nice to have a couple Million dollars a year from plays and other events done at the Shakespeare Theater going to TAX PAYERS, instead of being a drain. This White House is part of the Theater grounds and can lay foundation for supplemental resources and funding, to help drive tourism .... Good work Mr. Catalano. As a consistant critic of the Town Council, I have to give ALL of them PROPS when they do good things.

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