Public Buildings InfoSheet: The Playhouse

[Editor’s Note: The following has been prepared in advance of the “Forum on Public Buildings.”]

Built: 1923, Colonial Revival
Square footage: 8,560
Current uses: Movie theater with florist on ground floor, two nonprofit organizations on second floor. The town currently nets $86,000 per year in rent, with no consideration of capital costs. Committee recommendations: Given the terms of the current lease, which runs through 2022, with an option to renew for five additional years, minimize capital expenses for the building. Relevant articles: Committee Mulls Whether Town Should Continue As Owner of Playhouse (November 2017), Officials: Bow Tie Cinemas Interested in Restoring, Possibly Purchasing New Canaan Playhouse (January 2017), ‘There’s a Fine Line Between Charming and Outdated’: Playhouse Committee Convenes First Meeting (October 2015), ‘It’s Part of Why People Come to This Town’: Officials Discuss Future of New Canaan Playhouse (April 2015), New Canaan Playhouse: Private Owner Would Have More Flexibility in ADA Compliance (March 2015)

Submitted by Lesley Cousley:

Built in 1923 and designed by New Canaan architect Calvin E. Kiessling, this was the first building of the Village Improvement Company, in part of its planned development of Elm Street, then known as Railroad Avenue. The Colonial Revival style building helped set the style for development downtown.

Preservationists: We Will Purchase Antique Ferris Hill Road Home Slated for Demolition

The historic 1735-built Ferris Hill Road home slated for demolition June 1 will be spared because the group of preservationists that formed to save it will purchase the property with an eye on selling it on to a like-minded future owner, officials say. Between funds raised and a generous dollar-for-dollar pledge from a town resident, the 8 Ferris Hill Road Group has enough money now to enter into a contract with the widely discussed 2.14-acre property’s owner, according to New Canaan’s Tom Nissley. “The upshot is that the history of New Canaan is upheld with some integrity,” said Nissley, acting chairperson of the group. “It just would be wrong to eradicate that house and what it represents in the development of the town.”

On the radar of preservationists since it sold in November 2013 for $1,250,000, and a plan to develop the property soon emerged, the so-called “Hoyt-Burwell-Morse House” has been continuously occupied for 280 years, historians say. Its owner has said he regrets purchasing the property at all, believing that neighbors would back his idea of preserving the old house while building a new one.

Did You Hear … ?

Studio Elan, an established business on Burtis Avenue, is moving into the former Candy Scoop space on Elm Street, up the alley by Chef Luis and next to New Canaan Music. ***

New Canaan Public Schools cafeterias recently earned the No. 1 “Best Food Ranking” from Here’s a peek at the top-10 (Darien is No. 23—nanny nanny boo boo):

New Canaan


Police responded to a call at 1:28 p.m. last Saturday that a dog near Forest Street and Locust Avenue was “going crazy in a car.” The dog’s owner, who was inside the nearby New Canaan Diner, paid her bill and left the restaurant to take care of the barking animal.

‘A Terrible Loss for Our Town’: Formal Letter Filed Opposing Demo of Historic Home

Town officials on Wednesday received a letter objecting to the planned demolition of a historic home at 8 Ferris Hill Road, triggering a public hearing later this month on the divisive proposal. Asked for his thoughts following the formal objection, property owner Max Abel said in an email to “I suggest all those who oppose the demolition to put their money where their mouth is and purchase this property.”

Abel has said he now regrets buying the 2.14-acre property and 1735-built home that sits on it, as he believed at the time of the purchase in November 2013 that his neighbors would want the house preserved while he developed the property. Abel went through multiple public hearings in the weeks and months that followed his acquisition of the property at 8 Ferris Hill Road (listed as 441 Canoe Hill Road in the assessor’s database) in an effort to find a way he could build a new house on the lot while preserving the original. Though neighbors objected to the building plans for the property, Abel rented out the home and continued to work with preservationists eager to save the antique. Two weeks ago, Abel filed an application to demolish the 2,378-square-foot home, triggering a flurry of activity from those preservationists, who formed a group of experts dedicated to it and put forward ideas about developing the property in a way that includes the house, launched a Facebook campaign to “Save 8 Ferris Hill” and held multiple meetings on the matter.

‘We Hope That There May Still Be a Happy Resolution’: Application To Demolish Filed for Historic New Canaan Home

Town officials on Wednesday received an application to demolish a Ferris Hill Road home that experts call one of New Canaan’s most historic structures—a development that follows years-long and wide-ranging efforts by its owner and preservationists to save it. The wood-shingled, 1735-built antique home at 8 Ferris Hill Road (or 441 Canoe Hill Road, according to the assessor, same property) sits in the southwestern corner of a 2.14-acre lot, up against the roadway, as is typical of the era. Town resident and builder Max Abel acquired the property in November 2013 for $1,250,000 with the thought of building a second home on the lot. It’s a purchase he said that he now regrets “because I held this naïveté that any plan that I would come up with that would include preserving the old house would be very welcome by all the people of the town, including all the neighbors.”

“And I didn’t see a possibility of anybody objecting to a plan—I could see more demands on how to make a [proposed new] house look more similar [to the antique], or have a garden between [the old and proposed new] houses to connect them, but never envisioned an objection by neighbors.”

The month after he purchased the property, Abel filed an application with the Planning & Zoning Commission for a special permit that would allow the antique home to remain as an accessory structure so that he could build a new house on the property (the combined square footage would go over coverage). Though Abel worked with preservationists and made some concessions in his development plan, several neighbors objected to its specifics, citing safety and aesthetic concerns, and in some cases requesting that P&Z impose requirements regarding the preservation of the antique (thought to have housed Connecticut’s last slave—more on that below), according to P&Z meeting minutes from January and February 2014.