University waits on state response to architectural salvage groups; postpones Armory Avenue demolitions

When Lynne B. Hellmer looks at the white house at 57 E. Armory Ave., she looks past its boarded up door and chipped paint coating. She does not simply see an old building soon to be demolished. For her, she sees her childhood home and one of the few buildings still intact on the street she lived on as a child in the mid-’50s.

“There’s not much left,” she said. “But a lot of kids used to live there. The girls lived down on the corner — but that’s an apartment building now.”

The house she lived in and the one next to it at 59 E. Armory Ave. will be demolished once the University receives a response from the state regarding how to deal with preservation organizations looking to salvage items in the houses.

Hellmer said the houses are way past their prime, and she has no idea what the University would do with the older buildings now, making them perfect candidates for demolition.

Rich Cahill, board member of the Preservation and Conservation Association, said he wants to keep anything useful or historic in the two houses that the University does not want before the rest goes to the landfill. The association may gain access soon enough, but not before the University hears back from the state.

Cahill said he filled out the forms, turned them in to the University and was told that the forms had been sent to the state. But then he found out the forms had never been sent.

In a meeting with Chancellor Phyllis Wise last Tuesday, Cahill and the association presented their case. The demolitions are now on hold.

“This is good, but it shouldn’t have gotten this far,” Cahill said. “… If the University wants to say that it’s sustainable and green, they shouldn’t have anything that can be of use end up in the landfill.”

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said she has no idea what the state’s response might be and that each case can vary.

“We’re just trying to make sure materials that might be salvageable do not go to the landfill,” Kaler said.

And Hellmer knows from experience that there is a lot that can be used.

“Demolishing it makes no sense if there are people who would like some of the elements around the house,” Hellmer said. “And there’s a lot.”

Inside the boarded up door is an oak floor with an exposed oak staircase, Hellmer described. On both sides of the entrance to the living room are columns that stretch from the ceiling down to a platform. Hellmer remembers kids playing on these platforms. The upstairs has a built-in linen closet.

“They just don’t do things like that anymore,” she said. “It’s just a three bedroom house — everything else about it was pretty ordinary. But those touches of oak woodworking really made the house special.”

Hellmer described not only the physical elements of the house that make it valuable, but the events that took place inside the house.

She said her former home is a historical spot on campus because of the work her father, Max Beberman, completed while there. He began working on the New Math, a program in response to Sputnik’s launch, that would change the way math was taught and bring him international recognition.

“He stayed up late at night writing textbooks in that living room,” Hellmer said.

When he died in 1971 at 45 years old, Hellmer said that ended the New Math. Time Magazine and Newsweek both covered his death.

“By then he was very, very well known,” she said. “And I’m not just saying that because I’m his daughter.”

When Hellmer looks back to a grainy black and white photo of herself and the neighborhood kids posing at a wedding, she fondly remembers the way the street used to be.

She remembers turning the corner on Armory and rushing up a clean, white porch to pick up her lunch. Today, the porch stands out — it needs repairs and the new wood is the only part of the house not painted white.

Over the years, Hellmer has been able to return to the house she once lived in because it would later be used for offices.

“And it’s just like I remember,” she said. “But, of course, every childhood house seems to shrink. It’s much bigger in my memory than it actually was.”

And this home will stay in her memory after it is removed.

Stan can be reached at [email protected]