Moving New Haven history
August Pelliccio—Photo Editor
The Ethnic Heritage Center has been in a warehouse building south of Schwartz Hall about 17 years, said Marvin Bargar, but plans to relocate are in the works.
Bargar, archivist for the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven, said the move date has been up in the air since June 2018.
The Jewish Historical Society shares the center with four other organizations: the Greater New Haven African-American Historical Society, the Connecticut Irish-American Historical Society, the Italian-American Historical Society of Connecticut and the Connecticut Ukrainian-American Historical Society.
“Originally, my goal was to try to engage the center in building some type of permanent relationship that would provide our students with an educational opportunity,” said President Joe Bertolino.
In his time serving as president, Bertolino said he there has been a loose connection between the center and the university but a connection nonetheless.
“Southern has been very generous in the sense that they don’t charge us rent to be here,” said Carolyn Baker, co-president of the Greater New Haven African-American Historical Society. “It allows for the space to do the work without financial burden.”
The new space for the center is in the old student center, Bargar said, where the faculty dining hall used to be located.
Use of the old student center was uncertain when the renovation of the School of Business was underway, said Bertolino. With that project long since finished, he said many parts of the old student center are used for storage. Bertolino said when he first sought to find a new location for the center, he was “deeply concerned” about the building they occupy now.
“From my perspective, the image of that center is very important,” said Bertolino. “I don’t think it sends a good message when the center is in a space that I don’t think is conducive to learning, educating or celebrating.”
Baker said she is looking forward to the move with great excitement.
“It’s going to provide greater exhibit space and put us in closer proximity to the students and faculty,” Baker said, “which will give everyone a greater opportunity to be involved.”
Patricia Illingworth, member of the Jewish Historical Society, said it would be helpful to have a nicer space to operate in.
“Right now, what we have here – the coops are small,” said Illingworth. “We need more space; we have a lot of stuff.”
Additionally, Illingworth said she would like to see the type of atmosphere she sees in other historical societies around the state – a “house-like” feel.
“Right now we have about 600 square feet,” said Bargar, “over there we’re getting 522 square feet.”
Without a plan for arranging and organizing materials, Bargar said he is unsure whether the space will be more beneficial to their archiving and event planning.
“The layout is different than this, so it’s hard to judge,” said Bargar. Bertolino said he hoped the move would have been complete by now, but other roadblocks delayed the process.
“The space we plan to move them into actually requires more work than we anticipated,” he said, “which comes with a cost.”
Illingworth said the center cannot operate without computers, so getting the new space equipped with not only power, but also internet and phone connection is a must.
“The move is huge, and expensive,” Bargar said. “We’re talking thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Considering price quotes from moving companies, Bargar said “fixing up” the building they are currently in might be even more cost effective for the five societies that utilize it.
More concerning, Bargar said, is the access to plumbing in the new building. He said there are no bathrooms in the new space they were provided, although the prospect of plumbing a new bathroom is feasible.
With these concerns still in the planning process, Illingworth said her society is not ready to start moving materials yet.
“In our area alone, we have over 10,000 pictures,” said Illingworth.
Until the plan is more finite, Illingworth said, the physical relocation would be difficult to organize.
The moving committee will not impart urgency, Bargar said, while there is still snow in the forecasts for the winter.
He said he hopes to see progress by this summer, and hopes the new location on campus will make a good home to the collections.
“It’s certainly a space that’s much more conducive to what we do than where we are now,” said Baker. “I’m hoping that the move will be able to take place without too much difficulty.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio