The early Twentieth Century saw a building boom around the Green which produced an architecture that illustrated civic pride and attested to commercial progress. The Public Library, 1908, sought an image that would preserve the colonial past yet proclaim the wealth of the new century. The building by Cass Gilbert is of brick and marble; it blends Georgian with the classic columns and steps. It repeats architectural elements of the two closest churches that it faces and at the same time, it does not detract from them nor does it change the character of the street. It invites the outsider to enter the quiet place inside where the texts of literary culture are housed. Beside the library is the shining white Courthouse. Built a year later, this Neo-Classical structure is imposing and heavy; it is rich in detail and certainly imparts a solid, serious face to the public. Both buildings anchor the lower Green at this side of Elm Street and this placement suggests the importance placed on the inner activities where knowledge and justice are pursued.
The Post Office on Church Street followed in 1913; designed by James Gamble Rogers, who used a classical temple front, it gave an added dignity to the area of the Green. Rogers flattened and extended the colonnaded portico to fit into the busy street. The architecture hides any knowledge of the activity that once was within while externally stating its importance, as a building on the Green and to the public, and belonging to the Federal Government.
Business and commerce always had a place in New Haven’s center. On Chapel Street, the Edward Malley Company had grown into a fullfledged department store. Continuing along the street a number of two to four story buildings rose that made for shopping attractive for the public. At the corner, the twelve story Hotel Taft of 1911 replaced the older 1851 New Haven Hotel. It was designed by F. H. Andrews and the large arched windows and detail raises the eyes of the viewer upward towards more elegance. On Church Street in l926, an early skyscraper was built by R. A. Foote. The Powell Building of stone, bronze and glass forms a shaft over its arches; it is finished on all sides as it soars above its neighbors making it a true tower rather than a stretched palazzo like the Taft. Another commercial skyscraper was erected in 1929 on the Elm and Church Street corners yet it faces the Green and attempts to match its colonial flavor. The Union Trust Company is an example of Colonial Revivalism which borrowed its tower and cupola from the United Church. Commercial architecture was making itself prominent around the Green by its height, thrusting itself skyward and stating to the viewer what progress had brought.
1965 saw the building of Chapel Square that replaced the old Malley’s with a new hotel-business and retail complex. Viewed from the Green, this Hugh glass box sits atop a base of cave-like stores. The glass does not reflect the Green, thereby enlarging its concept; it remains apart from it, cool and uninviting. The building does not project a public image yet it bounds a public place. More recently, in 1972, the New Haven Savings Bank constructed a beveled tower on the corner of Church and Elm. It is a radical change from the existing architecture around the Green and tends to serve notice that it is not a public place but serves private interests. These modern structures which dot the Green’s border do illustrate our commercial progress and do add to New Haven’s architectural diversity.
Scanning the Green today, the past is still in evidence this center is still vital and functioning. The center serves many needs and continues to attract people to it. Its structures, while defining this public space, have created, according to Elizabeth Mills Brown, “a balance of architectural scale and rhythms.” (
Architecture and Urban Design
, p. 103). Viewing New Haven’s Green and its bordering structures can give a sense of living in a style that goes beyond our needs and touches our dreams.