In what part of New Haven is the Goffe Street Armory located? What are the neighboring land-uses around the Armory property? How might the existing fabric of institutions, businesses, and open spaces in the area inform how to plan for and envision the Armory’s future? How might reviving the Goffe Street Armory building impact changes to the surrounding area? Answering these questions, and many others regarding the re-use of the Goffe Street Armory building, is not always a straightforward process. However, a series of mapping activities that took place at the Excavating the Armory exhibit and asked participants to contextualize the Goffe Street Armory in its urban surroundings may provide insight for answering questions related to the re-use of this important resource.
The urban form of New Haven is perhaps most commonly understood as a series of distinct neighborhoods – some with clear edges and others with more porous boundaries. Designating the neighborhood location of the Goffe Street Armory may serve as an example of the more ambiguous kind of setting. The Armory faces DeGale Field (Goffe Street Park), which is certainly a part of the neighborhood that flanks lower Dixwell Avenue. Along with Hillhouse High School, Bethel AME Church, and the PostMaster’s Project now underway, the Armory forms a type of civic ensemble around the park, which includes softball fields, basketball courts, and a performance stage. The Armory is also part of a larger institutional complex that occupies an entire city block and faces Whalley Avenue, a major commercial thoroughfare to the west side of the city and beyond. Less busy and more residential, Goffe Street serves as a bit of a mediator between the distinct Dixwell and Whalley Avenue corridors. At the same time, Whalley acts as both an edge between neighborhoods on either side and as a centralizing spine for rows of working class residential side streets that are neither quite a part of the Beaver Hills nor Edgewood subdivisions. In a way, the Goffe Street Armory simultaneously exists in several different, though overlapping, neighborhoods of New Haven.
At a finer level of detail, the Armory sits within a fabric of residential, commercial, industrial, recreational, and institutional properties lining streets of varying significance. At the time of its construction in 1930, the Armory was a civic center embedded within a network of other cultural and civic institutions like neighborhood theaters, police precinct substations, firehouses, churches, schools, and parks. For instance, there used to be a neighborhood theater at 340 Dixwell Avenue, St. Martin DePorres Church was formerly a police station, 388 Dixwell was a firehouse, and the Masonic Temple on Goffe was a school. While some of those institutional uses remain active in the area today in different forms, many do not, but a new network of social service providers, non-profit organizations, and civic resources has emerged. Today, the Armory’s neighbors include three non-profit affordable housing developers, a branch of the New Haven Free Public Library system, a teen center, a regional fieldhouse, and a small business services center, all of which will soon be joined by a revived Dixwell Community “Q” House.
At the Citywide Open Studio’s Armory Weekend exhibit, visitors were invited to think about the Armory’s place in New Haven with the following prompt: “The Armory does not stand alone. It is embedded in an urban context. At the scale of the city, we perceive an arrangement of streets, squares, neighborhoods, districts, landmarks, and open spaces. There are paths of circulation, nodes of activity, and edges that divide. The diagram suggests a way of reading the city as a legible urban form. How does it mesh with
your own image of the city? Draw a cognitive map and help us put the Goffe Street Armory in context.” Guests were then asked to contribute to the mapping exercise in two ways. First, with an invitation to place colored pins on the map indicating home, work, school, and places of interest (see images above). Second, we asked people to draw their own maps of New Haven from memory (see below).
What role might better understanding the urban context of New Haven’s Goffe Street Armory play in envisioning a future for this landmark building? Please feel free to contribute your own thoughts on the urban context of the Goffe Street Armory in the comment section below, and subscribe to the Excavating the Armory email list for updates on this project by messaging firstname.lastname@example.org.