(top) “Future bright for former Union League clubhouse.”
“The former Union League clubhouse on Chapel Street — vacant for 13 years — will come alive again this fall as a combination public restaurant and private club.
A new corporation which has taken over the structure has already started extensive interior and exterior renovations. This remodeling, plus new furnishings and equipment, will cost approximately $225,000.
The corporation is Club, Inc., whose principals are Neil B. Shaw, of Madison, and his brother, Colin G. Shaw, of North Branford. Natives of Scotland, who came to New Haven in 1952, they have been involved in several successful business ventures since that time.
The building, at 1032 Chapel St., has been owned since 1970 by William Horowitz of 100 York St., former president of the General Bank & Trust Co. He, in turn, bought the property from the 1032 Chapel Realty Corp., owner of the real estate since 1963, when the former Union League gave up the building.
The league’s membership, which once numbered in the hundreds, had declined to the point where the building was too large for its needs.
The Shaws have taken a ten-year lease on the building, with an option to buy at any time in the first five years of the agreement.
The interior is being almost completely ‘gutted,’ except for stained glass, wood panels, a massive fireplace and other desirable mementos of the club’s heyday. The exterior will be steam-cleaned to give it a fresh appearance.
The street floor will become a public restaurant seating 400. There will be a bar, one of the biggest in the area, which will accommodate 75 persons, seated and standing.
The restaurant will open first, hopefully in the early part of the fall, after which the brothers will move into other areas of the 22,000 square foot building. Their present plans are to use the second floor for meeting rooms for banquets, weddings and the like. They would like to convert the two top floors of the four-story building into a posh private club for business and professional people — similar in concept, if not nature, to the Playboy and Gaslight Clubs.
The public restaurant, which will have a staff of 30 to 50 employees, will be open seven days a week. It will serve lunch. In the evening, rather than conventional dining, the restaurant will offer ‘gourmet light dining.’
It is also planned to feature entertainment in the evening. This could take the form of progressive jazz, folk, Dixieland, blue grass or other music and performances by groups and soloists. Other activities being considered include group folk singing, magicians, and participant light sports such as darts, backgammon, chess and the like.
The tentative name is, ‘Sherman’s Publick House,’ keyed to the fact that the club stands on what was once the site of the home of Roger Sherman, the first mayor of New Haven. Sherman, who also served as treasurer of Yale University, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Articles of Confederation — and was also a member of Congress for 20 years. A most remarkable man.
The Connecticut Society of the Sons of the American Revolution has a tablet on the front of the building noting the historic significance of the location. The tablet will be restored as part of the exterior improvements.
Parking, a crucial factor for downtown business, will be no problem. Car hops will take the autos of patrons at the front door and park them in a Crown Street lot immediately behind the structure, according to Albert R. Webber, of Albert R. Webber Associates, the broker in the transaction.
The Shaw brothers, who obviously are optimistic about the future of the downtown area, say there is a ‘great need’ for the type of operation they plan. Basically, they say, Sherman’s Publick House will be ‘a place to satisfy the desires of people of similar professional and social interests for a place in which to find good food, good drink and conviviality, in a setting that is both comfortable and relaxing.
They have already selected a general manager, Brian Goode, until recently a banker with the Connecticut Bank & Trust Co. (CBT).
Neil Shaw, who is 36, and Colin Shaw, who is 33, have a good track record in the business world. They founded and developed Shaw Metal Fabricators, a North Branford manufacturer of heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment, which they subsequently sold to other interests. The firm, under their leadership, did the ventilating and air conditioning work for the Sheraton Hotel in Hartford and the office portion of the Hartford Civic Center and the heating, ventilating and air conditioning work at the West Farms shopping mall in Farmington, the biggest shopping center in the state.
Their Shaw Realty Corp. is the developer of an industrial park at Route 80 and Shaw Road in North Branford and is the builder-developer of a new headquarters in the Wharton Brook Industrial Park in North Haven for Akerman, Inc., a distributor of heavy construction equipment now located in another part of that town.
The former clubhouse they plan to make into a lively place again is in an area which has been on the decline for a number of years, but is now making a strong comeback.
Directly across Chapel Street, Yale’s Old Campus is being restored at a cost of millions of dollars.
A block to the west, finishing touches are being put on another multi-million-dollar Yale project, the Mellon art center. It, in turn, is next to the rebuilt Yale Repertory Theater.
Merchants in the area are delighted by the rebuilding of the former Union League clubhouse, which had deteriorated greatly in its 13 years of idleness. Vandals broke many of its plate glass windows and the building developed into a depressing sight.
Among those particularly pleased by the conversion is Irving Enson, president of Enson’s, Inc., the prestigious men’s wear store a few doors westward. Enson says the renaissance is already evident in his sales, which are ‘up a good deal since the first of the year.’ He attributes this to the opening of the shops in the Mellon building. ‘The kind of people who patronize those stores are the kind of people who trade with us,’ he added.
Enson also said both motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic in the area are greater, a further reflection of an improvement in its economic health.
Branford Architect Robert J. Foster designed the plans for the conversion. The brothers are handling the construction work themselves, as builder-developers.
Attorney Robert Evans, of the law firm of Evans & Evans, represented the brothers in the transaction with Horowitz.
The Union League is no longer a formal organization.
The Union League no longer exists as a formal organization. About 10 men who once were members of the club when it was an active group meet occasionally at various locations to play cards and socialize.”