Renovation of 1932 ‘Yale Daily News’ Building Preserves Its History

Yale Daily News Building

New Haven, Conn. — At 20, Paul Needham may not be old enough to drink, but he’s wily enough to dissemble when asked what his summer-long renovation of the Yale Daily News building is costing: “More than $1-million, less than $5-million.”

Why the secrecy? “Fund-raising considerations,” says Mr. Needham, a Yale senior who has been editor of the independent, student-run newspaper since last October. In addition to renovating the Collegiate Gothic building, he hopes to digitize its archives and establish a fellowship program. “There’s a huge fund-raising operation going on in my head,” he says.

The 1932 building was originally paid for by Henry R. Luce, a 1920 alumnus who was a founder of Time magazine, and was named in memory of Briton Hadden, with whom Luce worked on the Yale Daily News and with whom he founded Time. The building had been renovated once before, in 1982, when a darkroom was added in the basement.

The current project was necessary, Mr. Needham says, to reclaim unused and underused space in the crowded structure, to deal with structural issues and persistent moisture problems, to rehabilitate the utility infrastructure, and to create a multimedia studio. Plans had to take into account a number of historic features, like old front pages covering the walls of the reporters’ room, at the back of the first floor. The architects also had to keep in mind that the building’s users are students—it has “a frat-house component,” as Mr. Needham puts it.

Yale Daily News Building

He began exploring the possibility of a renovation just hours after becoming editor last October. In November an alumni foundation that supports the paper gave him the go-ahead to study the project, and by December he had schematic drawings in hand. Over winter break he “pounded the pavement” asking alumni for donations. He settled on a budget by March and gave the architects, from the New Haven firm Studio ABK, the green light forconstruction drawings. The newpaper’s staff moved its belongings out in May, and work began immediately. It’s due to be completed this month.

Among other improvements, the project will:

  • Reinforce the building’s slate-covered roof, and clean and restore the exterior, including the original exterior lighting and signs.
  • Install all-new wiring and rehabilitate the steam-heat system (the building is not air conditioned).
  • Resolve longstanding moisture problems in the basement and create a lounge there, along with a kitchenette.
  • Expand a first-floor bathroom (by demolishing an unused vault) to make the entire first floor wheelchair-accessible.
  • Open up second-floor spaces to create a main room in which editors can work with reporters, as well as the new multimedia studio and a layout room where top editors can work with designers to create pages.
  • Create a third-floor office for the paper’s weekly sections.
  • Restore the high-ceilinged third-floor board room, regularly used for meetings, and rehabilitate the first floor reporters’ room and business office.
  • Install new lighting throughout, to complement new and restored furniture.

Yale Daily News Building

But the renovation is also carefully preserving a number of features, including portrait of Hadden over the fireplace in the board room, a knee-high opening in a wall that was meant to let editors call down from the second floor to the reporters on the first floor, and the original Yale Daily News sign, by Samuel Yellin, the famous ironmaster.

Mr. Needham says he and the architects worked closely with the local fire marshal on the project, because the building has only one staircase. Rather than try to add a second set of stairs on the cramped site, the architects took measures to prevent fires from reaching the staircase. The editor adds that hiring an architecture firm headquartered only a few blocks away gave the paper “the best value in the world” and saved him countless headaches.

While he won’t disclose the cost (except to big donors), Mr. Needham will say that the renovation is “not obscenely over budget,” despite some surprises. And he has clearly enjoyed the entire project. “That’s a great thing about Yale,” he says. “A kid can do this.”

Yale Daily News Building

The main second-floor newsroom will feature stations at which editors can work with reporters. (Chronicle photograghs by Lawrence Biemiller)

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