Prince of the Elmhurst

During the last few days of August, while the majority of Yalies awkwardly haul boxes up residential college stairwells, those not living in dormitories can be found in the neighborhoods surrounding the university, moving into their first apartments, buying kitchen gadgets, and dreaming of dinner parties and queen-sized beds. According to the Yale Daily News, a third of Yale seniors move off campus, and the Elmhurst, a large brick building on Elm Street, becomes home to many of them.

One resident of the Elmhurst, however, never needs to unpack. Phil Prince TD ’52 YSM ’59 lives comfortably in his fifth-floor apartment. Prince is the only non-undergraduate resident of the notoriously grungy student colony. A New Havener for the past sixty years, he has made his home in the Elmhurst for the past twenty and has no plans to move.

Prince grew up in Illinois, the son of a preacher-man. When his father took a new job as a minister in Greenwich, Prince enrolled in a Connecticut prep school. “I liked it, but I didn’t really fit in at all, being a preacher’s son. A lot of the people had come from really wealthy backgrounds. This was the same with Yale,” says Prince, who worked to put himself through Yale. “No fraternities or anything for me.”

Prince arrived in New Haven for his freshman year in the fall of 1948. After graduating as a Latin major, he studied music history at the graduate school before receiving his master’s at the Yale School of Music. An organist, he was employed for 22 years by Christ Church on the corner of Elm Street and Whalley Avenue. In 1974, Prince was awarded an associate fellowship in Stiles College for his contribution to the New Haven community. For a while, he took his meals in the dining hall so he could get to know the Stiles undergraduates.

Prince moved to the Elmhurst in 1988 to live near his retired mother on Lynwood Place. At that time, he explains, the Elmhurst housed mostly law and other graduate students. “There were a few couples. One or two of them had children actually, or a child; it wasn’t really a large enough place to raise a family decently so they didn’t stay there too long after that. Then gradually it became almost entirely inhabited by undergraduates.”

The neighborhood, like the building within it, has undergone a significant transformation. Prince remembers a quieter New Haven without today’s gourmet restaurants and ambulance sirens. Over the years, the view from his fifth-floor window has changed. Three now-absent poplar trees stood before the building, and the Cosi restaurant down the street was a firehouse. The only establishment that has always been a fixture of Elm Street life is Rudy’s Restaurant, though Prince is none too fond of the infamous bar: “Rudy’s has been here for a long time, and it’s been one of the detriments of living in the Elmhurst,” he grumbles.

Rudy’s and Phil Prince may very well be the oldest establishments on the block. After the only other non-undergrad, a Vietnam War veteran, was evicted from the building about a year ago, Prince recalls, he found himself alone in a sea of young Yalies.

Though he doesn’t mind existing in this demographic, he admits that his presence can be off-putting for current students. “I can remember maybe ten or 15 years ago, it was this time of year, and the people who were moving into the apartment next to me were describing who lived where, and they said, ‘There are some undergraduates living across the hall and diagonally from us, and, um, downstairs there are some graduate students, but next to us there is this really old man!’ Of course, now I fit that definition, but that was twelve or 15 years ago, and I don’t think I was one then.”

In recent undergraduate mythology, the Elmhurst has come to be known as both a filthy apartment building and a hipster hangout. The building’s reputation leaves little room for senior citizens. Though Prince does wear thick-framed glasses and loafers, staples of the hipster wardrobe, neither are meant to be ironic.

Allegra Long ES ’08, a two-year resident of the Elmhurst’s fifth floor, describes her former home as a scene that’s “become synonymous with these certain sort of parties and these certain people who live there. When you tell people you live in the Elmhurst, you get an ‘Ohhh, you live in the Elmhurst. You must dress this way and study this thing and be really into talking about this thing.’”

Prince was surprised by his building’s reputation. He has not noticed any particularly bohemian tendencies among his neighbors, and Prince knows hipsters: In 1966, he began teaching organ lessons at nearby Wesleyan University, whose students he describes as “sort of extreme, very different from Yale.”

Long graduated last June, abandoning the Elmhurst and what she considers to be its deplorable conditions. “It’s the cheapest building in New Haven,” she explains. “You pay for what you get. We had holes in our walls, we had crooked floors, and we had mice. Literally everything you can imagine being wrong with an apartment, we had.” Though she says she “loved” her time in the Elmhurst, she is quick to qualify this statement: “We don’t really mind, because we’re college kids, but the idea of that being your permanent home…by the end of two years we were done, we were ready to be out.”  When asked about her neighbor, Mr. Prince, Long admits that she doesn’t know much. “Phil is a mystery wrapped in an enigma,” says Long, who shared her bedroom wall with him for two years. “No one knows what he does for a living.” Many Elmhurst undergraduates speculate about their elderly neighbor, wondering what his apartment is like and if it’s nicer than theirs.

Miranda Popkey BR ’09, an editor of this magazine, observed Prince from afar during her time living on the Elmhurst’s fifth floor. “He dresses like he’s from the 1950s—he’s kind of stuck there. He wears this tan trench coat and a fedora. In the summer, he wears those funny white linen button-down shirts that no one has worn since Marlon Brando in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’” she says. “He’s basically Marlon Brando.”

Though he keeps his distance, Prince cannot remain oblivious to his student neighbors. “I’ve had a lot of trouble, from time to time, with undergraduates living in the apartment below me,” he says. “They come in and they turn on their Hi-Fi or whatever you want to call it, their sound system, very late at night, 2 a.m., 3 a.m., which wakes me up.”  Prince also acknowledges that, as the neighborhood has generally improved, the building itself has only deteriorated during his tenure there.

Despite the Elmhurst’s sorry state, Prince finds enough to recommend it. “I like living close to the library and gym,” he says. He swims five days a week in Payne Whitney’s pool—he’s an avid freestyler. Prince also appreciates the area’s restaurants. “I like Hunan Café on York Street and Royal India on Howe Street. Those are pretty much my favorites,” he says.

His swimming lungs are especially valuable when he is forced to trek up some seventy steps to his apartment on the not-too-rare occasion that the building’s notoriously fickle elevator is out of commission.  His landlord often suggests that he move down a few floors or out of the building altogether.  Prince has so far ignored this suggestion, but he admits that “it’s getting harder and harder” to continue his decades-long residency.

For now, however, until he can gather enough energy to haul his life down four flights of stairs and out of the building which has housed him for the past twenty years, Prince remains the enigmatic common denominator amongst a flurry of students on their way to somewhere else.

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