If you’re interested in seeing buildings with new and interesting architecture in the West Windsor area, you’re more likely to find them in Princeton.
It’s been that way for a long time, especially since most of the the new single-family houses that have been built in West Windsor and Plainsboro in the past several decades are similar and seem to match the style favored by most of our new homeowners.
It’s apparently not easy to add much variety to the design of a residence with three or four bedrooms and the other features that most people demand in what, for many, is their first house. Part of the problem is the matter of variety. It’s hard to come by if most of the construction is devoted to houses.
Yes, a certain amount of building is of commercial places like stores and restaurants, but relatively little is devoted to “institutional” buildings, especially schools. Recently, I’ve been watching the new building near the Princeton railroad station on Alexander Road going up, but I have no idea what it will be for. I doubt it will be an institution; probably just another Princeton University classroom building.
For a long time now, one of the most interesting places close to West Windsor is the new “campus” at Princeton University. If you go into Princeton using Alexander Road and pass the newly relocated shuttle train station, you can’t miss it. The university calls it the “Arts and Transit Project.”
But be careful about what the roads are called. Within the boundaries of Princeton, if you travel toward Princeton from West Windsor, Alexander Road becomes Alexander Street just after you go over the narrow bridge that spans the D&R Canal, and the new project starts less than a half-mile after you cross the boundary between West Windsor and Princeton.
Shortly after it was built a couple of decades ago, many people wondered why the bridge could not have been made a couple of feet wider. But it’s too late for that now.
If you go into Princeton that way now, there’s lots of new stuff to see on both sides of the road. On the left side is the driveway to university faculty and graduate student housing, followed by the Springdale Golf Course. A little farther on is what is now known as Forbes College.
In recent times that has been a student dormitory. But several decades ago, the building had no connection with the university at all. It was one of the two hotels in Princeton.
It was called the Princeton Inn, and many visitors from out of town preferred it to the other one, the Nassau Tavern, which was downtown on Palmer Square. It’s still, there but renamed the Nassau Inn. The Princeton Inn was a favorite place to have dinner if you were going to attend a performance at McCarter Theatre. At that time there were no hotels within at least ten miles on the roads surrounding Princeton.
If you stay on the right-hand side of Alexander Street after crossing the canal, you will see another driveway to graduate school housing followed by the beginning of Faculty Road, which goes all the way across the southern part of the campus to Harrison Street.
Next you will notice that the tracks for the railroad shuttle (the Dinky) have continued after crossing the D&R Canal and Faculty Road, and are approaching the Princeton Station. The university refers to that portion of the Dinky line as the Tiger Transit Stop.
If you want to take the train to New York or Philadelphia, you can get your ticket there instead of waiting to get out to the main line at Princeton Junction.
At the time the university moved the Dinky Station, just a few years ago, there was much indignation from local people who used the Dinky regularly and said the move was a great inconvenience.
The single largest structure now in the area is the university’s West Garage. This is intended to accommodate many of the parked vehicles in the southwestern part of the campus, including many of those serving the Dinky.
Auto traffic that continues on Alexander Street past the Dinky station then comes to a roundabout where the traffic can divide into that going north on either University Place or Alexander Street.
Older buildings in the area of the new Arts and Transit Campus project are New South Hall, Baker Skating Rink, McCarter Theatre, and several older dormitories from the southern part of the campus. And also are the remains of the Dinky.
Now a restaurant, it is what remains of the older train station at the northern end of the shuttle line to Princeton Junction.
It’s now several hundred yards shorter than it was for many decades. (Actually, an older Dinky station was several hundred yards farther north on the campus. Part of it is still visible on University Place.)
Of course the main part of the new Arts and Transit Project is centered on two new buildings, ones I refer to as the ”giant coffee can” and the “the big box.” I believe they will be the serious housings of the project as it develops. That will be easy to see as we observe the other side of the border from West Windsor as the year goes on.