Door to Door

Door to Door

“A very little key will open a very heavy door.”—Hunted Down by Charles Dickens

“The longer one hesitates before the door, the more estranged one becomes.”—Home-Coming by Franz Kafka

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.”—The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Doors are fundamental to the ways we live and flexible to the needs we have, which might explain why so many prominent expressions hinge on them.

If I’m at your door, I’ve arrived at your home, but if you show me the door, you’d like me to leave. Beating a path to your door is hard work, but a backdoor offers a shortcut. A closed door is a major obstacle, but a doormat is a pushover. Getting a foot in the door is progress, unless it’s a revolving door, or death’s.

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The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven

The proverbial “open door,” probably the most popular door metaphor, symbolizes accessibility and possibility. In New Haven, even the closed doors embody the latter. Go to a random residential neighborhood and chances are good that every entryway you see will be noticeably different from any other—a testament to the range of possibilities in the world.

But there are some New Haven specimens that, by themselves, expand your idea of what a door can be—and you don’t have to stick to Yale and its immense architectural bounty to find them. A series of such doors can be found at 35 Crown Street, a former factory that’s now the home of Gray Organschi Architecture, which makes bold custom doors in the workshop right off the lobby. The firm’s main entrance is guarded by a burnished, flaxen, house-made wooden slab on hinges surrounded entirely by glass. For a few moments late in the day, a bar of golden sunlight may find a path through the cityscape to this particular rectangle, blazing it with light and shadow.

Through that rectangle and to the right is a wide rolling door with an angled top made from wood that’s been zinc-plated, painted white, then stripped to give it a beautiful weathered patina. The rolling system is from the original fire doors of the old factory, Gray Organschi architect Parker Lee says. “When a fire broke out, the doors would slide into place and seal off the other half” of the building, limiting the damage. Past that door is the workshop where, to the right again and facing out onto the sidewalk, a spectacular mechanized bifold door raises and lowers with the release of a mechanical lock and the flip of an electrical switch. Good for loading in and out as well as impressing pedestrians, the door, featuring asymmetrical wood panels below and glass and metal windows above, is conjoined with a matching swinging door distinguished by a handle and mail slot.

And if all that splendor weren’t enough for such a short stretch of street, Gray Organschi is also responsible for the hefty wood-planked doors next door, at gastrobar and experimental jazz venue Firehouse 12. Over time, the tall, vertical planks, framed by a sunburst of stone and brick, have been weathered harshly at the bottom by snow and melt salt, making it appear as though Firehouse’s doors have been licked by flames.

Sometimes, a standout door’s past is literally written into its design. At Trinity Baptist Church, an evangelical Southern Baptist church on State Street north of Grove, the lintel over the main entrance—a distressed double wooden door with intricate carved details and slender arched windows under a stone gothic arch, flanked by smaller doors on either side—has “Saint Boniface’s Church” carved across it. Turns out that’s what the largely cream-bricked building had been since it opened in 1924, housing a local Catholic parish formed in 1868. But a long history wasn’t enough to keep the Archdiocese of Hartford from closing the parish in 2005 and selling the building in 2006.

The reason? Low attendance. When people stopped coming through its doors, Saint Boniface’s—both the 137-year-old parish and the 82-year-old church—ceased to exist.

Doors: they can make or break you, but they’re also what you make them.

Written and photographed by Dan Mims. This updated and revised story was originally published on April 3, 2015.

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