Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Outcome for 211 Union Street

At some future time, this is what 211 Union Street will look like. In fact, the Historic Preservation Commission has requested that the historic plaque, which until a few years ago was affixed to the lower left corner of the facade, be added to this image so they can compare the picture with the building when the work is completed to determine if Warren Street Partners (formerly the Galvan Group) did what they said they would do.

Tout le monde turned out for the public hearing this morning, including Linda Mussmann, who doesn't have much use for historic preservation, and the ubiquitous but elusive Eric Galloway and his partner, Henry van Ameringen. Although the audience filled all of the available seats, not all the members of the Historic Preservation Commission were present. Jamison Teale and Jane Smith were missing.

Much was said during the public hearing and special meeting that followed--too much to chronicle here. The issue that the Historic Preservation Commission seemed to struggle with most--more than the appropriateness of stripping away genuine historic fabric to return the building to its earliest appearance--was the question of whether or not it was within their purview to make a judgment about the appropriateness rebuilding the front wall of the building as a one-course brick wall over a new wood frame wall.

At the beginning of the hearing, Mark Greenberg, attorney for Warren Street Partners, stated that it was their position that interior work and structural work are the purview of the Code Enforcement Officer not the Historic Preservation Commission. Although Timothy Dunleavy, President of Historic Hudson, asked from the audience why the brick wall couldn't be reconstructed in the same way it was originally constructed and was given a number of reasons that seemed all to relate to the need to do the work in winter, the only member of the HPC who questioned the appropriateness of rebuilding the wall in the manner proposed was Tony Thompson, who steadfastly maintained (and Gossips believes correctly so) that changing the nature of the wall's construction would compromise the integrity of the building and affect its historic significance. 

At the end of the public hearing, audience member Rick Rector asked what the difference would be visually between the wall rebuilt with one course of brick or the wall rebuilt in its original three-course configuration. Kevin Walker referred him to the north wall (along Cherry Alley) of the building in which Verdigris is located, which had been rebuilt in exactly the manner proposed for the facade of 211 Union Street. The appearance of that wall has been compared by some discerning eyes to Garden State Brickface, but HPC chair Tom Swope declared that you can't tell the difference between that rebuilt wall and a genuinely old wall.

These days, preservation professionals are usually wary about restoring a building to an earlier appearance when what exists on the building is itself historic--especially when there is no archival evidence of what the building looked like previously. The members of the HPC had no such qualms. When it was suggested (by me) that there was insufficient evidence to know what the building looked like when General Worth lived there and that the alterations being proposed were speculation, HPC chair Tom Swope denied it, saying that structural brick arch discovered over the door of 211 Union and other Federal buildings in Hudson provided adequate evidence of the building's original appearance.  

HPC member Nick Haddad asked why, if they were returning the house to Federal style, they were still planning to use asphalt shingles on the roof. A house of that period would have had cedar shingles. Asphalt shingles had been approved in the original certificate of appropriateness before the applicant decided to modify the application and seek approval to change the style of the house to Federal. Swope objected that it would be unfair to revisit the decision about the roof, but in the end, Walker agreed to use cedar shingles or "simulated" cedar shingles for the roof. 

In the vote to grant a certificate of appropriateness to the project, Swope, Haddad, David Voorhees, and Andrew Rieser were in favor, Thompson was opposed, based on his conviction that the integrity of the building and its historic significance would be compromised by rebuilding the wall in the manner proposed. Thompson had no problem with the change of style, citing period of significance and commenting that Hudson has "fewer Federal houses than what this was changed to." Swope asked that the historic door and door surround be saved "in case someone else wants to use it."   


  1. Having attended the meeting at City Hall I was left with the impression that the Preservation Committee was left to rule by the law, that, in my interpretation is, that they must protect the visual look of a building by anyone who looks at it from a casual distance. That has the potential meaning in the future, my interpretation, that if you can make plastic look like wood, you succeed. If a structural brick wall is now a brick facade, you succeed.

    So faux is the new, new! History is but a mere footnote.

  2. Chad--That's certainly the way the HPC is interpreting the law, but I don't believe the protection of our historic architecture afforded by the law is that superficial. I encourage everyone to read the preservation ordinance for him/herself. It's Chapter 169 in the City Code, which can be accessed on the City website: There's adequate language there to support Tony Thompson's opinion that rebuilding the wall in the manner proposed is unacceptable because it compromises the architectural integrity and the historic significance of the building.