In May, the Galvan Initiatives Foundation announced its intention to move two historic houses in Hudson. One of them was the Robert Taylor House, considered by some to be the oldest surviving house in Hudson, located at the head of Tanners Lane. The Historic Preservation Commission denied a certificate of appropriateness to the proposal to move the house twice: first on May 11, because the application was incomplete; and again on June 8, because the HPC determined that moving the house would have a deleterious effect on the neighborhood from which it was being moved and on the historic significance of the house itself. The original owner, Robert Taylor, was a tanner. His tannery was on the shore of South Bay, across the road from his house, which is how the road got the name "Tanners Lane."
|Robert Taylor House in its original site|
|Robert Taylor House in its proposed new location|
Galvan requests a review of the decision on the grounds that "the Commission's determination lacks a rational basis, is erroneous, arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the public interest, inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Historic Preservation Law, and beyond the Commission's jurisdiction." It goes on to allege that the denial of a certificate of appropriateness constitutes a "taking of private property."
The document takes issue with the HPC's position that the Robert Taylor House is located in a historic district and is a locally designated historic landmark. (The latter argument is based on the fact that the designation of the house was made by the HPC before the preservation law was suspended in 2005 and rewritten to take the power to designate landmarks and historic districts away from the Historic Preservation Commission and give it to the Common Council.) Even if, document goes on to argue, the house were a local landmark, that status would not prohibit it from being moved because nowhere in the case made for designation is the significance of the house's location ever mentioned.
Galvan's application to the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness gives this reason for the proposed move: "To save a historic structure and put in a better location." The idea that moving the house is a prerequisite for saving it seems questionable. Since Galvan owns the house, it can be saved in its current location as well as anywhere else. To support the argument that the house needs a "better location," the application juxtaposes this Hudson River School painting, from the approximate vantage point of the Robert Taylor House (Galvan says the painting is by Arthur Parton, but it is actually the work of Henry Ary), with a photograph of the same landscape today, similar to this one taken by Gossips earlier this week.
It's interesting that Galvan chose this particular painting to illustrate what they believe to be the intended surroundings of the Robert Taylor House. If you look closely at what appears at first to be a bucolic landscape, you can see the Hudson Iron Works tucked discreetly behind the tree at the right and the railroad track, what is today the ADM spur, borne over the waters of the bay on a trestle. In actuality, the area surrounding the Robert Taylor House, even at the time Henry Ary painted the scene, probably looked more like this. (That's the Robert Taylor House in the middle distance on the right.)
When the HPC discussed this project on June 8, one of the members made the observation that, if restored in its current location, the Robert Taylor House could be a catalyst for change in that part of the Hudson. The Galvan document recalls that comment and alleges that such "a vision for future development of a neighborhood" is "not [an] appropriate basis for the Commission to exercise its power." In another place, the document accuses the HPC of acting "as if they are a super-common-council or super-planning-commission, vested with the power to halt development projects that do not comport with the members' subjective vision for the community."
This criticism of the Historic Preservation Commission and their alleged misunderstanding of their role calls to mind an incident that took place several years ago, when Tom Swope, now the executive director for the Galvan Initiatives Foundation, was the chair of the Historic Preservation Commission. It was January 2007, just days after Richard Cohen demolished a building on Warren Street near Fourth without a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC. Rick Scalera (this happened during one of the rare periods in the last two decades when he was not the mayor) appeared at the HPC meeting and demanded to know how this had happened. Among the things Swope offered, by way of explanation, was the rather extraordinary statement that the purpose of the Historic Preservation Commission was not just to save old buildings but to "shape development."
There are 61 items in the application for review from Galvan's attorney, and 61st has a rather menacing tone: "It is submitted that the Commission should have applauded and approved this project, not condemned it. In so doing, the Commission may well have condemned the Robert Taylor House to an uncertain future."