Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Time and Again

A month or so ago, Gossips discovered a cache of snapshots taken in 1996 or 1997. We've shared a couple of them so far, juxtaposing the pictures from almost two decades ago with pictures taken in recent days. Today we share another: 225 Union Street.

The question of whether or not to remove the ornamentation that early houses acquired later in the 19th century does not have a definitive answer. Although the impulse is often to return a house to its earliest appearance, there are many who value the palimpsest quality of Hudson architecture, which has survived and evolved over time. Historic preservation advocates today usually advise against removing historic detail, arguing that doing so takes away years of architectural history. Consider the Dr. Oliver Bronson House. Returning it to its earliest appearance would eliminate the very reason the house has been designated a National Historic Landmark--the work done by Alexander Jackson Davis to "refit" and expand what was originally a Federal house in the then fashionable Picturesque style.

Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission does not have an established policy on the removal of historic fabric, taking the position that every proposal is judged on its own merits. Every proposal is also judged by the people serving on the HPC at any given time. Back in 2010, the HPC approved removing an Italianate door surround from 211 Union Street to return the building to what was believed to be the house's original Federal appearance. In 2014, the HPC approved a proposal to reconstruct 900 Columbia Street, a house of similar Federal design, which included reusing the Italianate door surround from the house, which is very like the one removed from the house two doors down from the house's new location.

900 Columbia Street, before it was disassembled

211 Union Street, before it was reimagined
We will never know what the HPC might have decided about removing the Victorian elements from 225 Union Street, because it happened in 2004, before the house was acquired by its current owners and before the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District, in which the house is located, was created in 2006. As a matter of taste (which should not be the basis for HPC judgments), removing the Victorian elements to restore the house's elegantly simple Greek Revival design appeals to our 21st-century sensibilities.

The image of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House is a detail from a c. 1819 watercolor by William Guy Wall in the collection of the New-York Historical Society and borrowed from The Dr. Oliver Bronson House Day Book.


  1. If we were to return Greek statuary to its original appearance by painting every carved surface, it would look garish to our eye. As an appeal to realistic illusion, the coloring might even interfere with how we came to distinguish Greek statuary as being "art" in the first place.

    Allowing for differences between the two photos of 225 Union Street (color and scale; sunlit vs. cloudy), our household is of two aesthetic minds: one feels a quirky warmth in the arched cornices, while the other prefers the austere lines over the fusty 19th century ornament.

    In the end, there's no accounting for taste.

  2. I have some circa 1930s photos of that house and the one next to it. On my flickr page, Cut and paste the link above.

  3. Good finds.

    I love the tiny person emerging from the window behind the woman on the sidewalk with the broom.

    Also, the window details are growing on me. Whaddya know.