Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Commercialization of Warren Street

Historic images of Hudson provide evidence that Warren Street was always a mix of commercial and residential buildings. In 1868, when the picture below was taken, the 500 block of Warren Street--a block we think of today as almost exclusively commercial--was made up principally of private residences, sharing space with the Central House Hotel, which stood at the corner of Warren and Fifth street, and a few retail shops.

In the 1970s, when retail businesses migrated to the strip malls of Greenport, many of the storefronts on Warren Street, particularly below Fifth Street, were converted into apartments. There was no longer a demand for retail space on Warren Street, but there was a need for low-income housing.

The beginning of the 21st century saw the return of storefronts on Warren Street, in response to the new demand for retail space. In many cases, the new storefronts were a matter of revealing or restoring what had been there before.

In other instances, storefronts were created in buildings that had originally been residential and were still residential at the time of the transformation.

In the past year or so, the Historic Preservation Commission has seen many proposals for alterations to residential properties to accommodate retail activity. Several of these have been for buildings in the 100 block of Warren Street, which is the most residential in character of any block of Warren Street and the only block that back in the days of urban renewal anyone thought worthy of preserving.

In January 2013, the HPC denied a certificate of appropriateness to a proposal to install a triple window in the facade of 103 Warren Street. It was a close vote, with three members of the HPC (Rick Rector, Phil Forman, and Peggy Polenberg) voting to grant a certificate of appropriateness, but the members who felt the proposed windows changed the character of this early Federal clapboard house, thought to be the first home in Hudson of the Proprietor Thomas Jenkins, carried the day. (Six months later, in a comment on Gossips, the owners of 103 Warren Street shared their opinion that the HPC had been right in denying a certificate of appropriateness. "While the third window would have been helpful to the shop, it would also have broken the formal symmetry that makes the building work. It was a tough call, but the correct one.")

In December 2013, the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness to create a storefront at 117 Warren Street. The building had originally been a private residence, but the ground floor became a store very early in the 20th century. Around 1985, the store was converted into an apartment. Because there was precedent for the ground floor of the building to be retail space and because the facade of the building had little authenticity left, the HPC granted the certificate of appropriateness to the creation of a storefront in the building that vaguely resembled what had once been there.

Now there is a new proposal before the HPC to introduce a second storefront into the building at 134-136 Warren Street. The new storefront would fit between the two porticoes, and the ground floor apartment at 134 Warren Street would become retail space.

The building started out as two townhouses--private residences. At some point, what were originally single family houses were divided into apartments. A search of the Hudson city directory for 1912 reveals that William Marshall, engineer, lived at 134 Warren Street, and John McHenry, machinist, and Mrs. Johannah Swaine lived at 136 Warren Street. This detail from an aerial photograph of Hudson taken in the 1930s shows that the building was at that time still two townhouses.

Later in the 20th century, a storefront was introduced, and the ground floor of 136 Warren Street became a snack bar, which in the 1990s--and probably for decades before--was Don's Confectionery. In about 2002, before there was a Historic Preservation Commission, the storefront at 136 Warren Street acquired its new facade (which always seemed inspired by a London telephone booth), and the interior was renovated to become first the Scandinavian restaurant Bolgen & Moi and later, as it is now, Vico

Additional changes were proposed for the building: replacing all the windows on the second floor and in the mansard roof (all of which are now the original wood two over two windows), and making repairs to the clapboard using Hardiplank.

The proposal for 134 Warren Street prompted HPC member Tony Thompson to ask, "Do we allow all buildings on Warren Street to be morphed into storefronts?" In response, his colleague on the HPC Phil Forman argued that "Warren Street has morphed back and forth as residential and commercial" and the HPC should facilitate the transformation. "We should see that it can happen in an appropriate way." He went on to suggest that in making a decision about the proposal, the HPC should weigh "social values above and beyond the aesthetic considerations."

When the HPC voted on whether or not the application for 134-136 Warren Street was complete, Forman and Peggy Polenberg voted that it was, Rick Rector, Jack Alvarez, David Voorhees, and Thompson voted that it was not. To make the application complete, the HPC requested photographic evidence that the original windows were beyond repair and required replacement and historic photographs of the building showing the building before the storefront at 136 Warren was added (Gossips has provided the detail from the aerial photograph) and before the existing storefront was altered to its present design. 

The HPC will take up the application again at its next meeting on July 25.


  1. "Later in the 20th century, a storefront was introduced, and the ground floor of 136 Warren Street became a snack bar, which in the 1990s--and probably for decades before--was Don's Confectionery."
    FYI Many decades before. Don's was on that corner at least by the mid 50's, probably longer.

  2. Capitalism over historic preservation. I hope that the HPC has a list of buildings that will not be approved for radical transformation into retail shops, whether located on Warren or other streets.
    Are the property owners reusing or saving the original materials from buildings located in historical districts?
    I just don't see the point of creating historical districts & approving such a radical change.
    But then again money changes everything.
    Shame on you HPC.