Monday, October 12, 2015

Authenticity or Symmetry?

The Historic Preservation Commission often faces real conundrums that pit what the members of the HPC are charged by law to do against what may be their own sense of what should be. Such is the case with the most recent proposal for 234-236 Warren Street.

A year or so ago, the HPC granted a certificate of appropriateness for a new storefront to be created at 234 Warren Street. The understanding was that the new storefront would match the already existing storefront at 236 Warren Street, which is believed to date from the 1880s or maybe even the 1870s. (The building itself, as Bruce Hall surmised in an article written for Columbia County History & Heritage in 2003, likely dates back to the days of the Proprietors.) The problem is that the finished storefront does not match the existing storefront. In particular, the pitch of the roof is strikingly different.

The proposal now before the HPC is to replace the roofing on the overhang at 236 Warren Street with copper. If that is all that is done, the storefront at 236 Warren Street will still not match the storefront at 234 Warren Street. The question is: Do you alter something that has historic authenticity to match something that was a mistake, or you do preserve historic authenticity and in so doing create an unappealing asymmetry?

The conundrum seemed facilely discharged by HPC member Peggy Polenberg, who declared that there was "nothing historic" about the storefront at 236 Warren Street, in spite of the fact that it has been there for well over a century. Other members of the HPC were not so dismissive. The application was deemed incomplete, and the proposal will come back before the commission on October 23. HPC chair Rick Rector suggested that the approval process may require a public hearing.

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