Friday, November 13, 2015

First News from This Morning's HPC Meeting

The beloved Earth Foods served lunch for the last time on October 19. A week and a day later, I got a request, by way of Historic Hudson, for a historic photograph of 523 Warren Street, the building that had been the location of Earth Foods for twenty years. I found one among the photos Byrne Fone had assembled for his book Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait--a pretty remarkable one, showing the building head on, sometime in the early 1930s.

Comparing the historic picture with the picture below, taken in 2002, left no doubt that it was the same building. There's the same gap between it and the next building to the west, and you can even see the details of the unusual brickwork on 521 Warren Street. 

So, this morning, the plans to renovate the ground floor facade of 523 Warren Street came before the Historic Preservation Commission. The plans involve eliminating the entrance at the right and having a recessed entryway at the left that would provide access both to the ground floor space, which is meant to be another restaurant or cafe, and the stairway to the floors above.

When asked about a historic photograph (the application for a certificate of appropriateness requires a historic photograph, if one exists), the applicant asserted that there was no historic picture of the building. What?! From the audience, I explained that there was indeed a historic photograph. Someone had requested it, and I had provided it. The applicant then admitted that he had gotten a historic picture, but he had determined that it wasn't the same building. HPC member Peggy Polenberg was eager to opine that, if the applicant "who is an architect" didn't think it was the same building, it must not be the same building.

Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, who had seen the historic photograph in question, attested that it was the same building and, addressing the applicant, said, "I told you to bring that picture with you." The applicant then, rather begrudgingly, produced from his briefcase a crumpled printout of the photograph and proffered it to the HPC.

The first to examine it was Phil Forman, who pronounced it "shockingly similar." HPC chair Rick Rector and HPC historian David Voorhees declared it the same building, and even Polenberg, who was previously eager to accept the applicant's determination, admitted that she thought it was the same building. To be absolutely sure, the HPC trooped out of 520 Warren Street to look at the building across the street and returned with the verdict the image was an "official historic photograph" of 523 Warren Street.

After much discussion, during which Forman suggested that the HPC should accommodate what the applicant was trying to do because "the damage had been done," and Polenberg called the building in its current state an "eyesore" and the proposal "a good solution," the HPC voted on whether or not to grant a certificate of appropriateness. Polenberg and Forman voted aye; the other four members of the HPC--Gini Casasco, Voorhees, Rector, and Miranda Barry--voted no.

When asked to explain why they would not approve the proposed alterations, Barry said that the renovation was "an opportunity to try to restore a building that has not been altered except for the storefront," Voorhees stressed the "tripartite division that was essential to the original design," Casasco spoke of the need to "embrace the original symmetry," and Rector urged the applicant to "bring it back to a semblance of what it was." 

Instead of issuing a formal denial of a certificate of appropriateness, the HPC agreed to allow the applicant to, in the words of HPC counsel Carl Whitbeck, "rethink what you're going to do" and present a revised design at the HPC's next meeting, which will take place on Friday, November 2o.


  1. What we all were supposed to learn in nursery school: honesty is the best policy.

  2. I found myself laughing through this read about a "historic preservation committee ."

  3. I like the drawing better than the historic photograph. There should always be a balance between what makes sense for the property owner and the historic record.

  4. The Hudson River Theater next door with a "Stop The Plant" sign in our old apartment window. Ah the memories.....thanks Carole !