Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Falafel Fa La

There's a lot of buzz about the new falafel and vegetarian pizza restaurant opening on Seventh Street by the park--in the former location of the notorious but short-lived Lone Wolf. Word about falafel coming to Hudson is being spread on Facebook and via email, and it's even become a topic of conversation on the venomous Voy Forum. But here's a uniquely Gossips take on the story.

The restaurant is a collaboration between Brian Herman, who now owns the building, and Alana Hauptmann, who brings her considerable restaurant expertise to the enterprise. In April, Herman appeared before the Historic Preservation Commission, trying to exact a certificate of appropriateness for proposed changes to the storefront with an incomplete application. He had just closed on the building, and the restaurant had to open by Memorial Day weekend, so he wanted the HPC to grant a certificiate of appropriateness "on faith" that day, or he would simply leave the storefront in the sorry state it was in.

A critical part of an application for a C of A (certificate of appropriateness) is a historic picture that shows the subject building as it was intended to be. Since I have been entrusted--for the purpose of providing this support to the HPC--with electronic files of Historic Hudson's Rowles Studio Collection and all the images assembled by Byrne Fone for his book Historic Hudson: An Architectural History, requests for such pictures usually come to me. On the afternoon before the April HPC meeting, I received a request for a historic photograph of 11 North Seventh Street and was able to provide this picture, taken in 1911, which is quite remarkable for the clarity and detail it provides.

Fortunately, the situation that seemed to be at an impasse at the April HPC meeting finally reached a satisfactory resolution: within two weeks' time, Herman would provide elevation drawings for the proposed changes to the storefront, based on the historic picture; the HPC would review the drawings upon receipt and be prepared to vote on the C of A at their next meeting on May 14--allowing adequate time for the storefront restoration to be executed before the scheduled opening on Memorial Day weekend.

This afternoon, I paid a visit to 11 North Seventh Street to see how things were coming along. There, taped to the temporary flakeboard wall erected in front of the building, was a copy of the 1911 photograph. Passersby are being given the chance to see what the building used to look like and a preview of what (we hope) it will look like again very soon. How cool is that?


  1. Carole, a few points need to be made:

    1. The building was in a state of near collapse when I closed on it April 1st. The existing storefront was buckling, apparently from the tremendous amount of rain that had penetrated. During the last month I have successfully saved this historic building. The building’s storefront could not have waited until the May 14th meeting to be worked on. It had to be addressed forthwith.

    2. The Historic Preservation Commission meets only once a month - making fast track projects (the only projects which in my opinion are feasible these days) extremely difficult to execute. While I understand that the HPC is comprised of volunteers, the commission should not hamper development of Hudson, but shepherd development in the right direction. The members should be willing to meet more often than once a month if it is necessary. If that is too much to ask of any particular member, then maybe that member should not be on the HPC.

    3. Although the HPC is not considered to be charged with being the city's "taste police", it seems that is how the HPC goes about their affairs. Why is a particular period of a building's history more important that another period? Just because a picture is found from lets say the 1900's, why is that particular period the graver man of how it should look? 11 N.7th was probably built sometime in the early 19th century: before cameras and photographs. Does that mean a building must be restored to a design no earlier than the advent of the camera? Why isn't the 1950's as historic as the 1900's? My guess is that the building was already 75 years or so old at the time the picture was taken.

    4. The post fails to mention the fact that the proposed renovation I propounded (before the historic picture was located) is almost identical to what was shown in the picture. An apparent coincidence, but it is demonstrative of my intentions to return the building to its historic roots. I never intended to do anything less than that to the building.

    5. I personally posted the historic picture on the construction shed in front of the building. Thank you Carole for providing the picture - it was a great help in deciding the construction details.

    6. Unlike other projects in Hudson that we hear about, this project (and all my projects) is funded with private money - no government subsidies, favors or exploitation. I always hire local contractors, and work hard to create jobs.

    7. I am proud to continue to work towards the improvement of Hudson: its architecture, its quality of life, and its economic future.


  2. Thanks, Brian, for your comments, but I have to respond to your third point and defend the Historic Preservation Commission against the charge that they are acting like the "taste police" because they give preference to one period over another.

    You ask: "Why is a particular period of a building's history more important that another period?" The answer is "period of significance"--a key concept in historic preservation. Although period of significance may be determined in different ways for different buildings, it is not a matter of taste or subjective judgment. The period of significance for the Plumb-Bronson House, for example, is not 1812 when the house was built, but 1839 to 1849, when the architect A. J. Davis did his work on the house. For a building like 11 North Seventh Street, the applicable definition of "period of significance" would be: "the time period for which the history of the neighborhood, including the predominant architectural styles, is significant in terms of preserving and recognizing the neighborhood." The surviving late 19th-century buildings surrounding Seventh Street Park provide the architectural context for the building and define its period of significance.

    You raise an interesting point about buildings that predate photography. Obviously, in that case, historic preservation commissions need to look for other kinds of visual evidence of a building's past--drawings, etchings, paintings, things much harder to find for a simple commercial building like 11 North Seventh Street. Hudson is fortunate to have been so extensively documented from the middle of the 19th century by Frank Forshew and on into the 1920s by Sam Rowles.

    I haven't done enough research on this building to know exactly when it was built, but there's a very old photograph in the Rowles Studio Collection that suggests it is not early but late 19th-century. The picture shows the intersection of Seventh and Warren before, it would seem, Seventh Street Park was created and before the railroad tracks crossed Warren at that point. At the very edge of the picture, on the site of 11 North Seventh, there appears to be a building with a gabled roof--a building that the current building may have replaced sometime in the latter half of the 19th century.

    Thanks, Brian, for your contributions to Hudson. We're looking forward to that falafel!

  3. The points that you make are well taken Carole. I always thought of Hudson as an eclectic array of architectural styles, with no particular period or style dominating. Just look at the building surrounding the 7th Street Park: I do not think there is any period that dominates.

    We have gutted the second floor of 11 North 7th, and the construction is post and beam, with bricks filling in the space where modern day insulation would go. The beams appear to be hand hewed. I would think this kind of construction would suggest older than late 19th century. Please let me know if you think my analysis is incorrect.

    As I tried to state in my original post on this thread, I applaud the effort of maintaining Hudson's architectural heritage. I just wish the HPC was more sensitive to the needs of those of us who risk our life savings to improve our city. As an elected member of government, I know how important it is for government to treat citizens as their customers, not as a subrogated caste that is at the mercy of boards and agencies.

    Most government agencies are bound to act in accordance with objective standards, not subject to arbitrary decisions of individual members. We are a nation governed by laws, not by people. The HPC does not have a set of objective standards upon which they are bound, or upon which an applicant can have a reasonable expectation of what is expected of the applicant. That is not the fault of the members of the HPC, but an inherent defect in the way the commission is set up.

    Anyway, one thing I am confident of, that we all want the best for our city. I believe all our intentions are good.