Monday, May 9, 2011

Behind the Plastic Shroud

Back in December 2010, the Historic Preservation Commission granted a certificate of appropriateness to the plans proposed for 211 Union Street, the birthplace of General William Jenkins Worth, Hudson's most celebrated native son. The plans involved rebuilding the front wall, originally a three-course brick wall, as a one-course brick wall over a new wood frame wall. The agreement was that the original brick would be used, and the promise was that no one would be able to tell the difference.

Now it is rumored that, when the wall had been partially built using the original bricks, Eric Galloway, whose Warren Street Partners LLC owns the building, was unhappy with the appearance of the old bricks and ordered the wall to be torn down and rebuilt using new bricks that look like old bricks. 

At the public hearing on this project, Mark Greenberg, attorney for Warren Street Partners, argued that interior work and structural work were the purview of the Code Enforcement Office not the Historic Preservation Commission and rebuilding the front wall was structural work. Tony Thompson was the only member of the HPC to suggest that changing the nature of the front wall's construction compromised the integrity of the building and affected its historic significance. If the rumor is true and authentic historic fabric is being replaced with new material masquerading as historic material, there is no question that the historic significance of this important Hudson landmark is being seriously compromised. 


  1. Good grief Gossips ! Could you please share with your loyal readers which renovations/restorations in Hudson you do approve of ?

  2. Dear PhilipF
    You don't have to be too persnickety to object to a renovation of a historic building if its facade is being tossed out in favor of one made up of new brick pretending to be old (particularly when the old materials were just fine.)If you can't have minimal standards for buildings as important as the General Worth House and enforced protection against the mercurial whims of developers,then there is something wrong with enforcement of the law itself. Landmark law is not just an aesthetic whim : it is a real and legally validated branch of a town's zoning rights, established by New York State bylaws and constitutionally reaffirmed by the Supreme Court. It needs to be strengthened and enforced here, and its advocates need to be supported at the city level and not have to fight these fights alone.

  3. You pick a strange post, PhilipF, as the prompt to ask this question. There are national standards for historic preservation: the Secretary of the Interior's Standards. Erin Tobin of the Preservation League of New York State has already expressed the opinion to the Hudson Historic Preservation Commission that the plans for this house, to which they granted a certificate of appropriateness, do not meet the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation of a Historic Property because the facade is being altered and historic detail stripped away without adequate documentation to justify doing so. If in fact they are now swapping out the original brick on the facade for new brick that looks old, there will be no authentic fabric on the facade of this house at all. It may as well be something "historic" created for DisneyWorld.

  4. I see from the comments that my question must have been badly framed and should not have been connected to an iconic historical house. Nevertheless what is the desired outcome of promoting preservation in the aggregate and what advocacy approach will yield the best outcomes ? I don't see many (any) historically perfect restorations in Hudson but I see a lot of great old buildings in decay and disrepair. The abandoned General Worth House was a public shame for years but when someone actually takes it on they are not praised for the effort but damned for the flawed execution. Isn't the first priority to help ensure that we preserve as much of our heritage as possible knowing that even the best restorations only approximate the past ? Or do we follow the path of critics who effectively reinforce the folks who attempt nothing till even repair is no longer possible.

  5. I run into these "predicaments" all the time on the school board. We want to solve a problem that's been a problem for ages, but.... how? Too often the ball is dropped on that question and you run into the kind of argument we seem to be having here: is doing something better than nothing? I don't agree that we should drop our standards just because we're doing something, like restoring/renovating a house, that is laudable. Let's do the laudable thing the best way possible.

    --peter m.