Monday, September 17, 2012

Hamilton Grange and the Robert Taylor House

On Friday, Ward Hamilton, representing the Galvan Partners, presented to the Historic Preservation Commission a new application for a certificate of appropriateness to move the Robert Taylor House from its location at the head of Tanners Lane to the side yard of 25 Union Street. The application contains the same allegations that were the basis of Galvan's appeal to the Common Council to reverse the HPC's original decision to reject the application: that the designation of the Robert Taylor House in 2004 was not legal, and that the house's location is not part of the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District. The new application also includes a new argument: precedent. The precedent is Hamilton Grange Historic Memorial in upper Manhattan. It's worthwhile to consider Hamilton Grange and the circumstances surrounding its being moved by the National Parks Service in 2008.

Hamilton Grange was the country home of Alexander Hamilton. Located on a 32-acre estate in what is Hamilton Heights, the house was designed by John McComb, Jr., and completed in 1802, just two years before Hamilton died as a consequence of his duel with Aaron Burr. The Grange was the only home ever owned by Hamilton, and it remained in his family for thirty years after his death.

In 1889, the house was in foreclosure, condemned, and marked for demolition because it is in the way of extending the Manhattan street grid to this uppermost part of Manhattan. At that time, it was purchased by St. Luke's Episcopal Church and moved to a site that conformed to the new street grid pattern--287 Convent Street. In the move, the original porches were removed, and in its new location, the original Federal style entrance was boarded up and the staircase was removed and retrofitted to accommodate a side entrance, since it was the side of the building that now faced the street.

The house suffered more indignities in its new location. Between 1892 and 1895, a Richardsonian Romanesque church, designed by Robert H. Robertson, was built on the site, which partially wrapped around the house. Then in 1910, a six-story apartment building was constructed on the opposite side, tightly enclosing the historic house.

In 1960, Hamilton Grange was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in 1962 it became the property of the National Park Service. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. At the time the National Park Service took possession of the building, it was determined that the house needed to be moved from its location on Clinton Street so it could be returned to the way it was during its period of significance--1802 to 1804. There was, however, strong opposition to moving it out of the neighborhood, and four decades passed before a suitable location was secured: in St. Nicholas Park, a site that was within the boundaries of Hamilton's original 32-acre estate.

The house was closed to the public in 2006 in order to prepare it for the move. In February 2008, site preparation and the construction of a new foundation began. The actual move, which was one block south and one block east, took two days--June 6 and 7, 2008. Once situated in its new location, the porches were reconstructed, the original entrance, foyer, and staircase were restored, and the grounds were landscaped to replicate Hamilton's original design. Exactly one year ago today--September 17, 2011--the restored Hamilton Grange was reopened to the public.

In the latest application, Galvan Partners asserts that historic houses have been "moved to better locations in order to restore them and/or present them in a more favorable setting," and, in the case of Hamilton Grange, this was done by "no less than the National Park Service--the entity that sets the standards for historic preservation in the United States." Galvan Partners presents Hamilton Grange as adequate evidence to justify moving the Robert Taylor House from its original location to a site where they say it will be "presented better." But the situations are hardly the same.

In the first place, the Robert Taylor House is currently in its original setting. As HPC member Phil Forman pointed out on Friday, it is a "tanner's house on Tanners Lane that represents what Hudson was in history." Indeed, Tanners Lane was given the name because the house of Robert Taylor, the tanner, and his tannery were located at the head of the street. The location is an intrinsic part of the house's significance.

Galven Partners' major reason for wanting to move the house is that it is now located in a "shuttered industrial area," which raises the question of why they seem to think this is a permanent and immutable situation. Back in 2009, when the City first started talking about assuming ownership of the former Kaz factory and warehouse, which make up the "shuttered industrial area," the plan, according to then mayor Rick Scalera, was to demolish the buildings. When the City, through the Hudson Development Corporation, took possession of the buildings in December 2010, Scalera reiterated these intentions in an article in the Register-Star. In a comment on Gossips, posted in December 2010, Common Council president Don Moore had this to say about the former Kaz buildings:
Whatever the future use, the most likely economically attractive plan from a developer's point of view would result from taking the building down. That could occur quickly, as soon as funds are found for asbestos remediation. . . . My understanding of the potential value of the Kaz property is that location and not the current structures would draw much more interest.
With all this apparent commitment to eliminating the buildings that make setting of the Robert Taylor House a "shuttered industrial area," the presence of those buildings seems to be a lame excuse for moving a historic landmark from its original location.

The application claims that the Robert Taylor House would be "entirely appropriate in its intended setting at 21 Union Street," but would it? One thing that Galvan likes to downplay is that an addition to 25 Union Street would have to be demolished in order to shoehorn the Robert Taylor House onto the site. Granted the addition is not original to the house, but that fact alone doesn't make it something that can be demolished without compunction. 

On Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission decided not to waive a public hearing, thereby assuring members of the community the opportunity to express their opinions about the plan to move the house. The date of the public hearing has not yet been set, but Gossips will publish that information as soon as it is available.


  1. Indeed!
    Galvan could use that money,he's willing to spend moving it, to help begin restoring the surrouding grounds of Tanners Lane.

  2. "The National Park Service--the entity that sets the standards for historic preservation in the United States." --Galvan Partners.
    Surely Galvan Partners, inventor of the unique Gallowegian style now imposed upon so many houses in the city, must now be described as "the entity that sets the standards for historic preservation" in Hudson, however dubious those standards may be.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Concerned Hudsonians need to have a serious and open discussion with the HDC about what can and cannot be done with the Kaz warehouse.

    So far we have heard:

    1. then-Mayor Scalera's claim that the warehouse must be razed (which included one of his off-the cuff demolition estimates);

    2. President Moore's opinion that the land is worth more to a developer than the building is;

    3. The HDC's misstatement about what the waterfront plan does and doesn't allow at the site (the HDC board failed to study what is conditionally permitted in the new R-S-C zoning district).

    The whole rationale for moving the structure seems to pivot on the one question. So without having a more accurate idea of the ultimate fate of the warehouse, how can anyone make a reasoned decision about moving the Taylor House?

    Let's find out what can be reasonably expected to happen directly across from the Taylor House and in what time frame. If we knew now that the warehouse would ultimately be razed, we wouldn't even be having this other discussion.

    [Comment edited to include the technical adverb, "conditionally" permitted.]

  5. I am not going to address the HPC issue, as that is for others to decide. (I think siting a Dutch colonial house on a Federal and Greek Revival block might lie somewhere between high kitsch and bathos, but anyway....)

    However, I do have some concerns that are somewhat related to the Taylor House's future.

    Before Galvan spends money to move this house, perhaps it should consider finishing the scores of other projects it has in various states of "progress" around the City. I do wonder: is this a shell game? Does Mr. Galloway even have the pecuniary resources to juggle and complete so many projects at one time? We are talking about millions of dollars here. Is Henry van A funding all this? And if so, how? Through his foundation? His family's foundation? His personal investment accounts? Is Eric G. so wealthy in his own right, from his NYC-based welfare housing businesses? And where the hell is he from? Did anyone know him when he was a ten year old? What were his parents like? Does he have brothers and sisters? Who is this guy? His life story would be of great interest, at least to me.

    And what happened with Tom Swope? His exit: the result of in-fighting at Galvan? Did he do something he shouldn't have done? Did Eric G. tire of him? Did he piss off Scalera? Or, was he simply fed up with being directly associated with such a tawdry and widely-reviled group of people? Did he just wake up one day last week and say to himself, hey, this is really not for me, I am too good for this?

    1. "...siting a Dutch colonial house on a Federal and Greek Revival block might lie somewhere between high kitsch and bathos..." – Observer

      Normally I would not respond to someone who hides behind an alias, particularly when they don’t have the courage to identify themselves when casting aspersions on another’s character. But in this case I’ll make an exception. The below excerpt is from the application and highlights many of the factual inaccuracies that are casually ignored in this matter:


      Would a circa 1800, English brick structure with a gambrel roof be appropriate in the district? According to local historian Carole Osterink, “there is visual evidence that at least two other houses in Hudson at one time had gambrel roofs.” [1] An early English brick structure with a gambrel roof is found in the district at 10 South Front Street. This structure also has a shed style dormer roof. Close examination of the timber framework of the Robert Taylor House and an interview of Neil Larson of the Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture Association confirms that the structure is not an example of early Dutch vernacular architecture. Mr. Larson indicated that it is an English structure and, therefore, was not included in John Stevens’ definitive tome on Dutch vernacular architecture in North America. [2] Hudson City Historian Patricia Fenoff, who grew up in the Robert Taylor House, dispelled the myth that the structure predates the Proprietors. In a May 2012 interview, Fenoff said that Taylor built the house in the 1790’s. The Robert Taylor House is entirely appropriate in its intended location at 21 Union Street. [3]


      1. Gossips of Rivertown blog (

      2. Stevens, John. Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640-1830. New York: Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture, 2005

      3. Two historic homes may be moved, by John Mason, Hudson Register-Star, May 8, 2012

    2. Ward,

      You're misconstruing the principles upon which this application was denied, and should continue to be denied. I've very much enjoyed Stevens epic tome, but lets hone in on the issue, rather than muddying the discussion.

      Not a single member of the Commission, Carole, nor the City Historian, are predicating their opposition to this plan on the vernacular provenance of this structure, for you to assert as much is a specious abrogation of the facts.

      I know you are familiar with the Seven Aspects of Integrity as outlined by the Secretary of the Interior, lest we forget Location, Setting, and Association are three of the primary considerations in judging significance. That's before we even inspect the common bond brick, gambrel roof, or shed dormers.

      I know you are familiar with the Secretary of the Interiors recommendations regarding personage as it relates to significance. As such, I would encourage you to find out more about Robert Taylor, he was quite the figure in our Cities early history.

      I know you have a grasp on how the Secretary of the Interior views moved properties, which means you certainly understand this house will be completely ineligible for listing if it is moved to Union Street.

      In short, I would ask that you consider carefully, as a respected Preservationist and incredible Mason, before so boldly defending the brinkmanship of a rapacious developer, whose appetite for pathologically offending the very principles he cloaks himself in, borders on spectacle.

      David Marston

  6. Tom Swope's exit is nobody's business but his own.

  7. The gambrel roof isn't an issue.It's Scale.
    look at the surounding buildings.Hamilton,you work for Galloway.Now you defend any project he does and now you are also his personal defender as well.You high -jacked Gossips url,by buying it, thinking that was a smart idea,to redirect the readers of "Gossips of Rivertown",to your blog,that is one long infomorcial for Galloway's "historic" projects.So you realized after buying "gossips" url-that was a bad public relations mistake-and apoligised.After you did that.Who cares what you think?You are only going to try to prove to everybody ,because you are so brilliant,why everything Galloway wants to do,"Historically"
    APPROPRIATE.Save it for your Blog.

  8. The bricks and old foundation on that house are so old, crumbling and cracked, chances are if it's moved the whole thing will fall apart. Then it will have to be rebuilt like the General Worth house. It might cost less to leave it where it is and build a copy of it up on the hill.

  9. @ Ward Hamilton: I didn't realize that commenting on a newsblog required full disclosure of one's identity. I guess I need to bring my driver's license or other validly-issued government I.D. in order to make comments on this forum? Your point about disclosure is hypocritical: you work for and are paid by Eric Galloway, who, whether he likes it or not, is now a public figure, maintains a distant and aloof persona, and has threatened immediate legal action against someone who publishes his picture taken from a publicly available source at a charity event. Yet, you write that I, a private citizen, who has no business before the City of Hudson or Columbia County, am a coward because I express my opinions and ask certain questions on this blog? I have to assume you are a very angry person.

    @umheimlich: Let me remind you: Tom Swope thrust himself into Hudson's harsh public light by accepting the position from his good friend Eric Galloway as Executive Director of the Galvan Init. Foundation. Swope came up with the Doris Duke Foundation model; he was pictured in the Reg. Star handing out grants to groups around the City (including $80K to a charity controlled by the wife of an HPC member); and he made public, ill-advised and petulant statements at government meetings on behalf of the foundation he represented. I don't agree that his "resignation" is "nobody's business but his own" because what happened in that particular situation informs the very nature and agenda of this bad group of people that has become a menance to Hudson's very core. Am I the only one in Hudson who thinks that the reasons for Swope's departure from the Galvan Init. Foundation are relevant and instructive?

    No one in Hudson should take any flack or back-talk from anyone associated with a group that allows derelict buildings such as those at Third and Warren and Fifth and Union to lie fallow, neglected, with torn up sidewalks, plastic sheeting blowing out of windows and ersatz scaffolding. This group has little respect for the citizenry of Hudson by allowing its buildings to remain in such a state of squalor without any clear plan or progress toward a historically respectful (and approved) renovation. It is very clear to me that Mr. Galloway is caught up in some sort of scatter-brained megalomania where he gets things approved, fights to death to do so, then just moves on to another battle, while the rest of us are held hostage by his pathology. And if that is not the explanation, then he just doesn't have enough money to tackle all these projects at once: which, I might add, is not exactly responsible.

    Mark my words: if the HPC approves Galloway moving the Robert Taylor House-- years from now that house will remain at its original site in a state of neglect and rot. And that torn plastic sheeting at Third and Warren in Galloway's building's windows will still be flapping in the wind, as a real F-you eyesore for all to enjoy.

    Finally, if by some miracle the HPC approves the application, and the house is moved and wedged into that lot on Union Street, what are Mr. Galloway's plans for the land on Tanner's Lane that the house is currently sitting on? Does anyone dare ask that question?

  10. Ward Hamilton, explaining that he would not be near a computer until evening, asked me to post this comment for him:

    As I stated before, I do not generally respond to anonymous posts and, while I made an exception, I'm not going to make another. We have made terrific progress lately, working well with the HPC; a mutually acceptable plan for 67-71 N Fifth was arrived at last Friday. Afterward, we shook hands and exchanged compliments. We are working well together. Positive things are happening. Good change is coming. This is not a bad thing.

    I am not afraid to ask questions, to initiate dialogue, to work toward a common goal: preserving the heritage of Hudson's built environment. Sometimes the HPC will agree with me and, on other occasions, they won't. That is OK. We are now having a conversation, and words and ideas don't scare me or those on the HPC. People afraid of talk, who bash those who suggest ideas, are frightening. Especially when they are afraid to stand behind their statements.

    Ward Hamilton

  11. Please excuse my not being totally prepared posting this...

    But about 1-2 years ago, with assistance from Carole and encouragement from Tom, I attended a Preservation meeting and formally asked that the City put a stop to the environmental damage to the Robert Taylor House, primarily because of a hole in the roof, and open windows and open front door. I believe Peter Wurster was directed to ask the current owners to fix this, and the City eventually boarded windows and covered the hole in the roof... Eventually the then owners put it up for sale.

    I often pass the Robert Taylor House, and in my humble opinion, it is at home at its current location. A major arts/cultural institution: Stageworks, is across the street. I no doubt feel that this particular area will be enhanced in the future by positive growth. What better anchor than the Robert Taylor House!

    I'd love to see a yearly report from our City Inspector of each violation, the reason, the violation and the result.

    I do not believe that the current area where the Robert Taylor House is, is at risk of being over-run by future negative development, unless someone can say otherwise. Making the Robert Taylor House the historic and cultural anchor may very well set the precedent.

  12. I happen to have it on good authority that Tom Swope was not interested in attaching his name to such capricious endeavors any longer. He's on to more demanding and rewarding ventures, I'm quite certain of it...