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.