Saturday, January 12, 2013

Report from the Historic Preservation Commission

Three projects came before the Historic Preservation Commission this morning, and for the first time in memory, the HPC needed its full complement of seven members to come to a decision. Unfortunately, Tony Thompson, suffering from the flu, was absent.

103 Warren Street  The new owners of this building have plans to restore the facade and to open a shop on the first floor to be called Dish, which will specialize in gift items for the table. The plans for the facade restoration involve removing the aluminum siding and making in-kind repairs (wood replacing wood) to the original clapboard beneath. Also proposed is a standing seam roof. So far, so good. The sticking point for the HPC was the proposal to add two windows in the facade--one on the first floor, one on the second floor.

The second-floor window (at the left) bothered no one, since it replicated the placement of the windows on the first floor and may very likely be reinstating a window that was there in the first place. The new window on the first floor was another thing. The proposal is to add a third window between the two existing windows. The reason for doing this is to admit more light into the space, which is going to be part of the store, and the justification is that there is a similar triple window on the building across the street. There is photographic evidence, however, to show that the triple window across the street was introduced at some time after the 1930s.

Speaking in support of the proposed project, HPC member Phil Forman said, "What these guys are doing is a great leap forward," going on to assert that "it's going to be a better building." Peggy Polenberg said she thought it "looked great" and noted with enthusiasm that it would "add more retail." 

David Voorhees noted that the house was located in "a rare surviving block of 18th-century buildings" and suggested that it might originally have been a three bay house that was expanded into a five bay house. Scott Baldinger observed that the addition of the window on the second floor "looks very appropriate," but the addition of the third window on the first floor was "changing the character of the house."

When it came time to vote on approving the project, the HPC was evenly divided. Forman, Polenberg, and HPC chair Rick Rector voted in favor of granting a certificate of appropriateness; Voorhees, Baldinger, and HPC architect member Jack Alvarez voted against it. Legal counsel Cheryl Roberts was not present, so the HPC seemed uncertain about how to proceed. What is clear is that somehow Thompson will have to cast the deciding vote.

816 Warren Street This project, which has been proceeding even though a stop-work order was issued months ago and is still in force, was recently the subject of a meeting involving the developer, the mayor, the city attorney, the chair of the HPC, and the code enforcement officer. The mayor, it was reported, wants the situation resolved, and the HPC was expected to grant or deny a certificate of appropriateness to the project, after the fact. If they were to deny a certificate of appropriateness, the building would have to be brought back to where it was before the project started.

From the beginning, the enlarged dormer has presented a problem. The developer, making his own assumptions, based on past experience, about what did and did not require a certificate of appropriateness, decided the dormer didn't need to be reviewed by the HPC because it wasn't on the front of the building, although in full view from the street. The dormer continued to be a problem on Friday. Alvarez observed that the new dormer has "a lot more dormer but a lot less window," explaining that the outfacing wall of a dormer in this period was typically a "window wall." When the applicant said that enlarging the window in the dormer would be a "major hindrance," Baldinger commented that a design decision was made that shouldn't have been.

When a vote was called, the HPC split in the same way: Forman, Polenberg, and Rector voted to grant a certificate of appropriateness; Alvarez, Baldinger, and Voorhees voted to deny it. It was code enforcement officer Peter Wurster who suggested a way out of the dilemma: grant a certificate of appropriateness contingent on the applicant making acceptable design alterations to the dormer, which it was conceded could involve panels and trim detail to get the design closer to the original. The HPC voted unanimously to grant a certificate of appropriateness with this contingency.

721 Warren Street Animalkind is rebuilding after the fire, and one of the things they plan to do is replace all the windows on the facade of their building, including those in the building's rather fanciful oriel. The architect working on the project characterized the windows now in the oriel as "two super big ugly holes" and is proposing new windows with muntons. There was a great deal of discussion about the windows, during which Baldinger observed that the oriel was a "major architectural feature of the building" and Alvarez said that the oriel was very Queen Anne and the pattern of the muntons being proposed was inappropriate for the period. 

It was finally decided that the application was incomplete because it did not include a historic photograph of the building. "If we are going to change the architectural nature of the building," said Rector, "I would like to make certain it has some historic justification." Voorhees volunteered to help the applicant search for a historic photograph.


  1. Speaking of 'appropriateness,' I've never understood the mural on the facade of 721.

    1. Well, the mural was mentioned a lot at the HPC meeting. It's not painted directly on the building. It's painted on a big piece of wood attached to the building. Apparently when it went up, it had a sign permit from the code enforcement office, but it never came before the HPC for approval. Everyone at the meeting, including the architect working on the project, seemed to agree that they thought it would be nice if it went away.

  2. I was very perplexed by the issue of 103 Warren St.
    This is the Historic Preservation Commission.
    What does "Retail" have anymore to do with HPC,than the ADA LAWS, this new Gift Shop,wil have to face ,unless the required fire exit in rear of store has a Handicapped entrance from Cherry Alley.
    "As David Voorhees noted that the house was located in "a rare surviving block of 18th-century buildings" "
    It is in a Historic Residential Building in a Historic District.
    If the DAR came before HPC for permission to knock a third window on first floor of the Jenkins House,to "make it a better building" and get a little more light into their Library,would there be any more time or consideration given to this request by HPC,(except,perhaps by Ms. Polenberg) than its takes to say the word ..NO ?
    If this request by owners of 103 Warren to HPC on new first floor window,is acceptable to HPC...than what isn't?
    HPC has the responsibility to protect our Historic Architecture and Districts,for the citizens of and in the future.