Saturday, March 9, 2013

An Alarming Possibility

The conviction that restoring original pre-World War II wood windows has a more desirable long-term outcome than installing replacement windows is, thanks to a lot of advocacy by preservationists at the state and national level and actual experience with replacement windows, starting to catch on, but the Historic Preservation Commission here in Hudson still regularly receives certificate of appropriateness applications that involve replacement windows. It still seems to be the first thing people think they have to do when they set about to renovate a building, and the justification for doing so is usually quite inadequate. Yesterday, for example, a woman was at the HPC wanting to replace the windows in her house so she could get rid of the ugly 1950s aluminum storm windows. The Columbia County Board of Supervisors is reportedly contemplating replacement windows for the 1907 Warren and Wetmore courthouse. The most shocking replacement window suggestion yet, however, was made to the HPC yesterday by John Grover, speaking for the First Presbyterian Church.

HPC member Phil Forman had invited Grover to address the HPC, explaining that the HPC had been concerned when the large stained glass window in the facade of the church was covered with green sheathing last November, and Forman, who is on the board of the Friends of the First Presbyterian Church, wanted the HPC to be updated on the church's thinking about the window. 

Four months ago, when the window was covered to protect it from further deterioration, the cost of repairing it was estimated to be between $80,000 and $100,000. Now apparently that estimate has risen to $200,000, and the church is considering replacing it. Grover described how, during a windstorm that happened before the sheathing was installed, "the window was moving as far as six inches." He concluded, "It may be to the point that it has to be replaced."

There was mention of the design competition for a replacement window, which Forman suggested would not be "anything less than great looking." HPC member Tony Thompson, mentioning the 1989 I. M. Pei entrance to the Louvre, spoke of the need for new construction to be of its time and distinguishable from the original. (I may have missed the exact intent of Thompson's comment, because, in the audience, I was suffering what felt like a panic attack.)

Of the HPC members present at yesterday's meeting (Forman, Thompson, David Voorhees, Rick Rector, and Scott Baldinger), only Baldinger seemed appropriately alarmed by the suggestion that this major window in the church's 19th-century Gothic facade might be replaced with something designed and constructed in the 21st century. Rector, HPC chair, however, did seem to imply some misgivings when he commented that the church was "an amazing icon of Hudson."

The First Presbyterian Church is an amazing icon of Hudson. Established in 1785, it is as old as the city itself. The original church building was located at Second and Partition streets, and the tradition of the city clock being located in its tower began then. In 1837, the church moved to a newly constructed building at the corner of Warren and Fourth streets. 

In 1876, when the congregation was the largest and most affluent in the entire Hudson Valley, the church was redesigned and expanded by architect J. A. Wood to become the soaring Gothic church that it now is. Today, however, the massive church, with significant and inherent maintenance challenges, must be sustained by a congregation of only about 50. Located midway along our main street, hosting many community meetings and musical events as well as the religious services of two churches, the First Presbyterian Church is a significant historic and community resource and needs and deserves the support of the entire community to preserve and maintain it. The architectural character of Hudson and the civic life of Hudson would be so much poorer without it.


  1. Re old windows: I'm currently preparing historic building preservation plans for a municipality in Massachusetts. One of the three buildings is their town hall. While assessing the window conditions and creating a schedule, one town employee after another bemoaned the mid-nineteenth century windows and need for replacement.

    In one office after another I opened the unlocked sash letting in the February chill, closed the storms properly, and locked the sash at the meeting rails. I left there thoroughly hated. But a week later the reception was quite different: Nobody could believe how warm it was in Town Hall--sweaters stayed on seat backs--what had I done to the windows?

    Re the church window: It would seem that a custom-made "storm window," even in three vertically-separated sections, covering part of the tracery and wood frame, would be a better option. It could be designed with non-visible weep holes and vents to minimize the effects of condensation (probably a non-issue on the northern elevation anyway, especially if the sanctuary is unheated Mon-Sat in the winter.) Voila! Wind loads eliminated and window preserved. Far less than the numbers being thrown around. Maybe $30k?

  2. Not certain what you're suggesting, Carole. Can the small congregation afford to restore the window and maintain the large church?

    If not then what are the options? Is a new window an impossible idea if the old one can't survive? How much does a new window cost?

    -- Jock Spivy

  3. The window has to be saved.
    If that means it stays boarded up until funds are available then so be it.

  4. Yes , I agree .with Dini and Windle, 100 %. W.Hamilton above has just
    brought up a very good solution. Why this rush.? As Samuel seems
    to suggest , if they can't afford to fix the Historic are they planning to pay for a new one of that magnitude.

    $200,000 in the scheme of things, when I see what this City wastes so
    much of our money on, seems not that much. Hudson resurgence is
    dependent on its charm ,history and beauty of its Architecture,.

    There are economic reasons, if nothing else, not to destroy this, systematically.

    I would certainly like to see my property taxes going towards
    an emergency fund or loans, for something ,like saving this window,
    than where I am painfully aware my taxes are thrown away on, on a regular

    1. Good idea but sadly, Prison Alley, I fear there are likely to be Church vs State issues in any government funding or grants to the Presbyterian Church. This was a problem when the Dutch Reform Church in Kinderhook looked to the government for help in maintaining their cemetery where Martin Van Buren is buried.

      The New York Landmarks Conservancy has a program called Sacred Sites that assists churches of all sorts with maintenance of historic buildings. I believe churches in Columbia County have received grants from them in the past.

      Here is their web site:

      -- Jock Spivy

  5. Exactly !

    Make a storm window to protect the original.


    next question ?

  6. The beauty of a stained glass window lies in enjoying the colors as light streams through. Sadly unless the church undergoes some major inside changes the window cannot be seen inside at all as hidden by the organ housing, the only place the see the window is outside and a storm window casing would then hide it from the outside too. Any replacement needs to consider how and where the window will be seen.

    1. Sorry, I don't understand your reasoning. I have storm windows.
      Both interior and exterior. Nothing is blocked.

      The placement of the organ is another matter and has nothing to do with saving the window.

  7. There are plenty of rich people in and around Hudson who can contribute to the cost of the restoration of the church window, which, I recall is around $200K. The church needs to aggressively raise money from private citizens, foundations and perhaps, the state, to accomplish the task at hand. A storm window? That's just plain cheesy.

    1. A storm window is not cheesy.

      Boarding it up like it presently is is cheesy!

      Glad you think there are so many rich folk to cough up a measley $200K.

      The 4th richest family in the country owns around 70 of Hudsons Historic Properties at the moment. All that rich money is going into encouraging more poverty. Welcome to Hudson !

  8. Custom storm windows like I described are seen on the exterior of sacred sites world wide. $100k, $200k - whatever - nothing to sneeze at, for sure. The $30k "storm window" is a fantastic alternative to the present appearance until such time as fundraising activities can make a proper restoration possible.

    Kudos to the church and community for caring. Lets join together to find sensitive and appropriate solutions for this dilemma. The opponents of historic preservation exploit dissension as an opportunity to divide and conquer. Together we can preserve the fabric that defines the heritage of Hudson's built environment.

  9. I have no issue with a temporary storm window, provided that the original window is correctly and properly restored. Has the window not been facing Warren Street since 1837?

    I did not know that the van Ameringen family, which I assume @Vincent refers to, ranks among the top 4 richest US families. If so, a perfect way for Henry and Eric to use their new foundation to fund, in whole or in part, the $200K restoration. If not, like I said, there is a ton of money in Columbia County that could be sourced to accomplish this vital task. Just look at how much dough certain non-profits in Hudson and Columbia County raise on an annual basis.

  10. Observer: Having been on the Board of Friends of Hudson during the SLC fight and having also spent 6 years on the Board of the Columbia County Historical Society, I can tell you from experience that there is a lot of competition in the County for a basically limited pool of charitable giving.

    One sees almost exactly the same crowd at benefit after benefit -- wherw ticket prices are going steadily higher by the way -- for one worthy group after another. And yes, of course there are wealthy people in the County, but that does not mean that they are going to support my cause instead of the other guy's. Some of the wealthiest New Yorkers for instance don't want to be bothered at all by anyone or anything in the County -- they come to CC to escape all that stuff and figure that their hefty property taxes are contribution enough.

    Churches with declining memberships and large old buildings are in an especially tough spot. How much of the amount required for the restoration has the congregation raised or pledged? Is there a master plan? What foundations or other groups have been approached? Has a proper Buildings Report been done? Can the national Presbyterian Church help at all? (I don't know the answers to these questions by the way but if I were going to be approached for a grant these are questions I'd ask).

    Another way to put it is that just because there are rich people around does not mean that they will write you a check.

    -- Jock Spivy