Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Changing Use of Buildings

In recent months, the Historic Preservation Commission has received applications for certificates of appropriateness for facade alterations to two Warren Street buildings--both for the purpose of converting what was originally residential space into commercial space.

In January, it was 103 Warren Street, where the owners wanted to install a triple window on the ground floor of this very early Federal style clapboard house, believed to be the first home in Hudson of Thomas Jenkins, one of the original Proprietors.

The goal of the proposed alteration was to bring more light into that part of the building, where the owners plan to open a retail shop. Although some members of the HPC were enthusiastic about the idea because it would "add more retail" to the street, others felt that it was inappropriate to change the character of a rare surviving 18th-century house to facilitate a change of use. The latter opinion carried the day, and the certificate of appropriateness was denied.

At their June 14 meeting, the HPC was again asked to consider facade alterations to transform the first floor of 745 Warren Street, a three-story residential building, into an art gallery. In this case, the proposal was to remove the first-floor bay and replace it with a single door that would be the entrance to the gallery space. 

In the HPC's discussion of the proposal, Scott Baldinger made the point that the bay, which is repeated on all three floors, is an important aspect of the building's design. Architect member Jack Alvarez asked if the door couldn't be incorporated into the bay instead of removing the bay to create a new entrance. Tony Thompson observed that there were other residential buildings had been converted for use as commercial space without being so radically altered, citing 446 Warren Street as an example.

The HPC ended up not approving the changes proposed for 745 Warren Street out of a desire to preserve the integrity of the house's design.

At the same HPC meeting, the new owner of 546 Columbia Street came to the HPC, informally, seeking advice about restoring his building. The house, originally a two and a half story three bay brick residential building, had been converted into a combination of rental units and commercial space, probably in the 1950s. For its new commercial use, which was believed to have been as a TV repair shop, the two parlor floor windows were replaced with a large "picture window." The house's current owner now wants to restore the facade to its original configuration but explained he was daunted by the magnitude and the cost of such an undertaking.

The house at 546 Columbia Street is certainly not the most insensitive example of converting a residential building into commercial space, although in some ways it could prove the hardest to reverse. Here are some others--one of them right next door to 745 Warren Street.

46 Green Street

86 Green Street

807 Warren Street
743 Warren Street
This contemplation of the conversion of Hudson's historic buildings from residential to commercial and sometimes back to residential again was inspired by this card, a digital image of which was sent to me this morning by a reader.

Remarkably, the card suggests that at one time pianos and organs were sold at 129 Warren Street.

Although I know better, I fell into the trap--possibly because I thought the card to be early 20th-century. How, I wondered, could 129 Warren Street--a building that started its life as a residential building and is a residential building today--have once housed a commercial enterprise dealing in the sale of pianos and organs? 

The truth is, it probably didn't. What's more likely is that the card predates the change in numbering on east-west streets in Hudson, which happened in 1889. What was 129 Warren Street before 1889 became something like 313 Warren Street thereafter, placing Cluett & Sons in the 300 block, in a building that no longer exists, on the site of the municipal parking lot.


  1. RE 103 Warren (we're the owners): As we proceed with renovation, and our affection grows for the house, we believe the HPC was right. While the third window would have been helpful to the shop, it would also have broken the formal symmetry that makes the building work. It was a tough call, but the correct one.

    1. David: Thank you so much for this comment! I'm sure the members of the Historic Preservation Commission will appreciate knowing this. As someone who supports the work they do, I certainly do.