Monday, August 26, 2013

What They Said

When it was discovered last Wednesday that the two-hundred-year-old house at 900 Columbia Street was being "disassembled" to be "reassembled" at 215 Union Street, Gossips was curious to know exactly what Galvan Partners said they were going to do in order to persuade the Historic Preservation Commission to grant a certificate of appropriateness. A FOIL request for the original application, the certificate of appropriateness, and all supporting documents was fulfilled this afternoon.

The original application, submitted on May 3, 2012, by Tom Swope, for Galvan Partners LLC, described what was being proposed in this way: "To move a historic house at 900 Columbia, that is in [sic] planned to be demolished to an empty lot we own at 215 Union St." The application continues: 
Scope of Work:  Put the old house on a new foundation.
Reason for Work:  To save a historic structure that otherwise would be torn down
Architect/Engineer (If Applicable):  John O'Connell
Contractor (If Applicable):  Wolfe House Movers
Construction Schedule:  Dependent upon the current owners building their new facility.
In the photo gallery on the Wolfe House Movers website includes this picture of a substantial brick house, with a gambrel roof, being moved, portico, balcony, and all, in nearby Schenectady.

Documentation that accompanied the original application provides further evidence that what was presented to the HPC and what was granted a certificate of appropriateness on May 11, 2012, was a proposal to move the house: "900 Columbia Street is a historic house on the outskirts of modern Hudson, that we would like to move into the heart of historic Hudson. The house was built most, we believe, in the 1830's [research by Walter Ritchie has since determined that the house was built between 1810 and 1815], and had a side extension, and a rear extension added at a later date. We intend to take off those extensions, and move only the central original core of the house which was a classic center hall, four over four room configuration."

An email sent by Swope to David Voorhees, then chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, and meant for distribution to all the members of the HPC reiterates the intention:
We have gotten a quote from Wolfe House movers, to move 900 Columbia Street to an empty lot we own at 215 Union Street, see the digital rendering of what that would be like.
Our plan is [to] move the central original early core of the house, which was a grand 4 over 4 center hall house, with much original detail preserved, onto a new foundation. At this time we're not asking for permission to do anything more than that, when it comes time to restoring the house, we'll come back before the commission for a COA. For example, we'll want to change the door from the early 20th Century door there now, to a more appropriate Greek Revival door system.
This is the rendering referred to in Swope's email.

So now we have the house that was supposed to be moved pretty much intact with "much original detail preserved" being "disassembled" with the intention of "reassembling" it on Union Street. Looking at the house today, it is clear that it has been stripped of any surviving interior detail. An eyewitness reports seeing what she thought were the newel posts, balusters, and banister of the two-story staircase being hauled away, to an unknown destination. Presumably, in the fullness of time, a giant pile of two-hundred-year-old bricks will be delivered to 215 Union Street to be reassembled into resembling the historic house, but this is not what the Historic Preservation Commission was asked to review and approve. 

Sadly, the notion that "disassembling" and "reassembling" (or deconstruction and reconstruction) somehow qualifies as "moving" may be suggested in the language of the certificate of appropriateness, written by the HPC's legal counsel, Cheryl Roberts.
Pursuant to Chapter 169 of the Hudson City Code, the Commission finds that the proposed relocation of the historic structure currently located at 900 Columbia Street to an empty lot on 215 Union Street is compatible with the Union/Allen/Front Street Historic District. The structure located at 900 Columbia Street is slated for demolition. If not relocated, the structure will be lost to the community. Its relocation to 215 Union Street is compatible with the existing structures in close proximity to the relocation site. The structures surrounding 215 Union Street were built from the late in the [sic] eighteenth to early twentieth centuries and are of late Georgian to Queen Anne style. According to the applicant, the structure to be relocated was built in circa 1830 and is of early Greek Revival style. These architectural styles all appear in Hudson in close proximity to each other and are compatible.
Since 900 Columbia Street was neither individually designated or part of a historic district, the certificate of appropriateness focuses on the suitability of siting the house in a National Register and locally designated historic district. The consistent use of the term relocate rather than move, however, seems to open the door to the alternative of getting it there in little pieces rather than in as intact a condition as possible. 

Gossips has been advised by the State Historic Preservation Office that there is no official definition for move or relocate. That's probably because the preservation world prefers things to stay where they were originally sited. The location of buildings is usually an important part of their historic significance, and this certainly has turned out to be the case for 900 Columbia Street. It was one of the first houses to be built on Prospect Hill, and its original owner, Captain William Ashley, was the person who gave the hill its name, inspired by the fine prospect it afforded of the Hudson River and the mountains beyond.

This picture, taken shortly after 5 p.m. today, makes it painfully clear that the Historic Preservation Commission, in granting the certificate of appropriateness--indeed, in celebrating this proposal as a way to preserve a significant historic house--was the victim of a colossal bait and switch. Even if all the bricks are being numbered and they are reassembled exactly as they were, the mortar would be different, and the house would not be what it was. More likely, however, a new house will be constructed at 215 Union Street, perhaps with the same dimensions of the original house, and covered with a veneer of old bricks. That's not historic preservation.


  1. What a cheat. Gets away with whatever he wants. But, what goes around, comes around.

  2. "Disassembling" here is another word for demolition and if it is (ever) rebuilt it will be a new house built from old bricks. Gallowegia adds another fake to its roster of historic-ish houses and diminishes Hudson yet again.

    Byrne Fone

  3. "Our plan is [to] move the central original early core of the house ... At this time we're not asking for permission to do anything more than that, when it comes time to restoring the house, we'll come back before the commission for a COA." - Tom Swope, Executive Director of the Galvan Foundation

    Looking forward to it.

  4. So how can Galloway be punished for this? Who has the power to stop him from purchasing properties, or at least make him complete the numerous half-finished renovations all over the city. At the very least, he should be fined for completely ignoring his certificate of appropriateness. His heart is in the right place. His brain, not so much.

  5. Obviously - lying is NOT illegal !