Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fifty Years Later

Once upon a time, there was a solid wall of buildings on the north side of Warren Street between Third and Fourth streets.

Then on April 16, 1965--Good Friday--a disastrous fire destroyed five buildings across from City Hall Place and left a gaping hole in the street wall. The fire started at 328 Warren Street and spread to adjoining buildings on either side, destroying 326, 328, 330, 332, and 334 Warren Street.

None of the buildings destroyed in the Good Friday Fire was ever replaced except 330 Warren Street. At the time of the fire, Leo's Restaurant, owned and operated by Leo Hodowansky, occupied the ground floor of 330 Warren Street. After the fire, a single story cinder block building was constructed at 330 Warren Street, which until the late 1990s was Harold's Lounge. 

Fifty years have passed since the Good Friday Fire, and in all that time, there has only been one proposal to redevelop this stretch of Warren Street. That happened back in 2008, when David Deutsch owned the property. Deutsch's not-for-profit PARC Foundation, working with architect Teddy Cruz, proposed an extensive development plan they called "Hudson 2 + 4," which would create affordable, market-rate, and student housing, public facilities, community gathering places, and urban agriculture in the vacant spaces through the Second and Fourth wards, including the vacant lots along Warren Street created by the Good Friday Fire.

Somewhere along the line, Deutsch grew disillusioned with Hudson and pulled the plug on the project. The pocket park at 326 and 328 Warren Street, which was completed in the summer of 2007, and the linear park stretching from Columbia to State streets, now being completed, are the only part of the plan that was ever realized.

Recently, Deutsch sold the property--330, 332, 334, and 336 Warren Street. The new owner, Robert Greenberg, wants to demolish the building at 330 Warren Street, not to make way for new construction on the Hudson's commercial main street but to turn all three lots west of 336 Warren Street into a vast side yard or private garden. With the building at 330 Warren Street gone, the brick wall that now stands along 332 and 334 Warren Street would be extended to include 330 as well.

The proposal to demolish the building came before the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday, March 13. Some on the HPC seemed to think there was little hope or reason to save the building. Phil Forman called it "a noncontributing building of no particular interest." Counsel to the HPC, Carl Whitbeck opined that the HPC had "very little jurisdiction with this building," implying that because the building was not historic, the HPC could not deny a certificate of appropriateness for its demolition. Several members had fewer problems with demolishing the building than they had with extending the brick wall, which Forman characterized as "replicating the sins of the past." He suggested that a cast iron fence might be used instead to enclose the lot at 330 Warren so that passersby could see into the private garden.

Miranda Barry pointed out that whether it was contributing or noncontributing, the building that exists is a storefront and, for that reason, is compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. The proposed brick wall would not be. David Voorhees also spoke of the need to "protect the urban streetscape."

When HPC chair Rick Rector asked if the private garden was "a short term solution or the final vision" for the property, the applicant's representative explained any plan for developing the property, other than using the three lots as a side yard, was "five to ten years down the line."

The Historic Preservation Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the project to take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 27.


  1. Maybe that's GalVans plans too for all their abandoned/neglected buildings ... demolition by neglect for more green space ?

  2. Green space? I suppose a giant, walled in, private garden constitutes green space. But I wouldn't bet on that.
    This new proposal is quite telling, given that we have gone from a large-scale, multi-use public/private scheme to a private "keep out " scheme for this important stretch of Warren. I think its a bad idea, which is why I'm fairly confident it will happen.

    1. This community is perpetually perplexed about making any real positive statements to abide by for a vision that actually works.