Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Bait and Switch: 900 Columbia and 215 Union

Six years ago, back in February 2011, it became known that the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties was planning to demolish the early 19th-century house at 900 Columbia Street where they operated a group home. 

A campaign to save the historic c. 1810 house, which enlisted the aid of the State Historic Preservation Office, failed. MHA steadfastly maintained that there was nowhere else for them to build their new facility, and the house was doomed. Months passed, but then on May 7, 2012, the Galvan Foundation announced its intention to acquire the house and move it to a vacant lot in the 200 block of Union Street, owned by the foundation. 

Although much of the house's historic significance had to do with its location at the intersection of Columbia and Union turnpikes, on Prospect Hill, which its original owner, Captain William Ashley, had been given the privilege of naming, moving the house to a block that already had several examples of houses of the same design, dating from the same era, seemed far preferable to losing it forever. When the proposal to move the house came before the Historic Preservation Commission on May 11, 2012, it was granted a certificate of appropriateness. HPC chair Rick Rector called the proposal "a noble and admirable act." Then mayor William Hallenbeck chided the members of the HPC for their lack enthusiasm about moving the house, saying the Galvan Foundation should have been given a standing ovation. 

Good thing there was no standing ovation, because the Galvan Foundation never did what it said it would. Instead of being moved, the house was demolished, starting on August 21, 2013.

The original story from Galvan was that the house was being "disassembled" to be "reassembled" at 215 Union Street, but the evidence soon dispelled that myth.

When the plans for what was to be built at 215 Union Street came before the HPC, Rector told his colleagues that the proposed building should be considered as new construction in a historic district. Far from being the original historic house "reassembled" in a new location, Rector advised, "It shouldn't even be looked as a replication of 900 Columbia Street." Only some of the elements of the historic house were to be used for the new house: the bricks, the door surround, and the limestone window sills.

Despite its many problems, among them its setback and its too high foundation, the new building, shown in the rendering above, was granted a certificate of appropriateness by the HPC on January 24, 2014. Three years later, the building is still not finished, but it is already clear that several of its details depart from the approved plan. The limestone window sills appear not to have been used, there are no lintels over the windows, there are no sidelights around the front door, there are double doors instead of a single door, the transom appears to be a single pane of glass instead of four divided lights, and, most notably, the stoop, which was presented as a single flight of stairs leading up to the front door, is now something that resembles a Mayan pyramid. 

It will is interesting to see what happens next.


  1. A reader informed me of other details missing: the house, as it exists, has no chimneys.

  2. There was no intention ever to save that house. It was an opportunity for bricks and a Micky Mouse squiggle for an empty lot.

  3. Had the residence not been purchased by its current owner, what would have become of it?