Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Case of the Casing Trim

Yesterday, the Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing on the application from The Maker to add a decorative detail around the windows at 302-304 Warren Street.

Only two people spoke at the public hearing. A man whose name I do not know said he thought the decorative element was an improvement, an enhancement, and made reference to the Bartlett House in Ghent, another project by the same people, calling it "aesthetically pleasing." I was the other person who spoke, noting that the decorative detail proposed was inappropriate for the period of the building, warning that, were the HPC to approve it, they would be starting down a slippery slope, and echoing a comment on a previous post about the issue to ask, "Where does it end?"

When the HPC started its deliberations, the first to speak was Kate Johns, the architect member of the commission. She told the applicant that she understood his desire "to put his personal stamp on the building" but maintained that the ornament being proposed was "a very Victorian design aesthetic that does not relate to the building at all." She suggested there could be a way to "dress up" the building that was more in keeping with its Greek Revival style.

The applicant argued that the facade, with the alterations being made, is "way more elaborate than it was." "Once we complete the storefronts," he asserted, "those windows look like they're not finished." He spoke of how he had "walked around town and tried many options" and concluded,"This is the one that worked." He told the HPC, "I respect what you guys do here, but this is what we want."

Johns asked, "Are you willing to look at any other details, or is this it?" The applicant argued that the building has gone through so many transformations that it is impossible to determine what is appropriate and asserted, "Aesthetics, at the end of the day, wins."

As the discussion continued, it became clear that the members of the HPC were unlikely to grant the decorative detail a certificate of appropriateness. Miranda Barry said she would be happy if "the owner would consider a detail within the canon of Greek Revival ornament." David Voorhees stressed that it was important to preserve the character of the vernacular architecture of the period and the region as much as possible," further commenting, "putting an individual stamp on a building is not what historic preservation is about." Phillip Schwartz noted there were many choices for Greek Revival detail in pattern books from the 1830s. "You can achieve what you want," he told the applicant, "without changing periods." 

In the end, Forman suggested a way forward. The HPC could grant a certificate of appropriateness on the condition that the applicant work with Johns to find a decorative detail from the canon of Greek Revival ornament that he was happy with. Krystal Heinz, attorney for the applicant, asked the question that immediately occurred to me: "What happens if they cannot come to a resolution?" The answer was immediate and unequivocal: "Then they don't get a C of A." The HPC unanimously agreed to a certificate of appropriateness with the condition.

I had arrived at City Hall just a minute or two before the hearing began. As I slipped into a seat in the back row, I noticed two boxes sitting on the table next to Barry and wondered what they contained. It wasn't until well into the meeting, which lasted for two and a half hours, and long after the people from The Maker had left that Forman opened one of the boxes and helped himself to some of the contents: pastry from Bartlett House in Ghent.



  1. Can't blame him for sweetening the cast ... those pastries are delicious !

  2. I think it's important to keep in mind that the name of the commission is "historic preservation." It's not historic "reinvention." There are plenty of things that can be done by both gifted architects and well-meaning property owners to make properties "aesthetically pleasing," but neither of those interests are at issue here. I can claim some contextual memory of the days that the HPC was established and recall very clearly that the intent of this commission was to preserve Hudson's historic heritage before it was lost to the reinventors. (And we need to appreciate the urban renewal leaders who preserved Warren Street when so much other history was being torn down.) I hope the HPC can encourage the Makers to preserve the past, not reinvent it. And while we're at it, we can preserve the architectural that makes Hudson so special. Thanks, Carole for this report