Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What Happens Outside a Historic District

In Sunday's post about the public hearing held by the Historic Preservation Commission, it was noted that no new historic districts have been created since 2006. A recent comment by an alderman that her constituents were concerned "historic preservation was coming to them," as if having your neighborhood become a historic district were more dreaded than an infestation of Formosan termites or emerald ash borers, gives a pretty good indication of why creating new historic districts is not a task the HPC or any other group is eager to take on. Upper Columbia Street is a sad reminder of what can and does happen in areas that are not historic districts.

In August 2013, the house at 900 Columbia Street was demolished, despite efforts from the community to save it and the false promise from the Galvan Foundation to move it to a location on Union Street.

The state historic preservation office was called upon for help. The house was determined to be a very early 19th-century house, eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Place, but because it was not in a locally designated historic district, there was nothing to stop its being "disassembled."

The building that replaced it is of a kind of pseudo-Arts and Crafts design, totally out of character with the neighborhood, and the parking lot, positioned in front of the building, interrupts the street wall and looks suburban in a very urban setting.

Now the house next door, at 886 Columbia Street, is undergoing its own transformation. Originally known as the Dinehart mansion, the house was built as a single family residence around 1910.

The house's fate was probably determined sixty years ago, when it was purchased in 1958 by the Rip Van Winkle Foundation to expand its clinic. In the intervening years, the house has had a variety of uses, among them a funeral home, but it never returned to being a residence. Now the house is being converted into six medical office suites. 

Gossips followed the site plan review for this house by the Planning Board and reported what was said about the changes being proposed--those that were in the purview of the Planning Board: adding an elevator at the back of the building, expanding the parking lot, re-glazing the brick blue-gray. Nothing was said about enclosing the front porch, which was probably originally an open veranda, was enclosed with windows sometime in the last century, and extended to create a porte cochere probably during the house's stint as a funeral home. 

Since the project got its site plan approval, I've been watching the progress of the house's transformation into medical suites. When the columns that supported the roof of the porch were removed, I foolishly thought they were being removed for restoration and tried to ignore the fact that they'd been replaced by pillars of cement blocks. Even when great sheets of plywood appeared, I stuck to my pipe dream, but I was forced to abandon it when the ZIP wall sheathing appeared.

We as a community may mourn the loss of great houses and regret the 20th-century transformation of others . . . 

The family home of Sanford Gifford, at Sixth and Columbia streets

The house that once stood at the southern terminus of West Court Street

Photo: Evelyn & Robert Monthie Slide Collection, CCHS

but without the protection of the City's historic preservation ordinance, which only applies to buildings within locally designated historic districts, the demolition and re-imagining of Hudson's historic architecture can continue unabated, and it does.


  1. All one has to do is look at the filed construction documents to tell what something is going to look like. Time and time again I keep hearing the same story about how a builder blind sides the city, after its built.

  2. Some of the best architecture in the city was torn down. we see it from these photos. it is the story of America -- to tear down its heritage and history so it can learn nothing from the past.

    thank God for Historic Commissions -- they remind us of who we are, or should be.

  3. Our historic commission doesn't have nearly enough purvey over what happens with our buildings, and really, nearly all of Hudson should be deemed historic. All original land laid out by the proprietors should most certainly be, and many of the outlying neighbourhoods. Atrocities like this should never be allowed. Our cityscapes are disappearing, because property owners are insensitive to what they have. It's really a disgrace.