Thursday, October 8, 2020

The Recent History of a House

Yesterday, the outrage suffered recently by this house on North Fifth Street was shared on Facebook. The first photo below shows the house as it appeared in August, when it was last sold; the second shows the house as it appears today. The wrap-around porch, with its intricate latticework, is now missing. 

Photo: Zillow

The removal of the porch raises the question of how this could have happened. The house is situated in a locally designated historic district--the Armory Historic District, designated in 2006. Still the porch was removed without review or a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission.

Upon learning of this on Wednesday morning, Gossips contacted both Phil Forman, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, and Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer. Haigh said he was aware of the situation and was issuing an order to remedy. Still, this should never have happened. 

The fate of this house is testimony to the need for better communication about Hudson's historic preservation ordinance with new property owners in Hudson, but how can that be achieved? Whose responsibility is it to do that? Ideally, buyers should know a house is in a historic district before they buy it, which means realtors need to know this and disclose it. Failing that, it would be nice if, as soon as a sale in a historic district is recorded with the county clerk's office, the new owner would receive information about Hudson's historic preservation ordinance and the obligations of owners of buildings in historic districts.

Perhaps easier to achieve, though, would be to make historic preservation more visible on the City of Hudson website. As it is now, to find any information about historic preservation, you need to click on the tab "How do I?" and select this weirdly worded option: "Apply for Historic appropriateness on a change to my building?" That will bring you to the Historic Preservation Commission's page, where you can eventually, if you click on the right options, find out if your building is in a historic district and how you can apply for a certificate of appropriateness. It is not a clear path, and who is even going to attempt it if they don't already know their building is in a historic district? Perhaps instead there needs to be a page, under the tab "About Hudson," that tells about the city's historic architecture and the historic preservation ordinance enacted in 2003 to protect it. Maybe there could also be information about historic districts under the tab "Residents."

But to return to the house on North Fifth Street. It has had an interesting history in the past couple of years. Gossips did a post about the house in February 2018: "Take the Restoration Challenge." At that time, the house was for sale for $139,000. The post explored the history of the house, which for several decades in the 19th-century was the home of Leonard Geiger, a marble cutter of some skill and reputation, and his family. 

The tax rolls reveal that the house was purchased in May 2018 for $139,000 and sold in December of that same year for $300,000. At some point along the way, the house got a new coat of paint and work was done on the interior, and according to Zillow, it was sold in August 2020 for $510,000.

Update: At the Historic Preservation Commission meeting this morning (Friday, October 9), HPC chair Phil Forman reported that the owner and the contractor will be held responsible and required to reinstate the porch or rebuild it as it was. It is not clear if any of the materials were retained or if everything will have to be replicated.


  1. Wow! Initially, this looks terrible for everyone! I certainly hope that the new owner has plans to reinstall the beautiful porch. Thank you for pointing this out - this certainly needs to be addressed by the community. I am still in shock.

  2. Ignorance of the law is no excuse...Not alone should the Homeowner be held ,the Contractor who removed the poch should be...Its time to update Hudson's code Now exterior work to be done without a Permit, its pretty much that way now.You will always have the few who have the attitude, Cant tell me what can and be cant done .PUT SOME SERIOUS PENALTIES IN PLACE.IT WILL SOON CHANGE THEIR ATTITUDE..That porch should be rebuilt just the way it was..

  3. So there are permits in the windows, issued by Craig Haigh. Shouldn't he have known the procedure or does he just rubber stamp permits? There is a sign on the front lawn. Is that for the contractor doing the work? Someone dropped the ball. Hopefully the house won't sit in dilapidation like this for long, especially since it's supposed to be a rough winter. SMH.

  4. Don't expect that pretty porch to return. Our Code Enforcement has no teeth. Okay, they are not completely toothless, but the few that are remaining from decades of the same old approach and the unrevised City Code are not sharp at all. It's another "Sorry. Nothing we can do about it."

  5. Was a real estate agent involved in these sales? It seems to me that the agent would have to divulge the historic preservation issues to any purchaser and the purchaser would have to sign a document acknowledging the necessity to have work approved. When I think of the hoops I have gone through (on a property without a real estate agent involved)to comply with some truly ridiculous requirements, and I see the blatant disregard here, it inspires deep I hope they have to pay a big fine PLUS restore the porch. If they could pay over half a million for the house, they can afford a fine. I was not allowed to replace a crummy wrought iron railing circa 1960 on a circa 1900 house.

  6. With all due respect Carole, it is wrong not to give us the address of this house, so that we might know who the owner is. And then we might be able to track how this little mishap happened. But we also need to know that years of defanging the preservation commission -- shifting, for instance, responsibility for preservation enforcement to the code enforcement officer, who shouldn't have -- and doesn't have -- responsibility -- has set us up (set our historic houses up) for this kind of travesty.

    1. You can't walk over there and see the house for yourself and find the number? Carole's got to hand it to you? Give her a break. I don't think the problem is the owner or the contractor or whoever decided to do away with the porch. The question is, did Craig Haigh explicitly let the building permit applicant know about the rules regarding this house, either verbally or in writing, or both? I have my doubts.

    2. So, I can't ask a question, but Unknown can? There are lots of questions here. I applaud HPC Chairman Phil Forman for saying that the new homeowner will be held responsible for the porch removal. But we still need to know how and why it happened.

  7. The question that immediately came to my mind is whether the demolition of the porch required a permit issued by the code enforcement officer, and if so, whether or not one was issued. (It is possible that the CEO simply missed that this home was in an historic district, which absent careful procedures and controls, is a risk for historic district areas north of Warren. Aside from the legalities, that front porch was what gave the home architectural beauty and distinction. Now at least for the moment, it is just a wooden box with no aesthetic appeal to me whatsoever.

    Again irrespective of the legalities, the owners of architecturally distinguished homes should be their stewards, and even if not of the most economically profitable design, to deface them is an execrable desecration.

    If you think a home is an ugly duckling that is in an historic district (and I think many of them are - sue me), don't buy it. Sure, one can argue whether everything in historic districts older than 50 years should be put "under glass" as it were and preserved "forever," but I don't personally think the home in question was in any way, shape or form an ugly duckling - until the new owner made it one. Sad.

    Perhaps the new owner planned to build a new porch, and just ignored or was unaware of the legalities. If so, that to me would make the chap less of a Philistine than otherwise.

  8. As to what is its address contretemps, just click on the hyperlinked word "zillow" in Carole's commentary, and voila. Even absent that, I could have ascertained the address and the owner's name on my own in about 90 seconds flat, but then I am a pushy, nosy lawyer type. Who knew? :)

  9. I've heard everyone in town talk about this project. How about getting the facts straight before condemning the new owner.