For those following the Great Window Debate of 2021, I won't keep you in suspense. Today, the Historic Preservation Commission denied a certificate of appropriateness to the proposal to replace all the windows at 400 State Street with nine over nine windows, a proposal that ignored the evidence provided by an 1830 engraving of the building which shows the window configuration to be twelve over twelve.
Voting against the proposal were Paul Barrett, the historian member of the HPC; Chip Bohl, the architect member; John Schobel; and Miranda Barry. Phil Forman, HPC chair, and Hugh Biber voted in favor.
During the discussion that preceded the vote, Biber opined that, with the proposed windows, the building was "going in a very good direction . . . to make the building great again." Schobel responded, "If everything is a matter of style, what's the purpose of historic preservation." Responding to the idea, posited by Walter Chatham at previous HPC meetings, that the windows had been changed from nine over nine to twelve over twelve in 1830 when the building became the lunatic asylum, Barrett noted that they would not have gone from larger pane windows to smaller pane windows because, in the 19th century, proper light was considered to be important for the state of mind of mental patients.
window in the west gable, saying, "It belies the notion that the engraving might not be accurate." She recalled Schobel's statement at a previous meeting: "This is not the Aesthetics Committee; it's the Historic Preservation Commission." Barry concluded, "If we are going to do our job, we have to preserve our history."
Of some interest is that, in supporting his case for nine over nine windows, Chatham, who said he'd been criticized for using far-flung examples, today produced an example very close to home: 211 Union Street, the birthplace of General William Jenkins Worth, a building he said "sums up what a stylish house in the 19th century would have looked like." What Chatham didn't bother to mention, if in fact he even knew, was that this house was restored by Eric Galloway ten years ago in a restoration project that returned the building to what it was believed it would have looked like during the eighteen years (1794-1812) when Worth lived there, based on no archival evidence. Gossips' account of the public hearing on that project can be found here.
At one point in the discussion, Chatham told the commission, "The owner doesn't want to put in twelve over twelve windows. If nine over nine isn't approve, he will put in windows that simply replace what is there." What is there, for the most part, are the windows that were installed in 1865, when the building was refitted to be the private residence of George H. Power. Forman characterized Chatham's position as "My way or the highway." Code enforcement officer Craig Haigh clarified that like for like replacement, which would not require review by the HPC, means identical in every way. Schobel elaborated, "If the owner cannot reproduce the windows exactly as they are now, it is not like for like."
Although Chatham declared he was willing to "go to the mat" for what he called "a question of style," and Forman asked him why he was taking "such a hard line" with this proposal, things ended fairly amicably. Chatham told the members of the HPC, "Even if we disagree about the occasional windows, we all agree that the city is an architectural treasure, and many believe the entire city should be under the HPC."
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