Friday, May 14, 2021

History Prevails

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. 

Barry spoke of the building's prominence in the city's historic architecture, saying that its early uses, first as an almshouse and then as a lunatic asylum, were important parts of the city's history. She said she was convinced by the 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."
COPYRIGHT 2021 CAROLE OSTERINK

12 comments:

  1. Looks like CHATHAM was following orders from Eric A man who does not like to be told what to do. A clear example of F--k you Hudson.

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  2. Good for the Preservation Commission, thanks Paul Barrett and Miranda Barry.

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    1. I think we should also throw out a thank you to Gossips for staying on top of and providing valuable insight on this issue to the community.

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  3. Given the wanton buffoonery on display in Hudson, we definitely need that structure to be reconstituted as an asylum.

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  4. I wonder about the sequencing here. Given that the structure needs a massive amount of realignment, wouldn't it seem that the big fundamental work should be undertaken first, before bothering to install windows?

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    1. This makes a lot of sense ! What are the ultimate plans for this building now anyway? Are they still hoping the City will take it off their hands and end up with the high costs of historical restoration?

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  5. Chatham follows his own conscience and does what he feels is the right thing to do- it involves resaerch and alot of correcions , drawing, and re-drawing till you get uit rught. I have been doing this for 40 yearsand marvel that you experts know it all but yet......

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  6. Doris Duke must be rolling in her grave that her magnificent Newport Restoration Foundation guidelines are associated with Galvan.

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  7. Walter Chatham ,answers the public concerns in the first line of his post.

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  8. I was puzzled by Paul Barrett's contention 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." The manifest benefit of natural light would not necessarily dictate the number of lights in a sash or their dimensions. On the premise that contemporaneous guidance would be more enlightening than vague supposition, I consulted the nineteenth century book "On the Construction, Organization and General Arrangments of Hospitals for the Insane." The author, Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, physician to the Pennsylvania Hospital of the Insane, notes that each room must have a window (p. 77). But the windows in patient rooms needed to be secure. Dr. Kirkbride, who worked among the insane for 16 years in three institutions, stresses the attetion that must be paid to security. He recommends lights that are only 5.5 inches wide, in addition to other security measures, such as wrought iron window guards. (p. 17) The book is available online.

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    1. Paul Barrett, historian member of the HPC, submitted this response to olanafanatic:

      My stance regarding the importance of light was not “vague supposition”. (Sounds like a term from Law & Order.) During my research, I consulted The Architecture of Madness; Insane Asylums in the United States by Carla Yanni (2007). Dr. Kirkbride’s book referenced by Olanafanatic was published in 1854 and later revised. Kirkbride defined guidelines for the construction of mental institutions in those contemporaneous times. Kirkbride was a self promoter and worked the press by leading reporters around staged wards. Even at the time, Kirkbride’s institutions were considered less than ideal. One reporter referred to Kirkbride’s hospital as “a great suburban palace prison.” By 1894 however, at the fiftieth anniversary of the AMSAII of which he was a co-founder, Kirkbride (although 9 years deceased) and his associates were publicly berated for their lack of research and their detachment from science. (Sounds familiar.) Many of Kirkbride's opinions on architecture and linear design were considered ineffective and harmfully counterproductive by 1900. He did however believe in the importance of exposure to natural light and air circulation and that both were crucial to a patients mental health. A review of some of his facilities reveals four over four or six over six windows but nothing to my observation as small as twelve over twelve.

      The Hudson City Almshouse was constructed in 1818. The Hudson Lunatic Asylum, an early adaptive use of this existing building, was a private undertaking by Dr. Samuel White. Opened in 1830, White was an early pioneer for the benevolent care of the mentally ill. (Kirkbride was only 9 years old when the Hudson facility was built and only finished his medical studies in 1832, two years after the Hudson Lunatic Asylum opened.)

      My decision for supporting the twelve over twelve window design was based on what I believe was the circumstance at the time, my personal intuition, and fact.

      * Dr. White relied on private benefactors to finance the operation. I felt it would have been impractical to replace nearly 50 windows, a very expensive undertaking, that were only 12 years old.

      * Twelve over twelve would have diminished the broader visual expanse and amount of light than larger panes would have provided. Early on, and even much later in Dr. Kirkbride’s time,
      natural light was considered important to one’s mental health. Going from a larger pane window to a smaller pane would have been counter to this belief.

      * My stance that the twelve over twelve windows would not have replaced earlier windows was based on a statement in an 1830 article that appeared in Rural Repository that reads “the windows rendered secured by the neatly constructed iron sash.” This implies the windows in situ were in fact modified for safety, not replaced.

      * Most importantly, my discovery of an 1831 illustration accompanying the above referenced article in Rural Repository describing it as the “correct plate” of the Hudson Lunatic Asylum showing twelve over twelve windows. The depiction in this illustration supports the twelve over twelve window design depicted in the only other illustration known to exist up until my discovery of this second one while researching the subject for this important HPC issue.

      Carla Yanni’s book, although not free and easy online, is available for $27.50 through Amazon.

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