Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Let It Be

Last Friday, the Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing about 59 Allen Street, the Charles Alger House. The subject of the hearing was specifically a proposal to reinstate two doorway openings in the west facade of the building and a window opening in the east facade. 

The two doorway openings, one on the first floor, the other on the second floor, presented no problem for the HPC. The window opening was another matter.

Walter Chatham, the architect for the restoration of this house owned by the Galvan Foundation, has persistently maintained that there should be a window in the "tower" on the east side of the building, although an 1858 engraving of the house shows no such window. Chatham believed that evidence discovered recently of an early window in the wall was proof a window has originally been there and justification for putting a window there again. At an earlier HPC meeting, Chatham tried to dismiss the evidence provided by the 1858 engraving, implying it was fanciful and claiming it included "a witch on a broomstick" in the sky and a "giant gargoyle" on the roof of the veranda.

On Friday, members of the HPC made a site visit to the house prior to the public hearing, to view the evidence for themselves. Later, at the public hearing, they heard from Matt McGhee, the house's most eloquent advocate. McGhee said of the proposed window in the tower, "It is a desecration to consider this." He asserted, "Putting a window there, meant to counterbalance one on the other side of the door, would be a terrible thing to do. . . . The use of blank space to balance built space, that's what's happening here."

As evidence that the wall was intended to be blank, McGhee read a passage from A. J. Downing's 1850 book The Architecture of Country Houses:
We should prefer to light this drawing-room from two sides only, so as not to have cross-lights--and for this reason we leave a blank wall, to be hung with pictures on one side. The semicircular or bow-window, 8 feet wide, is well-placed at the end of the room.
Both 19th-century architects A. J. Downing and A. J. Davis are known to have had a connection with Charles C. Alger, the original owner of the house, but it is not clear if either of them actually designed the house. 

McGhee suggested that a subsequent owner had put in the window, noting that the wall is very damaged. He pointed out there is a load-bearing arch for the window on the other side of the door, but there was none for this window. 

McGhee also addressed Chatham's remarks about the "witch on a broomstick" and the "giant gargoyle," identifying the "witch on a broomstick" as a water spot and the "giant gargoyle" as the chimney on 53 Allen Street, which can be seen just behind the veranda of 59 Allen Street. 

During the HPC's discussion of the proposal, John Schobel summarized, "What we have is this engraving. . . . There is no window in the engraving, and we ought not let them do the window. There is enough evidence there were two doors; there is not enough evidence there was a window." Chip Bohl, the architect member of the HPC, offered, "When I look at the physical evidence for the window, I don't see it. The wall has been modified at least three times." 

Paul Barrett, the historian member of the HPC, told his colleagues, "As much as Alger did have a connection with Davis, there is no evidence that [Davis] designed this house." Barrett suggested that Alger, who also had houses in Newburgh and New York City, may have built the house in Hudson as a pied a terre, a place to stay when the business of the Hudson Iron Works brought him to town. Barrett opined, "I don't believe there was a window there." Miranda Barry added, "It's clear that at some point there was a window, but it was not original."

In the end, Schobel declared, "We don't always have an engraving. We don't always have a house of this significance." He then moved to approve the doors and deny the window. The motion was seconded by Barrett and passed unanimously. Schobel thanked Chatham for his patience, and McGhee thanked everyone on the HPC for their intelligence.

The opinion of the HPC was that the window, the opening for which was recently discovered, had been inserted in the tower by a subsequent owner of the house. That subsequent owner may well have been Jacob W. Hoysradt, who was the mayor of Hudson for two terms (1859-1860 and 1867-1868) and for whom J. W. Hoysradt Hose Co. 8 was named. In a feature called "Private Residences," which appeared in the Hudson Evening Register in 1867 (and quoted extensively by Gossips in September 2010), the house is mentioned as one of the "very nice houses" to be found on Allen Street below Third:
On the Southwest corner of Allen and Second streets stands the residence of Mayor Jacob Hoysradt. This house is a correct specimen of gothic architecture, and was built by Charles C. Alger, from whom Mr. Hoysradt purchased it. . . .
Gossips hasn't yet discovered when Alger sold the house to Hoysradt.


  1. How about restoring the gingerbread elements? (Is that under consideration?)

    1. If you mean the verge boards, those were part of an earlier C of A review approved in March:

  2. Wouldn't a window installed 150 years ago by a former Mayor also be considered historic, or is there a rule that only the original elements are historic? What about things that were original and were removed, like the east entry porch? Why aren't those required to be replaced if the restoration is to conform to the original design?