Friday, July 9, 2021

This Morning at the HPC

Phil Forman, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, started this morning's meeting by asking how many people preferred Zoom meetings to in-person meetings. Everyone in the room, including the commissioners, who had slogged through the rain to get there, raised their hand. One enormous advantage of Zoom meetings, for the HPC in particular, is that screen sharing enables everyone, commissioners and observers alike, to see the drawings and plans submitted and to understand what is being proposed. Forman said he had sent a letter to the mayor's office, on behalf of the HPC, requesting that some form of live streaming of meetings be continued.

Some good news for everyone who has been disturbed by the narrow shutters on 542 Warren Street, formerly The Barlow now the Hudson Whaler. We learned this morning that the shutters now in place were installed "in error" and will be replaced with shutters of appropriate size. It is not clear if the new shutters will be attached to the wall, as these are, or installed with proper hardware. 

The plans for 9 Willard Place have been modified. They still involve adding additional windows to the west side of the building and creating front stairs that are the full width of the facade of the building, but the New Orleans style wrought metal balustrade proposed for the upper balcony has been abandoned in favor of a wooden balustrade, and the plan to build new stairs down to a newly carved out offstreet parking space has been abandoned as well. 


Instead there will be a new walkway from the front door to the existing stairs down to the street. The HPC approved the revised plan.

The Charles Alger House, 59 Allen Street, was back before the HPC this morning. In March, when the HPC gave a portion of the project a certificate of appropriateness, it was with the understanding that, as work on the house progressed and new discoveries were made, Walter Chatham, the architect for the project, would return to the HPC to report what was found. Today, Chatham appeared before the HPC to report the discovery of two openings in the west wall of the building, believed to be doorways, and the evidence of an earlier window in the east wall.

The evidence of a window opening in the tower on the east side of the building was particularly exciting for Chatham who has always maintained that a window had originally been there, or if there wasn't, there should have been. He has questioned the accuracy and downplayed the significance of an 1858 engraving of the house, which shows no windows in the tower except at the bottom and the very top. Today, he argued that his physical evidence should be accepted over an engraving that showed "a witch on a broomstick" in the sky and "giant gargoyle" on the roof of the veranda.    

The detail below shows what appear to be the elements Chatham was talking about. The witch is in the upper left; the gargoyle, looking a little like an enormous cat, is in the lower right.

After much discussion and side conversations, it was decided that the HPC would pay a visit to the house to see the evidence for themselves. As Chip Bohl, the architect member of the HPC, said, "The reuse of material in the openings can be superinformative." The site visit has been scheduled for 9:15 a.m. on Friday, July 23, after which there will be a public hearing on the proposal to reinstate two doors in the west wall and a window in the tower on the east side of the house. The public hearing will take place, following the site visit, at 10:00 a.m. in City Hall.

The final project to come before the HPC this morning was 724-726 Columbia Street, the former Smith Tire building, originally part of the Gifford Foundry, which is to become another brewery.

Chatham was seeking and was granted a certificate of appropriateness to remove the painted metal siding on the building and to restore the brick underneath. Bohl expressed the hope that the details of the brick pilasters were still there. Considering how it appears the metal was installed around the pilasters, it is very likely that a couple of them at least have survived.

It will be interesting to watch this reveal.

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