Monday, September 26, 2022

On the Subject of Paint

The plan for repainting 529 Warren Street (pictured below) sparked a discussion at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday about the appropriate role of the HPC regarding paint on historic buildings. 

The HPC currently does not opine on paint color. In 2003, when Hudson's preservation ordinance was originally adopted, jurisdiction over paint color was deliberately omitted because a prime fearmongering claim uttered by opponents of historic preservation, usually in horrified tones, was, "They're going to tell you what color you can paint your house." Because paint is not permanent and does not alter the historic fabric of a building, the HPC only intervenes when paint is being removed from masonry or being applied to masonry that has never before been painted, because both actions can damage historic materials. 

Hudson today is quite a different place from what it was in 2003, and the plan for painting 529 Warren Street has raised the issue of paint and its use negatively impacting the historic character of Warren Street.

Craig Haigh, code enforcement officer, said he had known about this plan for painting 529 Warren Street for more than a month before it was brought to the attention of the HPC on Friday. He said he had studied the code and consulted with the city attorney to see if there was any legal basis for him to refer this to the HPC, but the conclusion was there was nothing in the code that addressed this. He also pointed out that a precedent had already been set for buildings whose colors and paint design disrupted the character of the streetscape. Examples cited during the course of the discussion were 249-251 Warren Street, which has been painted orange for more than a decade; 318 Warren Street, the location of Culture Cream; and 612 Warren Street, the art gallery called Shakespeare's Fulcrum. 

In the discussion of paint and its application to buildings, murals were also mentioned. Victoria Polidoro, legal counsel to the HPC, cautioned that any attempt to ban or regulate murals might violate First Amendment rights.

HPC chair Phil Forman noted that amending the preservation ordinance, Chapter 169 of the city code, required an action of the Common Council and warned, "If we try to change one thing, they could change another." He argued that the HPC "has a very good compliance record" and cautioned against creating "something onerous." Similarly, HPC member Hugh Biber opined that "to add more on to the process" would be problematic "from a PR point of view" and suggested any attempt to regulate paint would be "opening the door to more problems than it's worth."

Architect member Chip Bohl proposed that the HPC create guidelines for paint. "We cannot, as a commission, begin to control color," Bohl told his colleagues. "What we can control is what is painted." Bohl suggested, "A good guideline is you don't paint one wall a bunch of different colors." That prompted HPC member Miranda Barry to ask rhetorically, "Do we really want to outlaw murals?" She later opined, "It is a first amendment issue."

Early on in the discussion, Polidoro recommended that the HPC form a working group to come up with a proposal regarding the use of paint in historic districts. In the end, it was decided they would look into how other communities with historic districts handled the issue of paint--both paint color and paint application patterns. Although the commission generally agreed on this course of action, no members of commission were appointed to the proposed working group.


  1. There's a reason this type of design is not often seen on a building - especially in historically significant towns - it is not pleasant to look at everyday. This proposed painting design may look "fun" today, but it will be an eyesore after the first few days or unveiling. Let's please not promote this.

  2. It's one thing to champion historic preservation against destructive development schemes, but quite another to balance it with vibrant expression in a creative small city like Hudson. That said, the proposed scheme at 529 Warren is the only one of those shown that I'd call art.

  3. We don’t need style police. People have the right to express themselves on their property. Phil is right, it’s not the right thing to do. Mr. Bohl seems to want to push his style choices on others. Not very nice, Mr. Bohl. Not nice at all.

  4. The third photo, 612 Warren Street, is an eyesore and particularily galling to me since it is the address of my old shop The Irish Princess. The building was grey when I rented the shop and newly restored by Sedat Pakay. I opted to paint my doorway red. However at that time Hudson Urban Development had an office in Hudson and they did control paint colors - red was not allowed and I was asked to repaint it which I had to do. Nevertheless 612 ended up with a tasteful color. I'm shocked at the present display. To me, it looks really tacky. However, the orange building has faded in time and looks fine.

  5. wow ghastly design and not necessary. What is the point ? the first floor facade looks good in black, but the whole building as a sign is not saying much anyone wants to hear or see.

    We use to read "Learning from Las Vegas" in architecture school. In that treatise, buildings
    were signs that you had to see from cars as you sped by at 60 or 70 miles an hour. These ideas led to the mall sprawl that we see across America today -- A very very dated concept who's time has past.

    I thought Hudson was the anti- car "walking city" ? Please, lets keep it from being the screaming city.

  6. Some one was bound to do something like this ... so don't lose sight of the fact that it's ... PAINT > PAINT!

  7. If I recall correctly, the Federal facade easement grant program in the 1970s (?) contained fairly strict color limitations on Warren Street buildings. I don’t remember if this was limited to buildings which received funding for facade improvements, or was a condition for the whole street. The range of colors iirc was not very wide (or imaginative).

    A copy of the materials for the program was in the Hudson Library’s Historical Collection way back in the late 1990s. I don’t know if it has survived all the years of neglect at the old location, and the move.

    P.S. I don’t recall the color limitations ever being enforced in the past 25 years, but they may have been in the first years after the program, and then been forgotten.