Friday, August 10, 2012

On common ground: A successful proposal at the Historic Preservation Commission

The building as it looks today
Today's presentation to Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was a resounding success.  We agreed that this building--on the verge of total loss--was worth saving.  Jack Alvarez, the architect on the commission, suggested some minor alterations that will help make our project a welcome member of the neighborhood.   We're going to work together in the next couple weeks (as we've done in the past) to make this vision come true--the buidling WILL be saved!  The application for a Cerificate of Appropriateness was conditionally approved, pending the resolution of these minor details.  Below is the application that I filed a couple weeks ago prefaced by a statement that I read during the presentation.  I welcome your thoughts and opinions---dialogue is important and wanted:


What is this really about? We're talking about saving buildings that nobody has raised a finger to help or preserve in this community for decades. Buildings doomed for the wrecking ball. Any other developer would be pushing to have the buildings we work on condemned.  The orphan asylum at 620 State, the armory houses on North Fifth—is anyone else coming forward to salvage these buildings?  Should they sit as they are and rot until they are condemned?  My client has financed the stabilization and restoration of many structures in this city that—if not for him—would be all but lost.
The building we’re talking about isn’t one architectural style or form—it has evolved over time.  At one time it looked like a Greek Revival.  Additions that would’ve been deemed inappropriate by today’s rules were added as well as a sprawling front porch.  In its most recent form, it looked like a Gothic-style farm house.  Those details are gone now—stripped long before my client owned the building.  We are left with a mass that, after years of deferred maintenance, is on the brink of total loss.

I want to share a quote with you from my close friend and mentor, Michael Devonshire.  Mike is a principal at Jan Hird Pokorny Associates in Manhattan, a commissioner on the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, and on SHPO’s panel that considers and approves applications to the NRHP.  He is also a big fan of this city and intimate with my work here:
“Historic preservation is, ultimately, not about buildings, it is about culture – which is about humanity. Our cultural trajectories result in our understanding of the technologies that permit us to shape Earth-formed materials into buildings. Buildings become the shelters and settings in which we enrich ourselves more fully. Cultural preservation – in all of its diverse forms – is as important as the preservation of buildings, if we are to fully understand what it is to be human. The saving and passing on of buildings of significance helps us to resist cultural stagnation and fosters sustained renewal.”

Rendering of plan proposed
We’re not trying to raze the structure and build new in its place.  We are not applying to replace the fenestration with vinyl replacement windows, or the cladding with vinyl siding.  Nor are we asking to use inappropriate materials for the porticos, doors, and stairs.  Another colleague, Jean Carroon, FAIa, of the firm Goody Clancy in Boston said in April of this year:
"Stewardship is the heart of the environmental movement. The only way we can really take care of nature is by taking care of what is all around us and believing in the power of preservation.   Every time we extend the service life of a building, we avoid the environmental impacts of creating something new, we avoid the environmental impacts of our throwaway culture."

My client is proposing a design that is tasteful and wholly appropriate when examined in context with neighboring structures.  We are proposing a plan that reuses original building fabric—the foundation, framing and chimneys.  A plan that doesn’t add to the landfill or dump; a plan with minimum carbon footprint.  I earned my master’s degree in historic preservation at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst where I studied under Dr. Max Page.  Max’s focus is on the history and theory of the preservation movement.  Recently, Max testified before a committee that was tasked with considering the demolition of Lyman Terrace, a public housing complex built in the 1930’s in Holyoke:
"Historic preservationists are ultimately interested in the preservation of communities.   We believe that by honoring the past – by protecting the key buildings and landscapes of our communities, telling their stories, and keeping them in use – we build a more sustainable and just world.  Without the evidence of the past, and without examples of past achievements in architecture, our cities and towns would be lifeless.   Even as we build for today, we must maintain continuity with the past."

This plan respects the structure in its many forms, the neighborhood, and those who have called the building home for the last 160 years.  This is a proposal that would be welcomed—embraced—in communities elsewhere throughout the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys.  I urge you, the commissioners, to consider the benefits to the neighborhood; a neighborhood that could stand to benefit from turning a boarded-up wreck into an economically viable and attractive structure.  When I was an undergrad I recall learning about James Q. Wilson’s “Broken Windows” theory.   The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime; a boost that the corner of North Fifth and State could certainly benefit from.
Just as this theory has been tested and proven in dozens of cities across the United States, the adaptive reuse and repurposing of existing building stock has shown time and again to be an economically viable plan for urban development.  Historic preservation works.  But we, as historic preservationists, must not let personal agendas and politics get in the way of real opportunities for our communities.  This plan is one such opportunity.  We can work together and see this come to fruition.  I look forward to the opportunity to discuss further and iron out the details that will make this a reality.

Thank you for your consideration.  

City of Hudson, New York
Historic Preservation Commission
Application for a
Certificate of Appropriateness

The Galvan Foundation seeks a Certificate of Appropriateness to salvage the building located at 67-71 North Fifth Street and convert a blighted structure into an historically appropriate townhouse block in the Armory Historic District.  This proposal seeks to save a structure once slated for the wrecking ball and to preserve the masonry foundation, framework and fabric to the extent possible. The boundaries of the Armory Historic District[1] were chosen because “they delineate a rather compact suburban neighborhood which is rather rare in Hudson.”  It lies outside of the Proprietor’s original grid plan, north of State Street, on a road (now North Fifth Street) that originally led to Fairview Avenue.[2]  The evolution of architectural styles in this neighborhood follows a chronological order as one travels north through the district.  This is analogous to Byrne Fone’s observations when walking from the river to “further up the hill,” as 18th and 19th century structures give way to mid- and late-nineteenth century buildings.[3]

On 08 June 2012, Galvan Foundation Executive Director Tom Swope applied for a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) before the Hudson Preservation Commission (HPC).  While the application was technically deemed incomplete because it lacked the measurements of proposed windows and doors, the HPC denied the application based on “period of significance.” Further, it was stated that the changes proposed would make the building incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood, which one commissioner described as "very Victorian." This area of the district is not, in fact, representative of Victorian building styles.  Further, short of a significant individual or event being associated with this structure, the period of significance is generally identified as the date of construction.    
Evidence was presented that demonstrated that the original structure is a circa 1840-50, Grecian-style, temple front building similar to neighboring Greek Revival residential structures. The HPC cautioned against "interpreting what it might have been at an older time" and recommended that they "keep it closer to what we know it as."  No provision exists in the Historic Preservation law that directs commissioners to ignore evidence of a structure’s history.  Nor should the evidence considered be limited to images captured in surviving black and white photographs.  This was—originally—a Greek Revival building in an enclave of Greek Revival structures.
The photographic and documentary evidence in this application will demonstrate that this block of the Armory Historic District contains a variety of structures compatible and consistent with the proposed alteration to 67-71 North Fifth Street.   Just as the other nineteenth century, vernacular structures are not pure forms in this block, 67-71 North Fifth Street will depict an evolving form.  The proposed façade imagines a transitional phase in architecture that mirrors neighboring buildings—a Federal style townhouse block with Greek Revival details.  The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Rehabilitation of Historic Structures clearly define four approaches:
                    Preservation focuses on the maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property's form as it has evolved over time;

                    Rehabilitation acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property's historic character,
                    Restoration is undertaken to depict a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods; and,
                    Reconstruction re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.
Galvan’s proposal seeks to preserve the mass of the structure in its evolved form, rehabilitate the interior into living space, restore the façade to an appropriate Federal style/Greek Revival-like appearance by reconstructing architectural details that are entirely consistent with neighboring structures.  These are extraordinary measures to save an otherwise lost structure in an historic district. 
Historic districts typically have contributing and non-contributing structures.  In fact, language in Hudson’s preservation law differentiates between the two and provides definitions of each.  Yet no delineation exists between the two within the document that created the Armory Historic District.  This would indicate that all of the structures are contributing and, hence, should be considered on the basis of significance.  Significance is based on four criteria: 
  • Criterion A, "Event," the property must make a contribution to the major pattern of American history;
  • Criterion B, "Person," is associated with significant people of the American past;
  • Criterion C, "Design/Construction," concerns the distinctive characteristics of the building by its architecture and construction, including having great artistic value or being the work of a master; and,
  • Criterion D, "Information potential," is satisfied if the property has yielded or may be likely to yield information important to prehistory or archaeological history.
There is absolutely no evidence or indication that this structure is significant because of a connection to a person or event in history, nor is there any indication of archaeological value.  Therefore we must examine the structure for significance related to its architectural value under criterion C: “For architecturally significant properties, the period of significance is the date of construction and/or the dates of any significant alterations and additions.”[4]  This reinforces our proposal to recognize the structure’s original style and integrate it into a plan for appropriate rehabilitation that respects the neighboring, Greek Revival structures.  We have examined the portions of the historic preservation law that speak to the questions of appropriateness and compatibility.
Application of Hudson’s Historic Preservation law
§ 169-6. Criteria for approval of certificate of appropriateness.
A. In passing on an application for a certificate of appropriateness, the Historic Preservation Commission shall not consider changes to interior spaces unless they are specifically landmarked. The Commission's decision shall be based on the following principles:
(1) Properties that contribute to the character of the historic district shall be retained, with their historic features altered as little as possible;
The historic characteristics and features of this structure, as a Greek Revival that was expanded and “Victorianized,” are gone—removed before Galvan purchased the property.  Galvan is not seeking to alter any aspect of the structure’s historic features.  The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties states that “Changes to a property that have acquired historic significance in their own right will be retained and preserved.”[5]  Whether or not any of the long since gone “Victorianized” details or features “acquired historic significance in their own right” is a non-issue because they’re gone.  What remains is a mass, devoid of architectural style or characteristics that require preservation. 
(2) Any alteration of existing properties shall be compatible with their historic character, as well as with the surrounding district; and,
The details that may have defined the structure as a “Victorianized” Greek Revival are gone.  Several structures, all Greek Revivals, all within fifty yards of 67-71 N Fifth Street, and on the same street, are offered in exhibits below.  All are Greek Revivals or Federal style with Greek Revival stylings and decoration.  The proposed façade for the townhouse block, similarly, imagines a transitional phase from Federal style to Greek Revival.
(3) New construction shall be compatible with the district in which it is located.
Not applicable.
B. In applying the principle of compatibility, the Commission shall consider the following factors:
(1) The general design, character, and appropriateness to the property of the proposed alteration or new construction;
The proposed rendering depicts a structure wholly compatible with others in the immediate vicinity.  These structures are of the Federal and Greek Revival styles—not Victorian.
(2) The scale of the proposed alteration or new construction in relation to the property itself, surrounding properties, and the neighborhood;
The proposed project does not extend beyond the footprint of the structure in situ.  The mass of the building is re-used and incorporated directly into the revised plan.   
(3) Texture, materials, and color and their relation to similar features of other properties in the neighborhood;
The proposal calls for cedar clapboard siding and wood trim for the exterior cladding.  Colors will be historically appropriate and can be resolved through a design workshop with the HPC and/or dialogue with Jack Alvarez, architect for the HPC.
(4) Visual compatibility with surrounding properties, including proportion of the property's front facade, proportion and arrangement of windows and other openings within the facade, roof shape, and the rhythm of spacing of properties on streets, including setback; and,
Compatibility with surrounding properties is immediately evident once the neighborhood is actually examined.  “Proportion of the property's front facade, proportion and arrangement of windows and other openings within the facade, roof shape, and the rhythm of spacing of properties on streets, including setback” is virtually unchanged.  The sole exception is the roof.  Years of water infiltration has compromised the structural integrity of the roof.  Wholesale removal/replacement is necessary.  The proposed change calls for a largely non-visible, low-sloped roof that pitches to the rear.  This roof system is compatible and appropriate to others in the area.
(5) The importance of historic, architectural, or other features to the significance of the property.
The historic architectural features of the structure that created a “Victorianized” dwelling were lost through decades of neglect.  What remains is a mass and form which does not need to be altered significantly to produce an appropriate, finished product.  The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards direct us to respect the changes to the structure over time, and not to discount their significance, if appropriate.  We submit that this structure continues to evolve, and that the proposed alterations represent the next chapter in the history of this structure.

Above:  64-66 North 5th, a yellow house with white trim and a front porch across it.
Above: A white vinyl sided house, with Greek Revival doorway, at 87 North 5th.
Below is a white house with an ornately bracketed front porch.

Above - 108 North 5th Street:  A yellow house with a front porch and a flat roof not visible from the street.
Above: Greek Revival across the street from the proposed project location with possible original federal-style wing.  Note the Grecian-style portico and flat roof of the structure on the right.

Above - Detail of Greek Revival across the street. 
Above: 82 North 5th Street.  Currently under renovation, the HPC permitted this owner to center the doorway and change the size of the windows.  It still preserves its original it Greek revival two story porch featuring squared columns; the roof line was changed to make the attic into living space and it was turned into a gambrel roof.  The original configuration of the Greek revival portico survives.
Above is a photo of the entry door of 70 North 5th, which shows typical Greek revival features such as side lights and squared pilasters.  The door itself is a later, early 20th Century replacement.
Above is an image of 87 North 5th Street which features a Greek Revival entry way, but with a porch that goes is Victorian appearance.  The house now has an Italianate appearance overall.  It started out as a Greek revival which has been changed in the intervening years.

Above: Detail showing the Greek Revival door with its squared pilasters and side lights.

Above - Beyond Hudson:  The Samuel Lay House in Essex, Connecticut (ca. 1754 with significant mid-nineteenth century alterations.)  Erected in the Federal style with Greek Revival alterations.

[1] It should be noted that the Armory Historic District lies outside of the Hudson Multiple Resource Area and, hence, is not part of the Hudson Historic District (NRHP 85-003363)

[2] Teale, Jamison.  Historic district application form:  Armory Neighborhood Historic District.  27 January 2006

[3] Fone, Byrne.  Historic Hudson:  An Architectural Portrait.  2005

[4]National Register Bulletin: Ho

w to Complete the National Register Registration Form. Guidelines for Selecting the Periods of Significance. US Department of Interior, National Park Service

[5] Weeks, Kay D., and Grimmer, Anne E. The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Illustrated Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating, Restoring, and Reconstructing Historic Buildings, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995

1 comment: