Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another look: Moving the Robert Taylor House

On September 14th I will be presenting a new proposal to the Hudson Historic Preservation Commission to move the Robert Taylor House from its present location in an abandoned industrial area into a nearby historic district. There are several images that are not part of the presentation included in this article. I took them from Wolfe House & Building Movers' website. At the very end of the article is an amazing video of Wolfe's team moving the Ingersoll House in Schenectady. Here's a look at the application:



INTRODUCTION
Galvan Partners LLC seeks a Certificate of Appropriateness to relocate the Robert Taylor House from its present location at 68 South Second Street to a vacant lot at 21 Union Street in the Union/Allen/Front Street Historic District.  Research conducted by attorney Mark Greenberg demonstrates that the Robert Taylor House is neither a legal landmark in the City of Hudson nor is it in a local historic district.  A qualified examination [1] of the structure and research of its history has revealed that it is an English building type, not Dutch, and that it does not predate the Proprietors in Hudson.  We propose to move the building into a local historic district; presumably, the Commission will welcome the building into an area where it will be protected by the historic preservation law.  A similar structure exists near our intended relocation site at 10 South Front Street.  The question before the Historic Preservation Commission is the appropriateness of the structure at 21 Union Street. 

PRELIMINARY LEGAL ISSUES
The Robert Taylor House is neither an individual landmark nor is it located within a local historic district in the City of Hudson.  On or about October 15, 2004, the HPC passed a resolution purporting to designate the Robert Taylor house as an individual historic landmark.  Under state law, however, the HPC lacked the legal power to designate historic landmarks.[2]   The original law purported to give the Commission the power to designate structures or resources as landmarks and historic districts. (See City of Hudson Local Law No. 5 (2003), § 2(e)(III).)  This provision was amended in 2005 so as to comply with state law. The power to designate landmarks and districts resides with the Common Council. (See Local Law No. 4 (2005), § 3(e)(IV).)  The Robert Taylor House is not a legally designated historic landmark.

The resolution creating the Union/Allen/Front Street District states that the "precise boundaries [of the district are] defined in the Hudson Preservation Commission's document of recommendation for the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District designation dated August 21, 2006, and on file with the office of the City Clerk."[3]  The section of South Second Street that includes the Robert Taylor House is not within the Union/Allen/South Front Street District.  The list of properties that comprises the historic district does not include the subject property.  The boundary description in the Commission's "Historic District Application Form" does not include the subject property (the boundary description designates Cross Street as a southern boundary of the district).  Finally, the HPC's map identifying the boundaries of the City's historic districts shows that the Union/Allen/Front Street district does not extend to include the subject property.  The map posted on the City's website is included as figure four, below.  The Robert Taylor House is not located within a designated historic district.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SETTING IN CONTEXT

While it has been established that the Robert Taylor house was not legally landmarked, let’s consider the resolution purporting to establish the Robert Taylor House as a designated landmark with respect to the argument of setting and significance.    Nowhere in the document does the author or the HPC cite the significance of the structure’s specific location with respect to “viewscape,” real or imagined.  The structure was purportedly landmarked because it was identified with an historic person and because it “possesses special character or historic or aesthetic interest or value as part of the architectural, cultural, political, economic, or social history of the locality, region, state, or nation.”[4]  Nowhere in the body of the document is the location or proximity of the structure identified as having specific value or significance in an historic context.   We submit that the argument of location with respect to “viewscape” is esoteric and arbitrary, not identified in the code as a criterion for consideration (§ 169-4 Designation of landmarks or historic districts), and not relevant to this discussion. 
APPROPRIATENESS IN THE UNION/ALLEN/FRONT STREET HISTORIC DISTRICT

Would a circa 1800, English brick structure with a gambrel roof be appropriate in the district?  According to local historian Carole Osterink, “there is visual evidence that at least two other houses in Hudson at one time had gambrel roofs.”[5]  An early English brick structure with a gambrel roof is found in the district at 10 South Front Street (see figures two and three, below.)  This structure also has a shed style dormer roof.  Close examination of the timber framework of the Robert Taylor House and an interview of Neil Larson of the Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture Association confirms that the structure is not an example of early Dutch vernacular architecture.  Mr. Larson indicated that it is an English structure and, therefore, was not included in John Stevens’ definitive tome on Dutch vernacular architecture in North America.[6]  Hudson City Historian Patricia Fenoff, who grew up in the Robert Taylor House, dispelled the myth that the structure predates the Proprietors.  In a May 2012 interview, Fenoff said that Taylor built the house in the 1790’s.[7]  The Robert Taylor House is entirely appropriate in its intended location at 21 Union Street.
PRECEDENT:  HAMILTON GRANGE

There is ample precedence for the appropriateness of relocating historic structures when their current location is not integral to their historic status, particularly where, as here, the move will enhance an existing historic district and enable the property to be restored and presented in a more favorable setting.  In June 2008, Hamilton Grange National Memorial, the 1802 home of Alexander Hamilton in New York City, was relocated from a cramped lot on Convent Avenue to a more spacious setting facing West 141st Street in nearby St. Nicholas Park, where it underwent a complete restoration.  It was the second time the 298-ton mansion had been moved. In 1889 it was relocated from its original site on West 143rd Street.[8] 
The movement of the Hamilton Grange property is one of many noteworthy examples of historic properties that have been moved to better locations in order to restore them and/or present them in a more favorable setting.[9]  In that case it was no less than the National Park Service – the entity that sets the standards for historic preservation in the United States – that chose to move the structure.  Their rationale was simple:  the new location was a better setting.[10] We look to the NPS as leaders in historic preservation and cite the example of Hamilton Grange.  We submit that the Robert Taylor House, restored appropriately, on lower Union Street, will be an improvement for the historic district and the structure which currently sits alone in a shuttered industrial area (see figures five, six and seven, below.)

CONCLUSION
The Robert Taylor House is neither a landmark in the City of Hudson nor is it in a local historic district.  We propose moving the building from its current location, lost among abandoned warehouses in an industrial district, into a nearby historic district.  There, it will be restored appropriately and enhance lower Union Street while being protected by the Historic Preservation law.  The question before the Historic Preservation Commission is the appropriateness of the structure at its intended destination of 21 Union Street.  We address the criteria to answer that question below: 

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;

Not applicable as this structure is not in an historic district.  It is important, however, to examine whether or not the Robert Taylor House would be appropriate in the Union/Allen/Front Street Local Historic District.  Another example of an early English structure with a gambrel roof is found in the district at 10 South Front Street (see figures two and three, below.)  This structure also has a shed style dormer roof.  An examination of the timber frame and interview of Neil Larson of the Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture Association confirms that the Robert Taylor House is not an example of early Dutch vernacular architecture.  Mr. Larson indicated that it is an English structure and, therefore, was not included in John Stevens’ definitive tome “Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640-1830.”  ‘Gambrel roof’ does not always equal ‘Dutch.’  Further, we submit that the question is moot; the first time a certificate of appropriateness was sought, the HPC asserted—incorrectly—that the Robert Taylor House was in the Union/Allen/Front Street Local Historic District.  Certainly the HPC would not deny the inclusion of a structure that they once thought was a part of the district.

(2) Any alteration of existing properties shall be compatible with their historic character, as well as with the surrounding district; and

There will be no alteration of the structure to consider.  With respect to the question of compatibility in the surrounding historic district, the Robert Taylor House will be relocated to a section of lower Union Street with other period structures.  The new neighboring structures date to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  While the structure is reputed to have been built for Robert Taylor prior to 1800, the oldest record of its existence is a map from 1811.  Further, the period of significance for Robert Taylor as a “person of significance” is cited as being 1799 to 1827.   This fits perfectly with neighboring structures in the vicinity of 21 Union Street.  As discussed above, 10 South Front Street is a similar structure just around the corner from 21 Union Street that reinforces the assertion that the Robert Taylor House may be appropriately relocated here.

(3) New construction shall be compatible with the district in which it is located.

Not applicable as this is not a new construction project.  In so much as the relocated structure is viewed as a ‘new construction’-like project, the response is identical to criterion numbers one and two, above.   

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 Robert Taylor house is completely appropriate in the lower Union Street section of the historic district among similar structures built with bricks laid in common bond. The roof is an English gambrel type with shed style dormer roofs which is as uncommon in its present location as it would be in the proposed site.  The structure at 10 South Front Street provides an example of a similar building with a gambrel roof and shed style dormer in the immediate vicinity of 21 Union Street.   

(2) The scale of the proposed alteration or new construction in relation to the property itself, surrounding properties, and the neighborhood;

The property is in scale with the target neighborhood. It is of comparable size and scale of the houses on lower Union Street.

(3) Texture, materials, and color and their relation to similar features of other properties in the neighborhood;

The texture, materials, and color of the Robert Taylor House are wholly compatible with others in the intended location. It is a five bay, double pile, brick structure and, while it has a gambrel roof, as opposed to a gabled or low-sloped roof, it is of the same period as many of its future neighbors at 21 Union Street.  Further, there is a five bay, double pile, brick structure with a gambrel roof around the corner at 10 South Front Street.  Hence, a precedent exists for this house style in this part of the historic district.

(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,

The Robert Taylor House is visually compatible with surrounding properties.  The proportion and arrangement of the fenestration, roof shape, and the rhythm of spacing of properties on streets, including setback, make it clear that the Taylor House is an excellent fit for the proposed location at 21 Union Street.

(5) The importance of historic, architectural, or other features to the significance of the property.

Most historic, architectural features of the structure were lost through decades of neglect.  The appropriate treatments are not unknown variables and will be presented in a later application. 
 
PHOTO EXHIBITS

10 South Front Street.  The part of the building where the entrance now is appears to be an addition. The elaborate hood over the doorway and the oriel were both very likely added in the 19th century. Studying the side of the building reveals something more.   In the back, the gable has the characteristic gambrel shape, but in the front, the slope of the roof has been straightened out to make the front wall higher to allow a bracketed cornice, another 19th-century decorative element, to be added.   According to local historian Carole Osterink, “there is visual evidence that at least two other houses in Hudson at one time had gambrel roofs.” Photo, quote and information source: http://gossipsofrivertown.blogspot. com/2012/05/janes-walk-site-2.html

The rear of 10 South Front Street.  Note the shed style dormer roof.  Photo, at left, source: https://foursquare.com/v/hudson-merchant-house-a-boutique-inn/4dccaa12d164679b8cd4c39e

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A map of the historic districts in Hudson from the City’s website.  Source:   http://cityofhudson.org/content/Generic/View/34:field=documents;/content/Documents/File/567.pdf

The Robert Taylor House.  Source:  Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
The Robert Taylor House.  Lost in an abandoned industrial district.  Source: Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
The Robert Taylor House.  Rear elevation.  Source:  Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
Undated photo of the setting/view from Robert Taylor House (structure visible in the foreground, right).  Source:  The Gossips of Rivertown blog

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The "viewscape" today.  Undated photo of the view from the front of the Robert Taylor House toward the Hudson River.  Source:  The Gossips of Rivertown blog

 
 
 
 
View to the left of 21 Union Street.  Source:  Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
View across the street, to the right of 21 Union Street.  Source:  Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
View directly across the street from 21 Union  Street.  Source:  Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
View across the street, to the left, from 21 Union Street.  Source:  Ward Hamilton

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
View to the right of 21 Union Street.  Source:  Ward Hamilton



















[1]  Secretary of the Interior’s Standards:  Professional Qualifications Standards for Architectural Historian to perform identification, evaluation, registration, and treatment activities, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 36 CFR Part 61

[2] See General Municipal Law § 96-a; Matter of Snyder Development Co. v. Town of Amherst Town Board, 12 AD3d 1092, 1093 (4th Dept. 2004) ("General Municipal Law § 96-a provides, in relevant part, that the power to designate historic sites resides with the governing board of a [municipality]…")

[3] City of Hudson, NY – Historic Preservation documents – Resolution designating the Union-Allen-South Front Street Area as a Historic District  (http://cityofhudson.org/content/Generic/View/34:field=documents/content/ Documents/File/568.pdf)

[4] City of Hudson, NY – Historic Preservation documents, Robert Taylor House - 68 South Second Street (http://cityofhudson.org/content/Generic/View/34:field= documents /content/Documents/File/956.pdf)

[5] Gossips of Rivertown blog (http://gossipsofrivertown.blogspot.com/2012/05/janes-walk-site-2.html)

[6] Stevens, John.  Dutch Vernacular Architecture in North America, 1640-1830.  New York: Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture, 2005

[7] Two historic homes may be moved, by John Mason, Hudson Register-Star, May 8, 2012

[8] Moving the Grange, and Twisting It Around, Too, by  David W. Dunlap, New York Times, February 18, 2008

[9] National Park Service website (http://www.nps.gov/npnh/parknews/hamilton-grange-move-media-advisory.htm)

[10] Hamilton Grange; A Move to Move A Historic House, by  Christopher Gray, New York Times, March 21, 1993


 

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