Saturday, November 18, 2006

Own It: Support Building Conservation Friends

Building Conservation friend Alane Hohenburg's latest project is the development of the Troy Community Food Cooperative in the former Pioneer Food Market on Congress Street in downtown Troy. Alane and her husband Paul completed a major rehabilitation project at a house on historic Second Street several years ago. Building conservation faculty and students followed the project closely, and have enjoyed several fall opening parties at the Hohenburg home.

Alane has successfully purchased the former market building and, with a small group of organizers, is now moving forward with architectural plans, fundraising, and membership organization development. As in many downtowns, Troy has for several years lacked a grocery store, and this project will fill that gap. This is truly a grass-roots community development project, with Alane's organizing group including Pottery District homeowner and Russell Sage professor Cheryl MacNeil, Washington Park Association president Lynn Kopka, commercial realtor and former executive director of Troy Rehabilitation & Improvement Program Barbara Jones Higbee, Washington Park homeowner and Market Block Books employee Mary Muller, and Kevin Blodgett, who owns several historic commercial buildings in downtown Troy.

Market Block Books, another great preservation story which we'll save for another post, is Troy's fantastic independent bookseller.

The mission of the Troy Community Food Co-op is "to provide wholesome food at affordable prices in a cooperatively owned grocery store. The Co-op will support local agriculture, stimulate community revitalization and be a collaborative community partner."

The Troy Community Food Cooperative will be owned by member-investors, and this is your chance to get involved. Dues are $140 (Founding Member/Investor Level, with an annual renewal rate of $35); $30 WIC; and $30 for students with valid ID. Quarterly payments may also be made. All dues payments should be sent to Troy Community Food Cooperative, PO Box 402, Troy, New York, 12181. Visit the Coop on the web at or join the Yahoo group for email updates at

In addition to becoming a founding member, there are many ways to get involved and this will be a fascinating project. For more information, email market organizers at

The World of Planning (and Preservation)

Another school weekend is upon us, and this one falls within the feverish intensity that is mid-term. Classes included Economics of Historic Preservation, in which final papers were due, Building Conservation, and Materials Testing, with the students again traveling by train early this morning to the offices of Building Conservation Associates in New York City.

For our Friday evening session, we traveled downtown to hear about the work of River Street Planning & Development from firm prinicipal John Holehan, who will also be among those teaching Preservation Design Studio this spring. This visit was both an extension of the Economics of Historic Preservation class, and a preparation for the spring studio. John spoke about the firm's creation and evolution, then described its main lines of work, including preparation of local waterfront revitalization plans, comprehensive plans, market and feasibility studies, and grant writing. Completed documents and successful grant applications for numerous funding sources were reviewed, and there was much discussion of the planning process, public involvement, and project management and costs.

There was also preliminary discussion of the spring studio, which will focus on a segment of Troy's Congress Street. This formerly thriving commercial and residential area is situated between a large former public housing site being collaboratively redeveloped by the City of Troy, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Troy Housing Authority, Rensselaer County, and private developers, and the 15th Street corridor, which is also in the midst of revitalization. The studio will be organized around the National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street program's four principles of design, organization, promotion, and economic restructuring, and will involve neighborhood planning and interaction with neighborhood residents, businesses, and project developers. We will also be working with a fourth year School of Architecture studio which will focus on alley improvements.

The Building Conservation program includes two studios, one focused on preparation of historic structure reports, and one focused on planning and main street revitalization. Previous planning studios have taken us to the North Central neighborhood of Troy, the Village of Middleburgh in Schoharie County, and the Village of Waterford in Saratoga County. We will describe these studios in greater detail in future posts. We have been invited to do the Congress Street studio by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's office of Campus and Facilities Planning and are always on the lookout for future studio sites.

For those who may be interested in joining the Building Conservation program because of our reputation for the enjoyment of fine food, dinner was catered in by our favorite and frequent caterer, Linda Canty (Harvest Moon Catering). Featured were a delicious chicken curry, basmati rice, a green salad with grape tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and blueberries (a surprisingly nice addition), and seasonally festive chocolate chip-cranberry oatmeal cookies. As an army marches on its stomach, so does the Building Conservation program (we need to keep up our strength!).

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

FREE Lead Safe Work Practices Training, Troy, NY, 12/06/06

Thanks to our friends at the Preservation League of New York State for alerting us that a Lead Safe Work Practices Training will be held Wednesday, December 6th, 2006, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 2nd Floor, Troy City Hall at 1 Monument Square.

The training is being presented, at no cost to participants, by The National Paint and Coatings Association and Atrium Environmental Health & Safety Services, LLC. All interested parties are welcome, so feel free to spread the word.

According to the sponsor's flyer, "those encouraged to participate include home (or code) inspectors, contractors undertaking renovation, repainting, or remodeling work where lead-based paint may be encountered, maintenance workers, building supervisors and landlords, professional associations, state and local municipal agencies, community and social service organizations, and do-it-yourself homeowners. The goal of this program is to teach attendees lead-safe work practices and the strategies for implementing them. Many homes built before 1978 contain lead-based paint, so it is important that renovation, remodeling and repair activities use methods that reduce and control dust and debris created during work."

Contact Tim Mattice at the City of Troy, (518) 270-4619 for more information, online at, or toll free (866) 689-9484.

Those interested might also wish to consult the National Park Service's Preservation Brief No. 37: Appropriate Methods for Reducing Lead-Paint Hazards in Historic Housing, which includes extensive recommendations for further reading, and Marylee McDonald's "Looking Out for Lead Paint: A Primer on Dealing With Lead-Based Coatings in Old Houses," in Old House Journal Online.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Historic Preservation Grant Awards

The Friends of Washington Park, Troy and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany have both received Environmental Protection Fund grants from the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Building Conservation program faculty, students, and friends have been actively involved in these projects and have periodically toured both sites to observe specific building conditions and restoration projects.

The Friends of Washington Park received $90,000 for the preservation of Washington Place, one of the few remaining streets in the Capital District with its original 1840s granite paving blocks. The street is in very poor condition from accumulated years of patching related to utility work, normal wear and tear, lack of appropriate routine maintenance, and road bed settling. The Friends will work closely with National Grid and city engineering staff to restore the one-block area, and note that preservation of the historic pavers of Washington Place is the final piece of the revitalization of the southern end of Washington Park. They predict that in one year, all ten row houses along Washington Place will be restored and occupied, with a drivable street in front.

Established ca. 1838, Washington Park is located a few blocks south of Troy's central business district on Second and Third Streets, Washington Street, and Washington Place, and is an elegant residential neighborhood with large Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate brick townhouses, one church, and a former school facing a large private square. Notable buildings include Washington Place, a monumental block-long terrace of 10 Greek Revival townhouses that are still visible in spite of later remodelings. Enclosed by an iron fence, the park is one of only two privately owned urban ornamental parks in New York State (Gramercy Park in New York City is the other).

Led by indefatigable and enthusiastic Washington Park President Lynn Kopka, Washington Park has completed several major preservation projects in recent years. Building on the preservation of the park's lighting and sidewalks (slate and herringbone brick) through EQBA funding, they stabilized 8 Washington Place, a collapsed structure near the east end of Washington Place; the shell was sold in September 2005 to an owner occupant who is undertaking the extensive rehabilitation project. Washington Park also issues an eagerly awaited and much appreciated monthly newsletter, which aggressively promotes home ownership and restoration, encourages support for local businesses, and facilitates new friendships among the new and existing residents of Troy. An informal walking tour booklet about Washington Park's history and architecture, and additional information (including properties available for sale and rent) may be viewed at

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception received $350,000 to complete the restoration of the eastern facade. This project has been directed by Larry Wilson of Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects (MCWB). A nationally-recognized historic preservation architecture firm, MCWB has been active in the creation and development of the Building Conservation program and is the employer of three alumni.

The project will entail the removal of Portland brownstone, repointing the brick armature underneath and installing new sandstone. The restoration of the east facade will remove a public safety threat and enhance the Cathedral as a gathering space for year round public events.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Troy's Victorian Stroll & RCHS Greens Show

We spend a lot of time in the Economics of Historic Preservation and Preservation Design Studio 2 classes talking about and studying downtown revitalization, and the roles of the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors. As will often be described in this blog, the city of Troy (and surrounding municipalities) makes an ideal laboratory.

Like those of many industrial cities in the 20th century, Troy's economy suffered with the departure of industry to the south and overseas (and subsequent loss of jobs), the construction of the interstate highway system, and the development of suburban housing and shopping malls.

In the past forty years, however, the city of Troy and its residents have worked hard to revitalize its Victorian downtown. Several faculty members and many friends of the Building Conservation program have been actively involved in this effort over the years, and we will likely describe these efforts in many future posts. At the moment, although the city has come a long way and still has a long way to go, it is hard to keep up with all the projects. So many existing and new residents are rehabilitating houses, new shops and restaurants are opening up, and there are several notable large scale new construction and adaptive use projects taking place. In this dynamic climate, the Building Conservation program never lacks new sites to visit and learn from.

In the meantime, while we are in event announcement mode, we wanted to promote Troy's 24th annual Victorian Stroll, which will be held Sunday, December 3rd, 2006 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Initially developed by local businesses, government officials, and the Rensselaer County Chamber of Commerce to promote and reintroduce visitors and shoppers to our historic downtown, this wonderful event always has something for everyone, including fire truck rides, historic house tours, great food and music, Santa's reindeer, an ever-changing variety of shops, and 15,000 people from all over the region. The Stroll presents a great opportunity for residents and visitors to see the many positive changes occuring in Troy.

This year's "strollers," some of whom dress in elegant Victorian costumes, will find a number of new shops and dining establishments, such as several new additions to the Antiques District on River Street (including the Living Room), Spill'N the Beans Coffee and Bistro, on Third Street, and Tosca Grille and the Golden Fox on Broadway. Strollers will also see many building rehabilitation projects underway, including the long-vacant former Stanley's department store building (pictured above) at the southwest corner of Third and State Streets and the Tavern Building on Congress Street. Stanley's is being transformed into "The Conservatory," four floors of Manhattan-style apartments with basement-level parking and first floor retail by J.W. Pfeil & Company, Inc.

One of the highlights of the Victorian Stroll is Renssealer County Historical Society's annual Greens Show, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This event will be held Thursday, November 30th - Sunday, December 3rd, from 12:00 noon until 5:00 p.m.; family night is Thursday, November 30th, 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Visitors can tour the historic Hart-Cluett House (also known as the "Marble House on Second Street" and pictured above) and adjacent Carr Building, which will be beautifully decorated for the holiday season by the Van Rensselaer Garden Club.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Historic Albany Foundation Events

The Historic Albany Foundation has two upcoming events: a lecture and book signing to celebrate the Landmark Society of Western New York's newest book, Historic New York: Architectural Journeys in the Empire State (Tuesday, November 14th, at the NYS Education Building) and a Holiday House Tour (Sunday, December 10th). The tour encompasses a new selection of "uniquely decorated private homes in the Center Square, Hudson/Park, Washington Park, and Pine Hills neighborhoods", and includes stops at "the elegant Fort Orange Club, law offices in the Harmanus Bleecker Building, and the historic Israel AME Church - with a choir concert at 1:30 p.m. Assemblymember Jack McEneny will be signing the new release of his book, Albany, Capital City on the Hudson, from 1:30 - 3:00 at the Albany Institute." For more information and ticket purchase information, call (518)465-0876, x. 10.

You can also visit Historic Albany Foundation's fabulous Parts Warehouse at 89 Lexington Avenue in Albany, Wednesday - Friday, 12 noon - 5:00 p.m. and Saturday, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. The Parts Warehouse accepts donations only of historic salvaged parts that otherwise would have been destroyed or lost, sells to architects, contractors, designers, and do-it-yourselfers, and can make recommendations about craftspeople who are appropriate and available for your restoration project. Please note that Historic Albany Foundation strongly advocates the preservation of all historic buildings and encourages the retention of parts in their original settings. The Parts Warehouse includes doors and windows, decorative ironwork and stained glass, lighting fixtures, clawfoot and other tubs, plumbing accessories, sinks, toilets, mantels and fireplaces, radiators and heating, spindles, stair rails, newel posts, moldings, woodwork, flooring, and hardware, hardware, and more hardware.

Now doesn't that sound juicy and tempting????? What are you waiting for? It's Saturday...Go! You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Saratoga Springs Candlelight House Tour

The Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation will be holding its annual Candlelight House Tour on Friday, December 1, 2006. Seven houses, decorated for the holidays, will be open for touring in the Caroline and Circular Street neighborhoods. All houses are within walking distance of each other and the historic Canfield Casino, where the tour concludes with a silent auction and festive reception. Homes open at 5:30 p.m. and the reception begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $60/$50 (SSPF members) and are available online at the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation's web site or by calling the office at 518-587-5030.

Presentation on NYS Courthouse Architecture

As part of the current New York Court of Appeals Lecture Series, internationally renowned architects Henry N. Cobb and Paul Spencer Byard will present "The Shape of Justice: Law and Architecture," a program on courthouse architecture past and present at Court of Appeals Hall in Albany on November 16th at 6:00 p.m. With wonderful slides of New York courthouses drawn from their own design files and from New York's rich courthouse architectural heritage, the speakers will examine the role lof the courthouse as the center of the community and its symbol of justice, both now and historically. The event is free and open to the public; however, space is very limited, so RSVP to 518-455-7821 to save a seat. The program is co-sponsored by The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York.

If you are unable to attend in person, you may view the live webcast that will be posted on the New York Court of Appeals website.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Trip to Building Conservation Associates, NYC

On Saturday, November 4th, students traveled to the offices of Building Conservation Associates in New York City for their materials conservation class with BCA principal Raymond Pepi. This trip followed an introductory class that was held October 21st in our usual school of architecture classroom on campus.