Not In Our Park!

red check follow-up: Two resolutions passed by the City of Schenectady City Council on June 12, 2017, represent a compromise solution that we hope will sacrifice, at most, less than 0.1 acre of parkland at Riverside Park. See the posting “what the parkland alienation resolutions mean” (June 12, 2017), at suns along the Mohawk.

 Please Note (Monday, May 3, 2017): For a detailed summary of the May 2 informational meeting on the Project, see our post strong, thoughtful opposition to pump station in the park” (May 3, 2017).

Click this link to see the 25-page Presentation to the Stockade Association Board of the proposed North Ferry Pump Station Project, given on March 1, 2017, by architect Frank Gilmore and CHA’s lead engineer Mike Miller. And, click this link for treatment of the Pump Station in the May 2017 Stockade Spy.

Original Posting

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. . above: [L] the West Lawn of Riverside Park; [R] a rendering (from March 1 Presentation to SA Board) of a proposed pump station to be located on the West Lawn. . . For many more photo images, please seethe at-risk West Lawn of Riverside Park. .

below: a scene from the Stockade Association Memorial Day Picnic on the West Lawn (1970s; from “The Stockade – A Past Reclaimed,” Stockade Association)

WestLawn-MemDayPicnic

This afternoon, April 27, 2017, I sent substantially the following email message to the Stockade Historic District Yahoo! Email group:

Thank you, John [Samatulski], for saying aloud and in print what has to be said, and saying it so well. [click here for John’s email to the Stockade Yahoo Group] 

These points need to be made about the Stockade Association Board’s failure to report in a timely manner to the SA membership and the neighborhood on the character of the proposed Pump Station Project:

  1.  screen-shot-2017-04-18-at-2-08-05-pm When presented months ago with the Renderings of the New Pump Station Project there was NO OTHER PROPER RESPONSE FOR THE BOARD of an Association chartered to protect and preserve the residential nature of the Stockade, than to say “NOT IN OUR PARK” and “NOT BLOCKING the VIEWS of and from Stockade properties”. 
    1. westlawnfromesplanade That is even more imperative when the Objectives stated in the SA Constitution and By-Laws include “Development and improvement of the riverfront area”; Protection of historic properties [including their economic value]; and the Promotion of safety and the “aesthetic and physical improvement of the neighborhood”. 
    2. And, because SA has taken upon itself, and is seen by the broader community as having, the role of “Representation before any City or County governmental agency or component on matters affecting the neighborhood”, its failure to strongly oppose a proposal allows the Applicant, and City Hall, including the Mayor, and the planning and historic districts commissions (and their staffs), as well as the Media, to say with emphasis, “Even the Stockade does not oppose this!” [They literally did that with the Casino.]
  2. It does not take an engineer to know that a new pump station is totally inappropriate in Riverside Park, a small gem of a Park, with very limited lawn space. 
  3. A pump station project, and probably any project, that greatly blocks the viewing of the Stockade from any public space, especially rare views of our backyards, lawns and gardens, is totally inappropriate.*/
  4. newpumpstationcollge Our job — as residents, owners, and lovers of the Stockade, as well as the Board and the entire Association — is to say “NO! NOT IN OUR PARK! FIND ANOTHER SOLUTION.” The job of the City and its experts is to find a solution that meets the wastewater requirements of the City and State, or prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the new Station must swallow up part of the Park and destroy the Stockade viewshed.
  5. Delay This! By not alerting the neighborhood of the project proposals that were presented months ago to the Advisory Committee and then the SA Board, the Board has played into the hands of the City, its lawyers, and the project proponents, who will surely use a purported lack of time for complying with its agreement with the State as an excuse for not finding a suitable alternative. The Board members’ job was not to wait around for fine-tuning or the eventual unveiling by the proponents, so that they could say that comments were addressed, and a shrub or two was added or window glare reduced. Their job was to sound the alert that the quality of life in the Stockade was being threatened.
  6. An SA officer or Board Member, or candidate for those positions, who does not agree with one or more of the points above should declare their disagreement and give reasons.

You can find photos of the endangered West Lawn of Riverside Park, and images of the Renderings, at “suns along the Mohawk”, at http://tinyurl.com/WLawn . 

  • On a personal note, I must say that it is a relief to have others raising, in public and forcefully, issues that I have been addressing, and more. We cannot hope to protect the Stockade by playing (silent and minor) partners to so-called Partners in Progress at City Hall. Advocates need to advocate avidly to achieve their goals, and to be respected by politicians. And, we need to use all the available means of communication, such as email and the Stockade Association website, to keep the Stockade neighborhood informed ofnimportant matters.

Thanks for taking the time to consider these points. Please plan to attend the public presentation by CHA of its Pump Station Project on May 2, I hope we can be told the location and time ASAP.  at 7 PM at St. George’s. 

David at Cucumber Alley

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*/ Any Board or Association member who is asked to review a project in or impacting the Stockade neighborhood should have on the tip of his or her tongue or fingers reference to The Dept. of Environmental Conservation’s policy statement on Visual Impact Assessment [available at http://tinyurl.com/VisImpactDEC]. The DEC Visual Impact Policy Statement, among other things, says that a formal visual impact assessment is needed, with at least a line-of-site survey, whenever any component of a project can be seen from an historic district, such as the Stockade, with adequate mitigation measures taken to prevent any significant visual impact on or from the District.  [The Visual Impact Policy should also be posted at the Stockade Association’s very underutilized website.]

Even The Galesi Group and Rush Street Gaming stated, in their Application to the Casino Location Board for the Schenectady casino license, that a Visual Resource Assessment (VRA) in accordance with the NYSDEC Visual Assessment Policy was needed to identify the potential impact of the proposed development scenario on the visual character of surrounding neighborhoods. [Because they ignored the 80’ pylon tower in their own VRA and stressed the low-rise nature of the casino complex, they said it would have no impact on the Stockade.]

red check What’s So Special About Riverside Park?

Riverside Park is only 6 acres of land, stretched along 1/3rd of a mile of riverbank. In thinking about the impact on the Park, I hope decision-makers will keep in mind three sources of praise and caution from outside the Stockade:

  •  On January 26, 1998, a Resolution of the Schenectady City Council resolved, that Riverside Park “is recognized as a unique component of the [Stockade Historic] District and best serves residents and visitors as a quiet place to view the natural beauty of the Mohawk River.”  In addition, the Resolution stated that “to change its special nature would deprive visitors and disadvantage the homeowners who are the caretakers in this Historic District of national importance.”
  • With its combination of urban waterfront beauty and relative tranquility, Riverside Park was praised by the editor of Architect Forum as “probably the finest thing of its kind in America.” (Dec. 1961) 
  • In addition, and not surprisingly, the Mohawk River Waterfront Revitalization Plan for Schenectady County (2010) has noted that even recreational changes to the Park have been controversial. Therefore, the Plan notes (at 71): “Identifying the appropriate intensity of recreational use along the river has been a sensitive issue in the area of the residential Stockade neighborhood. Riverside Park provides a walking trail from which neighborhood residents view the river. The most active use relating to the river is the occasional fisherman. Thus, the nature and location of the Park “inhibits any significant expansion of use other than to improve it as a scenic overlook and to improve pedestrian and bicyclist access and connection to adjoining areas.” As a result, the only recommended projects in the Plan for Riverside Park involve making improvements in the park’s “current amenities,” connecting it to East Front Street Park and the Union Boathouse, better accommodating bicyclists through path improvements, and creating an alternative Bike-Hike trail. [Nope, nothing about losing a major piece of the Park for a modern, industrial-like project.]

Nicholaus Block building demolished amidst dissembling and dismay

. . click on the above collage for a larger version . .

detail from Howard Ohlhous photo

  Admirers of the Nicholaus Block building and advocates for preservation of our City’s fine old buildings were instantly filled with dread Friday afternoon, April 7,2017, when the Schenectady Police Department announced the immediate closing of the blocks alongside the Building. We were told that an engineering firm monitoring the structure had concluded that the building posed an immediate threat to public safety and could collapse. Sadly, we were right to fear the worst: by late that evening demolition had began on the grand structure, a beloved relic of the City’s German immigrant culture. There will be much finger-pointing and wringing of hands in Schenectady over this tragic episode in our history of preservation failures. But, I will try to keep this posting a eulogy for a structure that was a wonderful piece of Schenectady history for almost two centuries.

  • You can read the explanations given by our civic leaders in “Schenectady’s Nicholaus Building reduced to a memory: Overnight demolition brings down two centuries of history” (Albany Times Union, by Robert Downen, April 8, 2017); and “Schenectady’s Nicholaus Building: What happened? The iconic building was erected in 1820″ (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Daniel Fitzsimmons, April 7, 2017). Suffice to say that Metroplex Chairman Ray Gillen and both the Mayor and Corporation Counsel of Schenectady say that they did everything they could do to save the building, including having engineers draw up a plan to stabilize it and offering to buy it, with no response from the owners, Viroj and Malinee Chompupong. As of the posting of this piece, the Chompupongs have not commented on the course of events since he building shifted and was evacuated in April 2016.

My research last night uncovered two excellent histories of the Nicholaus Block Building, and I recommend your taking the time to read them, rather than having me grab a few quotes from their narratives:

  1. An extensive piece at MyUpStateNYPhotos, originally posting on March 18, 2016, and updated yesterday, April 8, 2017. In addition to the building’s history, it has a good description of the problems that began in April 2016 during excavation for the Electric City Apartments complex next door, and ended in the demolition. It also notes that Nicholaus building suffered a large explosion in 1975, and the recent widow Mary Nicholaus considered demolition, but decided to repair it and continue.
  2.  A weblog post at the Grems-Doolittle Library Blog of the Schenectady County Historical Society, Good Food Without Frills”: Nicholaus Restaurant in Schenectady (May 14, 2014, by Library Volunteer Ann Eignor), which has photographs of both the exterior and interior of the building (including its famous bar; see image to the right from the Larry Hart Collection), as well as the Nicholaus family and restaurant staff, and a menu with German Specials, plus Loppa, a macaw parrot that was a longtime mascot at the Bar and was stuffed upon its demise and later donated to the Historical Society.

A Gazette article from 2014 gives a quick summary of the building’s history. It has the now-ironic headline Schenectady’s iconic structures remain amid era of change: One of the city’s best features is its diverse stock of buildings, old and new, crumbling and stately” (by Bethany Bump, Sept. 7, 2014). The youthful Ms. Bump tells us:

Nicholaus Block (266-268 State St.): Modern day Schenectadians know the brick building at the corner of Erie Boulevard and State Street as the home of Thai Thai Bistro (and before that, Bangkok Bistro). One of the few remaining buildings from the Erie Canal-era, it features bay windows and an ornamental roof engraved with fleurs-de-lis.

The Nicholaus Hotel opened here in 1901. It housed the German-themed Nicholaus Restaurant until 1975 and then Maurice’s Readi-Foods until 2004. A good part of the building was actually built in the late 1820s, soon after the Erie Canal came through, and was used for many years as a saloon.

 

coming soon, without the Nicholaus Block gracenote

The editor of this website moved to Schenectady in the apparently pre-modern year of 1988, and my first residence in Schenectady was on the block across the street from the Nicholaus Building, at Barney Square. That was the era of the popular luncheon spot Maurice’s Readi-Foods. I immediately admired the style of the old building, as I walked to my first local job, at Family Court. Since then, I have admired the beautiful bar and marveled at the Hofbrau-Haus murals that still graced the main dining room of the two subsequent Thai restaurants. I’ve continued to admire the building over the years, and am happy to say that I walked past it almost daily in the past month, on a new strolling-exercise regime. I am going to miss the Nicholaus Building, and surely will be mumbling about the bland modern building that will soon dominate that block.

 . . click this image to see County Tax Records for the Nicholaus Building; Note: The lot size is 34 ‘ by 114’; it was assessed at 2016 for $315,200. A short link for the above Tax Info is http://tinyurl.com/NicholausTax

The Nicholaus Building holds far more “personal” memories for the residents of Schenectady than most of our other lost structures. I hope its demise will inspire sharing those stories (for example, by leaving a comment to this webposting). Whether it will cause the populace to be more vigilant and more vocal about our desire to preserve the dwindling stock of fine old buildings is another matter. Will Mssrs. Gillen, McCarthy, Gardner, and other decision-makers who act as if all development is good development, and all developers civic-minded heroes, get our message? We need to raise our voices much higher.

. . as if it were never there . . 

Postscript: I originally planned to keep this posting eulogistically upbeat, but the Snowmen At the Gates part of my brain has to gnash its teeth a bit. Yesterday, I wrote at the Gazette website in a Comment:

The fate of the Nicholaus building represents the further loss of our trust in the leaders of our City and Metroplex. After so many half-truths, so much deception, and so many promises of preservation not kept, we never know if we can trust the information and excuses we are given for their actions and inaction. We keep hearing about a Renaissance in Downtown Schenectady, but it often feels like the Dark Ages.

Last week, our leaders held a party to congratulate themselves for bringing the Casino to Schenectady, giving themselves far too much credit, in my opinion. They also boasted about spending two years orchestrating a free shuttle from Downtown to the Casino, at taxpayer expense. Perhaps Metroplex and City Hall should have spent a bit more time trying to save the Nicholaus Building.  They might have, for example, pried some money from Rush Street Gaming, which has voluntarily given millions to other cities for community projects, to use to fix the Nicholaus stability issue. Or, a Metroplex loan or grant for the Nicholaus might have been offered, as such architecture is also a draw for downtown.

Now, we hear the City “will be seeking to recover the $168,000 cost of the demolition from the Chompupongs.” I’m scared to speculate on what will replace the Nicholaus Building in that wedge at the corner of Erie Blvd. and State Street. Perhaps, we will have a little bit of lovely green space, to compensate a bit for all of the green grounds originally promised for Mohawk Harbor, but now covered with parking lots and crowded structures.  If it is eventually replaced by another building, I hope we will not get yet another less-than-mediocre façade slapped at too-little-expense on an unremarkable structure. Is that too much to ask? In Schenectady, perhaps it is.

See Sara Foss’s opinion column, “The Nicholaus Building could have been saved: Sometimes buildings fall into disrepair … but that’s not what happened here” (Daily Gazette, April 11, 2017). “How it will all play out is anyone’s guess, but if you ask me there’s plenty of blame to go around. The big losers are the residents of Schenectady, who lost a valuable piece of history last week and still don’t know exactly why.” And, see: “Need answers in Nicholaus demolition: Serious questions remain about building’s destruction” (Daily Gazette, April 17, 2017), an OpEd piece by Gloria Kishton, chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation. Ms. Kiston wrote:

After the building was damaged, it was appropriate for Metroplex to hire a well-regarded engineering firm to provide plans for stabilizing the building.

But, they should also have paid for the repair work. Highbridge/Prime is receiving a $1.2 million Empire State Development grant through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Economic Council.

These funds should have been used to repair the building.

It was outrageous and unjust to expect the owners to pay for repairing damage others caused, and to recoup the expense through insurance or litigation.

Adding insult to injury, the city of Schenectady intends to hand them the bill for the “emergency” demolition!

Now that the pesky Nicholaus Building is gone, Highbridge/Prime will proceed full speed ahead with its development.

. . share this post with this short URLhttp://tinyurl.com/NicholausGone

For More Downtown Dismay, see:

 . . Nicholaus what?

appreciating and mourning IOOF’s Temple of St. Paul (with demolition update)

follow-up: . .   . October 2012: another bait-n-switch?  Click on collage to see the story . .

and, see Nicholaus Building demolished (April 8, 2017)

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– IOOF’s graceful and “strong little structure” (Gazette, A1, Jan. 31, 2012) is almost gone –

   

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– click on a photo for a larger version

  update (Jan. 31, 2012): Today’s the fifth day of the physical demolition by Jackson Builders of the Odd Fellows Hall at 440 State St.   The terra cotta façade is gone and the entire building will be removed over the next few weeks.   This slideshow includes photos taken about 7:30 on this gloomy-gray morning at the site plus shots taken on November 20, 2011, when Tom Hodgkins and his children held an Architecture Appreciation Party for the building.  That story is below in the original posting. At the bottom of this posting you will find a Gallery with each of the photos; clicking on a Gallery image will bring you to a larger version; scroll over a Gallery image for a description

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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– condemned façade of St. Paul’s Temple – IOOF Hall – during the Hodgkins Family Appreciation Party and Protest (20Nov2011) –

   Tom Hodgkins and his three kids had an Architectural Appreciation Party in front of 440 State Street the past two mornings.  As Tom explained in a message to our Stockade neighborhood email list Saturday night:

“We had fun today at our architectural appreciation party.  The kids played music, carted around the wagon, ate candy and fruit, while I discussed the fate of the building with pedestrians.”

. . click on a photo for a larger version; scroll over it for a description . .

Tom told the Gazette in the Sunday paper today: “We’re just appreciating this building and the values it embodies before it’s gone.  It’s already been done.  The city’s been bought out.  It’s done. We’re just here to appreciate it before it’s gone.” See “Man stands alone in protest of plan to raze historic Schenectady hall” (Sunday Gazette, by Bethany Bump, November 20, 2011, at B5; online by subscription) More of the story can be found in Thursday’s Gazette, in “Planners approve demolition of historic Odd Fellows hall” (Daily Gazette, by Justin Mason, November 17, 2011, at B1; online), which explained:

“Wreckers await the former International Order of Odd Fellows hall in the very near future.

“Members of the city Planning Commission narrowly approved drastic changes to a plan they approved in July, allowing building owner Tony Civitella to demolish the entire structure at 440 State St. . . .

“The approval will allow Civitella, the president and founder of Transfinder, to immediately move forward on demolishing the entire building. His original plans called for the leveling of the rear of the structure, but to retain the ornate terra-cotta facade and about 20 feet of the building’s front.”

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The Planning Board majority, with virtually no time for the public to weigh in, rushed to impose the death penalty on the Temple after Civitella came up with an engineering report saying the façade cannot be saved, and pressed for immediate action on his new plan due to imminent winter weather.  We’re supposed to believe that no one at Metroplex, no one in Civitella’s organization, and none of his architects thought to ask the obvious question last Spring: “can the façade be saved and can we afford to do it?” Instead, the building gets purchased at fire-sale rates, Metroplex promises grants — including a $60,000 façade grant — and the project is announced with great fanfare and applause for Mr. Civitella and Metroplex.   If there was no engineering report prior to the first approval, lots of heads should roll. Ditto, if there was an engineer’s report that endorsed the façade-saving plan.

  For me, it’s much too much like the sorry Gillette House bagel shop story from January, 2011, leaving the same bad taste in my mouth.   Shortly after much hoopla and back-slapping over a plan to “save” an important historical building, the shrewd businessman-buyer discovers his original plan is simply no longer viable, and civil servants with the obligation to look hard at the situation and to preserve and protect our architectural heritage give in without demanding lots of facts and taking time for appropriate consideration. It is outlandish that a decision could be made when Civitella only submitted his drastically altered plans two days before the Planning Commission hearing.   Does anyone know when Civitella got the first no-go engineer’s report and when he could have first given the Commission a heads-up?   It seems far too convenient that it happened so far into winter that the Commission could hide behind weather as a reason for its hasty action.

 You can bet there will be a great rush to knock that building down, especially the troublesome façade.  A lawsuit will be complicated and expensive, and have only a slight chance of finding a sympathetic judge who could act in time to save this fine old building.

Thanks to Planning Commission member Matthew Cuevas for trying to slow down the process by tabling the measure.  And, thanks to Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton, for frantically piecing together public opposition over such a short timeframe.  Especially, thank you, Tom Hodgkins and kids, for reminding us what we’re losing.  As Tom told our email group yesterday:

  “Spending time in that location really gives one some perspective on how few historic buildings remain downtown, and the loss of a building built by the people for the people in the name of love is a crime.  Its not the loss of a bank, or some industrialist’s residence, it is the loss of a temple. “

The Hodgkins kids always make me grin (often due to their photogenic charms).  But, seeing them at this Party-Protest had me smiling even more, hoping some of their dad’s zeal will rub off, so they’ll never simply take for granted the old buildings they see every day around their Stockade home.  At the rate they’re coming down despite laws meant to protect them, there soon won’t be any historic buildings left to preserve in downtown Schenectady.  The only, slight consolation will be that Tom and Gloria and I, and other lovers of our architectural heritage won’t have to have our Thanksgiving meal ruined with a holiday case of Demolition Agita.  This year, however, I’m heading to my medicine cabinet for a second helping of architectural-size antacid.

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