Seven to Save: 2005

The 2005 Seven to Save list spotlights historic properties that exemplify challenges facing historic places across the state. Sites listed this year draw attention to the plight of urban houses of worship, the threat of abandonment of municipally-owned landmark buildings, and the need to consider historic preservation in the face of development pressure. These seven valued historic resources are in danger of disappearing because of insufficient funding and financial incentives, insensitive public policies, general neglect, disinvestment, and in some cases, demolition.

Hudson Area Library | Hudson, Columbia County

Landmark status: Local, State and National Register-listed.

Threat: deterioration and vacancy.

Constructed as an almshouse, this imposing Federal style building has been used by the public and educational institutions almost continuously since its construction in 1818. Due to unsafe conditions, the building was vacated in June 2004. The area school district owns the building but does not wish to rehabilitate the library. The League can assist with strategies for rehabilitation and fundraising, and support for the local landmark commission and the library board, which are committed to its preservation. This listing furthers the League’s already extensive regional work in the Hudson Valley.

Herkimer County Jail | Herkimer, Herkimer County

Landmark status: State and National Register-listed.

Threat: deterioration and vacancy.

This stately limestone Federal style building was constructed in 1834 as the county jail and continued to serve that purpose until 1977. It is located at a “four corners” intersection distinguished by National-Register landmarks including the county courthouse. The jail has received limited maintenance despite sporadic use by the county historical society and several tenants. In 2003, the county shut off the utilities, leading to further deterioration. This historic building is best known as the jail which held Chester Gillette, the convicted murderer whose story was the basis for Theodore Dreiser’s fictional account, An American Tragedy. The League can assist with any potential transfer of the property from the county and support for a new not-for-profit group in an underserved area formed to preserve this building but with a county-wide mission. This listing furthers the League’s work on the issue of abandonment, use and reuse of municipally owned landmarks. It also relates directly to two other county courthouse/jail preservation efforts receiving League assistance, one in Seneca (“The Three Bears’) and the other in Washington (Old Salem Courthouse) counties, thereby strengthening a network of like-minded stakeholders.

Iron Block | Watertown, Jefferson County

Landmark status: State and National Register-listed.

Threat: demolition.

Built in 1850, the Iron Block anchored the northern side of Public Square (a historic district) in downtown Watertown and was distinguished by Italianate and Gothic details. In 2003, City Council voted to demolish the row although stabilization costs are significantly less than demolition. A stated reason for this action was to open up views to the Black River but in reality, only parking lots would become visible. A further irony is the fact that Watertown is one of the 12 pilot communities selected for the NYS Department of State Quality Communities Program. The League assisted with support for a new not-for-profit group formed to save the Iron Block but with a citywide mission, legal advice, and intervention with state government. Despite local and national attention, these structures were demolished in April, 2005.

Todd Shipyard Graving Dock | Brooklyn, Kings County

Llandmark status: State and National Register-eligible.

Threat: Demolition.

Updates: This drydock, used for the repair of large vessels, was owned by Robins Dry Dock from 1864-1916, and then sold to the Todd Shipyard Corporation, which became one of the largest shipbuilder and ship repair businesses in the country. Though still in use today, this crucial piece of New York Harbor waterfront infrastructure—and the surrounding buildings dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries—is threatened by plans for development of a 350,000 square foot IKEA store. Specifically, the graving dock would be filled in and paved for a 1,400-car parking lot.The League can assist with advocacy and development of alternative parking schemes that could protect more of this rare maritime resource and neighborhood.

St. Thomas the Apostle Roman Catholic Church | New York City, New York County

Landmark status: State and National Register-eligible.

Threat: closure, abandonment, demolition.

This outstanding example of Neo-Gothic architecture was designed by Thomas Henry Poole and constructed between 1889 and 1907. It boasts stained glass windows by the world-renowned designer Frantz Meyer Studios of Munich. Built by Irish immigrants, this Harlem church has been home to a succession of diverse populations. As part of a planned closure of up to 100 churches, the Archdiocese of New York had intended to have the church site redeveloped as HUD-funded senior housing. Due to protests by parishioners and local preservation groups, the application has been withdrawn but the building’s future is uncertain. The League can assist with support for landmark designation, identification of strategies for continued use or reuse, and participation in a coalition dealing with citywide church closures.

Old Custom House | Niagara Falls, Niagara County

Landmark status: Local, State and National Register-listed.

Threat: deterioration, lack of funding.

This 1863 limestone structure functioned as a custom house for most of its life with short periods of commercial use. Vacant for seven years, the City of Niagara Falls acquired the property in 2003. The vision is to integrate this building into the planned International Intermodal Transportation Center but significant deterioration and a lack of funding threaten this reuse. The League can assist with strategies for fundraising and review of the design for the Center.

Rafael Guastavino House | Bay Shore, Town of Islip, Suffolk County

Landmark status: State and National Register-eligible.

Threat: development pressure and demolition (“tear-down”).

This unique 1912 residence was constructed by Rafael Guastavino y Esposito, the son of Rafael Guastavino y Moreno, the internationally acclaimed designer and builder of fireproof structural vaults and domes. Rafael worked for his father until 1908 and then assumed control of the Guastavino firm. Under the son’s leadership some of the firm’s most daring and beautiful projects were completed including the crossing of St. John the Divine, and the Registry Room at Ellis Island. The Rafael Gustavino House embodies the firm’s innovative work with the use of its signature tile on the interior and exterior while the family’s origins in Spain are recalled in the building’s Moorish design. This waterfront property has been for sale for over a year and its location makes its particularly vulnerable to the “tear-down” phenomenon seen along the North and especially the South shores of Long Island. In order to attract a buyer for the 1.2- acre property, the current owner has expressed interest in offering a cleared site. The Town has no landmark law as a tool to protect the property. The League can assist with the creation and implementation of local landmark provisions and advocacy at the local, state and national levels.

Seven to SavePLNYS Staff