Monday, February 18, 2008

Moving the Grange, and Twisting It Around, Too

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2008 07:50:57 -0800 (PST)
From: "Anne Z. Whitman"
Subject: Fwd: NYTimes: "Moving the Grange and Twisting It Around Too"
To: "Jordi Reyes Montblanc"
fyi Anne

Note: forwarded message attached.

Anne Z. Whitman, President
Forwarded Message [ Download File ]

Date: Mon, 25 Feb 2008 06:27:30 -0800 (PST)
From: "J Thomas"
Subject: NYTimes: "Moving the Grange and Twisting It Around Too"

HTML Attachment [ Scan and Save to Computer ]

N.Y. / Region

Moving the Grange, and Twisting It Around, Too

David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
The Grange, Alexander Hamilton’s country home in Upper Manhattan, is squeezed between an apartment house and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. This spring, it will be moved a few blocks to the edge of St. Nicholas Park, although a debate continues about which way it should face.

Published: February 18, 2008
Correction Appended

The idea is to restore Alexander Hamilton’s country home, the Grange, to a state that Hamilton himself would recognize.

Skip to next paragraph

Boundaries of the Grange

Enlarge This Image
Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York
Alexander Hamilton's country home, the Grange, in its original location, approximately on what is now West 143rd Street, between Convent Avenue and Hamilton Place. The front entrance faced southwest.

The question is: Would he be able to find the front door?

This spring, the National Park Service plans to move the Grange from a cramped nook on Convent Avenue to a far more generous setting in a hillside corner of nearby St. Nicholas Park in Upper Manhattan.

In doing so, the service will swing the house around to face West 141st Street. That means that the Grange’s front door will end up oriented northeast rather than southwest, as was intended by Hamilton and his architect, John McComb Jr., when the home was completed in 1802.
This is a grave concern to some preservationists, who believe the government is squandering a chance to authentically restore the home of a towering founding father.

“It’s Preservation 101 that the house should be retained in its original orientation,” said Ron Melichar, president of the Harlem Heights-West Harlem Community Preservation Organization.

Orientation affects not only the exterior appearance but the way that light plays within the house’s octagonal parlor and dining room.

Darren Boch, a spokesman for the park service, said a southwest orientation “would defy common aesthetic sense” because it would leave the house facing the steep ridge from which City College rises.

“To the greatest degree possible, we’re trying to retrieve what has been lost to history: the character of Hamilton’s home as a freestanding mansion,” Mr. Boch said. He added, “The reasons for McComb’s orientation had to do with views and natural light, neither of which can be replicated, regardless of orientation, on the new site.”

Of course, there is a chance that visitors will be misled into thinking that the house was designed to front 141st Street, even though the gridiron street plan was drawn up a decade after the Grange was built. If the house instead turned its back on the street, there could be no such mistaken assumptions.

There may be more accommodating spots in the 23-acre park, but the 141st Street corner is particularly appropriate because it was once part of Hamilton’s estate, meaning that there is a 200-year-old connection between the building and its new setting.

One could argue that the Grange and the neighborhood around it are so transformed that orientation is scarcely a defining characteristic any longer. Or one could say, as preservationists do, that because so many changes have taken place, the government is obliged to maintain whatever original qualities can be preserved.

The case of the Grange illustrates an abiding tension in preservation between accommodating the public (in the interest of exposing as many people as possible to a historical structure) and striving for pinpoint accuracy.

The Grange is especially important because it is both a city landmark and a national memorial, a rare survivor from a time when Upper Manhattan was largely farmland, and a tremendous — though often overlooked — cultural resource in Harlem.

More than just a pretty face on a $10 bill, Hamilton served in the Revolutionary War, wrote many of the Federalist Papers, served as the first secretary of the Treasury and founded the Bank of New York and The New York Post.

He was mortally wounded in a duel with Aaron Burr in 1804. The house was acquired in 1889 by St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and moved two blocks south to its current site at 287 Convent Avenue, abutting the church. The entrance was moved to one side of the house. It came under park service stewardship in 1962.

The missing original entranceway, the front and back porches and other architectural features are to be restored as part of the $8.2 million project. When the house reopens to the public in the fall, it will occupy a verdant setting, visible from all four sides, for the first time in 119 years.

“Even given the differences of opinion on orientation, it’s going to be a happy day for the house when it finally moves,” said Adrian Benepe, commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation Department, which supports the park service plan.

So does the Landmarks Preservation Commission, saying that “the orientation of the house relates to its original siting as a mansion on a promontory.”

Robert B. Tierney, the commission chairman, is left with only one small concern.
“When the ghost of Alexander Hamilton returns to the Grange,” Mr. Tierney said, “I hope he doesn’t go in the back door by mistake.”

Correction: February 22, 2008 An article on Monday about plans to move and restore the Grange, Alexander Hamilton’s country home in Upper Manhattan, attributed an erroneous distinction to that home. At least one other house associated with Hamilton survives: the Schuyler Mansion in Albany (also known as the Pastures), where he was married. The Grange is not the only one associated with him that still exists.

NB - It is incredible what for osme people is so important and totally disregard the real question. Not whether the Founding Father's ghost can find its way into the house but
what will happen to the vacant lot left on Convent Avenue after the Grange is moved.

After long and ardous negotiations an agreement was reached with the Community faciliatated by Congressman Rangel and involving the Federal government in the form of National Parks Service, the City of new York Parks Dept. and Community board 9 Manhattan.

Under that agreement NPS would build a housing facility for the NPS Rangers and a Community/Visitor Center in the lot vacated by the Grange.

Now NPS has renege and will not do anything of the agreed buildings.

Yet the preservatinists are fixated on the orientation of the Grange at its new location and very little is said or done about the broken agreement. I have no doubts that Alec Hamilton, if he were alive would be more concerned about the breach of an agreement with the Community than he would about which way the house is oriented.

But then that is the way things are for preservationists and an uninvolved community.

When someone comes aroung and builds a tower condominium in that space you will hear the crays and moans of the preservationists, but then it will be too late. - JRM

No comments: