Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hamilton Home Heads to a Greener Address

N.Y. / Region

Hamilton Home Heads to a Greener Address

David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
After being raised over a church’s side porch, Alexander Hamilton’s country home was perched on Convent Avenue. Its journey to St. Nicholas Park on Saturday should take three to six hours.

Published: June 7, 2008

No matter that Alexander Hamilton’s country home, the Grange, is 206 years old. Until now, it had been in a perfectly contemporary Manhattan real estate bind: not enough space.
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Interactive Feature
Moving a Historic Home

David W. Dunlap/The New York Times
Interior of the Grange, Alexander Hamilton's country home, braced for the impending move.

Robert Caplin for The New York Times
The Grange, Alexander Hamilton's historic home will be moved to greener pastures.

What to do? Move, of course.

So on Saturday, the two-story, 298-ton wood-frame house will be rolled conspicuously — and slowly — from its cramped site on Convent Avenue to an appropriately verdant new location a block away in St. Nicholas Park, facing West 141st Street. That is as close as it can get these days to the rural setting for which it was originally designed.

Once new foundations are completed, a yearlong, $8.4 million restoration and reconstruction will undo decades of unsympathetic alterations to the house, known formally as the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

Stephen Spaulding, chief of the architectural preservation division in the National Park Service’s Northeast region, said the 500-foot move on Saturday should take three to six hours.

But in a sense, the journey has taken almost half a century. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy authorized the Interior Department to assume ownership of the house on the condition that it be moved to a suitable location.

As redevelopment sagas go, the story of the Grange ranks among the most protracted. For want of money and almost any concerted political will to get the deed done, at least until recent years, the Grange languished in near-obscurity as other historical landmarks gained a higher profile.

Visitors have found the Grange jammed between a six-story apartment house and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, its formal front facade abutting the church and all but invisible. Nor is this even its original location. Until 1889, when it was moved for the first time, the house was on 143rd Street, west of Convent Avenue.

Lost in the intervening years was any public sense that the founding father on the $10 bill, the nation’s first treasury secretary, had lived in Harlem; that a creator of the federal government passed his last two years in a refined country estate designed by John McComb Jr., an architect of City Hall, from which he departed in 1804 for the duel with Aaron Burr that cost him his life.

Now, in the house he left behind, Hamilton is again coming to life. To their joy, National Park Service officials have discovered that the front stairway, though much modified over time, is essentially the one built for Hamilton, complete with original risers, treads, balusters, ornamental scrollwork and support structure. It will be rebuilt in its original form.

“Alexander Hamilton ran up those very treads!” said Steve Laise, chief of cultural resources of Manhattan sites for the National Park Service, which owns and runs the Grange. “It just puts you in such close proximity with the past. For those of us who really wish we were living back then anyway, it’s probably more of a stimulus to our imagination than we really ought to have.”

Lovely exterior details are also evident for the first time in more than a century, including a triple-hung sash window. Smaller windows on either side have an alternating star-and-circle tracery. “That kind of pattern is well rooted in 18th-century Anglo-American design practice,” said Seth Joseph Weine, a fellow of the Institute of Classical Architecture and Classical America.

Last week, the Grange was raised up and over a loggia, or side porch, at St. Luke’s and now sits on steel beams atop nine dollies in the middle of Convent Avenue. On Saturday, it will be rolled down the avenue; turned east onto 141st Street; rolled down a hillside with a 6 percent grade, past Steinman Hall of City College; turned south at Hamilton Terrace; then rolled into the park.

Windows, especially those at the corners, will be among the most vulnerable areas. To reduce any chance that the structure will shift out of shape, it is being bound tightly with wire rope and tied diagonally to the beams on which it is now supported. The chimneys are also to be braced.

Twice during the move, the house will be inspected. Windows will be tested to ensure that they are operable, meaning that no undue pressure is being exerted against the frames. Existing plaster cracks, already documented, will be checked to make certain they are not widening. If problems do arise, Mr. Spaulding said the house can be releveled by adjusting the blocking between the steel beams and the frame of the structure.

For now, he does not anticipate any need to halt the move outright.

As for that 6 percent slope on 141st Street, Mr. Spaulding said the contractor “is very confident that the grade is not going to be a problem.”

“He’s moved houses down grades like that before,” he added. The move itself is being done by Wolfe House and Building Movers of Bernville, Pa. The general contractor is Integrated Construction Enterprises of Belleville, N.J.

Each of the nine dollies has its own propulsion and braking system, Mr. Spaulding said, powered electrically and hydraulically. “If there’s any failure of the systems,” he said, “the brakes lock
up.” There are four brakes on each dolly, for a total of 36 brakes.

Mr. Spaulding and his colleagues will breathe easier on Saturday night, but given the reconstruction and restoration ahead, they will not have much chance to relax. “Our goal for reopening the house would be the fall of next year,” he said. “There’s a lot more work to do.”


N.Y. / Region

Witnessing a House, and History, on the Move

Andrew Henderson for The New York Times
After 119 years on Convent Avenue, Alexander Hamilton’s country home made a well-documented move around the corner to St. Nicholas Park.
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Published: June 8, 2008

With surpassing dignity and surprising agility — for a 206-year-old — Alexander Hamilton’s country home, the Grange, lumbered down the West 141st Street hillside on Saturday morning to its new setting in St. Nicholas Park.
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Slide Show
Moving Day for the Grange

Interactive Feature
Moving a Historic Home

Hamilton Home Heads to a Greener Address (June 7, 2008)

Under the eyes of neighbors from Harlem and Hamilton Heights, a moving crew composed mainly of German Baptist Brethren from Pennsylvania, often mistaken for Amish in their plain dress, guided the two-story, 298-ton house on a 3 hour 40 minute trip from its former site on Convent Avenue.

It turns out that the Grange, whose architect also worked on City Hall, is capable of doing about 0.04 miles per hour. (It is unclear how quickly City Hall can move.)

In its new setting, the house will be restored by the National Park Service and reopened to the public next year. The project’s cost is $8.4 million.

On Convent Avenue, the Grange’s formal front facade was jammed so close to the abutting St. Luke’s Episcopal Church that it was invisible. Visitors had to approach the house from the side, through a makeshift entrance, if they bothered to come at all. Though the Grange is a national memorial, it was almost forgotten.

“To the residents of the community, it’s like our brother from the Virgin Islands has come back home,” said Representative Charles B. Rangel, the Democrat from Manhattan who has been involved for decades in efforts to restore the Grange. Hamilton’s boyhood home was on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands.

Watching the proceedings from St. Nicholas Park, Winston Walker said much the same thing about Hamilton. “He’s an immigrant, and that’s important,” said Mr. Walker, who was born in Jamaica and now lives at Convent Avenue and 148th Street. “He was one of us.”

A personal and proprietary sense of Hamilton, co-author of the Federalist Papers and the first treasury secretary, was evident among neighbors. Sheryl Lee, 29, a musician and music producer who lives next door, said: “It was nice to look out my window and see Alexander Hamilton’s home. It’s been here for so long. That’s what makes Convent Avenue Convent Avenue.”

Larry Butler, 52, a hospital security officer, was walking his dog past the newly open lot. His view has improved without the Grange, but he said he approved of the move for other reasons. “Now that it’s in the park, it’ll be able to exhibit its full glory,” Mr. Butler said.

One question hangs over the final situation of the Grange, however. A lawsuit filed last week by Friends of Hamilton Grange, an association of community groups, property owners and preservationists, seeks to prevent the park service from reorienting the house so that its front faces 141st Street. Instead, the group insists that the house be oriented as it was on its original site on West 143rd Street, where it stood from 1802 to 1889, when it was moved to Convent Avenue.

The suit, in federal district court, did not seek to halt the move itself.

That began at 7:30 a.m. The house had already been jacked up so that it could pass over the top of the loggia of St. Luke’s. It was then set down on nine dollies controlled by a remote unit mounted at the front of the assembly. The move was performed by a team from Wolfe House and Building Movers of Bernville, Pa., led by the brothers Jamin, Mark, Nathan and Nevin Buckingham.

Wolfe was chosen in part because it was the only bidder with experience in lifting landmark buildings high off the ground, said Sid Raman, the president of Integrated Construction Enterprises of Belleville, N.J., which is the general contractor.

At 9:35 a.m., the house cleared Steinman Hall of City College with about 18 inches to spare. On reaching the park, it was turned around to its intended orientation. Maria Burks, the commissioner of the National Parks of New York Harbor, called the move “a work of art” in its own right.

Watching from the sidelines was James Wyckoff. In 1652, his ancestors built what is now known as the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House Museum, at Clarendon Road and Ralph Avenue in Brooklyn. That makes it 150 years older than Hamilton’s house.

“This isn’t really an oldie,” Mr. Wyckoff said, as the Grange rolled downhill in his direction. “But it’s a goodie.”

Colin Moynihan contributed reporting.

N.Y. / REGION June 8, 2008
N.Y. / Region: Moving Day for the Grange
Andrew Henderson/The New York Times
Alexander Hamilton’s historic home in New York City was carted through city streets to a new location.

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