At Hearing Public Calls for Either Demolishing Butterfield Hospital or Saving Original 1925 Core

HDRB expected to issue a decision on demolition Dec. 19

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

In a three-hour public hearing held by the Cold Spring Historic District Review Board Wednesday night, Dec. 5, a series of local residents advocated demolishing the decrepit old Butterfield Hospital, though others called for preserving the original 1925 core and said the issue is not an either-or question of either saving or destroying the entire structure.

The HDRB also heard a lawyer for the developer warn against prejudgments — a remark prompted by dissemination of a new HDRB report that can be read as an argument against demolition.

The HDRB, left to right: Marie Early, Carolyn Bachan, Al Zgolinski, Peter Downey, Kathleen Foley (Photo by L.S. Armstrong)

HDRB Chairman Al Zgolinski announced the board would issue its decision on demolition on Dec. 19, complying with a requirement that it act within 15 days of a public hearing.

Developer Paul Guillaro, of Butterfield Realty LLC, the site’s owner, proposes to demolish the old hospital to construct a new complex consisting of three single-family residences, condominiums for retirement-age buyers, an intergovernmental municipal building and community / senior-citizen center, a commercial-retail square, and post office.

His concept has won the approval of homeowners in the adjacent Paulding Avenue area, as well as the backing of various government officials, including Libby Pataki, Putnam County tourism director, and District 1 County Legislator-elect Barbara Scuccimarra, who both spoke in support of Guillaro on Wednesday night.

Another county representative, Denis Castelli, Putnam County historian, likewise endorsed demolition of the hospital, a conglomeration of the Georgian-colonial style 1925 original structure, a similar 1941 wing, and a modernistic 1963 expansion that subsumed the earlier parts.  Castelli said no one claimed the hospital was significant until demolition loomed. “Now that is being looked at as a historic building, and I think it’s grotesque.”

Cece Saunders, a historical preservation expert hired by Guillaro, said much the same thing. “The 1920s building was almost entirely engulfed by the 1963 structure,” she said. “The building itself has no integrity. It’s a hodge-podge.”

The redevelopment plan, which depends on demolition of the old Butterfield Hospital; photo by L.S. Armstrong

The Paulding Avenue Neighbors Association also recommended demolition. “Once the 1960s façade was added to the building, its historical significance and aesthetic appeal was lost. If the developer is prevented from demolition, we will have to live with this ugly building for the foreseeable future,” the group said in a statement that a member read aloud.

Moreover, the association observed, Guillaro “indicated he will file suit if his application is denied, costing the village legal expenses, and he may prevail, anyway.”

The group reiterated its support for Guillaro’s design for the complex, “arrived at through a time-consuming, consensus-building community process, one in which the developer accommodated the community’s most requested changes. We would like to see it built, but the current consensus plan depends on the hospital’s demolition. If the board denies the application to demolish, it also effectively denies the community what we said we wanted.”

 Undermine historical preservation by saving hospital?

In regard to the hospital, “there is nothing here to save,” Thomas Ambrose agreed, in a separate letter.  “As a whole, it is an architectural catastrophe.” He advised that if the HDRB insists on saving the entire hospital, it will undermine public support for historic preservation — a point also made by another speaker later, as well as by Steven Barshov, a lawyer for Guillaro.

If the HDRB won’t let the building be torn down, “you will be setting a precedent here by saying that these architectural features are the ones that are worthy of preservation and are in fact compatible with the historic district” in the village, Barshov told HDRB members. Hospital demolition “would have no adverse impact on any of the village’s 19th-century architecture. Taking away what is essentially a derelict eyesore will not adversely affect” neighboring properties, either, he argued.

Stacey Matson-Zuvic, a Cold Spring resident and regional officer of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, lauded the HDRB for its diligence. “I do think they are approaching it in the right way,” considering the hospital’s role over decades, she said. “History doesn’t end in 1900 anymore,” or even the 1950s, Matson-Zuvic said. “We look at history in its continuum over time.”

Attendees at the public hearing nearly filled the Cold Spring firehouse meeting room. Photo by L.S. Armstrong

A Garrison resident, Rose Sanca, weighed in as well. “I feel this is a community issue. It’s not just about Paul Guillaro and Cold Spring,” she said. Sanca said Guillaro had “bent over backward to accommodate the public” and that if he abandons the project, another developer with fewer good qualities may construct something unacceptable. “That scares me,” she said.

James Hartford, a Cold Spring resident and architect, proposed a revival of Guillaro’s offer in September to preserve and rebuild the 1925 element of the hospital but not the rest. To say that the whole hospital must go or the community cannot have a new senior-center/municipal building “is not a fair statement,” he said. “That’s not what we’re after here.”

Carol Hopper noted that the Carolyn Lahey Pavilion, the existing clinic built alongside the hospital, bears her mother’s name. She urged Guillaro to memorialize in some way those who built and worked in the hospital in its nearly 70 years of existence. “I would love to see this part [1925] of the building rebuilt,” she added. “I hope it’s not going to be all or nothing. I don’t see why it has to be.”

Questions about HDRB document

Guillaro’s lawyer, Barshov, pointed out that the only question before the HDRB is one of “yes” or “no” of approving the request for demolition of the whole hospital. “It would be arbitrary for it not to be granted,” he said. Once the basic question of demolition is resolved, other ideas and proposals can be negotiated, he said.

John Cronin, a Paulding Avenue resident who referred to himself both as “an ardent preservationist” and proponent of demolishing the hospital, observed that Guillaro “cannot be ordered to restore the building.” But at the same time, “if he is given permission to demolish it, he doesn’t have to demolish it,” and the discussion of modifications and options can continue.

Barshov also advised the HDRB to remember its role — which he said is that of an administrative agency, not a policy-making one. “You don’t get to make your own rules” for issuing a certificate of appropriateness for a demolition. Instead, he maintained, the HDRB must follow the village code, which he said limits the HDRB to considering whether a building is important to preserving the 19th-century architectural character of Cold Spring. “The code is what governs.”

He questioned the HDRB’s 22-page Architectural Narrative: The Julia L. Butterfield Memorial Hospital, distributed to the public at the meeting, which proposes that the hospital’s eclectic, seemingly discordant elements constitute a noteworthy whole.

Although the hospital “may seem to be a disjointed collection of unrelated sections,” the document states, “several design narratives unite the overall structure, communicating the story of its evolution from the common architectural root … . ” While each section “is stylistically distinct and a product of its time, they all relate to each other, forming a common and progressive architectural narrative.” Also, the pieces demonstrate “the ways medical services changed” throughout the 20th century and “tangibly represent the civic and philanthropic efforts” of important personages, the report concludes.

Barshov described the report as “a strained effort to find some type of continuity” in the architecture of the hospital “in order to hang one’s hat on a rationale that is specious and does not speak to these criteria in the [village] code. I am concerned about this as a prejudgment” and “whether this board’s impartiality has been compromised,” he said. He said such a document is something the HDRB should be producing “at the end of the process, not injecting it into the [public hearing] record itself to salt the record to provide a basis for its own decision.”

“We don’t want to sue the Village of Cold Spring,” he added.

8 thoughts on “At Hearing Public Calls for Either Demolishing Butterfield Hospital or Saving Original 1925 Core

  1. I could not be at the meeting, but I couldn’t agree more with the points made by Ambrose and Barshov that you included in this article. I have a background in architecture (former architecture student; former reference librarian at the American Institute of Architects), and I honestly don’t understand how the HDRB could justify saving these mid-20th Century architectural ruins as a service to the community. The hospital may very well have sentimental value to long-time Cold Spring residents, but I can’t make a connection between that sentimental value and the reality of trying to preserve an architecturally insignificant non-19th Century structure that was in fact destroyed 50 years ago.

    I recognize that I’m not a long-time Cold Spring resident and have no sentimental attachment to that hospital, though I certainly wish it still existed as a hospital. I do, however, dearly miss the Dockside restaurant, which I have many fond memories of and that was one of the main reasons I bought a home in Cold Spring. But I certainly am not upset that the HDRB didn’t fight to save that smelly old building it was housed in.

    I think the board is behaving very unprofessionally, which might not be surprising for a volunteer board in a small town, but certainly is for one that is composed of people with some level of education and expertise in the field of architecture. We’re not talking about saving Penn Station here. Let’s try and address the much more important issue of what the future holds for that site and stop putting up ridiculous roadblocks to much-needed civic improvements.

  2. Amazing that despite overwhelming community support for a project that will bring so many positives to Cold Spring, a few unelected bureaucrats who think they know it all, are being allowed to scuttle the deal under the guise of “preserving” historic architecture. If Guillaro, who has bent over backwards to be accommodating, is not permitted to go forward, he will have no alternative but to sue the Village and the various obstructionist Boards, and he will most likely win. The obstructionists should look around and take note: just how many developers and/or investors are out there who are willing to risk their own money trying to improve the Village? It seems to be they should be welcoming Guillaro with open arms and thanking him for all the good he’s trying to do. The man has a proven track record. Let him proceed or lose the chance of a lifetime to improve this part of Cold Spring and bring some sorely needed benefits to the residents.

  3. James Hartford is correct. A Senior Center in Philipstown is NOT dependent upon demolition of the hospital; it is dependent upon government spending.

    Last year the County declined a proposal to install County services at Butterfield. Audio recordings of this year’s meetings of the County’s Physical Services Committee give no indication that the County is ready to spend money on the build-out and rental of space for a Senior Center at Butterfield. Next year’s budget includes no funding for a new Senior Center at Butterfield.

    It is sad to hear divisive, angry and insulting comments about our neighbors on the HDRB made by people who have confused the reality of the County Budget with political promises that may not be fulfilled.

  4. Fifteen years ago my wife and I moved to the village and bought a Second Empire house on Morris Avenue, just across the street from the Butterfield Library. A dry-goods merchant named George Washington Purdy built the house in 1865. It eventually became a boarding house for local schoolteachers, then the East Point Nursing Home, and finally the Village Victorian Bed & Breakfast.

    When we bought the house it was in terrible condition. We have spent several hundred thousand dollars, and many thousands of hours, gradually repairing it and bringing it back to its 19th-century self. I have done much of the work myself, including hand-building and installing 22 large, arched, wooden storm windows to replace modern aluminum storms that hid the beautiful curves that are a characteristic of Hudson River architecture. Many, many people in Cold Spring have taken and are taking the same care with their historic homes.

    When you invest as much in a property as we have, you want it to last. In this I regard the Historic District Review Board to be a key ally. Our home is in the Historic District, and I have been confident that any future owner would not be permitted to destroy the improvements we are making.

    The HDRB is now weighing whether to allow the demolition of the Butterfield Hospital. The board has issued several papers suggesting that it favors rejecting the application to demolish. I hope that it will reconsider.

    The historic value of Butterfield Hospital’s architecture disappeared when it was covered by an astonishingly ugly addition in 1963. To argue, as the HDRB has in one report, “that several design narratives unite the overall structure” is comical. The intent of the founding law guiding the HDRB is to protect the 19th-century character of the village as expressed in its architecture — not celebrate the messes left behind by 20th-century hacks.

    My concern is that by redefining and relaxing its architectural standards to save a building no reasonable person would now call representative of 19th-century architecture, the HDRB risks doing real damage to both its standards and its ability to effectively enforce those standards.

    This matters. It matters if the HDRB muddles the criteria used to evaluate applications, loses the respect and support of the community, and can no longer protect the legacy of the scores of people here who have done their best to preserve the 19th-century charm of the buildings where they live and work.

    • Mike, I respect your dedicated work on behalf of the Village, but I don’t get your argument here. You begin by saying that you invested a great deal of money to carefully restore your home which was in terrible condition, including features that were hidden by more modern installations. Yet you later argue that historic features that are hidden on the Butterfield Hospital, and are now overlain by more recent ugly additions, are not similarly worthy of restoration.

      Are you saying that your home has some more readily apparent historic integrity? By what measure? Because it’s general historic character is more readily visible? What if someone were prepared to invest a substantial sum to restore the Butterfield Hospital? Shouldn’t they have the same opportunity you had to gradually repair it and bring it back to its historic self?

      I don’t know where I stand on this whole issue with any finality, but in furtherance of a clearer understanding, would welcome your always intelligent and lucid response.

  5. My husband and I moved to Cold Spring a year ago. We had visited Cold Spring many times over our 46-year marriage. We remember all the way back to Gus’ Antique Bar and the lumber yard that used to be where Paul Guillaro developed the beautiful condos at the waterfront. When the corner unit became available for rent, we were positively delighted; we hope ultimately to purchase the property. During our first year here, we’ve met so many nice people, and we are enchanted with the charm of the village. The annual Christmas tree lighting, the July 4th celebration, the Halloween parade … all so endearing like a Norman Rockwell painting.

    Having come through the terrible Oct. 29 storm and evacuated for a time from our lovely home, we came to know quite a bit more about Paul Guillaro, our landlord. We want to share our story with the village as a Christmas gift and New Year’s message of hope and encouragement.

    From the day after the storm (which flooded the first floor of all the homes in this part of the village) until today [Dec. 11], when our new kitchen cabinets are being completed and the last of the new appliances are being brought in, we have seen a level of integrity, responsibility, service, caring and kindness that surpassed expectation at every turn. There are few, if any, developers like Paul Guillaro.

    Although the work has progressed at a remarkable pace, Mr. Guillaro and his management team (Unicorn Contracting) have spared no expense, taken no shortcuts, and performed miracles to rip out the floors, walls, doors, cabinets, everything. Then a thorough microbial cleaning followed by new sheetrock, new doors, repainting, new floors, new cabinets, new appliances, new everything. It is almost as if nothing ever happened less than six weeks after Sandy’s devastation.

    During and after the storm, we moved into the Marriott at Fishkill. My husband is 88 and being treated for cancer. He was eager to return home, so Mr. Guillaro permitted us to come back in early and even purchased a new small temporary refrigerator and microwave that were installed on the second floor so we could function until the first floor had been restored. His team put up plastic barriers so that we were protected from the dust associated with the restoration. By some miracle, we were able to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner (from the Hudson House Inn next door) at home. Everything had been restored except the kitchen.

    Over the years, due to our work and other commitments, we’ve preferred to rent rather than own a home, so we speak from experience as tenants. We have never enjoyed this level of service, professionalism, consideration, efficiency, competence … even kindness. Cold Spring is so lucky to have a man like Paul Guillaro. He respects this community and can be relied upon to continue his proven record of enhancing the village’s beauty, charm — and revenues.

  6. Andrew Hall suggests that the Butterfield Hospital in its current state and our house on Morris Avenue were similar cases, since both had elements obscured by more modern features. This stretches the meaning of “similar” well past breaking in an argument that is a masterpiece of sophistry.

    In the case of the Butterfield hospital virtually all of that part of the building with 19th century character was swallowed up by the 1963 addition — including the removal of its entire roof and third floor. It was engulfed, made invisible.
    In the case of our house, virtually the entire 19th century form was intact, from the mansard roof to the ground; only the tops of the windows were obscured by modern storms. See the difference?

    I have listened carefully to the HDRB’s arguments. I have great respect for the HDRB members’ intelligence and knowledge and commitment and hard work, and I regard several of them as friends.

    However, I strongly disagree with the direction of the arguments I have heard that push toward denying permission to demolish the hospital. The arguments seem legalistic and hyper-academic to me, the kind of thing Jonathan Swift would have loved to parody. If the HDRB finds that the hospital building — including that great slab of motel-modern on the eastern facade — contributes to the 19th century historic character of the village, just what can they reasonably say no to?

  7. Mike, thanks for your response. I was not seeking to stretch any meaning nor did I suggest that anything was ‘similar’ – you did. I was following your narrative and couldn’t help but notice that there appeared to be a contradiction, which I summarized based on your description. In my second paragraph I posed a series of questions in an attempt to more clearly understand your meaning – a method I thought you would have appreciated as Socratic rather than sophist(icated).

    My intent was to be transparent. If I had an agenda I would say so.