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Historic windows subject of debate

April 18, 2012

by Jessica Nicosia

Windows were a contested subject at Wednesday’s Historical Resources Committee meeting.  That is, the replacement of original wood-framed windows, sometimes hundreds of years old, with the more popular energy-efficient modern windows.  The owners of residential building 214 Clinton Ave. and a commercial property 388 Broadway want to replace the wood-framed windows in their buildings with new windows.  Representatives for the Historic Albany Foundation, which advocates for preserving wood windows in all historic buildings, opposed the proposals.  All window-related agenda items were tabled pending site visits to assess the state of the existing wood windows.

388 Broadway

388 Broadway

The owners of 388 Broadway, Broadway-Liberty Company, requested approval to replace all 57 of the original wood windows in their building.  The proposed replacement windows are made of wood covered with dark green aluminum. The building is unusual in the Downtown Albany Historic District because it has three exposed sides, and therefore many more windows.

An imposing brick building painted red with green trim around large arched windows, 388 Broadway houses the nightclub Red Square on the bottom floor.  The second and third floor is the home of architecture firm of Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker.  The architecture firm’s four partners own the building along with their partner James Carr, who spoke before the committee.  They have owned the building since 2000.  An opportunity to rent out the vacant fourth floor of the building to a tenant as early as this summer has made the issue of window replacement time-sensitive.

Carr read a prepared statement to the Committee detailing the reasons for the proposed window replacement, the history of the windows, the specifications of the new windows, and their long term plans for the building.

Damages from Hurricane Irene spurred the owners to start major renovations, some of which had been necessary for some time.

“The more immediate damage was that there was four feet of water in the basement.  Everything in the basement that was there had to be removed,” said Carr.  Other changes as a result of the flooding included replacing the oil boiler with a natural gas version and overhauling a damaged 10-year old elevator system.

The issue of the windows came up in the process of making these necessary interior renovations.  Although they have made extensive renovations to the second and third floor interiors over the years, the partners have not changed the windows.  The windows were altered in the past with materials and techniques not approved by the Historic Resources Committee, which was not created until 1988.

Carr and partners James Cohen and Lawrence Wilson said that 25% of the original windows had been damaged beyond repair by previous owners’ alterations and another 25% are essentially falling apart.

“We want to protect this building as a viable commercial building,” said Carr.  “So what we’re wanting to do is not terribly different than what has always happened there.” To keep the building’s commercial legacy, he said they will need to “upgrade the building so people will want to come and work there.”

After Carr’s statements, the committee agreed to table the issue until they could make a site visit to assess the windows in person.

Susan Holland said that she had been working with Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker architects and  Carr throughout their renovations, and was surprised and disappointed to see the issue of window replacement on the agenda. Holland is the executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation.

“We advocate to keep original wood windows,” Holland said by phone on Wednesday.  “It was a letdown for them to be advocating to change all their windows.”

Although the newer energy-efficient windows are cost-effective in the short term, Holland said they will have to be replaced in 10 to 15 years.  The higher cost of replacing original wood windows, she said, is worth it because they last more than 100 years if they are maintained correctly.

John G. Waite of John G. Waite Associates Architect Firm also commented on Carr’s statement after Holland.  He worked with the City of Albany in the past in a window study.  The city chose to keep the original wood windows because the buildings they own are considered long-term.

Keeping the wood windows “made sense for the city,” said Waite.  “If it makes sense for them it makes sense for anyone.”

Waite went on to explain that original wood windows are made of first-growth lumber which can last for hundreds of years and that 40% of all replacement windows replace windows that are less than 10 years old.   Although the windows chosen for replacements for 388 Broadway are actually made of wood, Waite said that the first-growth wood used for the original windows is much stronger.  He closed by explaining that the aluminum covering of the new windows in question would have to be removed and sent out for repainting every 10 years.

After these rebuttals, Carr came back up before the committee to make a closing statement.  The windows the owners had proposed as replacements had been carefully chosen and were expected to be long-term replacements, Carr said.

Replacement windows for 214 Clinton Ave. were also proposed by Desiree Leary . She suggested vinyl windows that match the white exterior of the building.  Leary owns the property on a sloped section of Clinton Avenue between Lark Street and North Pearl Street in the Clinton Square Historic District.  The brick façade is painted ivory with brown trim and connected to the buildings on either side.

84 North Pearl Street

84 North Pearl Street

Leary has owned the building for six or seven years, but is waiting to move in until she finishes interior and exterior construction projects.  The original windows, Leary said, are more than 100 years old.  When covered with storm windows in the winter they appear “drab” and she felt that newer vinyl windows would look better.

“We typically don’t approve vinyl windows, especially in the front,” said Lee Pinckney, a committee member and preservation architect.  “In the rear, it’s different.”

The Committee voted to table the issue until the Historic Resources Committee staff person Rich Nicholson can arrange a site visit.

The final item discussed at the Historic Resources Committee Meeting was a request by the owners of Legends on Pearl,  John DeJohn and Omid Teimouri,  to establish a sidewalk café outside the building.   Legends is in the Downtown Historic District at 84 North Pearl St., a building owned by the Moutopoulos Brothers.  The request to put up a permanent railing with 4 small café tables was approved. -30-



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