The Brownstoner sparked a heated debate today, October 19th, with the story about a historic Clinton Hill house’s “entire roof and façade” being “ripped off.” This destruction was cited as a “strong argument for more aggressively expanding historic districts.”
The comment thread of readers responding to the article exploded well beyond the length and scope of the article itself and actually got to the crux of the issue regarding the trade off between historic preservation and new development in old residential neighborhoods.
The Brownstoner posted images of the building in its half-destroyed condition and suggested this was a result primarily of the new owners renovation. Residents of the neighborhood who responded painted a somewhat different picture of the building. Multiple readers reported that the building had in fact been unoccupied for more than three years and was in fact in very poor condition, “practically falling down,” and “a total wreck.”
Another reader points out that preferring to preserve “vacant wrecks” with historic facades rather than allow development, renovation, and investment in the neighborhood may in fact be harming the neighborhood in the long run.
And here the debate gets to the heart of the issue: seeing a historic building torn down to the beams is painful to watch, but what if that is the only way to save the building? After all a Façade is just a Façade. To retain a historic face is great, when possible, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.
As in medicine, sometimes the treatment can cause more pain than the illness itself, but in long run save the patient.