Going Batty for The Belfry
I have been TRYING to research an interesting saga unfolding here in Bedford. TRYING, the operative word but getting nowhere fast with our local newspaper, The Record-Review. More on that aspect in a bit, first a little something about the story, the fate of a 1913 home.
The Belfry is a 1913 Tudor-style home on 16.6 acres in the Bedford hamlet of Katonah. A spectacular reservoir view, sold in February 2011 to a couple who expressly stated they were going to tear down the home. Their choice, or so they thought.
A description of the home and accompanying photos are from the actual listing at Ginnel Real Estate in Bedford:
Untouched and unspoiled! First time offered since the 1930’s. Long drive through high meadows to magnificent hilltop site. Over 16 estate acres with panoramic distant views over the Cross River and Croton Reservoirs. Impressive hilltop Manor House perfectly sited to take advantage of the glorious view. Classic Tudor Revival with decorative timbering, stucco and stone exterior, steeply pitched roof with overlapping gables, massive chimneys and stone quoins. Entrance Hall with Cloak Room. Grand Living Room with Fireplace set in Oak inglenook. Formal Dining Room with china and crystal Storage. Butler’s Pantry. Country Kitchen. Den with Fireplace. Master Suite with Fireplace, His and Her Dressing Rooms and Baths. Four Family Bedrooms. Extensive Staff’s Quarters for potential renovation. Caretaker’s Cottage. An incredible opportunity.
The buyers closed on the deal, paying $3.6 million on a $4.8 million asking price. Sounds like a bargain to me, considering the street on which the house sits is pretty toney and the high-on-a-hill view, killer, is a rarity in Bedford.
Now that you’ve seen the house, the REAL story is what trouble the buyers have run into from the apparatchik at the Bedford’s Historic Building Preservation Commission. This is different from Bedford’s Historical Society, although some of the same people sit on both boards. Never a good thing, in my opinion. If both groups come to the table with similar points of view, then how could anyone with a varying point of view be perceived as viable?
ANYWAY, seems the Historic Building Preservation Commission has a list of historic homes that they feel should not be torn down, but oddly this list is not available to the public, and as it turns out, The Belfry is on the secret list, not known to the buyers and not known to the selling agent. The Commission is challenging the buyers decision to demolish this home and I suspect it will come down to lawyers and who can hold out the longest.
Personally, I am sad to see the house torn down. Although it isn’t an architectural style I would choose to live in, the house has enough merit that I can understand why the Commission felt it should be preserved. On the other hand, having restored many an old house, I know how expensive it is to bring to modern-day code something likely untouched for decades. The dollar signs for that kind of work are double and triple what starting from scratch would cost.
The buyers made no bones about their intent to tear The Belfry down. It was not as if they were buying to deceive. Never. After all, The Belfry does not sit in the historic district, nor is it of an age that might warrant a landmark status. So their logic seemed reasonable, even if it is sad to see it go.
A March 16th Editorial in the Bedford Record-Review said the following:
For historic districts and homes built before 1900 the rules are pretty clear. For those who reside in the Bedford Village Historic District or the Katonah Historic District, or with a home on the National Register of Historic Places, a process is set in place…….Other homes are not so clear as to their historical importance, and as a result, the decision to tear them down may not be so clear either. Such is the case with the Belfry.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It is my express opinion that Bedford is RULED by historical preservationists, primarily that their parochial views hamper economic growth. For one group to compose a list of homes they feel should not be torn down is one thing. But to keep the list from the public, and more importantly, keep the list from real estate agents, stinks. The chairman of the commission, John Stockbridge, is also the Town Historian, and a regular encyclopedia of knowledge. I don’t discount his understanding of the historic home, but I do object to his attitude. A quote, from the March 16 Record Review Editorial, says alot.
Commission chairman John Stockbridge said that the list is not shared with the public because it is a work in progress. Members of the commission have said that it is better that “everyone” consider their property a historical home.
Yes, historic homes are important. Yes, saving houses is important. Yes, creating a list of homes that should be deemed important enough to save is important. BUT, to assume that your point of view is the only view and beyond, that it has any legal standing, that’s another ball of wax.
NOW, onto the other half of the story, trying to get some information out of our local newspaper, The Record Review.
Round One: drive to Record-Review office on Adams Road, Bedford Hills. Teeny parking lot. No space to park. Circle twice. Raining. I figure I’ll go home and call.
Round Two: I call but get a message with no option to speak with operator or office manager to ask a simple question. I was required to listen to the entire spiel, from hearing the office directory to their mailing address and for heaven’s sake, their fax number even. But nothing to stay on the line to speak with a live person. Did not bode well.
Round Three: I email RJ Marx, The Editor in Chief. RJ, I am a Bedford Resident and local blogger doing a story on The Belfry. I know you have done an Editorial on the Secret List but my memory says there was at least one previous article. Since you have no online presence that allows for searching archives, can you kindly tell me if you have indeed written other articles and how I might have access to an e-version of them.
Round Four: from RJ: The Bedford Free Library has past issues of the newspaper.
Round Five: response from me: Huh? That’s all fine and well, but how can I sift through old Record-Reviews if (a) I don’t know if you have written any previous articles or (b) when it might have been published! I am happy to come to your office and do a search on your office database if you do not have the time to share with me what information I need.
Round Six: from RJ: This is a publishers decision. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Round Seven: EOS emails Deborah White, Publisher. I say basically the same thing I said to RJ in Round One, asking for information on previous articles they have written on the subject.
Round Eight: back from the publisher: The material published in The Record-Review is copyrighted. We do sell pdfs of article reprints ($50 per article) but I don’t think this is what you’re looking to do. Under “fair use” guidelines, you may certainly quote from an article or editorial, but you must abide by those restrictions — and our protection under copyright law. If you have further questions, please let me know.
Round Nine: me back to publisher: I am happy to abide by your guidelines, and would do so anyway by way of respecting the published word, but it still doesn’t answer my question of when/if you have written articles about the secret list other than RJ’s editorial. If the answer is no, you have not written anything other than the editorial, then I will move on and write the article from other information I have gathered. If yes, and you can provide me with the dates, I can go to the Bedford Library and look in their archives of old R-Rs but my first preference is to be given an e-version of the article so I can cut and paste. .
Round Ten: No response.
So I seem to live in the land where only old homes are considered worthy and newspapers are printed by Luddites who refuse to create a proper e-version of the news with the capability to search archival information. Silly silly silly.
Last night the Historic Building Preservation Commission met on the fate of the house. More as I know.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Demolition of 2½-Story Residence, 2-Story Residence and Detached Garage