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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Preservationists Work to Save Rudolph House

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Architect Paul Rudolph designed the house at 16 Minute Man Hill, which is slated for demolition. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

By Jennifer Connic

Preservationists believe the battle to save the house at 16 Minute Man Hill has been lost because the roof membrane was removed, but the new owner of the Paul Rudolph-designed house said today he was following the rules to obtain a demolition permit.

The house was the WestportNow Teardown of the Day on Nov. 16 and has been the topic of conversation since its publication, and some have tried to preserve the house.

The Historic District Commission, however, does not have jurisdiction over the house because its age is not at least 60 years old, said Morley Boyd, commission chairman. Private residents such as architect Michael Glynn have been working with commission members in attempts to preserve the house.

“I’m afraid we have been defeated,” Glynn said. “(The new owner) is determined to destroy it. He removed the roof membrane and today’s rain is going into the house.”

Boyd said the rain is setting into motion a series of events that will be hard to reverse.

New owner David Waldman, who owns and preserved the old Westport Bank and Trust building in the downtown area, said he was not doing anything malicious when he removed the roof.

The requirements for a demolition permit, he said, are to remove contaminants.

The roof contained asbestos, he said, and it had to be removed.

“I was doing what was required of me,” he said.

Rudolph lived from 1918-1997 and was at one time the dean of the Yale School of Architecture. He is known for his cubist buildings and designed the Yale Art & Architecture Building.

Boyd said 16 Minuteman Hill was one of his most significant residential structures, especially for this area, and the owner proceeding Waldman commissioned Rudolph to do the work.

“I’m struck by how livable it is,” he said. “The spaces flow together. It’s cozy and has a ship-like feel.”

Boyd said he is embarrassed for Westport because he feels the circumstances of the building and its demolition reflects unfairly on the town.

“If you’re looking for shock value, it’s hard to beat the loss of this house,” he said. “There is not much to top it.”

The real estate agents say they did the best they could to reach out to the appropriate markets to sell the house for 18 months, Boyd said, but no one seemed to know about the sale.

Glynn said he believes if the architecture community was more informed they may have been able to save the house.

“This is one of the top two or three houses (Rudolph) designed and built,” he said. “It’s a monument to modern architecture. If we had known sooner, we could have turned around and been able to react.”

Boyd said he believes Waldman did not grasp the significance of the property and feels that perhaps if conversations happened earlier there may have been a different outcome.

Waldman said he did not realize the significance of the house to the architecture community, but he feels that does not mean it is significant.

“I didn’t think it was significant because the owner didn’t try to protect it,” he said.

The owner also knew he planned to demolish it, Waldman said, and even signed the permit asking for the demolition because technically he does not own the house yet.

“I bought it because of the land,” he said. “The views that (Rudolph) built it for were ruined because another house was built there.”

Waldman emphasized that it is private property and he has the right to do what he plans to do.

If someone feels a property is significant and should be preserved, he said, they should take the necessary steps to do so.

When he purchased the former Westport Bank and Trust—which now houses Patagonia—only the building’s facade was protected, he said.

He cared to have it protected, he said, so he proceeded to have it named as a national historic property so now the entire building is protected for future generations.

“The owner of this house had the right to do the same thing, and he chose not to do that,” he said.

Waldman pointed to his record of historic preservation in Westport.

“I will continue to do good things to preserve Westport’s history,” he said.

In addition to the former Westport Bank and Trust preservation project, Waldman worked with the Historic District Commission to preserve portions of a historic house located at 142 Cross Highway (See WestportNow Oct. 2).

Waldman is also part of the group purchasing the Westport-Weston Family Y’s facility, which was announced this week, and he stated his intentions to preserve the historic downtown building (See WestportNow Dec. 12).

Waldman said he is working with the Westport Historical Society and the Historic District Commission in taking an inventory of the Minuteman Hill property through photographs.

Additionally, he is donating the original plans for the house to the Paul Rudolph Foundation, he said.

Posted 12/13 at 09:48 PM
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Comments:     Comment Policy

This is indeed an architectual tragedy!  It is hard to fault Mr. Waldman as he was unaware of the significance of the house.  It is a shame that he did not research it or was informed of its significance in the architectual world.  It too will probably be replaced with a McMansion without architectual or esthetic value.  Will the destruction of our architectual gems of many eras never cease?

Posted by Albert S. Beasley, M.D. on December 14, 2006 at 12:50 AM | #

I assume Mr. Waldman must have an architect who knew or could have known of the historical significance of the Rudolph house. Perhaps the same architect who designed the soon to be built conglomeration of 4 houses going up on Cross Highway by Wakeman fields. Mr. Waldman is free to do whatever he wants with the Rudolph house, the Y, and his property on Cross Highway. Profit is a strong motivator for design.

Posted by Michael Ronemus on December 14, 2006 at 01:17 AM | #

This house was listed by the Higgins Group as an “Architecturally Significant Modernist House” and its history and significance were very clearly being marketed with the property.

I can’t imagine how David Waldman and his crack team could not have known.  But it’s easy to say “whoops!” when it’s too late. 

Another tragedy for Westport’s character and history.

Posted by amy ancel on December 14, 2006 at 04:08 PM | #

I feel that I have the responsility to clarify Mr. Waldman’s statement about “the preservation of parts” of the historic house located at 142 Cross Highway.

After attempting with no success to convince Axis Point (through conversations with Mr. Waldman’s business partner, Mr Terry Friedberg) to preserve this historic house, and incorporate it in their development, I, with the assistance of the Historic District Commission, convinced Axis Point to delay the demolition for a short time.  This allowed a brief period to try to find someone who would want to disassemble and re-erect the house in another location.  (The frame of the house was a hand-hewn post and beam assembly dating from the early 19th century, and many features of the house were original and salvageable.)

With such a short period of time, we would have had to be quite lucky to find anyone to take the house whole.  We were not lucky.  So as a fallback step, we arranged for a company that deals in antique house parts to take it down.
This was worth the effort perhaps, since the alternative was for the house to be buldozed, turned into splinters and placed in dumpsters. So, although we did not “save” this house, at least we saved parts of it that will be recycled.  This is not historic preservaiton, but one can call it conservation of a sort, and therefore, in a small way, environmentally beneficial.

With a lot of work, and with Axis Points cooperation, we did not accomplish much, but we did manage to prevent the wastefulness of having an historic house with beautiful materials being ground up for land fill.

The town of Westport will not save any of its historic fabric without the public interest being expressed (and perhaps incentives offered to developers) in the early stages of developers’ proposals - i.e. in the site planning and design phase.  Westporters need to figure out how that public interest can be voiced - and heard. 

(Please note that to read more comments regarding the Micheels House, please go to the comments section of the Teardown “column”.

Posted by michaelJenningsGlynn on December 14, 2006 at 05:00 PM | #

Perhaps Morley Boyd and the HDC’s new assistant (who’s position I hope is approved by the BOF!) needs to log on to Realtor.com on a daily basis and research the homes that are up for sale. 

Maybe then we wouldn’t have developers like Mr. Waldman destroying historic and architecturally significant homes in Westport. 

Obviously, there’s going to have to be some kind of intervention on the wholesale destruction of Westport’s history and character before it’s lost forever. 

Yes, public interest is key. Historic preservation and the HDC certainly get my vote.  If Westport doesn’t want to become the next Suburbia, Anywhere, USA - which is where it’s headed - the people in this town had better start speaking up and getting involved - en masse!

Thanks for trying to save 142 Cross Highway!  At least the salvaged materials can be put to good use by other antique house lovers, who will respect their craftsmanship and quality.

Posted by amy ancel on December 14, 2006 at 09:17 PM | #

Making an offer is exactly what we were hoping to arrange.  We hoped to delay the destruction (and vandalism) long enough to convince Mr. & Mrs. Waldman that the right thing to do was allow time to find a buyer who would want the house.
Then the Waldmans could get their money back and build their house on another piece of property in town.  I, along with the Paul Rudolph Foundation and others, am confident that if we were given a few weeks we could find a buyer - or raised the money to buy it until a permanent buyer were found.

Posted by michaelJenningsGlynn on December 14, 2006 at 11:31 PM | #

God almighty, I wish I could broker a deal, but with the roofing off the house, the prospect seems more slim than ever.  I have never met Mr. Waldman; I am sure he is an intelligent man with many good qualities, but he has remained unavailable.  And so far, his message to us seems to be “get lost”.

I am sorry that he is reacting with anger; instead I wish he would at least have allowed some sort of dialogue - if not with me (because I understand he has taken umbrage with my statements), then with the HDC, the Paul Rudolph Foundation, the National Trust, Bob Stern of Yale’s architeture school, DOCOMOMO’s president, Theo Prudon, the American Institute of Architects - all these people and organizations could provide a route to a happy outcome. 

I am still willing to put time and effort into this, but I have been told by those who actually spoken to Mr. Waldman, that he is not interested. It seems he views the house as his privite property and no more than that - not as a work of art that has cultural signicance. 

As I said a couple days ago, if we had had more time, and if the act of removing the roof had not occurred, we might have been able to engage Mr. Waldman’s better instincts.  But all that is going on right now is Mr. Waldman and his partner flailing with anger at the bad press - and my God he could have such wonderfully good press (nationally) if he changed his mind and preserved the Micheels House!

Posted by michaelJenningsGlynn on December 15, 2006 at 12:28 AM | #

Enough is Enough.
Why don’t Beasley, Ronemus and especially Ancel, Glynn and Boyd go back to their pretentious, demonizing, inflammatory group of self appointed architectural and cultural saviors and either come up with $5 million plus damages in the next week or shut up. Stop wasting time, money, attorneys, the courts, state agencies and public discourse in their own self serving, antagonizing and entirely divisive attacks on the seller, buyer, agent, architect and all others who are simply exercising their individual, personal, entirely appropriate rights to buy and sell and develop personal property. This community has heard enough of this, its demeaning and embarrassing to all Westport residents to be continually barraged with one unfair, innacurate, personal attack and false accusation after another. Enough is enough. Put up $5 Million plus or please just shut up.

Posted by Howard Bass on January 03, 2007 at 08:18 PM | #

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