The Inn / Market Project

NATIONAL PUBLICITY

Preservation Magazine:
The May/June 2002 issue of the journal of the National Trust for Historic Preservation carried a feature story on Pleasant Rowland and the Aurora controversy.

Preservation On-line
The NTHP followed the story for months.

"The National Trust Legal Defense Fund
Summarized the Aurora case it strongly supported; see page 14.

The Associated Press
Provided a feature article and informative news stories from January through April 2002.

National Public Radio's Morning Edition
Produced a story on the preservation crisis in Aurora which aired nationwide on 3 April 2002.

The New York Times
Article of May 18, 2001, by Dan Barry, "Big Change Is Bearing Down on Small Town" (NB: This link takes you off-site.)

The Chronicle of Higher Education
Feature 8 February 2002 called "A Small College Divides Its Village With Unusual Attempt to Revive It: Are Wells and a wealthy alumna improving Aurora, N.Y., or remaking it in kitsch?" (NB: This link takes you off-site.)

Press Releases and Statements
Issued by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation League of New York State, and the Aurora Coalition, Inc.

LOCAL PUBLICITY

Editorials: Rowland's take over is questioned closely by the county newspaper.

Some Local Stories: Rowland relocates mature trees, plans to move a building, angers citizens, puts local merchants out of business, and celebrates grand opening of "her" Aurora Inn.

Many other local articles can be viewed at a website relating this project to the Wells College Master Plan.

"INN PROJECT NOT A TRUE RESTORATION"

Guest column on the Aurora Inn project published in the Cayuga edition of the Syracuse Post-Standard on 28 March 2002.

By Jacquetta M. Haley, Ph.D.


The fate of the Aurora Inn has been decided. The recent decision by the State Supreme Court Appellate Division allows Wells College and the Aurora Foundation to complete their "restoration" of the nearly 170-year-old inn on the eastern shores of Cayuga Lake.

As a Wells College alumna, I hope the Inn makes a go of it financially. My family has owned property north of Aurora since before World War II. I spent summers and holidays in winter, spring and fall there. My mother now lives in the area full time.

Every friend and resident of Aurora, and this includes the supporters of the Aurora Coalition, wants the Inn to become a thriving enterprise. They can agree with Wells President Lisa Ryerson's hope that "the Inn will once again be the heart of our community and the focal point of this lovely historic village."

However, I've spent twenty-five years working in the field of historic preservation. I've researched and written nominations for National Landmark designations. I've worked on major historic site restorations in New York and other states. I've been involved professionally in discussions on the "historic significance" of buildings and what to do with them. As a preservationist, I fear for the future of Aurora.

The Aurora Coalition never questioned the goal of a thriving Aurora Inn and by extension a more economically viable community. The coalition focused on the approval of an ill-considered plan and the misleading claims that this is a "restoration" of a key building in the heart of a National Historic Register District.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Preservation League of New York State, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation all supported the Aurora Coalition´┐1⁄2s concerns regarding the alterations to the Aurora Inn. These organizations have neither the money nor the personnel to pursue frivolous attacks on well-meaning philanthropists seeking to save communities. They have to pick and choose those battles that they feel have major significance to the goal of historic preservation on a statewide and national level. So, why all the concern with the "restoration" of the Inn?

To restore something, you have to return it to some earlier state. In this computer age we are all constantly restoring documents, data that´┐1⁄2s been lost, files that have been misplaced. We hit a few keys, and with luck, the lost document is back on the screen, exactly as it was prior to our last set of changes. If the Inn is a restoration, it has to be going back to a specific earlier state. The implication has been that the Inn will be restored to its appearance when first built in 1833. Balconies will be returned to the rear fa├žade, and fireplaces that have been bricked up will be reopened. This sounds good. We all like balconies, and fireplaces belong in a 1830s building.

The problem lies in other prominent changes that in no way reflect the Inn as it appeared in the 1830s, or at any time since it was built. Large expanses of glass windows are being added to the north and south sides. The addition of closely spaced pairs of double-hung sash windows to the lakeside corners of the building completely alters the historic massing of the elevations. The spatial relationship between the brick walls and the glass of the windows is completely altered. The historic character of the building's exterior is lost. Plans for the lakeside elevation include the introduction of the glassed-in terrace room off the first floor. Think 1920s garden party, or think Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby. But don´┐1⁄2t think 1830s rural inn.

Similar alterations are proposed for the interior. While it is great that the original central hall configuration is being retained on the first floor, the federalist and distincly character-defining central stairwell is being eliminated, not restored. And what's happening on the second and third floors? These floors also were configured around a central hallway with direct access to the roadside and lakeside balconies. The rooms were entered from these hallways that ran east-west. The new plans call for a total reworking of the floor plan. North-south hallways will replace the east-west hallways. The change will be accomplished by the removal of all walls and a complete reconfiguration of the rooms, significantly altering the historic character of the building.

Once the spaces are reconfigured, individual rooms will have their own doorways onto the balconies. Originally, the rooms had windows overlooking the lakeside and roadside balconies, but not doorways. By changing former windows into doorways, the plans once again change the historic character of the building.

We're told these radical changes are necessary to meet modern codes for safety and accessibility. But we're not told that the college applied for several significant code variances from the Department of State. The "restored" inn will not meet modern code. So, the gutting and redesign of the inn will not provide code compliance. Even the enclosed replacement stairway appears to be too narrow to meet the code for emergency egress.

The word "restore" has been used again and again by the college to describe the process by which Aurora will regain its economic footing. The alterations to the Aurora Inn envisioned by the Aurora Foundation are in no way a restoration. At their best they are a rehabilitation, and according to the Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings published by the U.S. Department of the Interior, this is a bad rehabilitation. Specifically, the guidelines place radical changes to floor plans, changes to the number location or size of windows, and alterations to principal elevations such as the replacement of windows with doors in the "Not Recommended" category.

The sad part is that the historic character of the Inn really could have been saved. It would have required a willingness to work with some of the quirky features typical of historic buildings. But this very quirkiness is in many ways the driving force behind the popularity of good bed and breakfast facilities and the growing Heritage Tourism industry. If you are staying at a ´┐1⁄2historic´┐1⁄2 inn, you expect and enjoy the feel of a home or building that evolved overtime. You don´┐1⁄2t need ´┐1⁄2well-appointed marble baths´┐1⁄2 to make a historic inn a viable economic enterprise.

The real question for historic preservationists is, what next? If the newly remodeled Inn is the keystone to a new Aurora, what happens to the authentic nineteenth century village recognized as a significant national historic landmark? If the changes to the Inn are representative of how Wells College and the Aurora Foundation envision future renovations to their other properties in Aurora, then the historic authenticity, the sense of realness, of the village is threatened. The decision to remove the adjacent Vanderipe market building and replace it with a large, incompatible new building said to be "in keeping" with the earlier building just intensifies preservationists´┐1⁄2 concerns. Each time alterations are made to the historic buildings and landscape, the validity of this remarkable historic register district is diminished.

The changes being implemented at the Aurora Inn are being promoted as a "restoration" of a significant building within a much larger historic district. By seeking national register placement over 20 years ago, the College and Village recognized the unique historic character of their community, it's authenticity as a real place that evolved and changed over time. The designation gave national recognition to that unique character, but also imposed a responsibility on the community to maintain and protect that authentic historic character. In their first project, the College and the Foundation failed to meet that responsibility.

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