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Amsterdam Castle gets award for reuse of armory

Saturday, April 28, 2012
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The Preservation League of New York State has selected the Amsterdam Armory in Amsterdam, owned by Manfred and Susan Phemister, to receive an award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.
The Preservation League of New York State has selected the Amsterdam Armory in Amsterdam, owned by Manfred and Susan Phemister, to receive an award for Excellence in Historic Preservation.

— The Amsterdam Castle, an imposing former armory that stands guard on a hill overlooking the city’s South Side, is being recognized by a state preservation group as an example of adaptive reuse.

The Preservation League of New York State is honoring the structure with its Excellence in Historic Preservation Award on May 16 in New York City. Manfred and Susan Phemister own the 36,000-square-foot edifice at 49 Florida Ave.

The award cites notable achievements in retaining, promoting and reusing New York state’s irreplaceable architectural heritage, said Erin Tobin, the league’s eastern program director.

“We are recognizing the work they have done to bring this building back to life and to find a sympathetic, adaptive use for it,” she said. The latter statement means the Phemisters are using the building for a purpose different from what it was originally built for and the use works for the existing structure.

The Amsterdam Armory is one of 122 armories the state built for its National Guard from just before the Civil War through World War I. Their primary purpose, at least in the downstate region, was to quell riot and deter rebellion and to serve as drill centers for military units. The state now has approximately 53 active armories for National Guard units; the rest have been decommissioned. Many have been sold, but some remain vacant or underused.

Isaac Perry, considered New York’s first state architect, designed the Amsterdam Armory. It was constructed in 1894. He also is known for serving as lead architect for the state Capitol from 1883 to its completion in 1899.

The state decommissioned the Amsterdam Armory in 1994, and the building remained vacant before the Phemisters bought it at public auction in 2005.

Since then, the couple has spent “more than $100,000 and less than $1 million” to restore the structure into their primary residence and a bed and breakfast, said Susan Phemister.

As part of their work, they maintained the structure’s exterior lines while installing energy-efficient windows and European-style on-demand water heaters and used “green” paints and sealants throughout.

The Phemisters also converted a back gravel patch into a graded lawn with paved access and turned an overgrown lot next door, which they purchased, into a controlled green space and parking lot.

Since 2011, the bed and breakfast has brought in more than $50,000 in rentals and recorded more than 1,000 overnight stays, drawing people from 30 countries, Susan Phemister said. “It is intriguing to find a castle in upstate New York. There are not many buildings like this that you can use for a bed and breakfast,” she said.

People have used the building for weddings, receptions and accommodations during holiday visits, she said.

Tobin said the Phemisters have “celebrated the existing structure and existing layout and found a new use with what was there.” She said the preservation league’s recognition should bring more attention to the castle, which is listed on the state and national registry of buildings.

“What we hope is that through this recognition, they will receive greater visibility that will call attention to their business and their success and will inspire others,” Tobin said.

Phemister said their effort is part of a larger effort, launched by the city of Amsterdam Waterfront Commission, to revitalize the South Side. The effort involves the removal of the former Chalmers Building by the waterfront and installation of new lights and street improvements to the area, designed to increase tourism to the area. The South Side currently boasts seven eateries and a hair salon within walking distance of the armory.

The state recognition is the latest award for the Phemisters and their work. The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce presented them with its tourism award this year, and the site has been featured on several TV programs.

 
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