Saratoga County

Historic Saratoga Springs home still at center of conflict

Should an empty, three-story home dating back to 1871 be preserved or should it be demolished as an

Should an empty, three-story home dating back to 1871 be preserved or should it be demolished as an unsafe structure?

This is the question city officials and preservationists have been debating for at least two years.

The Winans-Crippen House at 66 Franklin St. is in the Franklin Square Historic District, the city’s first, and has been on the National Register since the early 1970s.

The current owner, Joseph Boff, a builder who lives in Naples, Fla. and owns property in Saratoga Springs, wants to demolish the house, saying renovation costs would be unreasonable.

Saratoga Springs Public Safety Commissioner Richard Wirth, in consultation with city code enforcement officers and others, says the long-empty house is a threat to public safety.

“This is an unsafe structure in my opinion,” Wirth said. He said there are reports of vagrants sometimes living in the once-stately home.

But Samantha Bosshart, executive director of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, and others are fighting to save 66 Franklin St. Bosshart contends that the house has been stabilized and is no more a threat to public safety than other vacant homes in the city.

She said if the house were demolished it would undermine the city’s historic review process. The city’s Design Review Commission has discussed the demolition proposal over the past two years and ruled that an environmental impact statement is required before any determination is made regarding the wrecking ball.

City Court Judge Jeffrey Wait ruled last October that instead of demolishing the house as city officials wanted, it should be stabilized and secured. Wait’s orders were designed “to preserve the status quo and prevent loss of the house through demolition by neglect,” Bosshart said in a recent letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

In April, state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan issued a permanent injunction preventing the demolition until the Design Review Commission approves it.

The only exception is Section 382 of Article 18 of the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code, which the city would have to seek through the state Supreme Court. This action would allow the home to be demolished as an unsafe structure despite the pending DRC requirements.

Wirth met with city attorney Joseph Scala last Thursday to discuss the issue. Scala will review the thick file on 66 Franklin and see what options are available, he said. “We want to look at the whole picture and then make a policy decision,” Wirth said. These options apparently include asking the state Supreme Court for permission to demolish the house.

The house was built in 1871 at the start of the Victorian period. Bosshart described it as one of the few surviving buildings designed by Saratoga Springs architect John D. Stevens, who also designed the United States Hotel and the Grand Union Hotel, both razed long ago.

Preservation debate

Jim Martinez, a local architect long interested in preserving the city’s architectural history, said his study of the house indicates it was part of one of the earliest National Register applications in the country when the city historian made the application in the late 1960s. At that time, there was a proposal to have Route 50 come through Franklin Square, where some of the city’s earliest buildings stand.

The merchants on Broadway fought the state proposal because they said they needed traffic on Broadway, which was then struggling for survival, Martinez said.

He said 66 Franklin St. was included in this Franklin Square Historic District and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, well before the founding of the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation. The Franklin Square area became a local historic district in 1987.

Martinez said the building, in his opinion, is not unsafe or a public safety threat.

“It’s the safest building on the block,” he said. “It has been secured and no one is living in it.” He said it is the city’s responsibility to see that such a building is secured so that vagrants can’t enter it. “The city has not acted on the property maintenance code,” he said.

“The building needs somebody to defend it,” Martinez said. He thinks that Boff should be urged to sell the building to someone willing to spend the time and money to restore it.

Bosshart said that Boff has shown no interest in selling the house. “We offered to market the property but he’s not interested.” She said Boff also owns the lot next to 66 Franklin and has proposed erecting a fence on the property, demolishing 66 Franklin, and eventually building two buildings on the lots.

“The building can’t be saved with any kind of economic sense,” said Anthony Ianniello, Boff’s attorney. “The cost would be prohibitive.”

He said, “The building has had many changes over the years,” and this brings to question how historic it really is.

Fire danger

Ianniello said 66 Franklin is only a few feet south of a larger historic building that faces Franklin Square, and said a fire in the empty building could be a disastrous to the occupied building so close to it.

He said his client has secured the building according to the “dictates” of the city officials and has appeared before the Design Review Commission many times seeking permission to demolish it. He questioned the DRC’s request that an environmental impact statement be required for the demolition, calling it very unusual.

It is his client’s position that the DRC will never consent to the building’s demolition.

Ianniello said Boff is a person who respects and appreciates architecture. He said Boff restored the Crafter’s Gallery building on Broadway and also the historic building at 1 Franklin St. He said Boff also has a residence in Saratoga Springs and owns other property in the city.

Martinez notes there have been conflicting estimates of the condition of 66 Franklin St. He said that the owner of the home brought John Harding, a structural engineer, to a DRC meeting to testify that the building was “beyond reasonable rehabilitation and should be demolished.”

But the preservation foundation also introduced an expert, Donald Friedman, a structural engineer and adjunct professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, who told the DRC that this old building was no less daunting than most others in its condition.

Both of the experts, in their officially submitted public documents, stated that the building was not unsafe, according to Martinez.

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