Two men who have single-handedly restored a dozen houses in the Stockade were honored Thursday at the annual Historic Preservation awards.
Robin White was honored for his work at 250 Green St., receiving his fifth restoration award. Tom Killeen was honored for restoring another Green Street house, one so far gone that he had once argued that it should be demolished.
White bought many Stockade buildings a decade ago, intending to renovate them for renters. Some of them were in such bad condition that he now calls his work “a rescue effort.”
At 250 Green St., he got his first real look at the structure when a longtime tenant moved out. What he found was so bad that he asked the other tenant to move out, too.
“There was rot in the exterior walls. The foundation was collapsing,” he said. “The rear portion of the building was resting on dirt.”
He hired Killeen to rebuild it.
“I decided, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right,” he said, before adding, “At an enormous cost. More than the building’s worth. But at least it’s a very lovely building. If you want to get a building into top shape, you have to spend more than it’s worth in Schenectady because the value is so low.”
He’s already moved on to his next rescue: the John Glen House at 58 Washington Ave., where George Washington slept during the Revolutionary War. He came to Schenectady several times to inspect its fortifications.
“It’s a wonderful building. It needs to be saved,” White said.
He added that he wants to be the sort of landlord who invests in his buildings.
“One of the problems with buildings that get bought here is they just get milked,” he said.
Killeen has the same philosophy. He’s restored six buildings of his own so far, but he never intended to fix 221 Green St.
After buying it, he applied for a demolition permit, saying it was too far gone to be saved. The Heritage Foundation fought tooth and nail, and eventually he agreed to rebuild it, with the help of a $25,000 grant.
He put another $150,000 into it, not counting the labor. It’s more than the building is worth, he said.
“It was such an extensive renovation,” he said, adding that if an owner had to pay for the labor as well, it would not have been affordable for anyone.
“The previous owner had gutted the inside of the house. The house hadn’t been lived in since the 1950s,” he said. “It was neglected so long. That should never have happened.
Almost no one thought it could be saved, Foundation chairwoman Gloria Kishton recalled.
But she insisted that Killeen try, and five years ago he set out to make it work. He runs a restoration company, Killeen Restoration, and he was able to do the work in between other jobs.
By the end, he’d fallen in love with the building he’d wanted to demolish.
“Now I’m glad I did it,” he said.
He may rent it or sell it. Selling would make better financial sense, he added, but it would be hard to let go.
“Doing the work, you kind of get attached to the thing,” he said.
He turned the two-family house into a single family, with two bedrooms upstairs and 11⁄2 baths. Because it had been gutted, he had to recreate the historic sense. There are bookcases built into the staircase wall, hardwood floors, and a kitchen with cherry wood. But he added modern amenities, too: central air conditioning and parking in the back.
Another unlikely success was Jeff Civitello’s restoration of 322 State St. Civitello, who runs Focus Construction, insisted the boarded-up building could be saved, despite serious damage caused by a fire set by homeless people.
It took years of work. But this year, a barbershop opened, and a cafe is in the works.
Kishton had hoped the building could be saved because it is one of the city’s last cast-iron storefronts. But, she said, the future looked bleak.
“No one was really sure what to do with it. It was boarded up. There were two fires,” she said. “It was saved from the wrecking ball.”
Also winning an award were Karen Canton and Keith Dayor for 24 Front St., a residence that was nicely restored, including its exterior shutters, Kishton said.
Union College was recognized for restoring the Parker Rice Mansion, now known as Abbe Hall. The college renovated the mansion a decade ago, going so far as to get the wallpaper restored and rehung, Kishton said.