ACSCNY Statement on the Estabrook Estate / Wellington House

Posted on April 11, 2019 by

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Fayetteville_NY_Estabrook_Mansion_photo_Beth_Wallace_Powelll_2018 (2) 

The Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York (which was founded by Cleota Reed and others in the 1970s in large part to recognize and protect the legacy of architect Ward Wellington Ward) has submitted the following letter to the Manlius Town Board.

We are heartened to hear over the weekend that the proposal which was tabled at the last meeting may again be postponed and even withdrawn due to concerns of the Board and widespread community opposition. But community engagement must be sustained.

We draw special attention to the last paragraph of the latter, in which we as an organization – and through the expertise of many of our members – would be happy to confer with the owner, with potential developers, and with the Town of Manlius as to various options and approaches for the preservation of this site for future generations.

Sam Gruber
President, ACSCNY
artscraftscny@gmail.com

April 7, 2019

To: Manlius Town Board
From: Samuel D. Gruber (President) & the Board of Directors, Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York

On behalf of the Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York, we write to oppose the requested zoning change by Thomas Thomas for the property at 7262 Genesee Street from Residential District 1 (1-A) to Commercial District A (C-A).

The Society asks that the Town of Manlius reject this proposed change because it will lead to the complete and negative redevelopment of the historic and architectural significant site of the former Estabrook Mansion, known since 1977 as the Wellington House, and to the near-certain demolition of the house itself.

The not-for-profit and all volunteer Arts & Crafts Society of Central New York was founded in 1976 “to preserve, document, and understand the artifacts and ideals of the Arts & Crafts Movement.” One of our first major efforts was the acclaimed 1978 Ward Wellington Ward exhibition at the Everson Museum of Art, “The Arts & Craft Ideal: An Architect and his Craftsman.” The exhibit was curated by Cleota Reed, who subsequently published books on Ward, stained glass artist Henry Keck, and Henry Mercer the Moravian Pottery Works, all of whom worked together in creating the former Estabrook Estate, known since 1977 as the Wellington House.

We are saddened that the owner of the property who has so effectively marketed the beauty and history of the house and site for over four decades, is now applying for a zoning change that will almost certainly destroy those very qualities he has taught the community to appreciate and love. Though we realize that retaining the property is no longer in Mr. Thomas’s interest, we firmly believe that a better solution can be found than re-zoning and developing the property for what is likely to be intensive commercial use.

Indeed, not only does the change of zoning and the proposed project destroy an important aspect of local and regional history and architecture, it will foolishly destroy a valuable cultural and potential economic asset for the region.

Other Alternatives

At a time when various cultural intuitions and organizations in the region are developing long-term cultural tourism and economic plans based on the rich Arts & Crafts movement history of Onondaga and surrounding counties (including the Stickley Museum in Fayetteville), it is inconceivable to us that a developer – and the town – would consider the destruction of one of the best known, best preserved, and until very recently economically contributing pieces of that cultural heritage. The Wellington House, designed by famed architect Ward Wellington Ward is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is widely recognized as one of his more impressive creations, and one among the very best preserved and most easily accessible of his works.

For decades now, it has served as popular venue for private and public events, and it is the only original Arts & Crafts period venues available for such events in the region.

Rather, based on similar situations in other historic New York communities, we believe that a developer experienced in the repurposing of historic properties, working in consultation with local economic planners, could find an economically viable use for the site that would protect the historic features and allow use of the generous federal and NYS historic preservation tax credits that would be available to such a project.

The Estabrook House / Wellington House and property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register listing affords an owner/developer access to use of the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program and encourages private sector investment in the rehabilitation and re-use of historic buildings. It is one of the nation’s most successful and cost-effective community revitalization programs. A certified rehabilitation of the Estabrook property could generate 20% federal income tax credit and 20% NYS income tax credit for a resourceful developer. This is how most comprehensive rehabilitation projects are accomplished and there have been many in recent years in Onondaga County, especially in the City of Syracuse where local government and business leaders, like Center State CEO, recognize as an effective economic redevelopment tool including the Hotel Syracuse, Pike Block, Armory Square, and the State Tower Building to name a few.

At the Wellington House, for example, if a developer invested $1,000,000 into the rehabilitation/restoration of the designated property then when all is approved, the developer or their investor would get a $200,000 tax credit from federal government, and a $200,000 tax credit from New York State. Alternatively, if the property were owned by a not-for-profit corporation, it could be eligible for NYS REDC matching grants for rehabilitation.

Historic Value

The Estabrook House is the largest of master architect Ward Wellington Ward’s surviving projects in the Greater Syracuse area, with significant contributions by highly acclaimed artisans such as Henry Keck Stained Glass and the Moravian Pottery & Tile Works. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 and until very recently its artistic qualities were extolled on the website of Wellington House.

“Some measure of the commitment of Estabrook and his architect to make the Estate a place of real distinction comes from a letter written by Ward to [Henry] Mercer on Dec. 9, 1922. In ordering Moravian tiles for the residence, he wrote, “Price is no object to my clients; they …understand your work and want it.”

Ward was proud of his English roots and perhaps this is why he seemed to draw on traditional English sources for many of his designs. Houses such as his own LeMoyne Manor nearly burst at the seams with richly crafted picturesque details and textures.

Low hanging slate roofs gave them a cozy, old-fashioned county cottage look. Wellington House is more formal and austere by contrast, evocative more of a manor house than a cottage. Its massing and subtle balance of parts are those of a stately English hall.

From the brick gateway, the gardener’s cottage and the garage-stable complex on the left to end at a circle at the front entry. The house faces north, secluded from the traffic of Genesee Street by an apple orchard and a grandly spreading African Nagunda tree.

The exterior of the house is built from natural materials of contrasting colors and textures: red brick, grey stone, cream painted woodwork, dark stained timber, and tawny roughcast. Dormers, bays, and recesses of varying sizes add variety to the building’s essentially rectangular shapes. The whole is unified by a natural slate roof. Ward treated each architectural element individually: notice the different window treatments, and embellishments such as carved decorations and ball finials in stone, wood pendants with carved rosette ends, half timbering with robustly spread roughcast, and leaded glass windows throughout.

Three motifs reoccurring both outside and inside the house unify and intensify the design: overlaid cutouts applied to woodwork, Tudor arches, and carved shields.

The Tudor-arched front porch and stone portal with a carved shield in the front doorlight shifts this motif from stone to glass. A colorful geometric pattern with a diamond border in the small entry vestibule introduces the visitor to the wealth of Moravian tiles in this house.

Additional Concerns

In addition to the potential loss of the historic Estabrook Mansion/Wellington House, the proposed change would allow a radical transformation of property for new commercial development that will dramatically and negatively impacting the landscape, traffic, water management, and thus the overall quality of life of the area. The Arts & Crafts Society is cognizant of these serious threats, which we know other experienced and qualified individuals and organizations will address.

We ask that the Town of Manlius serious consider the negative impact of the demolition of a significant historic resource as well as the negative impact of the commercial development of this property as it abuts a residential neighborhood. This 11-acre parcel currently provides a much-needed buffer between the Commercial-A and Region Shopping and the Residential-1 zones.

Succumbing to the forces of an outside developer is not what Manlius and Fayetteville deserves.

The Board of Directors of the Arts & Crafts Society will be happy to work with the Town of Manlius and Onondaga County Planning to look at alternatives to this sprawl development with options that will preserve both the cultural resource and neighborhood buffer and would ultimately provide the Town of Manlius and the Fayetteville community with a property that we can all be proud of.

Thank you for your consideration.

Board of Directors ACSCNY

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