It was a grand old home, built by a paper baron. Then it was an elegant restaurant. But ever since a fire gutted it in the early 1990s, the Dragon Inn, located just south of the 9W S-curve, has been an eyesore. Its owner wants to demolish it, while many in the community still hope to see it restored.
It will be up to the village Historic Review Board to decide the matter. It began taking comments at its Jan. 20 meeting. Another public hearing will be held Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. in the Saugerties Fire Department’s meeting room in Village Hall.
The owner of the property, Ching Ya Wu, also owns the Wok and Roll Chinese Restaurant and Harmony Music in Woodstock. His representative, Donald Snyder, a Saugerties-based construction management consultant, said Ya can’t find a buyer because nobody wants to renovate the building.
“Because of the damage from the fire and natural destruction over the years, the building needs to come down,” Snyder said. “Its designation as an historic landmark is hindering any sale.”
Preservation advocates contend that Ya could make the sale if he was willing to lower the price. In the early 2000s the 3.9-acre property was listed at nearly $1 million. Since then its listing price has decreased to about $700,000. Some feel $450,000 would be more realistic. The assessment is $335,000, recently lowered from nearly twice that amount.
Snyder said the property’s designation as an historic landmark in 2007 was done in a “flawed, selective, and prejudicial manner.” He said when the Historic Review Board made its designation, the application was never signed and information was missing from the documents. He said neither the building nor the site has been designated by the national or state historic registers and the owner never sought any such designation.
“The historic value of this home is overblown,” Snyder said. “This building has been nothing but an embarrassment to the village as the gateway to the village.”
Resident Penelope Milford said she is not in favor of demolishing the building, saying that its design represents a “unique statement…that you don’t see in Saugerties. It should be maintained in some way. The Lighthouse was derelict, but was fixed and that is the brand for this town.”
Dr. Louis Fuoco, who has lived across the street for 19 years, called the building an “embarrassment to the village. It’s not being maintained, and yes, the owner is asking too much … but it’s time to let it go and be demolished and let progress take its course.”
And while most attendees were concerned about possibly losing a part of Saugerties history, there were those who were more concerned about what would be built on the site if it were demolished.
Former village trustee Suzanne Leblanc worried that low-and-moderate-income housing could be put there, though Eyal Saad, village code enforcement officer, said the current zoning wouldn’t allow that.
Should the Historic Review Board turn down the request to demolish the building, the owner can then appeal the matter to the Village Board.
The home originally known as Clovelea was built by paper magnate William R. Sheffield in 1882. William was the son of J.B. Sheffield, owner of the paper factory originally started by Henry Barclay, the man who industrialized Saugerties in the 1830s. After taking over the plant, which was eventually rechristened the Diamond Mills Paper Company, the Sheffield family became known as “the paper makers of Saugerties,” according to Michael Sullivan Smith, a historian and member of the Historic Review Board. William R. Sheffield went on to partner with the Saugerties Manufacturing Company and the Barclay Sulfite Fibre Company, and was able to process paper from pulp to book.
Prior to the fire, it was a popular Chinese restaurant in the area. It had many incarnations before that as both a restaurant, and, in the 1950s, as the Stonewall Hotel.
Of Clovelea, Smith writes, “Cloverlea is one of the few places where a perspective from a public highway connects the grandeur of a bygone era with the town and village’s scenic and picturesque character. Because of this, Cloverlea’s reputation as an ‘icon’ is well-founded. It represents a tangible symbol of the regional identity that Saugerties has presented to the world over the past 188 years.”