The debate over the proposed demolition of a 19th-century mansion on the village’s southside heights has pitted communitarian preservationists against libertarian property rights advocates. But perhaps the more important question is entirely non-political, and its answer will dictate whether preservation is a realistic option: how much would it cost to fix?
According to Don Snyder, owner Ching Ya Wu’s representative, the answer is somewhere in the realm of $8 or $10 million. On the other end, Mark Smith of the newly formed Clovelea Conservancy, which hopes to purchase the building, says the additions could be removed and the interior cleaned up for around $300,000. Architect Scott Harrison, who owns the adjacent carriage house, said the mansion “is not in bad shape” and former building inspector Alex Wade says it could fixed up for $500,000 or under.
Snyder says those who float the lower figures are “naive” about the building’s condition and the cost of restoration.
“It would take someone with bottomless pockets to restore that building,” he said.
Smith says it’s in the owner’s interest to exaggerate the cost of repairs because he plans to demolish the structure and develop the land, though he admits he hasn’t been inside the structure himself. Wade said he doesn’t doubt that a contractor could quote the job at $8 million, but some contractors charge more than others.
One major question is how much is salvageable: while Snyder says all the wood, inside and out, is rotting and infested and needs to go, others say plenty can be left in place.
Who’s right? Is the answer somewhere in the middle? Though we don’t have any impartial contractors on staff to provide estimates, we decided to take a tour of the building to see for ourselves what shape it’s in.
From behind the building, one can imagine what the estate must have been like when it was built in the waning years of the Gilded Age. The panoramic view of the Catskills is breathtaking, framing the winding Esopus Creek. Deer mill around in the forest between the home and the shore. You can see the two other buildings that comprised the estate, the carriage house down the hill to the left and gate house over your right shoulder. On the south side of the building, a grand tree, one of the largest in the village, towers over everything. But at the bottom of the hill, old toys, furniture and other junk peek out from beneath the fill, the legacy of massive unpermitted dumping. That will all have to be removed, says Don Snyder.
The dumping was a disaster, and it will be expensive to clean up. After inspecting recent unfinished and unsightly additions on both sides of the original structure, Snyder says past village boards erred by repeatedly subdividing the property. A small apartment complex sits to the south of the building, separating it from the carriage house, which has a different owner, as does the gate house. The real beauty of the original estate was the land, not just structures, says Snyder. The point underlines his case that, while it was great in its hey-day, the building is just too far gone to save.
What would it take to fix it up? Snyder says all the “organics” would have to be replaced due to age, rot and termites. That includes the Queen Anne style wood shingles above the brick walls on the exterior. Snyder says walls and floors need to be stripped down to the brick and rebuilt, which will not be easy due to the unusual shape of the structure. (He contrasts this with the transformation of the old mill on East Bridge St. into a senior apartment complex, which was simpler because that building was all right angles.) Past repairs to the roof kept the elements out, but there are plenty of charred beams visible from the top floor. “You can’t put brand new on crumbling old and expect your investment will pay off,” he says. The whole thing needs windows. It also needs new water and sewer service lines, a sprinkler system, lead paint abatement and electrical wiring.