Friday, March 30, 2007

Demolition Man

Whining developer Bruce Levinsky finally got his way, as he always does. The city’s Design Review Commission finally signed a demolition order for Captain Arrogance to rip down the rotted brick and beam west wing of the Rip Van Dam Hotel, which has stood over Washington Street for nearly two centuries.

By his comments, DRC Chairman Patrick Kane seemed a bit perturbed by having to ring the death knell for the 187-year-old building, as well he should. In fact, he should feel an unabashed sense of embarrassment for presiding over the commission while the demolition procession sadly marched forward through the city's bureaucracy like the Nazis did through Paris during Word War II.

Some would argue the wing isn’t worth the litigation hassle needed to save it, given its architectural design and so-called historical significance. By today’s standards, the structure isn’t much more than an unspectacular stack of crumbling 19th century bricks and warped wooden timbers. In fact, give anyone of the strip developers in this city a couple hundred grand, and they could probably replicate the wing with a fair degree of accuracy, even without a set of blue prints.

“In the period it was built, the plainness of the building would have been offensive,” said James Kettlewell, a professor emeritus at Skidmore College and member of the Saratoga Spring Preservation Society. “Considering all the factors, the argument is not sufficiently strong to save the building.”

Unless, of course, one considers the span of history this building weathered, including 32 U.S. presidents, no less than 10 national wars and the admittance of 23 new states into the union. The wing stood despite conflagrations that collapsed many of the adjacent behemoth hotels once dotting the Broadway streetscape; it also endured the urban renewal efforts of the 1950s, which consumed those grand hotels not consumed by flames. Then, perhaps, this so-called plainness is brought into context.

It’s a sad commentary when a building that stood without fail from 1840 until last year is deemed so far gone that a wrecking ball is the only viable solution. It’s even sadder to consider that Levinsky could have invested a few thousand dollars to rectify the building in its entirety when he first took over the Rip Van Dam 10 years ago.

But for the egotistical developer, preservation efforts would have meant scrapping plans to create luxury suites at the location, a project city leaders sent back to the drawing board years ago because it didn’t fit the character of the street corner. And now, thanks to Levinsky's stuborness, city patrons will have a nice block of asphalt to stare at for the next few summers, as he retools his plans for the building.

More importantly, however, the DRC has now set a dangerous precedent for other developers to tinker with and malign the city’s historical structures as they see fit. As Levinsky has demonstrated, provide a developer has deep pockets, they can simply out wait the bleating preservationists until the blustering city officials capitualate. In the end, Levinsky simply needed to pony up a paltry $90,000 –$20,000 in fines and $70,000 he'll get back once the demolition is completed to the city’s satisfaction –to smite a piece of living history into the past.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The opening that is shown at the bottom - left of your last photograph - is actually a city (owned ?) alley. It shows up on one Saratoga Srings village map.

4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for your imput, but haven't you ever played the game Sim City? It's really fun! I get to do it for real and my only frustration is that I don't have the powers to conjure up Godzilla for my demo work. Saratoga is going to have the nicest looking Main Street since Disney World!


Bruce Levinsky

3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

James Kettlewell also gave his blessing for the demolition of Riley's Lake House ten years ago, and stated that IT wasn't worth saving,either!

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Broadway may look good and Levinsky's buildings will look good when they fall down, considering he does not invest in his properties. I am quite sick of seeing him in the press and hearing the riduculous things he has to say..Like "He felt harrassed by the city." He should look in the mirror. Harassment exists in his company. He said that the bricks falling from the Rip into the courtyard of the Aldelphi was "An act of god" Does he think he is some kind of GOD. Buildings that begin to fall down are not an act of God. I think it's called NEGLECT. Lastly, GODZILLA works for him and Sim City is make believe!!!!

3:22 PM  

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