Presbyterian House Annex

"[A]re we to believe the massive new infill structure dropped into this critical site bears the approval of the very body established to seek a superior design?"

-Robert C. Gaede, FAIA (Restoration Architect for the Athenaeum Hotel)

Several years ago, amid the clamor for more lost cost housing, the Institution granted the Presbyterian House the rights to construct an annex in the empty lot situated next to the original Presbyterian House.

In an effort to, among other things, placate Chautauquans crying out for affordable lodging, the Institution sacrificed an open tract of green that had provided a breathing space connecting two of the Institutions largest and most prized architectural gems, the Amphitheater and the Athenaeum. The resulting structure dwarfs the original Presby House and nearly suffocates the life out of the site's former layout.

To make matters worse, the structure's architecture has been almost universally reviled by Chautauquans. In many ways it looks like the backside, backstage area of a theatre. Equally dismaying are the sterility of the extended windowless stretches of brick, the prominent concrete access ramp that fuses the annex to the street and the bedroom windows that look directly into the wall of the original Presby House, evoking the dankness of a tenement air shaft.

Did the builders get the architect's plans backwards? Athenaeum residents across the street no longer look out over a natural green space with the Presby House and Amphitheatre as a backdrop. Instead they face a severe four-story wall with scarce windows - a severe facade that makes this whole central block appear to be more a service area than a prime Chautauqua thoroughfare. The building's face sports unembellished metal railings that look like they were intended for a loading dock rather than the entrance to a denominational house. The Architectural Review Board held a public hearing at which the building plans were unveiled. But numerous people who attended the hearing insist that the finished building doesn't look like the plans they were shown.

How did that happen? Everyone pleads ignorance. It just happened. One rumor tossed about posits that the Architectural Review Board is not afforded an opportunity to hold follow-up hearings to sign-off on the final plans that will dictate the actual construction once the builders are ready to break ground. So, are you or are you not required to build what you assured the ARB and the public you were going to build? Or can you just show them some plans and then build as you see fit?

To be fair, we did find one angle at which the Presby Annex doesn't offend the senses. The less you see of it, the better it looks:

Robert C. Gaede letter to the Architectural Review Board

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