Rotting in the park
By DREW KERR
Updated: Wednesday, February 4, 2009 1:22 AM EST
SARATOGA SPRINGS - The snow-white paint is falling, flake by flake, from the facade, exposing the gray hue of worn wood beneath.
Windows devoid of glass panes are either covered in thin sheets of plywood or have become a point of entry for vines and animals.
Small overhangs above the doors sag, standing only with the assistance of a pair of two-by-fours used as makeshift props.
Inside, the smell of dust and mold is pervasive. Wallpaper is peeling from the drywall, and nothing more than a mustard yellow oven and a small potted plant on a haphazard shelf can be found.
This is the collective aesthetic of the single-story home situated between the Saratoga Tree Nursery's fields and the third hole of the Saratoga Spa State Park's golf course.
Unless state officials alter course, the picture is likely to get worse.
Vacant for more than three decades, the state has tried and failed over the years to solicit private investment in the structure. They've also considered demolition and, now, say they've got no plans for the building whatsoever.
"Even demolition is expensive, so it still just sits there waiting for an answer," said Robert Kuhn, the assistant regional director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
The building does have its share of history, though.
According to documents provided by the Library of Congress, the one-story structure was built sometime around 1835 by Charles Patrick, who used it as the centerpiece of his 150-acre farmstead.
At that time, the surrounding Saratoga Spa State Park had not been developed.
Diana Armstrong's grandparents, Daniel and Norah Ronan, and her mother, Florence, lived in the building during the early 1900s and farmed the surrounding area. The house then was split into a duplex and was shared by two school teachers, Armstrong said.
She said she has never been in the house but has visited to take pictures in recent years.
"Whenever I drive down South Broadway, I always look down between the trees to see if it's still there," she said.
In 1928, as efforts to expand the park were underway, the state assumed ownership of the building.
It was used to house managers for the tree nursery until 1976, when the final occupant, Hank LaTour, died and his family moved out.
Robert Macica, who lived in a nearby house that the state eventually took through eminent domain, said he worked for LaTour but never had the chance to enter the house.
"It was well maintained, but it looked old even then," he said.
Efforts to find an alternative use for the building have thusfar been unsuccessful.
In 1997, state officials attempted to attract developers who would build a golf course on land adjacent to the park and included a 20-year lease for the house in the deal.
But its awkward placement -- the building can't be reached by road -- spoiled any chance of its potential revitalization.
Defeated, state officials suggested several years ago that it be torn down, a proposal that never came to fruition. The suggestion was made again last year, but it was put off again because of the state budget crunch, officials said.
Now, Alane Ball Chinian, the parks department's regional director, said she'd like to see something done with the building.
"It needs to be preserved and re-purposed," she said. "It's a historic building without a use."
But Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said there are no plans to do anything with the house.
Officials are creating a master plan for the entire state park now, and ideas for the building could be included in that document, Keefe said.
The plan may also propose new uses for other, smaller abandoned structures in the park, as well as the now-vacant Roosevelt bathhouse.