The proposed new building architectural plans will be reviewed shortly by the Manchester Design Review Board. It will be a two-story, six-outlet, mini-mall with access to the second floor via a new patio behind Kenneth Cole. The towering pines planted by Tony Perry in 1963 will be eliminated. The proposed foot print is approximately 1,000 square-feet larger than the existing building. The style will be a circa 1870 Italianate reproduction set perpendicular to Depot Street.

The issue I see is that it's too exactly like an historic Italianate commercial building. Using the analogy of antiques and antique furniture may help local folks understand why an exact reproduction is not desirable.

1. The existing building is a mixture of architectural symbols and "Post-modern" irony that had brief popularity in the 1970s - 80s and tended to devalue historic architectural styles by using their details as a mix and match wallpaper on modern, often cheaply-constructed buildings. Its loss is not a concern from Historic Preservation standards perspective, although some may think it worthwhile documenting local examples of this shallow and mercifully-brief style. It is possible that portions of earlier historic buildings are incorporated in the current building, and should be incumbent on the developer to research and document.

2. The proposed new building appears to be a vernacular Italianate commercial building from the second half of the 19th century, similar to historic examples in most Vermont cities and towns. The style (actually a group of styles with Italian influences) was widely used for residential and commercial buildings in Vermont, and coincided with a period of prosperity and growth that has left an unusually large number of examples all over Vermont and New England.

At first glance, this new building could easily be mistaken for an authentic 1880 commercial building that is often found in Vermont town centers. This raises concerns since it is so highly imitative that it would certainly fool and confuse an average citizen-observer.

The Secretary of the Interior's Standards discourage duplicating the exact form, materials, style and detailing of historic buildings in additions or new construction that would make new work appear to be historic. "Contextual but not imitative" is the recommendation for new work, since pure imitation de-values the original. This design so thoroughly adopts standard vernacular Italianate detailing that it masquerades as an historic building.

The primary orientation of this building appears to be towards an internal parking area, with a secondary elevation towards Depot St. partly obscured by the rising grade. This is a distinctly modern configuration; historically Italianate storefront commercial buildings face the street. This building behind a field of parked cars in the foreground will not look the same as the graphic representation in the current drawings.

Signage is indicated on the drawings not on but above the sign cornice as well as on the upper walls of the East Elevation; while 19th century signage had variation and character, this schematic diagram appears to suggest something not in keeping with the architectural style and precedent.

Paint colors will play an important role; there is no indication on these preliminary drawings of the intent for paint colors or layouts.

Italianate commercial buildings often had color schemes with up to 5 or 6 trim and body colors to emphasize the elaborate architectural trim.

James Sparkman, AICP, lives in Manchester.