YORKTOWN, N.Y. – As the two-story, red brick building on Commerce Street that has served as everything from the community’s thriving performing arts venue to purveyor of social services closes in on its first century in existence, it will carry into its next century a permanent place in local lore.
After a public hearing, the Town Board last week granted the Landmarks Preservation Committee’s request to designate the Albert A. Capellini Community & Cultural Center a historic landmark. In doing so, the board brought the number of Yorktown’s designated historic landmarks to 15.
As with discussions with the board dating to last August, Lynn Briggs, chair of the committee, gave members and those in the audience a history lesson on the building, which was renamed from the Yorktown Community & Cultural Center a year ago in honor of Capellini, a former town supervisor (1977-80).
That history, according to the committee’s research, began in 1923 as a replacement for six one-room schoolhouses, centralizing how the community delivered education and driving down the costs of that delivery system. A north wing was added five years later at a cost of $75,000; a south wing accommodating a gymnasium was added in 1935, and an auditorium/theater in 1954-55.
But as enrollments began to slide in the 1970s, the building took on new tasks: serving as headquarters for the planning and recreation and parks departments, a library annex and a museum. It was also used by civic groups for events and to deliver health services such as blood screenings.
Regarding the building’s cultural importance, Briggs told the board at its meeting Tuesday, July 16, it “was the original cultural crown of the community in the 1980s,” where “all genres of dance were delivered by the Westchester Ballet Center for the Performing Arts.”
Briggs also detailed “a significant social accomplishment,” when in the mid-1970s, a grassroots group formed an advisory committee in an effort to save the building from being sold by the school district. That group “hired an engineering firm to develop an adaptive reuse study as a community and cultural center.
“The Town Board accepted the study and with public support,” the building “was saved from demise.” The town purchased it on July 1, 1980, Briggs said.
Additionally, she said, the building embodies a distinct architectural style, delivered by the firm Knappe & Morris, and is associated with the region’s well-known names of Mildred E. Strang, Rose-Marie Menes and Kevin Kearins.
Briggs said that by landmarking the building, it would “create and bolster village interest, encourage learning of current and future generations and provide opportunities to explore and discover our past, especially with the Yorktown Museum located on the second floor.”
And, she said, “It can add to the town’s much-needed village cache, providing a point of destination.”
Before Briggs’ presentation, some in the audience asked about the possible need to replace windows or to make improvements such as replacing window air conditioners with a central system, and whether landmarking the building would interfere with those plans. They were told such issues could be handled by applying to the committee for a COA, or certificate of appropriateness.
It was also noted that the landmarking would be only for the exterior of the building, not for the interior or the property on which it is located.
Susan Siegel, a former town supervisor, agreed “the building is a valuable addition to the community, but I don’t see any need to give it a landmark designation.” She argued that it would add to the bureaucratic burden and cost of making even small improvements because, as with the train station renovation, “everything has to be done to a higher standard.”
“First of all, nothing is threatened,” she said. “Many times you want to landmark something because it’s threatened…I just don’t think this qualifies [for landmark status] and I urge you to slow down and think about it.”
After Briggs’ presentation, Councilman Ed Lachterman said, “The landmarking is not about today; it’s really about tomorrow.”
“I think it’s appropriate that we landmark it,” Councilman Tom Diana agreed.