By Jon Schuppe
HAMILTON HEIGHTS — For a long time, Anne Whitman refused to let Columbia University take her historic Sheffield Farms Stable building as part of its massive expansion into an industrial zone known as Manhattanville.
Whitman, whose moving company specializes in art and antiques, was one of a handful of property owners resisting the state’s attempt to use eminent domain to seize their land on behalf of the school. Then she changed her mind and agreed to move.
Now she’s taking her Broadway building with her. Parts of it, at least.
A few weeks ago, workers began the painstaking process of dismantling the ornate façade of her seven-story 1903 building, a former horse stable that is now sheathed in scaffolding and visible from the elevated tracks of the 1 train. When the removal is completed, they’ll put everything back together at a new location on Audubon Avenue.
The uncommon procedure is considered a last resort for historic properties that are threatened with demolition. The Historic Districts Council says Whitman’s building would be one of the tallest to undergo such a move in this country. The advocacy group compares the project to the National Park Service’s 2001 moving of the 208-foot Cape Hattaras Lighthouse in North Carolina.
According to public documents, Whitman exchanged her property on Broadway earlier this year for an empty Columbia-owned lot near W. 168th Street. City permits show that Columbia, which has one of country’s premier historic-preservation departments, now has permission to remove the façade and roof of the Broadway building. The removal work is projected to cost $200,000.
Left unclear is how Columbia compensated Whitman for her troubles. Property documents show that she sold her building to the school for $5.2 million and bought the Audubon Avenue property from Columbia for the same amount. She in turn is leasing her original property to Columbia for an undisclosed sum.
Columbia has said it would pay for the construction of a new building for Whitman. Her business, Hudson Moving and Storage, has been operating in a temporary facility nearby.
Whitman declined to comment, saying she was bound by a confidentiality agreement. She referred questions to Columbia officials, who would not immediately discuss the deal.
The agreement does not appear to be affected by last week’s appeals court decision barring the state from using eminent domain to seize 17 acres of Manhattanville. The panel ruled that the state’s 2008 decision to take the land was unconstitutional.
The case was brought by two property owners who refused to sell to Columbia. It now appears headed to the state Court of Appeals.
The Sheffield Farms Stable building dates back to a time when Manhattanville was a dairy district. It was used to house horses and wagons for companies that delivered milk to homes. Whitman’s family bought it in 1972.
Another historic stable building in the neighborhood is already owned by Columbia, and is called Prentis Hall.