New life for Central House in Salem

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A photograph of the Central House (then the Ondawa Hotel) from 1935 is the inspiration for John Tomasi's restoration plans.

Salem’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) recently approved plans for the restoration of the Central House on Main Street. Owner John Tomasi’s vision is to re-create a nostalgic 1930s façade with three porches, period-style awnings and signage. His inspiration was an historic photo from that era.

The HPC was first established by the Village of Salem in 2009 and in May of that year the historic district was certified by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

After dissolution of the village in 2017, the Town of Salem appointed the commission and tasked it with preserving the historic integrity of the buildings within the designated historic district that includes Main Street and East and West Broadway.

Current HPC members John Clark, Michele Bardwell, Chris Preble, Kay Crank and president Judy Flagg have been busy with the recent activity along Salem’s main streets.

New Collar Goods (formerly the Manhattan Shirt Factory), Proudfit Hall and the Bancroft Library, the First United Presbyterian Church (the White Church), Historic Salem Courthouse and signage at Glens Falls National Bank are all recently approved projects.

Flagg said, “The HPC is gratified and encouraged by the activity within the Historic District. Buildings are being revitalized and repurposed. Historic structures are being preserved while being brought into compliance with the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

The commission’s role is to protect and perpetuate Salem’s historic character for the well-being of its citizens, businesses and visitors.

Tomasi’s Central House was one of three flourishing hotels on Salem’s Main Street in the mid-1800s during the heyday of rail travel. Fires and neglect had taken their toll over the years. Yet Tomasi saw three reasons to restore the Central House: “One, I want to give back to the community where I was born and raised. Two, I believe there is a core group of energetic people willing to work hard to make a positive difference in Salem. Three, I saw a clear vision of adaptive reuse for the old hotel. By bringing the building façade back to the 1935 time period, we can celebrate our rich historical roots as we take positive steps as a community. My goal for the Central House is to fill the space and make it a place where people can gather.”

Salem’s Historic District holds several historically significant homes: the McClellan-Gariepy Funeral Home (1790) was built as a wedding gift for Gen. John Williams’ daughter; the Audubon House (c. 1810) was home to descendants of the great ornithologist John James Audubon; the White Church was built in 1797 by the Presbyterian congregation that emigrated from Ballibay, Ireland; the Historic Courthouse Community Center (1869) which once was the Washington County Courthouse and Jail; and Salem Washington Academy which was built in 1939 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.

The HPC meets in the archives of the Historic Courthouse on the third Monday of the month at 4 p.m. Information may be obtained by contacting the committee at Historic Preservation Commission, PO Box 575, Salem, NY 12865.

A rendering of the planned restoration of the Central House building in Salem.