Friday, August 26, 2016

Of Interest

Whether you've already seen the current exhibition at Olana, Follies, Function & Form: Imagining Olana's Summer House, or if it's still on your list of things to see, yesterday on WAMC, Joe Donahue interviewed Mark Prezorski, landscape curator for The Olana Partnership, and two of the participants in the exhibition: architect Joan Krevlin and landscape architect Laurie Olin. If you missed it yesterday, you can hear the interview now by clicking here

Bridge Watch

In April, Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton announced that funds to rebuild the Ferry Street Bridge had been secured through the New York State Department of Transportation. The disappointing part was that the actual construction of the bridge could not begin until 2020.

In  his report to the Common Council Public Works Committee on Wednesday, Rob Perry, DPW superintendent, shared the news that the "Ferry Street Bridge has been officially 'progammed' by DOT following the funding approval by the Columbia County Transportation Advisory Committee." Perry defined the next steps in the process as:
  • Distribute letters of interest to DOT Region 8 approved engineering firms; and
  • Prepare transfer resolution in October from capital reserve to a capital account to begin preliminary design, right of way and incidentals, and final design.
Perry explained that no part of the project can begin before October 1, 2016, because that is the first day of the federal fiscal year 2017. The City will receive $250,000 in the first round of funding. There is also $600,000 in a capital reserve fund established for the bridge at the end of 2015.

Report on 2015 Tourism Study

The Columbia County Tourism recently issued a press release reporting the findings of a study entitled "The Economic Impact of Tourism in New York State," which was commissioned by the State and analyzed 2015 data from Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester counties and found that tourism spending is growing fastest in Columbia County. The press release is quoted below. 
Of the six counties comprising the Hudson Valley region, Columbia County continues to grow its tourism sector having the highest percentage of its labor force supported by visitors than any other county in the Hudson Valley, according to findings in a recently released report.  
In “The Economic Impact of Tourism in New York State,” a survey commissioned by the State and prepared by the company Tourism Economics, analysis of 2015 data from the counties of Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester show how tourism, as an industry, is of key importance to local economies.
Hudson Valley tourism spending is growing fastest in Columbia County. The county had a 5.7 percent increase in spending and was the largest increase of any county in the Hudson Valley region. Tourists spent over $130 million in Columbia County in 2015. Tax revenues generated by tourists grew by 6.8 percent in Columbia County, which was also the largest percentage increase of any county in the region. Tourism spending includes food & beverage, transportation, lodging, retail, and recreation, as well as the second home market.
Although Westchester County attracts the bulk of visitor spending in the region (more than half), Columbia County’s tourism industry generates jobs and income at a level that saw 7.2 percent of all labor income generated by visitors, with the percentage in all the other counties much lower, at 5.0 percent percent or less. . . . 
Anyone that would like a copy of the recently released study should contact Ann Cooper at the tourism department either by phone 518 828-3375 or via email at

Public Hearing Reminder

The Historic Preservation Commission is holding a public hearing this morning on the proposal to reconfigure the fenestration on an early 20th-century addition to 314 Union Street and replace the vinyl siding currently on the structure with corrugated metal siding.

The public hearing begins at 10 a.m. in the Council Chamber at City Hall.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Photographed Through the Windshield

This is definitely an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, but this afternoon, two days after Gossips reported about a sign on 400 State Street that suggested it might be available for sale or development, a new sign appeared over the door.


The Design of a School

What is distressing about the design proposed for the single-story addition to Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School is its lack of compatibility with the original three-story Colonial Revival school building constructed as a WPA project in 1937. 

In  July, Gossips explored the question of compatibility and concluded that there was no way a one-story addition could be compatible with the three-story historic building: "Form Follows Function." The critical criteria that could never be met were massing, size, and scale.

People reviewing the above elevation at a workshop in June suggested that compatibility could only be within the architect's grasp if the building were two stories instead of a single story, noting the admirable compatibility of the 1997 addition that appears at the left in the elevation drawing.

A two-story building may be within our grasp. The latest edition of the HCSD Capital Project eNewsletter, distributed this afternoon, announced that because of unstable subsoil on the site of the proposed addition, "Superintendent Suttmeier has asked the architects to offer cost comparisons between a one-story and a two-story alternative design."

Those who care about protecting the design integrity of the historic WPA school building should keep their fingers crossed for that two-story alternative design.

The General Worth and the Common Council

Yesterday, Gossips published an excerpt from the Common Council minutes for September 16, 1969, that recounted Lilian Reineck's appearance before the Council to appeal for a stay of demolition for the General Worth Hotel. At that meeting, she presented to the Council a petition with 95 signatures. Commenting on the petition, Council president Elmer Steffer noted that "a lot of names would have to be stricken from the petition because the signers did not live in Hudson."

At  the Council's next meeting in October, there was a communication from Reineck which accompanied petitions with more than 500 signatures. The Council president's response to the petitions was similar to what it had been before--this time declaring invalid not only the signatures of people who did not live in Hudson but also the signatures of people who were not yet 21 years old, 21 being, in 1969, the age at which one became eligible to vote.


Historic Article about a Historic House

The owners of the magnificent Haight-Van Loan House, on a hill overlooking the river in Athens, recently discovered an article about their house in the June 1906 issue of American Homes and Gardens: "The Gantley House, at Athens, New York.

The article, which includes photographs of the interior as well as the exterior of the 1812 house, is fascinating and recommended reading.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Zoning Change Proposed for Hudson Avenue

In March of this year, a proposal was presented to the Planning Board for site plan review by architect Walter Chatham, who described himself as a New Urbanist. What Chatham proposed was to build four rowhouses in the west side of Hudson Avenue, across the street from Galvan Field. 

Because half the site of the proposed structures was zoned R-3 (residential) and the other half was zoned I-1 (industrial), the project was referred to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a use variance. The ZBA, at its March meeting, after granting a use variance for the hotel proposed for 41 Cross Street, denied a use variance to this project, recommending instead that the applicant to ask the Common Council to amend the zoning.

Tonight, such an amendment to the zoning code, authored by Third Ward alderman John Friedman, was presented to the Common Council Legal Committee for consideration. Alderman Michael O'Hara (First Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, explained that the proposed amendment would change the zoning along the west side of Hudson Avenue from Industrial to Residential Special Commercial, the same zoning as on Warren Street, which would allow certain kinds of commercial enterprises to be carried out on the ground floors of the proposed buildings.

The Legal Committee agreed to bring the proposed amendment before the full Council in September.

That Was the Way It Was

Lately, I've been spending some time reading the Common Council minutes for 1969. (For anyone who is not aware, the Common Council minutes from 1895 through 1983 are available on the City of Hudson website. Just click on History in the left column of the home page.) 

Some pretty heady stuff was going on in Hudson in 1969. That was the year that the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing the Hudson Urban Renewal Agency to acquire real property in the Urban Renewal Area and another executing a contract for a "Demolition Grant under Title I of the Housing Act of 1949." Accompanying these resolutions was the following boundary description for the Urban Renewal Area.

From the description, it appears that the north side of the first two blocks of Union Street, as well as everything on Warren Street west of Second, was part of the original Urban Renewal Area. Obviously--mercifully--much of Warren Street and all of Union Street were spared.

Also in 1969, the struggle to save the General Worth Hotel was also at its height. Gossips has devoted many posts to the General Worth, notably this one which quotes an article by Ada Louise Huxtable that appeared in the New York Times on September 14, 1969. Two days later, on September 16, 1969, Lilian Reineck, a local champion of the General Worth, appeared before the Common Council. What follows is the account of what happened after she was "granted the privilege of the floor," quoted in its entirety from the Common Council minutes.

The day before Reineck appeared before the Common Council, there had been a public hearing on the fate of the General Worth Hotel at which James Marston Fitch, from the Columbia University School of Architecture, gave testimony in support of preserving the building. The following year, however, despite all the efforts to save it, the General Worth was demolished.

The picture above, taken shortly before the 1837 Greek Revival building was demolished, is part of the Historic American Building Survey at the Library of Congress.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What's Next for 400 State Street?

Last week, a new sign appeared on 400 State Street, replacing the one that identified it as the Hudson Area Library. 

Although it seemed odd to see a sign with the red Galvan logo on the very building that inspired the logo, 400 State Street was not the library anymore. It was Galvan Foundation headquarters. So, of course, they would want to put a sign on it. A closer look at the sign, however, revealed that it is not there to identify the building as the location of the Galvan Foundation; it is there to provide contact information for someone who might be interested in developing or maybe even in acquiring the building.


Passive Fundraiser for Animalkind

Paintings by beloved local artist Dan Rupe are now being exhibited in the dining room at the Red Dot Restaurant & Bar, 321 Warren Street, and every one of them is for sale.


Were you to buy one of these paintings, not only would you acquire a valuable work of art but you would also be helping abandoned and stray cats in Hudson. One half of the price you pay will be donated to Animalkind.

Time to Get Ready for Bed (Races)

The fondly remembered Hudson Bed Races are scheduled to return on Saturday, September 24. In the meantime, to get folks ready for the bed races and to raise some money for the event, the organizers are throwing a Pajama Party at The Half Moon on September 4, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend.

Girlgantua and Trixie Starr will co-host the event, which begins at 10 p.m. There will be drag performances at midnight and prizes for the best pajamas. So get out your finest Dr. Dentons, or whatever, and make plans to attend. 

For more information about the pajama party and the bed races, visit

As Long as They Spell My Name Right

Over the years, this quote has been attributed to P. T. Barnum, Mae West, George M. Cohan, Will Rogers, and W. C. Fields: "I don't care what the newspapers say about me as long as they spell my name right." In today's Register-Star, Roger Hannigan Gilson went a little beyond spelling my name wrong. In an article about Radio Woodstock DJ Jimmy Buff coming to Hudson to interview local luminaries, Gilson's list of interviewees begins with: "former alderwoman and the author of the blog Gossips of Rivertown Ellen Thurston." Ellen Thurston is a woman of many accomplishments, but one of them is not writing The Gossips of Rivertown. Gossips is my creation.

Just to be clear, Ellen Thurston and I are not the same person. The picture above offers evidence of that fact. Thurston is at the right; I am at the left. (In the middle is our friend Scott Baldinger, former editor of Rural Intelligence and author of the blog Word on the Street.)

Monday, August 22, 2016

A Bad Idea That Didn't Happen

Whenever there is talk about improvements to the city, Seventh Street Park, originally known as the Public Square, is typically mentioned. Two years ago, an unsuccessful grant application may have been the only thing that stopped an unpopular plan to re-imagine our beloved but shabby park. 

Recently, Gossips stumbled upon reference to another plan for the park apparently proposed in the late 1960s. It was mentioned by Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler in his annual address to the Common Council on May 1, 1969. Reviewing the state of the city, Wheeler told the aldermen:
Twenty trees were planted in the 7th Street Park. Additional trees and shrubs will be planted within the next few weeks. Several other diseased trees will be cut down shortly. New trees will be planted in their stead. A new lighting program will be instituted shortly which will bring more light to this park area by means of new ornamental fixtures.
Let me say at this point that I will disapprove any attempt to make this most lovely park, which is enjoyed by hundreds of young and old alike, into a market or parking space.
Forty-seven years later, we can all be grateful the plan to turn the park into a market (which given it was 1969 was probably a supermarket not a farmers' market) and/or parking space never happened.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Profound Loss

Sedat Pakay, the brilliant photographer who studied with Walker Evans, photographed such American icons as James Baldwin and Abbie Hoffman, and made Columbia County his home and Hudson his city, died this morning.


John Isaacs has published a lovely tribute to Sedat Pakay on Imby.

Photo: John Isaacs

Git 'Er Dunn

At the July meeting of the Common Council Economic Development Committee, Alderman Rick Rector (First Ward), who chairs the committee, proposed two initiatives for the committee: the development of the Dunn building, the last surviving historic building on the waterfront; and legislation to ban "formula businesses" from the city. On the subject of the Dunn building, there was talk of a special meeting to discuss preparing a request for proposals (RFP) for the Dunn building, but no such meeting was scheduled. Instead, the committee devoted its meeting on Thursday exclusively to moving forward with plans to develop the Dunn building. Rector told his colleagues on the committee--John Friedman (Third Ward) and Alexis Keith (Fourth Ward) were present; Henry Haddad (Third Ward) was not--that Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton was "aware and supportive of the Economic Development Committee's initiative."

The meeting went on for more than an hour and a half, and much was discussed. With the three committee members on the dais were Sheena Salvino, executive director of HDC and HCDPA, and Bill Roehr from TGW Consultants. The only people in the audience were Damara Stolfo, who is spearheading the Hudson Praxis initiative; Don Moore, former Common Council president and now Third Ward supervisor; and Gossips. 

Roehr, who, it was determined, will write the request for proposal (RFP), was enthusiastic about the project, stressing how useful the Saratoga Associates feasible study will be in attracting interested developers. "All the ducks are in a row," he declared. Roehr explained that there were two ways to approach an RFP: (1) to indicate the uses the City is looking for; (2) to indicate the uses the City does not want. He, however, recommended a third approach: "present a sense of what you are and are not looking for, but don't box the developers in. . . . Keep the use part open but give them some bounds. . . .not so tightly locking someone in as to stifle creativity." The committee seemed to agree that the third approach should be taken.

A number of decisions about moving forward were made at Thursday's meeting, which were summarized at the end of the meeting by the chair, Rick Rector:
  • The City will contract with Hudson Development Corporation to have Sheena Salvino administer the project while the City retains control. Salvino and committee member John Friedman will work on the contract between the City and HDC for Salvino's services.
  • The City will obtain three appraisals for the property: the Dunn building alone; the building with the four acres of vacant land to the north; the four acres of vacant land alone. There was also talk of the RFP giving those three options for proposals. [Gossips Note: Although appraisals will be done, the City does not intend to sell the property. Rather the plan is to enter into a long-term (thirty years or more) triple net lease with a developer.]
  • The Economic Development Committee will seek National Register designation for the building so that the project can benefit from historic preservation tax credits
  • When the draft RFP has been prepared, there will be a public hearing, which will be the community's opportunity to critique the RFP and provide input.
  • The four aldermen who make up the Economic Development Committee will make the ultimate decision about which if any of the proposals received will be accepted. 

When an audience member reminded the committee that whatever happened with the Dunn building would be the catalyst for future waterfront development and suggested that the committee was moving forward with inadequate opportunities for public input, Don Moore, who chaired the Economic Development Committee for the six years that he was Common Council president, argued that the RFP would not depart from the feasibility study, and there had already been "considerable input" on that document. If memory serves, there was a "kickoff meeting" with Saratoga Associates at the end of March 2015, which did not involve the public, and two meetings in the summer of 2015, after the study had been completed--one on July 1, to which the public was not invited, and another on August 5, which was open to the public. 

At the moment, there seems to be no community consensus on one of the biggest questions for the waterfront: What should be done with the four acres of vacant land between the Dunn building and the Ferry Street Bridge? Should it be additional parkland and green space? Should it be used primarily for parking? Should additional buildings with as yet unknown uses be constructed there?

The 1996 Vision Plan proposed mixed use residential and commercial buildings for this vacant space along Water Street.

The Dunn Warehouse Adaptive Reuse Study proposes essentially the same thing.

It  was never clear that this was the kind of waterfront development the people of Hudson wanted in 1996, and it is not clear today. A community conversation on the subject of this vacant land seems to be in order.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Congressional Candidates to Debate

Matthew Hamilton reported yesterday in the Albany Times Union that debates are planned for 19th Congressional District candidates Zephyr Teachout and John Faso: "Faso, Teachout to debate on WAMC Sept. 15." 

The debate on Thursday, September 15, will take place from 1 to 2 p.m. at the Linda, WAMC's performing arts center, and will be broadcast on WAMC.

A second debate, to take place on October 13, will be televised on WMHT.