Sunday, August 15, 2010

The More Things Change . . .

While tidying my desk this morning, I discovered an article someone had given me clipped from the July 20, 1989, issue of the New York Times. It was entitled "Summer Slice of City Life Up the Hudson," and it was written by James H. Roper.

To put things in perspective, early on in the article, the late Marion Harshman, a real estate agent and an early acquirer of Hudson property, was quoted as saying, "It's definitely a buyer's market in Hudson." To illustrate this, the following examples were cited: "a 'handy-man's special' in the $28,000 range; a $48,000 two-family saltbox that can be lived in while restoration work is done, and a late-Victorian house in need of extensive exterior restoration for about $135,000."

Three houses were featured in the article, with exterior and interior pictures: the late Bruce Hall's house on Warren Street, Jeremiah Rusconi's house at Front and Allen streets, and Tom Mabley's house in the 300 block of Allen Street.

The last few paragraphs of the article are especially interesting:

Preservationists see the city's architecture as the key to its revival. But Jeremiah Rusconi, an architectural designer who restored a Greek Revival house here, said it was difficult to make longtime residents realize the value of their architecture.

More than half of Hudson's buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But, [Bruce] Hall [author of Diamond Street: The Story of the Little Town with the Big Red Light District] said, the city fought the listing "tooth and nail."

[Neil] Larson [a former field representative for the New York State Historic Preservation Office] explained: "The local government was fearful of losing their control to make local decisions. The National Register designation did two things: it brought about more stringent environmental reviews, and it gave fuel to newcomers who had been cajoling the city to be more sensitive to preservation issues."

Mayor Michael Yusko Jr. says he applauds preservation but is wary of gentrification. "One of the biggest problems facing many of the old-time residents is that they can't afford to live here anymore," he said. "The value of property is escalating to the point where it's difficult for a local person to buy their own home and raise their family."

Alan Ferri, executive director of Hudson Housing Services Corporation, a nonprofit neighborhood housing services program, said while the "speculative frenzy" of the local real estate market seems to be declining, problems remain.

"Hudson is a very poor community," Mr. Ferri said. "The 1980 Census listed the median income at $9,900, and by 1985, that figure hadn't changed much." Mr. Ferri also noted the problem of homelessness; Columbia Opportunities Inc., a community action agency in Columbia County, has reported that 290 families in the county have no place to live.

Mr. Larson acknowledged "two separate populations" in the city, but said he thinks they interact fairly well. "It's a low-key kind of place, even with the city slickers," he said. "Hudson is accessible to city refugees of a different economic level. They seem to care; they don't want to just isolate themselves and 'get away from it all.'"

Mr. Mabley agrees: "What you hope is that a town like Hudson will be revitalized, not necessarily gentrified."

"Let's face it: Hudson is not a real slick community to hang out in," Mr. Larson said. "It's not glitzy, it's gritty. But that has a certain appeal: It's lively, more heterogeneous. It's more real."
It's interesting how little Hudson's "official" view of itself--articulated by city officials and agency directors--has changed in two decades, while Hudson's image to the outside world has gone from "gritty" to "cool." But, after all this time, preservationists still have to be proselytizers.


  1. Sadly, the first image is an amazing testament to how much Mr. Rusconi has neglected his own home. How such a preservation minded individual would allow a building to slowly drip away is beyond me.

  2. It's my understanding that after Mr. Rusconi poured his heart, time and money into his home it began to crumble from the increased vibrations of the truck traffic going to the port.

    The first image is not what the building looked like when purchased.
    This image is what he turned it into.

    He feels it is beyond repair structurally now so he has given up on this project as whole heartedly as he had loved it.

    Just another reason to get O & G and SLC out of our town.

  3. My apologies to "Anonymous" who submitted a comment in response to the one that immediately precedes this one. I rejected it because I think it is inappropriate for people who decline to identify themselves to carry on an extended debate about someone who is identified but is neither an elected official nor a public figure. If you want to resubmit your comment and identify yourself, I will publish it.

  4. Jeremiah's beautiful house is in a sad state today, which does seem odd for a historic house renovator, truck traffic or no.

    As far as I can tell he has done essentially nothing to maintain it for many years.