Friday, December 31, 2010

In a Different Light

Beginning in 2012, the compact fluorescent light is likely to be the only lightbulb available to consumers. Persuaded that CFLs save energy and therefore benefit the environment, many people have already started replacing the incandescent lights in their homes with these unusual-looking objects. Most find the light from CFLs unappealing, but it's a small thing to do to save the planet.

Recently I heard a report on NPR about the potential hazards of CFLs. They contain mercury which escapes when the bulb is broken, and people were cautioned about using them in lamps that might be accidentally overturned--such as lamps in children's rooms or, in my experience, anywhere in homes where there are cats. Mercury also raises critical environmental concerns about appropriate disposal and recycling.

Respected lighting designer Howard Brandston has a commentary about CFLs on his website Brandston takes the position that the potential problems of CFLs far outweigh the potential benefits in energy savings and advocates for a repeal of the mandate to phase out incandescent light in favor of CFLs. His commentary and research are recommended reading.  

Thurston Park in Winter

In June, Gossips reported about this little vest pocket park in the 200 block of Warren Street, which, back in 1997, Historic Hudson unofficially dubbed John Thurston Park, for the Proprietor who first owned the lot. We noted then that this elegantly simple little allĂ©e of Bradford pears had already lost one tree along its west side and a second tree was dead.

Walking on this block as we do every day, William and I have been so focused on what's happening at 226-228 Warren Street that we've completely overlooked, until recently, the fact that the second dead tree has now also been removed.

Come spring, I hope the citizens of Hudson, led perhaps by the business owners of BeLo3rd, can prevail upon the Department of Public Works to replace the two missing trees and restore the intended symmetry of this park while it is still possible to plant new trees that are of similar size to the original ones.         

Thursday, December 30, 2010

We're Back!

The Gossips of Rivertown apologizes for the relative silence over the past 33 hours. Gossips and everyone in Hudson who uses Verizon DSL and has a phone number that begins with 822 could not connect to the Internet from 7 a.m. Wednesday, December 29, until only a couple hours ago. Yesterday's single post was made using a computer at the Hudson Area Library, proving that even in this electronic age, we still need libraries.     

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Not to Be Missed

Holcim is grieving the assessment on its dock property in Hudson. Read all about it in today's Register-Star: "Holcim disputes port's $4.5M assessment." The article reports that Holcim has submitted an income and expense statement to City Attorney Jack Connor indicating that "no income is being generated from the parcel." It also gives details of a letter sent by Connor to Holcim attorney Bruce J. Stavitsky in which he is reported to protest that "300 18-wheeler trucks are running through the city every day to deposit aggregate at the property, and barges arrive twice weekly to pick up product. City Assessor Garth Slocum possesses several photos showing material being loaded onto boats at the property." The article then quotes the letter directly: "Accordingly, the statement you are making that there is no income from this parcel seems patently false.” 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Decisions Are Made by Those Who Show Up"

When this line is delivered by President Bartlet at the end of the first season of The West Wing, it's implied that he is quoting some real-life historic figure, but the only attribution I could find was to Aaron Sorkin, the creator and writer of the series. Whatever its provenance, hearing the line last night (I'm watching all the episodes of The West Wing again--for the third time) made me think of Hudson's LWRP and how in a critical aspect of its development just the opposite seems to have happened.

During the workshops and public meetings held throughout 2006 and 2007, those who showed up expressed the desire to have a waterfront free of heavy industrial activity. In 2010, those who continued to show up for meetings about the LWRP and submitted comments about its content were steadfast in their opposition to heavy industry on the waterfront. So, if decisions are made by those who show up and the LWRP is supposed to represent "community consensus regarding the future of its waterfront," how is it that the decision was made to add this statement to the draft LWRP and to repeat it three times: "The City supports plans proposed by Holcim (US) and its tenant to reroute dump truck traffic from the Holcim mine in Greenport, New York, to the deep water port via the South Bay causeway"? 

Holiday Cheer

The Register-Star reports today on a sting conducted by the New York State Liquor Authority and the Hudson Police on December 23: "Eight bars allegedly serve booze to minor." In the sting, a nineteen-year-old was sent into nine bars and restaurants in Hudson to order a beer. The minor was served at eight of the establishments: Wunderbar & Bistro, the Warren Inn, Mexican Radio, Baba Louie’s, Ca’ Mea, Swoon Kitchenbar, the Red Dot, and Spotty Dog Books & Ale. It's interesting that the only restaurant that did not serve the minor was American Glory.   

Monday, December 27, 2010

Virginia Martin Named "Election Integrity Hero"

The Register-Star reported today that Columbia County Democratic Commissioner of Elections Virginia Martin has been named "Election Integrity Hero" by the Election Transparency Coalition, for orchestrating a hand count of the ballots in the 2010 election: "ETC names 'Election Integrity Hero' for heading ballot hand count." 

The Great Blizzard of 1888

Today's weather calls to mind the Great Blizzard of 1888, probably the most famous snowstorm in American history. Like our current blizzard, it started during the night between Sunday and Monday, but, unlike our current storm, it occurred not at the end of December but in March--March 11 to March 14--when many people were looking forward to an early spring.   

On this snowy morning, Gossips shares Meta Lilienthal's memories of the Great Blizzard. Lilienthal was a child in 1888, the daughter of a New York City doctor. Her family lived on the East Side, in Stuyvesant Park. This excerpt begins with waking up on Monday morning to a world transfigured by snow.  

When I opened my eyes early next morning, still drowsy, still half asleep, I became dimly aware of something unusual, something strange. The day had not yet dawned, but my little hall bedroom was diffused with a white, unearthly brightness. Deep, unbroken silence seemed to envelop me, a heavy silence, until presently, now wide awake, with my senses alert, I became aware of a constant swishing and purring, like the hum of a machine heard at a distance. "Is it still raining?" I wondered. But that was not the sound of rain. "Or could it be snowing?" But gusts of wind, blowing snow against the window pane, had never sounded like a machine purring constantly, steadily. I dozed on for a while, and when I next opened my eyes the unearthly brightness that had filled my room had melted into daylight.

Jumping from my bed, I went to the window and pulled up the shade, and then I stood, motionless, speechless, for the sight I beheld was so different from anything my eyes had ever seen that it seemed to belong to another world. Stuyvesant Park was buried under mountains of snow. The trees no longer looked like trees; they looked like ghostly, white giants bending under a crushing burden. The iron enclosure, with its gates unopened for the first time, seemed to be only half its actual height, and of the long row of benches that lined the outside walks only a narrow dark line, their topmost boards, were still visible. The sidewalks, the areas leading to the basements, the front stoops, had simply disappeared. But the snow did not remain where it had fallen. It constantly swirled around and around, drawing away here, piling up there, until it seemed as if it were blowing out of the ground as well as falling in dense masses from the sky. No vehicle was in sight. There was no sound but the swirling and the swishing of the snow. Life seemed to have come to a standstill. "Like the North Pole," I gasped. Then I rushed into my parents' bedroom and shouted, "Father, mother, we are having a blizzard!" Later, when "blizzard" became the term by which this, the greatest snowstorm New York had ever known, was definitely and permanently identified, my father often recalled that he had first heard it so named by me. I had read descriptions of blizzards in the West, so the name naturally suggested itself. To call what I beheld from my window a snowstorm would have seemed as absurd as calling the ocean a swimming pool.

For a while my parents and I continued to stand by the window looking out upon the awesome spectacle. Then we dressed with utmost alacrity and hurried downstairs. Out of sheer force of habit my father went into his office, but he soon realized that no patient would appear. My mother, at the same time, realized that there would be no milkman, no baker's boy, no butcher or grocer to deliver the essential Monday morning supplies. So she immediately turned to the practical task of checking up what supplies were on hand. Personally I was not thinking of food. The adventure of the blizzard made everything else seem unimportant. I had tried to see it at close range from the windows of our basement dining room, but they had ceased to function as windows, for a solid wall of snow encased them. The same wall of snow was piled up in front of the basement entrance and extended to the parlor floor, completely obliterated the balcony, and more than half covered the high French parlor windows. If you wanted to look out into the street, you had to go to the second floor. With the view into the yard it was different. Here, on the south side, the snow had blown away from the house, but it had piled up against the fence that separated my yard from Elena's and Polly's yard. In fact there no longer was a fence. There only was a mountain of snow, higher than the fence had been.

We had a jolly breakfast, not caring that the rolls were stale and that there was no milk for the coffee. Mother was already worrying about probable casualties and food shortages; but my ever-merry father and I were getting all the fun we could out of our blizzard. "Generally fair, eh?" said my father mockingly, recalling yesterday's weather prediction; and then we realized, that there would be no newspaper. Presently another thought struck me: would the children be going to school? I went to the second floor and again looked out into the street. Except for two or three straggling figures of brave men trying to fight their way through the storm–I saw one give up the fight and retrace his steps–the streets were deserted. The streets, the park, the city belonged to the blizzard. In vain I looked for the familiar horsecars on Second Avenue. In vain I listened for the familiar rumble of the elevated trains on First Avenue. Nobody was going anywhere. Of course the children would not be going to school. Then there came to me the most pleasant realization of that unforgettable morning. If the children could not go to school, neither could my school come to me. The blizzard would keep away every one of my five teachers.

By ten o 'clock my father began to worry seriously about his patients, not those who had failed to come to his office, but those whom he was expected to visit. Two or three of them were seriously ill. They needed him. Restlessly he walked to and fro between his desk and the window hoping, though not believing, that a vehicle from Meister's livery stable would appear. "He has good, strong horses," said my father. "If a carriage is out of the question, he might send a sleigh." But no sleigh drew up at the door. For the first and only time my father voiced his regret that he had not consented to have a telephone installed. If he only had a telephone he could call Meister. He did not know at the time that a telephone would not have changed the situation, for all the telegraph and telephone wires were down, and so were uncounted numbers of telegraph poles that, in 1888, still lined the streets of New York like a country road. Also, Mr. Meister was not at his livery stable, nor were any of his employees except the stable boy who slept on the premises, and who later told a mournful tale of how he had gone without food all day and had felt like a shipwrecked traveler on an uninhabited island.

My father's restlessness grew every minute, and finally he decided to brave the elements and to walk over to Broadway, where he hoped that the cable car might still be running. It was the only cable car in New York at the time; all others were still drawn by horses. My mother argued and pleaded with him, and I chimed in, begging him not to go (though I secretly wished that I might go with him). But my father remained adamant. His patients needed him. I remember his dressing for the venture: high arctics into which he stuffed his trousers, a fur-lined coat buttoned up to the neck with the fur collar turned up, and a sealskin cap that he pulled down over his ears. Then he took off his eyeglasses and put them into his pocket. They would be useless, he said, for they would instantly be covered by snow. Then he took a hurried leave and tried to set out. He tried; but it took a long time until he succeeded. The wall of snow that covered the front of our house was growing higher and higher. It proved impossible to open the front door, so he tried the basement door. That, too, was snowed under, but since it led out sideways, not facing the storm directly, it was possible to dig oneself out of it. So my father got the snow shovel, and Margaret, swathed in coats and shawls, fetched the coal shovel from the cellar, and together they bravely began to dig. They repeatedly stopped for breath, and two or three times they retreated into the hallway to rub their stiff hands and freezing cheeks and noses. But eventually they managed to dig a narrow path from the door through the area out of the small gate that led out into the street. Then my father thanked Margaret, handed her his shovel, and began his solitary, unequal battle against the blizzard.

Mother and Margaret and I, from an upper window, watched him struggle and stagger, step by step, until he had reached Second Avenue and had disappeared from our sight. Then we turned away wordlessly. Mother's face was set and pale. Margaret was crying. My high spirits had deserted me. An hour later my father came struggling back in a state of utter exhaustion. He had won his battle; he had reached Broadway. But the cable car, too, had stopped running. That night, before retiring, we summed up the situation. All day long no one had crossed our threshold, no food had been brought to us, we had seen no newspaper nor received any mail. We had not been able to exchange a word or a greeting with any of the neighbors; no vehicle had passed our door; no news of the outside world had reached us. Living in the heart of America's greatest city, we were yet entirely isolated as, indeed, the city itself was isolated from the rest of the country; and the snow continued to drift and pile up around us higher and higher.

From Dear Remembered World: Childhood Memories of an Old New Yorker. Richard R. Smith, 1947. Click to continue reading Lilienthal's memories of the blizzard.

NOTE: The picture that accompanies this excerpt was taken in 1888, but it shows a street in Brooklyn not on the East Side of Manhattan.  

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hudson's Best of 2010

On his blog, Word on the Street at, Scott Baldinger names The Gossips of Rivertown "Best reporting on a blog (ok . . . Best Blog, period)." Thank you, Scott!

Check out Scott's other picks at Hudson's Best of 2010. Gossips concurs with all of them.

Galloway and the Mayor

Mayor Rick Scalera was elated at the Common Council meeting last Tuesday night, talking about Eric Galloway's "commitment to the waterfront" and his commitment to Hudson. Although some may not see Galloway's commitment to Hudson, as it's been manifested so far, as an especially good thing, Galloway seems to have become Scalera's go-to guy for various projects. So much so that it's easy to forget that things got off to a rocky start for them. 

In May 2003, Galloway drew Scalera's ire when he paid Phil Gellert $250,000 for a lot that the mayor wanted for the City, but they soon patched things up. A couple years later, there was talk of Galloway swapping the lot on the corner of Fourth and Columbia--the bone of contention that he'd snatched out from under the City's nose--for 427 and 429 Warren Street, so the City could build a new building there for the Police Department, City Court, and the Code Enforcement Office, now located at those addresses on Warren Street. That never happened, but in the past year or so, Galloway's willingness to part with the lot figured large in "Plan B," the mayor's alternative for relocating the Department of Social Services.

During the 2005 mayoral campaign--one of the rare campaigns in the last two decades when Scalera was not running--a fundraiser for Dan Grandinetti, believed to be Scalera's choice as successor, was held at Galloway's mansion in the stately homes block of Allen Street. In late October of that year, days before the election, Scalera, in what was seen by some to be an attempt to boost Grandinetti's chances, announced plans for more than 100 units of affordable housing. Eighty of those units were in the Crosswinds development, but the other 26 were to be created by renovating buildings "on Union Street, Warren Street, and South Second Street"--buildings owned by Eric Galloway. Five years later, Crosswinds exists, but three major apartment buildings owned by Galloway--202-204 Warren Street, 354-356 Union Street, and 501-505 Union--still stand vacant, and 34-36 South Second Street, which once provided five affordable apartments, is being renovated as a single-family home that promises to be affordable to a very few. 

In the late summer of 2006, during one of the rare periods when he was not in office, Scalera appeared at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting to use his influence to get them to approve in a timely manner Galloway's proposal for building new buildings and renovating the existing building at the corner of First and Union streets. The project got its C of A and was then fast-tracked through the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals (the project required an area variance), but, after all that effort and special attention, the project never happened. Kevin Walker explained that, by the time they'd secured their approvals, they'd lost the contractor, but more than four years have now passed, and still nothing has happened. You have to wonder about Galloway's commitment to this project. (Aside: It is rumored that First Ward Alderman Geeta Cheddie is now lobbying for the demolition of the surviving building on the site.)  

Sometime during the 2006-2007 term, when Scalera was out of office, Galloway ended up owning the lot at the corner of Fifth and Warren. The lot, which the City, through HDC, had owned for several years, had more than one party interested in it at the time. Architect Peter Sweeny wanted the lot to build a hotel there and had entered into a prelimimary agreement to buy it. Then Galloway decided he wanted it. There was a legal contest, made interesting by the fact that Mark Greenberg, who typically represents Galloway, was representing Sweeny, and Jack Connor, the once and future city attorney who didn't have that position in those years because Scalera was out of office, was representing Galloway. The details of the case are not known, but Galloway ended up owning the property, which continues to stand vacant. 

Returning to the main theme, in October 2010, Galloway hosted a meet and greet for the mayor at his house on Allen Street. It's interesting to read the Gossips account of that event in light of recent events--in particular, Galloway's proposal to purchase the Dunn's warehouse building.

When someone allegedly has tens of millions of dollars at his disposal, it's hard not to turn to him for help with problems that can be solved with money. In 2006, during the Tracy administration, members of the Common Council sought Galloway's help to solve the problem of the Keegan houses on North Fifth Street. The City had acquired them by eminent domain but was obligated to pay the Keegans their appraised value, which, if memory serves, was $195,000. To get the funds needed to pay for the buildings and restore them, the aldermen that served on the short-lived Planning and Land Use Committee of the Common Council worked with Galloway and The Grant Writers to put together a proposal for Round I of the Restore NY Communities Initiative. The plan involved restoring the two existing houses to their appearance in the 1939 photograph above and building a third house--one of Galloway's signature faux Greek Revival houses--behind the corner house, facing Prospect Street. The proposal was a strong one, but, as Bill Roehr of The Grant Writers explained, grant awards that year were "political," and Hudson's proposal did not get funded.

Now, at the end of 2010, we have Scalera and Common Council President Don Moore turning to Galloway to jump-start commercial development on the waterfront. Although there were nothing but expressions of joy and delight at Tuesday's Common Council meeting, outside the context of City Hall, the wisdom and appropriateness of this move is being questioned. The concern most often expressed--that, given the number of properties owned by Galloway being warehoused in Hudson, Galloway could take ownership of the building and do nothing with it--seems to have been anticipated by Galloway. The proposed terms of purchase include these two stipulations:        
5. Escrow: The Purchase Agreement will contain a provision requiring the Purchaser to deposit $25,000 in an escrow account and to be paid to the Seller in the event the property is not developed within the time frame set below. 
6. Construction Completion: The Purchase Agreement will contain a provision allowing the property to revert to the Seller for an amount equal to the Purchase Price in the event renovation of the building is not completed within 24 months of Purchaser's receipt of all approvals and/or permits to proceed with construction work.
There are other questions being raised that are not answered in the proposed purchase agreement, namely:
  • Was the fact that the City was ready to sell the old Dunn's warehouse building generally known? Was anything done to solicit interest in the building from other potential buyers?
  • Were the results of the creosote remediation done at the site by Niagara Mohawk some years ago (this was the site of the Hudson Gasification Works) ever made public? Was it generally known that the Department of Environmental Conservation had approved the building for reuse?
  • Will any effort be made to identify a chef or restaurant interested in taking on such a large space before the work is undertaken?
  • What might Galloway want in exchange for "taking a risk" at the waterfront? Are we going to see the return of the Starboard Project proposed for the corner of Warren and Fifth?  

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Gift from Gossips

Byrne Fone--man of letters, former Hudsonian, eloquent spokesman for every good cause, valued ally and friend--sent this bit of "dog-gerel" (his term not mine), penned by him, as a Christmas gift to William and me. I share it now as a gift from Gossips to all who have beloved dogs in their lives.

Woof woof woof
Wag wag wag
Snuggle snuggle snuggle
Sniff sniff sniff
Sometimes I wonder if
My humans think it odd
That if you spell me backwards
It comes out God.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

A Gift of Sweet Anticipation

Since we spread the word that there were no more Toffee Pistachios to be had at Vasilow's, Gossips has been in touch with Jim Vasilow, who explained why there were no Toffee Pistachios and why their absence would only be temporary.

Remember when salmonella was discovered in peanuts last year? There was a similar pistachio scare. Although pistachios were never found to pose any health risk, most of them were recalled and destroyed. Those that survived are back on the market now, but at premium prices, and the supplier of Vasilow's Toffee Pistachios refuses to pay what the wholesalers are demanding.

The good news is that the new crop of pistachios is working its way into the distribution channels, and prices are starting to drop. It's anticipated that Toffee Pistachios will be back on Vasilow's shelves by early February. In the meantime, as a substitute, Gossips recommends Dark Chocolate Covered Dried Cranberries. Yum!

Christmas Wrap

In the spirit of the season on Christmas Eve, Gossips offers three gifts--like the Gifts of the Magi. (I know that's Epiphany, but I don't want to wait thirteen days to share any of this.) Two of the gifts are good news. The third is a gift pure and simple. Here's the first. 

On a tip from a reader, I headed down to the Robert Taylor House this morning to check out a report that the house had been wrapped up for Christmas--not decorative wrap but protective wrap. I discovered that the front and back doors and a broken window had been boarded up and the holes in the roof had been covered.  

I don't know how this came to pass. At the November meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission, City Attorney Cheryl Roberts suggested, in response to my insistence that action needed to be taken to arrest the deterioration to this historic building, that the City could initiate a civil action against the owners under Article 169 of the City Code (the historic preservation law). I don't know if this was done or not, but it doesn't matter. The building now has a better chance of surviving the winter. I just hope the cats reported to be sheltering there were not inside when they boarded it up.    

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Outcome for 211 Union Street

At some future time, this is what 211 Union Street will look like. In fact, the Historic Preservation Commission has requested that the historic plaque, which until a few years ago was affixed to the lower left corner of the facade, be added to this image so they can compare the picture with the building when the work is completed to determine if Warren Street Partners (formerly the Galvan Group) did what they said they would do.

Tout le monde turned out for the public hearing this morning, including Linda Mussmann, who doesn't have much use for historic preservation, and the ubiquitous but elusive Eric Galloway and his partner, Henry van Ameringen. Although the audience filled all of the available seats, not all the members of the Historic Preservation Commission were present. Jamison Teale and Jane Smith were missing.

Much was said during the public hearing and special meeting that followed--too much to chronicle here. The issue that the Historic Preservation Commission seemed to struggle with most--more than the appropriateness of stripping away genuine historic fabric to return the building to its earliest appearance--was the question of whether or not it was within their purview to make a judgment about the appropriateness rebuilding the front wall of the building as a one-course brick wall over a new wood frame wall.

At the beginning of the hearing, Mark Greenberg, attorney for Warren Street Partners, stated that it was their position that interior work and structural work are the purview of the Code Enforcement Officer not the Historic Preservation Commission. Although Timothy Dunleavy, President of Historic Hudson, asked from the audience why the brick wall couldn't be reconstructed in the same way it was originally constructed and was given a number of reasons that seemed all to relate to the need to do the work in winter, the only member of the HPC who questioned the appropriateness of rebuilding the wall in the manner proposed was Tony Thompson, who steadfastly maintained (and Gossips believes correctly so) that changing the nature of the wall's construction would compromise the integrity of the building and affect its historic significance. 

At the end of the public hearing, audience member Rick Rector asked what the difference would be visually between the wall rebuilt with one course of brick or the wall rebuilt in its original three-course configuration. Kevin Walker referred him to the north wall (along Cherry Alley) of the building in which Verdigris is located, which had been rebuilt in exactly the manner proposed for the facade of 211 Union Street. The appearance of that wall has been compared by some discerning eyes to Garden State Brickface, but HPC chair Tom Swope declared that you can't tell the difference between that rebuilt wall and a genuinely old wall.

These days, preservation professionals are usually wary about restoring a building to an earlier appearance when what exists on the building is itself historic--especially when there is no archival evidence of what the building looked like previously. The members of the HPC had no such qualms. When it was suggested (by me) that there was insufficient evidence to know what the building looked like when General Worth lived there and that the alterations being proposed were speculation, HPC chair Tom Swope denied it, saying that structural brick arch discovered over the door of 211 Union and other Federal buildings in Hudson provided adequate evidence of the building's original appearance.  

HPC member Nick Haddad asked why, if they were returning the house to Federal style, they were still planning to use asphalt shingles on the roof. A house of that period would have had cedar shingles. Asphalt shingles had been approved in the original certificate of appropriateness before the applicant decided to modify the application and seek approval to change the style of the house to Federal. Swope objected that it would be unfair to revisit the decision about the roof, but in the end, Walker agreed to use cedar shingles or "simulated" cedar shingles for the roof. 

In the vote to grant a certificate of appropriateness to the project, Swope, Haddad, David Voorhees, and Andrew Rieser were in favor, Thompson was opposed, based on his conviction that the integrity of the building and its historic significance would be compromised by rebuilding the wall in the manner proposed. Thompson had no problem with the change of style, citing period of significance and commenting that Hudson has "fewer Federal houses than what this was changed to." Swope asked that the historic door and door surround be saved "in case someone else wants to use it."   

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

REMINDER: Public Hearing on 211 Union Street

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. is the public hearing on the proposal to rebuild the front wall of 211 Union Street and to alter the building to make it appear as it may have looked when it was the home of General William Jenkins Worth. The public hearing will take place at City Hall and will be followed, at 10:30, by a special meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission to decide whether or not to grant the project a certificate of appropriateness. 

On the Waterfront

At the Common Council meeting on Tuesday night, Kevin Walker presented plans to turn the old Dunn's warehouse, across Water Street from Henry Hudson Riverfront Park, into a "bistro styled" restaurant and bar, with 200 tables on two floors and in a glass enclosed atriumBefore the presentation began, Gossips managed to snap a picture of this rendering of exterior elevations and interior space use.

In introducing Walker, Council President Don Moore called the topic of Walker's presentation "a particularly exciting project," adding that "even before we have gotten completion of the LWRP, we are making the kind of progress we want to make." 

In his presentation, Walker explained that "back a few months ago," he and Eric Galloway had a discussion with Moore and Mayor Rick Scalera about how to get private investment to stimulate development on the waterfront. Galloway expressed his willingness to "take a risk" and make a commitment to the waterfront, and Moore and Scalera agreed that a restaurant would be the "ideal catalyst to future development."

It seemed on Tuesday that yet another Galloway "group" has been created to carry out this project, joining the trio that already exist: the Galvan Group, the Historic Preservation Group, and the Lantern Organization. The new group is called "Warren Street Partners." When asked by Third Ward Alderman Ellen Thurston who made up the Warren Street Partners, Walker indicated that Warren Street Partners was essentially the same as the Galvan Group. In fact, as Gossips later learned, Warren Street Partners isn't a new group at all. It's simply a name change for the Galvan Group, which, if memory serves, used to go by the name Liehtan. 

Warren Street Partners is proposing to purchase the former Dunn's warehouse building from the City of Hudson for $250,000 ($50,000 less than the $300,000 that was written into the 2011 budget as income from the sale of the building) and to invest $2 million in renovating it. They anticipate that, after they have entered into a deal with the City and have approvals from the Historic Preservation Commission and the Planning Commission, the project will take eighteen months to complete. The building will then be leased to a chef or someone already in the restaurant business to establish and operate the restaurant there.

Thurston asked who the architect for the project would be and was told that they were working with "Charlie" Vieni. But Charles Vieni is not an architect; he's a structural engineer.  He's the structural engineer who's recommending that the front wall of 211 Union Street be rebuilt as a brick "veneer" over a new interior wall. He also worked, as a structural engineer, on the renovation of the buildings that make up Club Helsinki in Hudson.   

For a little levity at the end of the presentation, Scalera asked Walker if there was any way they could work some columns into the design for the building, explaining, after the requisite laughter subsided, that he had asked the question for Gossips' benefit.

For another take on the presentation and the project, see Lindsay Suchow's article in today's Register-Star: "Eatery planned for waterfront."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

More About the Kaz Warehouses

The Register-Star has an article today about the acquisition of the Kaz warehouses at Cross Street and Tanners Lane: "Old Kaz warehouses could be razed by city." In the article, Mayor Richard Scalera confirms that the plan is to demolish the buildings and offer the site to a developer: "There are certainly challenges in taking the buildings down . . . it will be costly, but we have the opportunity as a city now to put in some grant applications to take those down so we can offer [the land] to a developer." Wouldn't it be grand if a developer could be found who would be sensitive to the site's context and would recognize that one of Hudson's oldest surviving (barely) houses is right there, for decades walled in by those warehouses?  

Polluters in Our Midst

The results of the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxics Release Inventory for 2009 are reported in today's Register-Star: "Holcim, Lafarge ranked by EPA for emissions." Lafarge in Ravena is ranked ninth in the state for on-site toxic emissions; Holcim in Catskill is ranked fourteenth.

Ear to the Ground

Gossips has learned that Eric Galloway spokesman Kevin Walker is expected to appear at the Common Council meeting tonight to present a proposal to turn the old Dunn warehouse building across Water Street from Henry Hudson Riverfront Park into a restaurant. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Good Night for Insomnia

Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice--the longest night and the shortest day. At 11:38 p.m. tomorrow, winter officially begins, and we begin the optimistic snail's pace struggle toward spring, as the days gradually get longer and the nights shorter. 

The Winter Solstice this year coincides with a full moon--something that only happens every three decades or so. Besides that, the Moon tonight reaches perigee--its closest point to the Earth. The last time these three phenomena--the Winter Solstice, a full moon, and perigee--happened at the same time was in 1866.

But in the wee hours of the morning, something even more remarkable is going to happen: a total lunar eclipse. According to NASA, this is the first time a lunar eclipse has coincided with the Winter Solstice since December 21, 1638, and it's not likely to happen again until 2094. 

The event is expected to take 3 hours and 38 minutes. It starts at 1:33 a.m. Eastern Time; totality begins at 2:41 a.m. and will last for 72 minutes. If you don't intend to spend the better part of the night staring up into the sky, NASA recommends that the best time to view the eclipse is 3:17 a.m.

And if all these spectacular lunar events weren't enough, an Ursids meteor shower is also expected to take place tonight.  

Comfort and Joy

If you still have holiday shopping to do, you could use some comfort and joy. Ellen Thurston to the rescue, with her guide to great gifts available right here in Hudson, which this year she is calling "Comfort and Joy." Ellen's gift suggestions will help you bring comfort and joy to everyone on your list and give you the comfort and joy of having done your gift shopping right here in Hudson.    

Hudson: An Early Planned Community

Whenever a historic preservation issue comes up in the Common Council, there is usually at least one person who can be counted on to declare that any attempt to regulate what people do with their buildings is "un-American." The notion that Hudson's historic architecture is a community resource and that current building owners have a responsilibity to the community and to history holds little sway against the conviction that owners have the right to do what they will with their property.

I was reminded of this modern-day attitude among some Hudsonians when I was browsing recently in the late Margaret Schram's book Hudson's Merchants and Whalers: The Rise and Fall of a River Port 1783-1850. Schram makes reference to the minutes from a meeting held by the Proprietors on May 14, 1784--specifically to these details reported by Anna Bradbury in The History of the City of Hudson: "A committee of six, of which Seth Jenkins was chairman, was appointed to 'regulate streets, and to attend in a particular manner to the fixings of the buildings uniformly.' It was also voted 'that no person should fix his house without such direction from a majority of the committee as they might think proper;' and that 'No person should extend his steps more than four feet from his door or sellar [sic] ways.'"

Fix in this context, of course, means "to place or situate" not "to repair," but, as Schram observes, Hudson started out as a "very planned development." 

Confectionery Crisis

It has come to Gossips' attention that Vasilow's Confectionery will no longer be offering their beloved Toffee Pistachios. The bag in the picture--more than three-quarters empty--is the last one ever. The rising cost of pistachios is blamed for the cessation in the production of this delectable treat. This situation is, for many, intolerable. Gossips asks its readers to urge Vasilow's to do whatever is required to bring back Toffee Pistachios.     

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hudson as Palimpsest

Architect Harry Kendall, in a lecture sponsored by Historic Hudson back in 1998, was the first to use the metaphor of a palimpsest to describe the architecture of Hudson. A palimpsest is a page of parchment manuscript from which the text has been scraped off so the page can be used again, but traces of the original text remain, making it possible to decipher what was previously written there.

The word palimpsest has come to describe anything having diverse layers, and so it is with Hudson architecture. Until the latter part of the 20th century, when urban renewal money from the federal government fueled demolition fervor in Hudson, buildings were sometimes destroyed by fire, but they were rarely willfully razed. Instead they were enhanced and updated--"refitted" was the term used at the time--to make them conform to the fashion of the day and to give evidence of the owners' taste and affluence. Over time, early vernacular and Federal style buildings were adorned with cornices and corbels, ornate Victorian window and door surrounds were added to Greek Revival buildings, simple early Italianate buildings sprouted oriels and bay windows, and, in the latter decades of the 19th century, additional floors with mansard roofs, characteristic of Second Empire style, were added to buildings. The history of our city--its periods of boom and bust--and chronology of American architectural styles can be read in the buildings of Hudson.  

Fascinating as it is, the palimpsest quality of Hudson architecture presents a challenge for historic preservation. When an addition or alteration is an example of 20th-century "remodeling"--or "remuddling" as Old House Journal calls it--the decision to remove it and return the building to an earlier style is easy. It's another story--or should be--when the additions and alterations are themselves historic. 

The Dr. Oliver Bronson House, for example, is significant because of the alterations and additions that were made to the original Federal style house. The house was built in 1812, possibly by local master builder Barnabus Waterman, but it became a National Historic Landmark in 2003 for its association with the architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, who substantially redesigned the exterior appearance of the house in 1839 and designed a significant addition to the house ten years later. Davis's work on the Bronson House is an early example of the Hudson River Bracketed style which he originated, and as a consequence, the changes to the house are historically more significant than its original design. 

It's obvious that returning the Bronson House to Federal style would be highly inappropriate, but for other Hudson buildings the decision about what's appropriate isn't always as clear. Take, for example, 314 Warren Street. This picture shows the building as it was in about 2002, when the facade restoration was just getting started. The pediment, the fanlight, the pilasters reveal that this was originally a Greek Revival building to which Victorian window hoods and a Victorian door surround were added. The picture also shows very inappropriate 20th-century alterations: changing the size of the ground floor window openings to accommodate smaller, standard size windows.

The facade restoration took place before the Historic Preservation Commission came into existence, so there was no discusssion about the appropriateness of the changes undertaken. The later Victorian elements were stripped away, and new door and window surrounds, inspired by Greek Revival style, and a larger ground floor window, in keeping with a commercial use, were introduced. Whether the removal of authentic historic fabric to achieve a level of architectural "purism" would have passed muster with the Historic Preservation Commission will never be known. 

On Thursday, December 23, the Historic Preservation Commission meets to consider the appropriateness of returning General Worth's birthplace--211 Union Street--to its "original" Federal appearance. In some ways, this seems like a no-brainer. Period of significance is usually the deciding factor in making decisions of this sort, and for 211 Union Street the period of significance is clear: 1794 to 1812, the years during which the house was home to William  Jenkins Worth, one of Hudson's most illustrious sons. William's mother died when he was a child, and his father was killed when William was 18, so it's unlikely that he had any connection with the house--or with Hudson for that matter--after 1812 when he left to pursue a mercantile career in Albany and then joined the army. The problem is that there is no archival evidence that shows what the building looked like during the time General Worth lived there. What is being proposed is speculation based on another building in Hudson of more or less the same period and what's known about the size of window panes at the time. It's very likely that by 1854, when the monument to General Worth in New York City was dedicated with an elaborate procession involving 6,500 soldiers, General Worth's birthplace already looked pretty much the same as it does today. 

So the question is: Should the extant historic features, which have been part of the house for more than 150 years, be discarded in favor of creating something that we cannot be sure is what the house actually looked like during the brief period when General Worth lived there?     

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More About the Sale of Kaz

For anyone wanting more information about the sale of Kaz, Inc., to Helen of Troy Limited, headquartered in El Paso, Texas, an article about the acquisition appeared in the New York Times for Thursday, December 9.

The Other Kaz Buildings

Learning on Friday morning that Kaz had been sold raised the question of what was happening with the old Kaz warehouses here in Hudson, so Gossips decided to ask. A conversation with Mayor's Aide Carmine Pierro yielded the information that Hudson Development Corporation has been the new owner of the warehouses since last week. 
A year ago, when it became known that the City, through HDC, might acquire these buildings, Mayor Richard Scalera said the idea was to demolish them in order to expand the long-term parking lot at the train station--for Amtrak passengers as well as people attending events at riverfront park. The plans are different now. When parking fees were introduced at the long-term lot, 30 percent of the cars that had been parked there disappeared. It seems that many people were using the lot, when it was free, to store vehicles. At its current size, the lot is more than adequate for the 140 to 150 cars that are parked there every day while their owners go someplace on the train, so, according to Pierro, the City is now hoping that some business will want to lease or buy the warehouses for a purpose that would create jobs. Those who live in proximity to the warehouses hope that purpose does not also involve the return of truck traffic to Cross Street and idling trucks at the loading bays.       

Friday, December 17, 2010

This Morning at the CRC and the IDA

The 8 o'clock meeting of the Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation began this morning with an executive session. When the CRC came out of executive session, it was announced they would take no action today on the real estate deal--the purchase of the old Walmart building--under consideration. Further discussion with Walmart and further negotiation was required.  

When the CRC meeting was adjourned, a meeting of the Columbia County IDA, involving the same cast of characters, was called to order. Among the business of the IDA meeting was a resolution approving the termination of the installment sales agreement with the IDA and the PILOT on the Kaz building on Route 9, just beyond the Hudson city limits in Greenport. Kaz--not the building but the business--has been sold to a company called Helen of Troy, which makes hair dryers and other kinds of salon and spa appliances. The building in Greenport is not part of the sale. Kaz will keep it and continue to try to sell it. In the meantime, the PILOT on the building will terminate at the end of 2010, and the building will go on the tax rolls at full assessment at the beginning of the new year.

Not to Be Missed

The Register-Star has, nearly a week later, printed BOE member Peter Meyer's response to Jo Ann Gavin's letter to the editor--"Finally the truth"--which appeared over the weekend. Meyer's letter--"A few corrections"--takes issue, among other things, with Gavin's allegation that “Steven Spicer and his ‘community entourage’ lied about the ‘hallway incident.’”

A Visit from Mrs. Townsend (continued)

Here's the continuation of the chapter from the original Gossips of Rivertown that we started yesterday.

Mrs. Townsend tried in vain for some time to turn the conversation. These gossiping details were painful to her, for she felt that, as a listener, she was becoming a party to them. Although she knew very little of Mrs. Jackson—the acquaintance having commenced accidentally on Mr. Townsend's having been called to officiate at Mr. Jackson's funeral, in the absence of their own clergyman,—she had conceived the deepest regard for her. She thought she understood fully Mrs. Jackson's motives in conducting her late husband's business affairs for the time, although no conversation on the subject had passed between them. Moreover, the absurdity of the charges made against her, put the affair in almost a ludicrous light, as she hastily reviewed it in her own mind.

"Ladies," said she, at the first pause in the tirade, "I came partly on business this afternoon. You have heard of course about the meeting of the committee of ladies with regard to establishing an orphan asylum."

"Mrs. Folger was speaking of it last night, don't you remember?" said Mrs. Smith, "and I thought we had orphans enough of our own to see to, without gathering up all the little beggars in town, and washing their faces for them. Besides, if the Bernards and Seymours and that Mrs. Jackson are going to have it all in their own hands, let them manage it among themselves. I wouldn't go a step out of my way to help them. Would you, Miss Martin?"

The lady thus appealed to thought not; no, decidedly.

The key of the indignation was this. Mrs. Smith was affronted that she had not been called upon at first; Mrs. Harden had been, Mrs. Folger was, one of the original committee. She "didn't see why she wasn't as good as other people!"

Mrs. Townsend tried in vain to soothe her; Mrs. Smith was one of those obstinately jealous people who are always imagining affronts where none are intended, and who are never willing to be convinced that they, by any possibility, can be wrong. She had determined from the first to do all that she could against the new movement, which in itself was truly praiseworthy, and was glad of an opportunity to vent the ill-humour that had been slowly gathering, like an autumnal storm, for many days.

Finding her remonstrances only increased the belligerent determination of the lady, Mrs. Townsend soon after took leave, after engaging Miss Martin to sew a day for her the ensuing week.

No sooner had the hall door closed, than Mrs. Smith began commenting on the extravagance of ministers' wives generally, and Mrs. Townsend in particular.

"Now you just see," said she, stitching vigorously the seam of a sleeve, "if there is not more sugar used in that house in one week than there is in mine for a month. I wonder what sort of a dress it is she wants you to make."

"A silk, she said."

"Another new silk dress! Why she had one only a year ago, that cheeny with so many colours in it. I do hate to see my own money wasted in that way. Twelve dollars a year for pew rent is something taken out of a family now-a-days, I can tell you. Particularly when flour's eight dollars a barrel. Speaking of that, Morrison has got some of the cheapest groceries I ever saw. His six cent sugar is quite good enough, when there 'a no one in, and as for using Havana in our own family, I won't do that for anybody.

Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter II.

Establishing an orphan asylum in Hudson was something that happened in 1845, just five years before The Gossips of Rivertown was published. The Albany Evening Journal reported that the Hudson Orphan Asylum was incorporated by an act of the State Legislature on April 25, 1845. It was originally located in the brick building on the northwest corner of State and Seventh streets, now owned by Eric Galloway. In 1881, the Hudson Orphan Asylum moved to 400 State Street, now the Hudson Area Library.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How Embarrassing

There's an article in today's Times Union that reveals that a photograph that has been used extensively by the City of Troy--on its official website, stationery, and business cards--shows a row of buildings located not in Troy but in Boston: "City of beans, not of collars." It's not even clear if the City of Troy had permission to use the image.

Meeting Reminder

For those willing to start their Friday early, there's a special meeting of the Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. It takes place at the Columbia Economic Development Corporation office, 4303 Route 9 (the Holcim building), and the topic of discussion is the acquisition of the old Walmart building for the purpose of consolidating county offices there.    

A Visit from Mrs. Townsend

It's time for another excerpt from the original Gossips of Rivertown. In this chapter, Mrs. Townsend, the wife of the minister at the Congregational Church, pays a call on Mrs. Smith for a charitable purpose and is forced to listen to some very uncharitable remarks about the recently widowed Mrs. Jackson. This chapter is so delicious that we'll publish it in its entirety: the first part today; the second part tomorrow.

Mrs. Smith was a member of the Congregational church, which numbered but a few. The Episcopalians were the aristocrats of the town, at least, they were so called by all the rest, though the Presbyterians had the finest church, and the highest steeple; and the organ in the Lutheran church was far the best. The Congregationalists, therefore, came some way behind, and numbered but three wealthy men in their society; though Elder Whiting was a man of great influence, and Deacon Morrison would have been if he could. However, Mr. Townsend found his time and patience fully taxed to keep his congregation in order, small as it was; and his wife did much to assist him by her gentle and popular manners, and great tact—that woman's talent.

It was in the afternoon after Mrs. Harden's quilting, Miss Martin had commenced an engagement of three days at Mrs. Smith's, and the two ladies were deep in the mysteries of "ripping and turning." Suddenly a knock at the front door startled them, and Mrs. Smith hurried into an adjoining room to give a few preliminary instructions to the girl, who was going through the hall.

"If it's Miss Barnard," said Mrs. Smith, "show her into the parlour and roll up the curtains; tell her I 'll be in in a second. However, it may be only Mrs. Morrison, and she may come right into the sitting-room—I won't change my cap for her. Oh! and Susan, if it's old Mrs. Shoefelt, just tell her I've run out, and you don't know when I'll be in. I did run out of the sitting-room," said the conscientious lady, as she applied her ear to the key-hole.

Now, it so chanced, that the visitor was neither of the above mentioned ladies, and Susan was at a loss how to dispose of her; but not noticing the girl's hesitation, and seeing the sitting-room door ajar, Mrs. Townsend solved the difficulty by walking directly in, as she heard Mrs. Smith was at home.

Miss Martin rose, in a flutter of consequence, to see her. "Mrs. Smith would be in in half a minute;—would Mrs. Townsend be so good as to excuse the looks of the room. Dressmakers made so many 'chips'; but it was 'clean dirt,' after all.

Mrs. Townsend smiled very kindly, and replied—"We all know what dressmaking is," and then hoped that she had not interrupted them as Mrs. Smith entered the room.

That lady was all smiles and cordiality. Again and again her visitor was urged to stay to tea, at least to take off her bonnet and sit an hour or two; but, after repeated refusals, the conversation took another turn.

"I suppose you're out making calls, then?" said Miss Martin, affably. Miss Martin was also one of Mr. Townsend's charge, and consequently took the visit partly to herself.

"Yes," was the reply, "I have just come from Mrs. Jackson's."

"Now, do tell me," said Mrs. Smith, "what's your opinion about that match? Do you think they'll be married before the year's up?"

"May I ask what match? I confess to a lamentable ignorance of the news of the day."

"Why Mrs. Jackson and her husband's brother, of course," replied Mrs. Smith. "I suppose you know they are engaged?"

"Mrs. Jackson!" said her visitor, with a start of unfeigned astonishment. "Did I understand you, Mrs. Smith?"

"Why where do you live, not to hear the news? I thought every one knew how devoted he had been to her, from the day she was a widow. He's been up three times from New York, and every time he comes they ride out together, and are gone all the forenoon."

"Besides, she's leaving off her mourning," added Miss Martin. "I saw her in the street last week without her veil, and she had on a mouseline-de-laine dress with white stripes in it. As to that, however, she might just as well not have worn any veil at all, for she never has it over her face. If people put on mourning, I don't like to see it done half-way. Good deep crape and bombazine, say I, if any one's going in black for a near friend, not to say husband."

"Yes," said Mrs. Smith, "I remember that I wore a double crape veil till the very Sunday before I was married to Mr. Smith. I really felt sorry to take off black at all, it was so becoming. Everybody told me I never looked so well in the world."

Mrs. Townsend could scarcely repress a smile at this remarkably naive confession, but said, quite earnestly—"I see nothing particular in Mr. Edward Jackson's attentions; I am sure I should expect the same kindness from my husband's brother, were I similarly situated. She has no other person to consult in her business."

"Well, there it is again. It was such a queer move for her to go on with that factory. In the first place, it's all covetousness on her part; she wants to be a rich young widow, I suppose. Though, as for being young, she never will see thirty again to my knowledge. Then the men all admire her 'spirit' so much, and she knew it beforehand. It serves to make her talked about." Mrs. Smith delivered these opinions oracularly, and Miss Martin joined in with—

"I should a thought Mrs. Jorden might have afforded to have stayed the winter with her sister, at least. Flying here, and flying off again before ever any of us had a chance to see her; but it's all of a piece with the whole family—they're just as selfish, and just as close as they can be. If it wasn't for Jane, Mrs. Jackson's girl, we never should know what was going on."

"By the by, Jane says," continued Mrs. Smith, "that Mr. Edward Jackson always kisses her when he comes and goes, and that her little boy already calls him ' pa.' Of course, it's nothing to me; but I do like to see people behave themselves, and they might have waited till Mr. Jackson's grave-stone was up, to say the least."

Mrs. Townsend was truly shocked at the coarseness of the last remark; but she had waited for a pause in the conversation to suggest an explanation of Marian's absence.

"Mrs. Jackson was speaking of her sister's health this afternoon. She is very much alarmed about her. Of course, you know how delicate she has been this winter, and that her physician said he could not answer for the consequences if she stayed north."

"You don't say!" ejaculated Miss Martin; "why I always thought she looked well enough. Wouldn't it be queer if Henry Jorden should be left a widower? I wonder who he'd marry!"

"I don't suppose he has thought so far as that," replied Mrs. Townsend, smiliug, despite the seriousness of the subject, at the last characteristic remark. "But, as regards Mrs. Jorden, it was only by absolute necessity that she was prevailed to leave her sister this winter. I fear Mrs. Jackson will be, and has been, very lonely."

"La! I don't see why. There's Jane, one of the best girls in the kitchen I ever saw—she lived with me awhile—and Mrs. Miller's very neighbourly. Besides, she doesn't shut herself up, by any means, not she; for young Dr. Wheelock has been there often, and lawyer McCloud, and she goes out to tea every now and then. She was at Miss Barnard's last week, quite as if nothing had happened, and sung and played, too, though she don't keep her own piano shut, as to that."

"Just so, Mrs. Smith," said Miss Martin. "I was saying to Mrs. Folger the other night—last night it was, at Mrs. Hardcn's—Mrs. Folger, says I, when people forget their husbands so soon, (and the best of husbands as he was,) begin to take off black when they haven't worn the stiffness out of the crape, and can sing songs just as if they didn't mind being widows a bit, I haven't got much pity for them, that's all."

"I never shall forget," pursued Mrs. Smith, "how cool she was the day of the funeral. I don't believe she shed a tear. I'm sure, the day my first husband was buried, it was just as much as they could do to get me into the carriage. Ma said she never saw anybody go on as I did. But I had reason to feel bad. A kinder man never brought bread into the house than Mr. Jenkins. He was such a provider. Wasn't it strange, Miss Martin, that he didn't leave a hundred dollars after all was paid off? We all thought the executors must have cheated me. I never will forgive Dr. Trueman as long as I live—never. Though I'm not a bit spiteful, naturally, and I wouldn't lift my hand against him. I ain't one of them kind."

Sketch the Fourth. Mrs. Harden's Quilting. Chapter II