Monday, February 28, 2011

The Door in the Wall

Most people are in enthusiastic approval of the renovations to 34-36 South Second Street, which have been going on for more than a year now. The plans for the exterior renovations were granted a certificate of appropriateness by the Historic Preservation Commission several years ago, and as the restoration has proceeded, people who remember those plans have generally agreed that they were being adhered to. A few weeks ago, however, an aberration appeared: a door in the wall, accessing the sitting porch that was added to the north wing of the building. 

At least one member of the Historic Preservation Commission and others who recall the approved plans don't remember this door, so its sudden appearance--apparently cut into the wall to accommodate some perceived need of the interior design--raises once again the question of enforcement. City Attorney Cheryl Roberts has reminded the HPC on several occasions that they have no enforcement power. Once they approve a plan, it is the responsibility of the code enforcement officer to ensure that the plans are carried out as they were approved. An alteration of this nature should have come back before the Historic Preservation Commission for approval, but it didn't. So, if in fact this is a departure from the original plan, the question is: Has this door gone unnoticed by the code enforcement officer, or did he take it upon himself to OK it?      

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Courthouse Renovations

Francesca Olsen reports in today's Register-Star on the progress of the plans to renovate the Columbia County Courthouse to achieve ADA compliance and improve energy efficiency: "Work on the courthouse could begin this year." In an interesting coincidence, on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors Economic Development, Planning, Tourism, Transportation, and Agriculture Committee tabled a request for $78,600 to pay for a professional space needs and efficiency study for county offices, but two days later, the Public Works Committee approved a request for a similar amount--$78,200--to pay the architects working on the courthouse renovation for "designing first floor restoration 'to the period of the original 1907 design' and to design energy-efficient windows that would replace the courthouse’s current single pane windows."

At Thursday's committee meeting, Hudson First Ward Supervisor John Musall is reported to have raised the issue of review by Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission: "'We have a rather stringent historic preservation commission,' Musall said. 'I don’t know if you’ve met them?' He said that Hudson’s HPC has halted projects before because of windows." Hudson Fifth Ward Supervisor Bart Delaney, corroborating Musall's comment, raised the question of whether or not the HPC has authority over a county building. The article concludes by saying: "City Attorney Cheryl Roberts, who acts as the Hudson Historic Preservation Commission’s attorney, did not answer questions before press time relating to the HPC’s ability to oversee or approve courthouse renovations."

The history of the courthouse and the Historic Preservation Commission is an interesting one. One of the first things the HPC tried to do when it was first created back on 2003 was designate the Columbia County Courthouse--exterior and interior--and 400 State Street--since 1959 the Hudson Area Library--as local landmarks. When their intentions became known, the HPC received letters from the late Gerald Simons, chair of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors, and James Clarke, then superintendent of the Hudson City School District, which owned 400 State Street at the time, protesting the plan to designate the buildings. Oddly, both letters were worded in exactly the same way, as if someone had provided a model letter to both men.   

Not long after that, at the instigation of Mayor Rick Scalera, the historic preservation law was suspended and substantively rewritten. One of the major changes made to the law at that time was to take the power to designate historic buildings and historic districts away from the Historic Preservation Commission and give it to the Common Council. The HPC now reviews applications for designation, holds a public hearing, and makes a recommendation to the Common Council, and it is the Council that votes on whether or not to make the designation. The 2005 revisions to the law did not go so far as to require owner consent for historic designation, but it's an idea that seems always to have appealed to the mayor. 

Soon after the historic preservation law was reinstated, 400 State Street was designated a local landmark. By this time, the Hudson Area Library had purchased the building, and the library board enthusiastically supported landmark designation, but such designation was never pursued for the courthouse. 

In 2006, the Columbia County Courthouse was included as a contributing structure in the Union-Allen-South Front Street Historic District. As part of the process of creating the historic district, the proposal was sent to the Hudson Planning Commission and the Columbia County Planning Department for a recommendation. The Common Council, however, was not obligated to accept a recommendation from either body. The County Planning Department predictably requested that the courthouse be exempt from historic designation, but the Common Council Legal Committee, with the advice of the city attorney at the time, denied the request for an exemption, and the district was created with the courthouse as a contributing structure.

According to the decision made in 2006, the proposed addition to the courthouse and the replacement windows must come before the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness, but Cheryl Roberts, the city attorney assigned to the HPC, has not yet weighed in on the question. Roberts has shown a penchant for revisiting and rethinking the legal interpretations of her predecessors and colleagues on the City's legal staff, so it's not certain if the HPC will end up having any say in protecting the integrity of the courthouse--an architecturally significant building designed by Warren & Wetmore, the celebrated architectural firm that also designed, among their many projects, Grand Central Station in New York City. 

Demolition Opposition Update

The Save 900 Columbia petition now has 200 signatures, but more are needed. If you haven't already signed the petition, please consider doing so. If you have signed it, encourage your friends, neighborhoods, relatives, and colleagues to sign it. We need to send a message loud and clear to the Mental Health Association that, although we support their work, we expect them to respect our architectural heritage and not treat this building as if it were disposable.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Tale for the Dead of Winter

The following story appeared in the Hudson Evening Register for February 28, 1871.


Thrilling Adventure on Lake Champlain
--Breaking through the Ice Two Miles
from Shore--Heroism of a Young Lady
--How She Saved her Lover's Life.

[Correspondence of the Sun.]
An incident, romantic and unusual, and with a denouement so pleasing, occurred near Plattsburgh, one day recently. Lake Champlain, on which this place is situated, is one of the most beautiful sheets of water probably to America, and Cumberland Bay, where one of the most brilliant naval engagements of the war of 1814 was fought and won by Commodore McDonough of the American fleet against the British under commodore Downie, furnishes one of the grandest skating parks or ponds one could wish to see. It is the favorite resort of the young ladies and gentlemen of this vicinity on moonlight evenings. One evening a short time since a young lady and gentleman of this village, who had frequently been skating on the bay before, went out upon the bay, but believing in the old axiom that "Two is company," went to an unfrequented part, where they could enjoy the skating and each other's society unmolested.

After skating for some little time near the shore, the gentleman proposed that they should go further out where the ice is smoother, to which she consented, and they accordingly ventured out about two miles. Here they found the ice in beautiful condition, and the gentleman was proceeding to do the grapevine, forward and backward roll, together with many other fancy figures only known to accomplished skaters, when suddenly the ice gave way beneath him, and in a moment he found himself struggling in the water and unable to extricate himself, the ice breaking as fast as he attempted to raise himself on its edge. The young lady, true to her womanly instincts, began to scream at the top of her voice, but the privacy they had sought had taken them beyond the hearing of all who could have been of service to them. He besought her to go to the shore and endeavor to procure assistance, but she well knew he must perish before she could get back, even if she found no difficulty in procuring assistance. Then as idea came into her head, and she immediately put it in execution.

She first took of her jacket and dress, and tying them together undertook to reach him with one end; but it was too short, as the yielding ice warned her when she moved towards him and endeavored to throw him one end. What more could she do? She hesitated a moment; then slipping off her gaiters, both stockings were soon tied to the end of the dress and jacket, and yet it was too short. Meantime, the young man was rapidly becoming exhausted, and, if she was to save him, no time was to be lost. For a moment her hands disappeared in the drapery about her waist, and then something fell on the ice about her feet--it was her hoop skirt. This was quickly severed into half-a-dozen pieces, and added to the jacket, dress, and stockings, and, to her great delight, this made the line long enough to reach. Bravely she tugged at one end of it, while he clutched the other end with the grip of a man who knew that that was all which stood between him and eternity. In a few minutes she landed him safely on the solid ice, and then the red jacket and dress were wrapped about her as best they could be, and the two started for home, where they arrived without being noticed by any one. Few were the words spoken on the journey home; but they must have been to the purpose, as the wedding suits are ordered, and before the ice shall disappear from our beautiful lake this spring they will be married.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Limitations of Google

It's a bitter irony that a couple of the ads that appear on the Save 900 Columbia petition are for demolition companies. 

Not to Be Missed

Sam Pratt has a report about what seems to have been the continuation on Thursday night of a sting meant to entrap bartenders in Warren Street establishments into serving alcohol to minors--in spite of the fact that on February 7, Common Council President Don Moore indicated that he wanted further discussion in committee before the Council voted to let the Hudson Police Department accept another grant from Catholic Charities for the stated purpose of discouraging underage drinking. 

An Early Sign of Spring

For everyone who misses the summer and autumn ritual of going to the Hudson Farmers' Market on Saturday morning, a new indoor Spring Market is starting up on Saturday, March 5. Read all about it in today's Register-Star: "Indoor market set to open."

Valley Alliance Files Legal Brief

Valley Alliance attorney Warren Replansky has filed a legal brief with the New York State Department of State refuting four assumptions that have influenced Hudson's current Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. Those assumptions are:
  1. The City can advocate routing hundreds of trucks daily through wetlands without a full assessment of the likely impacts.
  2. Current waterfront-bound truck traffic and associated barge activity are a grandfathered, permitted, "as of right," or even necessary use.
  3. The abandoned South Bay railbed is a "road" exempt from permit reviews and consistent with Hudson's industrial zoning.
  4. There are economic benefits to the City from Holcim and O&G dominating South Bay and the Hudson dock.
A summary of the legal brief is on the Valley Alliance website, where you can download the document and its attachments or view them online.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gridlock Hudson Style

At about 8:30 on Thursday morning, the southbound train was delayed in the station, and before it moved on, twenty or so minutes later, eight dump trucks--four heading to the dock and four coming away from it--were backed up waiting to cross the railroad tracks. 

Thanks to Sarah Sterling for alerting Gossips to the situation and to Bob Mechling for providing the second photograph used here.  

Good News from City Hall

In December, Gossips reported that a second dead tree had been removed from Thurston Park, leaving the pear tree allee in the vest pocket park in the 200 block of Warren Street with seven trees on one side and only five on the other. At the Common Council Public Works Committee meeting on Wednesday night, First Ward Alderman Sarah Sterling proposed a plan for replacing the missing trees.

Sterling explained that the Hudson Beautification Committee, which was active in the late 1990s and early 2000s and involved such fondly remembered Hudsonians as Hannah Williamson, Bob Soto, and Fran DeGrazia, still had $800 of unspent money. She proposed that the money be used to replace the missing trees in Thurston Park and asked DPW Superintendent Rob Perry if the Department of Public Works would help. Perry promised, "You show up with the trees, and we'll put them in."

Gossips is thankful to report that, come spring, the symmetry of this little park's elegantly simple design will be restored.   

Demolition Opposition

The Save 900 Columbia petition topped 100 signatures this morning, but more are needed. It will take several hundred signatures to show the kind of community opposition to the plan to demolish 900 Columbia Street that can change minds. Click here to access the petition or click on the image of the house at the top of the right-hand column.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

CRC Plan Hits Roadblock

The request from Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation (CRC) for a loan of $78,600 to pay for a professional space needs and efficiency study for county offices was presented to the Board of Supervisors Economic Development, Planning, Tourism, Transportation, and Agriculture Committee on Tuesday night and ended up being tabled. 

Committee member Art Bassin (Ancram) suggested that the undertaking the study deflects from the immediate problem of finding new space for the Department of Social Services. He also asked if the study was or was not independent of the plan to buy the abandoned Walmart building in Greenport. 

Art Baer (Hillsdale) explained that he had reservations about spending money on the study because "we haven't done a pro forma tax impact scenario." He reminded the committee that the County is already committed to two capital projects--Pine Haven and the addition to the courthouse to achieve long overdue ADA compliance--and these "big debts have to be looked at in terms of the tax levy." Baer likened the proposed study to "hiring an interior decorator to lay out a house that you're not sure you can afford." Pat Grattan (Kinderhook), before leaving at 6:30 for another meeting, indicated that he was in agreement with Baer. 

Richard Keaveney (Canaan) asked, "How many times are we going to do a space study?" He suggested that to do another one would be a waste of money. Baer expressed the opinion that the consultants would only "feed us back what the department heads say." Although Ken Flood, Commissioner of Planning and Economic Development, tried to point out the importance of having an unbiased professional study, the only member of the committee who seemed persuaded of its benefits was Ed Nabozny (Greenport). Keaveney commented that "making a decision is not hiring another consultant," and Robin Andrews (Claverack) said she didn't think the proposed study would "give us the information we need to get to the next stage."

It was generally agreed by the committee that the tax impacts of the various options needed to be understood before $78,600 was spent on another study. In the end, the committee decided to table the request.

At some point during the discussion, Flood asked if he should recommend to the CRC that they get their $50,000 deposit on the Walmart building back, but Keaveney indicated there was no need to do that yet. 

The committee revisited the possibility of buying 25 Railroad Avenue and keeping DSS where it was. The point was made that buying the building would cost $1 million--a one-time expense--whereas pursuing the plan to buy and retrofit the Walmart building would involve a commitment to CRC of $1 million every year for several years. The idea that the County may want to buy the DSS building introduces a complication. On September 21, the Common Council passed a resolution authorizing Mayor Rick Scalera to negotiate to buy 25 Railroad Avenue as the new location for the Hudson Police Department and City Court. It seems the City of Hudson and Columbia County may now be in competition for the building.   

See Francesca Olsen's account of the meeting in the Register-Star: "Supes deny $78K to CRC." Olsen summarizes the discussion by saying, "The request opened the floodgates of BOS self-introspection." 

About the Sale of Dunn Warehouse

Gossips wasn't at the Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting Tuesday night, having stayed to the end of the Columbia County Board of Supervisors Planning, Economic Development, Tourism, Transportation, and Agriculture Committee meeting, which lasted for two hours. But in spite of that, we have some intel from last night's meeting at City Hall.

It will be recalled that the City had written $300,000 into the 2011 budget as revenue from the sale of the Dunn warehouse across Water Street from Henry Hudson Riverfront Park. In December, it was announced that Warren Street Partners--the new name for Eric Galloway's Galvan Group--was offering $250,000 for the building. Last night it was reported that the appraisal, done to establish the fair market value for the property, set the price at $325,000. Warren Street Partners reportedly has agreed to pay that amount for the building, which it plans to convert into a restaurant. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pardon the Silence . . .

The faithful Gossips computer is spending the day with Jonathan of Jonathan's Computers. It seems it may have been the victim of a corrupt email. I hope to have it back later today, but meanwhile, this post is being composed at the Hudson Area Library--always there when you need it, providing public access computers, WiFi, and books, CDs, and DVDs from any and all of the sixty-six libraries in the Mid-Hudson Library System.

Support your library!        

Monday, February 21, 2011

Hudson 101

Sam Pratt has just published Part 4 of his account of Hudson's monumental battle against St. Lawrence Cement.

Bone of Contention: City vs. DSS

Today's Register-Star reports that 518 Columbia Street was the subject of a heated discussion between Fourth Ward Supervisor Bill Hughes and Department of Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman at the Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee meeting last Wednesday: "518 Columbia St. sparks heated discussion."  Hughes objected, as did Mayor Rick Scalera at a Common Council meeting on February 7, to the fact that one of the apartments in the building has been rented to three people, one of whom had been in housed by DSS at the Sunset Motel in Greenport. Hughes' concern was that 518 Columbia was being used by DSS as de facto "congregate housing" in violation of the City's zoning code. Mossman maintained that DSS did not and could not dictate where someone on public assistance rented an apartment. At one point, Taghkanic Supervisor Betty Young, who chairs the Human Services Committee, expressed the opinion that the City of Hudson owed DSS an apology, and Hughes told her an apology would have to come from Mayor Scalera.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Hundred Years Ago on the Hudson

This article appeared on the front page of the Hudson Evening Register on February 21, 1911. The photograph, from the New York State Archives, shows ice harvesting on the Hudson at Stuyvesant Landing in 1912. 


Looks as If All the Houses Along
the River Would Now Get In
a Full Supply.

This was a good day for the harvest of ice and the Hudson river icemen made unusual headway. As early as 4 o'clock the scraping and the ploughing gangs were busy at various houses along the river and at 7 o'clock everything was ready for immediate hoisting.

The Howland, Every and Arrow houses at Athens are nearly full, while the "Bull Durham" and the McCabe houses are expected, it is said, to be filled by Saturday. It will take nearly two weeks yet to fill the Knockerbocker [sic] houses. The Scott house at Newton Hook is being filled rapidly and the Greene-Bedell house at Coxsackie will be filled by Thursday, it is thought. The Washburn house, the largest in this city, will be filled by Thursday, if nothing unusual happens.

Mr. Washburn, the local dealer, is breaking in a new field to-day, which will aid him in filling his big house more rapidly. The field he is now marking out lies west of the long canal and several hundred feet north of the old field.

The mercury stood between zero and 4 below at many points along the river this morning and the ice, which for the past few days has been crumbling and cracking somewhat, has been tightened up. The icemen are now confident of a full harvest. In ponds about the county the second and in some places the third cutting is being taken in. Majority of Columbia county's cold storage men have their houses ready for next summer's produce.

Hudson from the Air

Sam Pratt has published two recent aerial photographs of Hudson, taken by Claverack resident and pilot Steve Walsh, on his blog.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hudson in 1969: The Intrusion of Outsiders

A reader recently told me that, when he was a graduate student at Columbia in the early 1970s, he heard the story of how James Marston Fitch, a distinguished professor at the School of Architecture, was nearly "run out of town" after giving testimony at a public hearing here in Hudson. The hearing in question took place on September 15, 1969. The topic of discussion was the demolition of the General Worth Hotel. Here's Chris Martin's report about the hearing, which appeared the Register-Star the next day.     

"YOUR FIVE MINUTES ARE UP--SIT DOWN"--Theodore Super, left, cuts short a statement by Professor James Fitch, right, of the Columbia University School of Architecture, who was promoting preservation of the General Worth Hotel. Fitch, who was engaged by professional planners several years ago to conduct a study of the city's historical buildings, sat down, but was allowed to complete his statement after intervention by Carl Mays, executive director of the Hudson River Valley Commission, and Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler. 

Feelings Run Hot At Hotel Hearing

The controversy over demolition of the General Worth Hotel blazed last night during two hours of debate sparked by pleas for preservation and local demands for outside funds to adapt the building for a practical use.

More than 150 Hudson and Columbia County residents and out-of-county historians and architects attended the public hearing conducted by the Hudson River Valley Commission. Assemblyman Clarence Lane also attended.

The commission and its supporters, concerned over destruction of the hotel because of its historical significance, faced Hudson taxpayers, who for several years have been urging the city to remove the hotel because of fire and safety hazard.

Many of the Hudson residents agreed the hotel was of great historical significance, but questioned how funds for restoration and maintenance would be raised. Estimates have ranged from $100,000 to $500,000 to restore the structure.

John Waite, senior historical architect for the New York State Historic Trust, said the building could be adapted for use as a youth facility, community center, housing for the elderly, or city and county offices.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said, already had expressed an interest in exploring the possibilities for federal funding, if local initiative was forthcoming.

According to Waite, HUD could provide up to 100 per cent financing for acquisition and development of a community center or, under another program, a full grant for developing housing for the aged. Up to 75 per cent aid would be available to develop county or city offices, he said.

Waite pointed out that Hudson's 1965 master plan lists the General Worth Hotel among seven important examples of historic architecture. He renewed the Trust's offer for a 50 per cent grant in aid to Hudson to develop the site. Other outside agencies, he said, could lend financial assistance and technical advice. He closed by handing Hudson Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler an application to HUD for federal funds.

Wheeler traced the decline of the hotel for the last three years, and asked Trust and Commission representatives what they would have done with the existing "threat to life and property."

He asked the state representatives to understand Hudson's position: "We must consider the people in the area and the costs to taxpayers of preservation."

"Generally, the feeling here is resentment of the intrusion by the commission and the trust because they don't trust us to govern our own city," Wheeler said.

He demanded again a 100 per cent grant to renovate the hotel, assurances of full costs of maintenance and that the work would be done immediately, or full clearance for the city to demolish the structure. Vague promises of money, he said, are not good enough.

Supporting Wheeler's position were Alderman Thomas Quigley, Republican candidate for Common Council president; Frank Nero of Hudson, president of the city Democratic Club; Theodore Super and Burton Sanford of Hudson.

Super and Charles Van Buren of Hudson interrupted a statement by Prof. James Fitch of Columbia University School of Architecture, who promoted the value of tourism and related preservation of historic sites.

Super and Van Buren objected because the professor "talked too long." They generated applause from sections of the audience, until Carl Mays, executive director of the commission who moderated the program intervened. Mays, who said he was "seldom confronted with such rudeness," asked Mayor Wheeler if Prof. Fitch should continue. Wheeler urged the audience to allow Fitch to finish his talk.

Van Buren left a short while later.

Tourism in this area, Fitch said, is an untapped resource. He noted that Hudson has "as fine a collection of houses in the 1790 to 1914 period as any place in the state."

Mrs. Walter Reineck, president of the Columbia County Arts and Crafts Guild, presented a petition signed by 82 persons interested, she said, in saving the hotel for a practical use.

Telegrams and correspondence urging preservation were read from the Village Neighborhood Committee, Inc.; a New York City man, Chauncey Stillman; the New York State Hotel and Motel Association; the president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.; the New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown; and the Victorian Society in America.

Greenport Supervisor Frank Nabozny said the hotel could be saved and noted that the Rev. Cletus Dello Iacono, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Hudson had expressed an interest in the hotel over a year ago for use as a church youth and recreation center. Wheeler explained that at the time it was impossible for the city to deed the building to anyone.

Howard Topper, a member of Hudson's Planning Commission, said the group took into account the building's historic significance but found that development was not economically feasible.

Mrs. Alexander Aldrich, wife of the Hudson River Valley Commission's former executive director, appealed for the hotel's preservation in a city whose "historic [sic] and tradition is  unspoiled."

Mrs. Aldrich, who now lives in Brooklyn, said she boasts about Hudson and Columbia County.

"Slap a coat of paint on this place, and there will be thousands of people coming through here," Mrs. Aldrich said, noting the value of tourism.

She suggested forming a tourism organization that would point out in a brochure tourist points of interest in the county.

Representatives of the National Park Service and the Society of Architectural Historians urged Hudson to explore every avenue to find a practical use for the hotel.

Prof. Bernard Foerster of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's School of Architecture and a member of the Board of Trustees of Olana noted that "preservation can be progress."

"I hope the building will remain a reality rather than a portrait in a gallery," he said.

Joseph Cordato, Hudson Democratic chairman, said demolition of the hotel would mean its death, and the bulldozer will be the undertaker.

"If the Hudson River Valley Commission can assure that the hotel could be brought to a fruitful use at no expense to the city, we would be crazy not to let it stand and be an historic attraction. If it doesn't cost us anything, what are we hollering about?" he said.

Philip Pomerantz, Hudson businessman and chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee, suggested a practical approach. Referring to the city's Housing Authority plans for public housing for senior citizens, he said: "The General Worth versus new public housing? It's a lot to be thought about."

Al Michaels of Hudson, who has restored two Warren Street buildings, asked that the hotel be preserved and a use found for it. William Kane, McKinstry Place, said that if only token financial support were required locally, he would like the building preserved.

Mrs. Charles Holcomb of Old Chatham, president of the Columbia County Council on the Arts, said the hotel "holds the whole block together."

"Warren St. potentially is one of the most attractive main streets in the state," she said. "If it can be saved, why not?"

Thomas Koulos of Copake Lake, formerly of Hudson, recommended coordination of all county activities, including tourism.

Mrs. Gale Smith of Hudson suggested the building be adapted for use by community organizations.

Speakers from the Hudson River Valley Commission included Mays and Lewis Rubenstein, historian. Mays said the commission's findings would be announced on or before Oct. 11, the day the commission's 60-day stay order expires on demolition of the hotel.

NOTE: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was located at the corner of Union and Second streets. The building is now St. Nicholas Ukrainian Church.  

Opposition to Demolition

There's a letter to the editor from Mary Hallenbeck in today's Register-Star: "A piece of history." Hallenbeck provides some history of 900 Columbia Street and speaks out in opposition to the plan by the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties that calls for the building's demolition.

Rumor Confirmed

The rumor, reported by Sam Pratt in his "Undertows & Undertones," that Don Moore does not intend to run for mayor in November has been confirmed. This seems to leave the Hudson Democratic Party, eight months before the election, without a clear choice of mayoral candidate.  

Back in 2009, when the Hudson City Democratic Committee endorsed Rick Scalera for what was promised to be his final run, HCDC chair Victor Mendolia explained to people unhappy about the endorsement--to this one at least--that, since there was no candidate who could beat Scalera, there was no point in squandering money and effort to run another mayoral candidate in the 2009 election. Letting Scalera run unchallenged, said Mendolia, gave the committee two years to groom a Democrat who could take the mayor's office. For the past fourteen months, to most observers, Moore seemed to be the heir presumptive. Mendolia and the HCDC didn't appear to be grooming anyone else.

Now we learn that Moore is passing on a run for mayor, and there's no obvious candidate to take his place. We can only hope that 2011 doesn't bring a repeat of 2007, when perennial mayoral hopeful Linda Mussmann primaried the candidate endorsed by the HCDC, Michael O'Hara, and, when she didn't win, ran against him on her own party line, the Bottom Line. That move threw the Democrats into confusion and guaranteed a win for Scalera, who was running as a Republican that year. If the HCDC can't come up with a strong candidate in the next few months, Mussmann might feel compelled to throw her hat into the ring once again and be the spoiler who assures that Gary Graziano, or whoever the Republicans decide to run, glides into the mayor's office.

What was it that Will Rogers used to say? "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." 

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Dozen Years of Change

Sam Pratt has an interesting new post on his blog, studying the change in Hudson voters in the past twelve years, from 1999 to 2011: "Is demography destiny?"

Hudson 101

Sam Pratt has now published Part 3 of the story of our David-and-Goliath battle with St. Lawrence Cement.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Another Affront to Historic Preservation

This is  223-225 Allen Street--a very old house which, along with 211-213, predates the other houses on this stretch of Allen Street by forty or more years. The house has the misfortune of being owned by Phil Gellert, who is probably responsible for the missing (covered over) windows and is definitely responsible for the vinyl siding and the bizarre and inappropriate "portico" over the doorways. Until less than twenty-four hours ago, the house still had doors that, although probably not original, were definitely historic, with side lights and interesting moldings. Gellert had installed giant springs on the front of the doors to snap them back shut, because the tenants tended to leave them standing open in winter and summer, but even with that, it was possible for this passerby to admire them and be grateful that they, along with their side lights, had survived the insensitive "improvements" the building has suffered.

Now, regrettably, the doors are gone, replaced by mismatched metal doors, and the side lights have been covered over with plywood, to make the door openings smaller.  

Granted the building was no showplace before, but it looks even worse now. The problem, however, is not aesthetic. The problem is that the building is in a locally designated historic district, and this alteration--replacing historic fabric with something that is neither historic nor apppropriate--should have come before the Historic Preservation Commission, but it didn't. When a member of the HPC alerted his colleagues to what was happening at 223-225 Allen Street, he was reminded by Cheryl Roberts, the city attorney assigned to the HPC, that the Historic Preservation Commission has no enforcement power. Only the mayor and the code enforcement officer can enforce Hudson's historic preservation law. 

Mayor Scalera raised a ruckus--and rightfully so--when Gellert worked a deal with the county to turn his property at 518 Columbia Street into "congregate housing" for the homeless, in violation of Hudson's zoning code. Will he be similarly incensed by Gellert's blatant violation of Hudson's historic preservation ordinance?

Paragraph 169-15 of the City Code states that violators of Hudson's historic preservation ordinance are liable to a fine of up to $250 a day until the property to restored to its appearance prior to the violation. 

The Quest Continues, Part II

At a special meeting at 8:30 this morning, the Columbia County Capital Resource Corporation (CRC) selected Urbahn Architects to carry out the space needs and programming study outlined in a Request for Proposals issued last month. Ken Flood, Commissioner for Planning & Economic Development, reported that eleven proposals had been received and explained the process used to review the proposals and arrive at the recommendation he was making to the CRC. Flood and two members of the county Planning & Economic Development staff did an initial review of the proposals, categorizing them as "top," "bottom," "maybe" based on the following criteria:
  • Cost
  • Experience
  • Familiarity with state requirements for county agencies
  • Expertise with green technology and alternative energy
  • Ability to service Columbia County
Initially, they narrowed the field to four: WASA (Wank Adams Slavin Associates); Urbahn Architects; Synthesis partnering with the Laberge Group; and CS Architects partnering with Clough Harbour. A second review determined that two of the groups--Urbahn Architects and Synthesis/Laberge Group--were stronger in terms of the primary goals of the space needs study. Finally, the choice was narrowed to one: Urbahn Architects, located in New York City, who will be working with P4H Inc, located in Golden's Bridge, in Westchester County. Flood noted in particular their experience in consolidating governmental offices. After some discussion, primarily about the plans to secure financing for the study, the members of the CRC voted unanimously to accept Flood's recommendation.

The study will be done in two parts. In Part I, the consultants will assess the space needs of county departments, analyze interdependency among departments, compare options for providing suitable office space, and identify a preferred option. Part I is expected to be completed by May 1 at a cost of $78,600. In Part II, the consultants will prepare an RFP for a design/build plan for the preferred option. The cost for Part II, assuming that the Board of Supervisors accepts the recommendation of Part I and decides to move forward, is still to be negotiated. 

This is not the first space needs assessment undertaken by or on behalf of the county--motivated by the fact the lease on the building where the Department of Social Services is located expires in June 2011. The first study, undertaken by the Board of Supervisors Capital Building Subcommittee in 2008, resulted in the purchase of the old Ockawamick School in Claverack, which remains unused today. The second study, undertaken by the Board of Supervisors Space Utilization Subcommittee in 2009-2010, resulted in the decision to keep the Department of Social Services in Hudson and narrowed the sites for a new DSS building down to two: the southwest corner of Fourth and State streets (a vacant lot owned by the City of Hudson) and the northwest corner of Fourth and Columbia streets (a vacant lot owned by Eric Galloway). Flood made the point, however, that there has never been an "unbiased, third-party, professional study done." The study currently being proposed will be that--to provide the impartial information necessary to "make a rational decision."

Although one of the objectives of the study stated in the RFP is to "compare costs of different facility scenarios ranging from doing nothing to locating in a single physical facility," it is hard not to infer from statements made by Flood that the real goal of the study may be to provide evidence that the plan to purchase the old Walmart building and move all county offices to Greenport except those required by law to be situated in the county seat is the "most logical and efficient solution." 

Flood will present the request for a loan of $78,600 from the Board of Supervisors to pay for the study at the meeting of the Board of Supervisors Planning & Economic Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 22, at 5:00.  

Rumor and Innuendo

The 2011 election season has begun in Hudson, and Sam Pratt has a roundup on his blog of who's rumored to be running for what: "Undertows & Undertones."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Our Community Helpers

Last night at the Common Council meeting, a resolution was passed to allocate money to pay legal fees incurred during 2010 in excess of what had been budgeted. At the end of the meeting, Mayor Richard Scalera rose to explain that some of those legal fees went for an arbitration hearing involving a police lieutenant's request for a health insurance buyout. The lieutenant, who according to an article that appeared in the Register-Star last summer is the third highest-paid City employee with a salary in 2010 of $78,587.13, is married to another Hudson police officer and is covered by a family health insurance plan claimed by her husband and provided by the City of Hudson. According to Scalera, their health insurance costs the City $17,000 annually. The lieutenant is requesting a buyout from the City for the individual health insurance plan that she does not use because she is already covered by her husband's family plan. The City contested the buyout but lost in court, Scalera said, "because of the wording in the police contract." 

On the same theme, Scalera mentioned that the police department is suing the City for compensation because they, as essential personnel, had to work on two days in 2010 when City Hall was closed for emergencies and nonessential City employees got the day off. In lieu of monetary compensation, they will accept time off, but, Scalera commented, that still ends up costing the City money. This claim for compensation, Scalera explained, is being made based on a provision written into the police contract 30 years ago.

Scalera made the point that contracts negotiated by police or other unions decades ago are threatening to bankrupt municipalities like Hudson, and he is calling for the State of New York to allow municipalities to reopen contracts in order to negotiate more sustainable terms.     

ZBA Meeting Cancelled

Gossips has learned that tonight's Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, at which some new proposal for 102-104 Union Street was supposed to be considered, has been cancelled. No reason for the cancellation was given.

Catching Up on Tearing Down

Today, almost a week after it was reported on The Gossips of Rivertown, the Register-Star has the story of the plan being proposed by the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties that will result in the demolition of 900 Columbia Street: "Will MHA raze Columbia St. house?" The article confirms what Gossips learned recently: that the plan to build behind 900 Columbia Street and then raze the original building is the alternative to converting two townhouses on Arthur Avenue in Greenport into apartments for MHA clients. That plan was abandoned apparently because it met with fierce opposition from the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, suggesting that the Mental Health Association is responsive to public opinion. The people of Hudson need to protest as fiercely this new plan and its crass disregard for our irreplaceable historic architecture.    

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Fire in Hudson a Century Ago

Recently I discovered this account of a fire in the 300 block of Warren Street. Because it contains some surprising and entertaining details, I decided to share it. The story appeared in the Evening Register for August 13, 1913. The picture did not appear in the newspaper with the story, but since it's more or less contemporary and shows many of the buildings mentioned, I decided to use it to illustrate the story.


The Fire Had Good Start When Discovered


Hold Young Man Seen Coming Out of an Alley

Fire of incendiary origin at about 10:45 o'clock last night destroyed the barn of Thomas Slauson, in the rear of his plumbing establishment at 344 Warren Street, and might have resulted in a big conflagration. Benjamin Shultis, aged 23, a Polander, is under arrest, charged [with] being implicated in the burning of the building.

Several persons discovered a blaze in the manure box on Prison alley alongside of Slauson's barn at about the same time. William Hibbert, a Robinson street young man, happened to be passing over North Fourth street, and seeing the flames springing up, ran to police headquarters, where he notified Sergeant Cruise, who rang in an alarm from Box 38.

In the meantime, Max Rosenfield, who resides in the rear of his tailoring establishment at 348 Warren Street, saw the fire, and cried out several times to attract the attention of the neighborhood, but this being of no avail, he fired his revolver in the air, attracting the men who were working in the Republican office, situated to the west of his building, adjoining the Slauson barn on the east.

Rosenfield hastily dressed and was one of the first on the scene. By the time the alarm stopped ringing Rogers' Hose company whose house is next to the Slauson barn on the westerly side, got into action. The fire was already burning fiercely, having eaten along the partitions to the second floor.

Nervy Rescue of Horse
Slauson was in Albany at the time, but it was learned that his horse was in the stable, and several fruitless attempts were made to get it out. Henry Langlois, a member of Edmonds Hose company, entered the building and released the equine after some difficulty. The smoke and heat was intense, and the exertion of getting the horse to the door bewildered Langlois considerably. When the animal appeared at the door, and no sight of Langlois could be had, President P. J. McCarthy, of Washington Hose company, rushed into the building and found Langlois groping about aimlessly. McCarthy brought the fireman out and Dr. Curran quickly revived Langlois.

The fire, fanned by a southwestern wind, burned fiercely, but the firemen did good work, preventing it from getting in the Republican's building, or from igniting any of the Traver lumber yard buildings across the alley. Considerable sparks, however, ascended high in the air and were carried for distances. This morning some of them were found on State street, some distance below Third. While the fire was [at] its height a blaze started in the old Levy blacksmith shop on Diamond street, being quickly subdued, however. Sparks undoubtedly started this fire.

Brick walls separated the Slauson barn from the structures adjoining, and these prevented the flames from spreading. The barn was totally destroyed together with a considerable quantity of hay, straw, harness, etc., also a second-hand automobile. The loss will be over $1,000, it is believed, partly covered by insurance.

Another Attempt Just Below 
While Chief Barry was running up Prison alley to the fire his attention was attracted to a little blaze in the rear of the barn of Frederick C. Hilderbrandt's upholstery establishment at 320 Warren street. A bundle of paper had been rolled up, and with some kindling wood and waste, had been placed along the barn. The blaze was quickly extinguished. This unquestionably had been touched off after the Slauson fire was started.

According to the persons arriving first at the barn of Slauson, the fire had crept from the manure box to partitions, and the door leading into the alley had been broken open and straw laid carefully about as a trail for the flames. The Hilderbrandt barn is situated about 100 feet below the Slauson barn.

An Arrest Is Made
While the fire was in progress Herbert Rowe, janitor at the Presbyterian church, which had been set afire Saturday night, noticed a young man walking slowly out of Cherry alley, just above Fourth street. He questioned the young man relative to what he had been doing in the alley, and the latter denied emphatically that he had been there. The fellow wore rubber bottom shoes, called "sneaks," and pleaded with Rowe to be allowed to continue on his way.

Rowe turned him over to the police and he was questioned by Chief Lane and Sergeant Cruise. He admitted to having been in Prison alley, but not until after the fire bell rang, and that he went into Cherry alley on private business. There was nothing in his pockets but a large number of matches. He denied that he knew anything about the origin of the fire and stated he could prove that when the alarm rang he was in his home of South Third street.

He gave his name as Benjamin Shultis and occupation as a teamster. Several persons residing along the alley were brought before the Fire Commission and Chief Lane and Sergeant Cruise about midnight. Some say they saw a short fellow, wearing light clothes and "sneaks" walk rapidly up the alley a short time previous to the discovery of the blaze. The description of this man resembles that of Shultis considerably.

Shultis was only a short time ago released from jail here, where he had served time for non-support of wife. He was arraigned before Judge Whitbeck this morning, and held until to-morrow morning, pending further investigation.

NOTES: 344 Warren Street, where Thomas Slauson's plumbing establishment was located, is now Marx Home. In 1913, police headquarters were located in the Hudson Opera House, in the room to the left of the main entrance, now used for HOH offices. 348 Warren Street, where Max Rosenfield's tailoring establishment was located, is now the antiques shop Henry. The Republican was a daily newspaper in Hudson, published from 1909 to 1923. Its offices were located at 346 Warren Street, which is now divided into apartments. Rogers Hose Company was located at 342 Warren Street where American Glory now is, Edmonds Hose Company was located on Park Place, and Washington Hose Company was located at the far western end of Warren Street, at the entrance to Promenade. Among the Traver lumber yard buildings that were spared is the building now known as the Cannonball Factory. 320 Warren Street, where Frederick Hilderbrandt's upholstering establishment was located, is now Kennedy Fried Chicken.  

Lucy with a Red Dress on

. . . a red dress with a white pinafore, that is. My dog William is quite certain that the model for this Earl Swanigan painting that appeared recently in a window at 243 Warren Street is Lucy, a dog who never fails to turn his head when we encounter her in the neighborhood walking with her human. William is unhappy, though, not because he has never been the subject of a Swanigan painting but because the dog whose portrait is displayed in the other window at 243 Warren is not, in his opinion, worthy of being coupled with the lovely Lucy.  

Monday, February 14, 2011

Hudson 101

On his blog, Sam Pratt is publishing, in parts, an expanded version of an article he wrote for OurTown last year about the long but successful battle against St. Lawrence Cement, now called Holcim US. The article is recommended reading "both for those who lived through the tumultuous years of 1998-2005, and for others who moved to the area more recentlywho may wonder what all the fuss was about." Part 1 and Part 2 have already been published, and there's more to come.

Ear to the Ground

At the Planning Commission meeting last Wednesday, it was mentioned that 102-104 Union Street would be coming before the Zoning Board of Appeals at its next meeting. This is the address of the vacant lot at the corner of Union and South First streets owned by Eric Galloway. 

In the summer of 2006, a plan was proposed for this lot that involved constructing four attached townhouses--three facing Union Street and one facing South First Street. At the time, the proposal went before the Zoning Board of Appeals. The setbacks for the townhouses were going to conform with the existing streetscape, and that required an area variance, which the ZBA granted. One wonders why, four an a half years later, the lot is coming before the ZBA again. Is a new project being proposed? No new proposal for this property has come before the Historic Preservation Commission for a certificate of appropriateness.

The ZBA meets on Wednesday, February 16, at 7 p.m.      

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Comfort and Sweet Indulgence on the Way

This is 230 Warren Street. It started out as the home of the Hudson City Savings Institution. In the early 1900s, the bank moved upstreet to the building designed by Warren & Wetmore at the corner of Sixth and Warren. In the early 1990s, it moved to Hudson City Centre and became Hudson River Bank & Trust. In the early 2000s, the bank was sold to First Niagara and ceased to exist, but its original home will soon become Bank House Bakery.  

Daniel Nilsson's sister Anna (that's Daniel Nilsson of DA|BA) appeared at the Planning Commission meeting last Wednesday night to present her plan to open a bakery in the original Hudson City Savings Institution building. The members of the Planning Commission, who determined that a site plan review was unnecessary because the building was in a commercial district, were enthusiastic about a bakery returning to Warren Street. They reminisced about Jersey Bakery, which closed nearly twenty years ago, remembering most fondly the hard rolls. Anna told them that she had Jersey Bakery's recipe for hard rolls and implied that they would be available at Bank House Bakery. The new bakery, which will produce pastries as well as breads, is scheduled to open on May 1. 

A Thought for Today from a Century Ago

This little item appeared in the Hudson Evening Register for February 13, 1911.

February is reminding us that it is some time yet before spring. Some of the samples of weather being handed around just now are such as to destroy confidence and encourage pessimism. Cheer up. The worst is yet to come.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Skirmish over Historic Preservation

Friday morning at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting, Timothy Dunleavy, president of Historic Hudson, and Cara Turett, who had assisted in preparing the application, were on hand to present Historic Hudson's proposal to designate Robinson Street and adjacent blocks on North Second and North Third streets as a historic district--the first historic district in the Second Ward. Second Ward Supervisor Ed Cross was also there, with his nephew Quintin Cross, to protest the proposal--vehemently.

Before Dunleavy had a chance to speak, Cross seized the floor, declaring that Historic Hudson and the HPC were "putting the cart before the horse" because his opinion and that of the other residents in the proposed district had not been sought before the application was prepared. HPC chair Tom Swope tried to explain the process for designating a new historic district, but Cross interrupted him, declaring, "They should have asked me before it got this far."

The process for designating an individual property or a neighborhood is outlined in Hudson's preservation law.
  • An application is prepared, which makes the case for historic designation. The criteria for historic designation is specified in Chapter 169-4 of the city code. The application may be prepared by anyone. It does not have to be done by the owner of the building, in the case of an individual designation, or by a resident of the neighborhood, in the case of a district designation.
  • The Historic Preservation Commission reviews the application to determine if it is complete. If it is, a public hearing is scheduled. If the proposal involves ten or fewer properties, the property owners must be notified by certified mail that their property is being considered for historic designation and a public hearing has been scheduled. If the district involves more than ten properties, notice of the proposed designation and the public hearing must be published at least once in the newspaper.
  • At the public hearing, the Historic Preservation Commission, building owners, and any interested parties may present testimony or documentary evidence, which will become part of a record, regarding the historic, architectural, or cultural importance of the proposed landmark or historic district.
  • After the public hearing, the Historic Preservation Commission must decide, within 30 days, whether or not to recommend the designation to the Common Council.
  • The designation must then be adopted by a majority vote of the Common Council.
Swope suggested that it was Cross who was putting the cart before the horse, since the law guarantees his opportunity to express his opinion at a public hearing, but Cross was having none of it. HPC member Nick Haddad attempted to talk about the responsibility that owners of historic houses have to history, but he made the mistake of using the word tenant to explain about how our houses were here long before us and will still be here after we have moved on. The word tenant incited Cross to protest that he didn't rent his house, he owned it, and if people wanted to tell him what to do with his house, they could pay his mortgage. Cross's final comment was specifically about Historic Hudson: "These people are out of line. It ain't right. They should solicit my opinion before the application is made."

In the application presented to the Historic Preservation Commission, Historic Hudson explains the rationale for wanting to see Robinson Street and the properties immediately adjacent to it designated as a historic district:
Robinson Street is a unique survivor of a nineteenth-century working class neighborhood in the City of Hudson. The street, located in the city’s Second Ward between North Third and North Second Streets, represents the type of urban domestic architecture once common in the City of Hudson, much of which was demolished during urban renewal in the 1970’s. Fortunately, the vernacular structures that characterize the architecture of Robinson Street were spared. This quiet street, and related buildings that make up the Robinson Street Historic District on North Third and North Second Streets, is the only intact nineteenth-century neighborhood left in the Second Ward. The Robinson Street neighborhood is a distinctive and valuable part of the city’s architectural, economic, and cultural history.
The description of the neighborhood's historical significance goes on to explain that Robinson Street is thought to have been named for George Robinson, who, from 1836 to 1856, owned the brewery in the Second Ward that would become the C. H. Evans Brewery, which produced the internationally famous Evans Ale. At the beginning of the 20th century, many Polish, Hungarian, and Irish immigrants settled in the Robinson Street district, where they could be close to their places of employment and a place of worship. The complete proposal for historic designation submitted by Historic Hudson, prepared in large part by Historic Hudson board member Mary Hallenbeck with photographs by Peter Frank, can be viewed here.

For those who think historic preservation applies only to the grand houses of the rich and famous, it may seem that designating the Robinson Street neighborhood is pushing the boundaries, but the goals of historic preservation have not been so narrowly defined for decades, if they ever were. The houses of Robinson Street, with their unique size and scale, are important elements of Hudson's architectural history, as well as its cultural history. They tell an important story of Hudson's past and of the generations of people who lived and worked here.

As Historic Hudson's proposal acknowledges, these houses are the survivors of Urban Renewal in the Second Ward. They are all that's left of a type of urban domestic architecture that was once common in Hudson. They deserve the respect and protection that historic designation will afford them. The demolition of one these houses just weeks ago is evidence that they need that protection.

Photographs by Peter Frank and John Peterson

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hudson in 1974

While doing research in old newspapers for the post on the weighted voted, I was struck by how much was happening in Hudson back in 1974. This was the Urban Renewal era, and 1974 was the year that would see the demolition of a great part of the Second Ward and the construction of Bliss Towers. Warren Street was suffering the loss of business to Greenport shopping centers, and Hudson taxpayers were struggling with a combined city, county, and school tax rate of $98.03 per $1,000 of assessed value.

At the beginning of 1974, Hudson had an energetic new mayor, Samuel T. Wheeler. Wheeler had a vision for Hudson, which he shared in this article that appeared in the Register-Star on January 31, 1974.

New Image Necessary Says Mayor

HUDSON--Hudson Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler said Hudson needs a new image, an aura of vigor, generated by officials whose faith in the city would restore the confidence of its people in local government.

"Hudson," Mayor Wheeler said, "is far from [the] dying urban center pessimists would have us believe. The sparks of vitality never have left us; our job is to see they are rekindled."

He said much of the image-building has been put into motion by an administration whose first weeks in office has [sic] stressed progress and improvement. Chief among Wheeler's goals is [sic] improved public safety, new equipment for the fire department, innovations and increased efficiency in the Police Department.

"Image building, however, is not all a dollars and cents proposition," Wheeler said. "Much of it can be done with enthusiasm, an item that never has appeared in a city budget."

Wheeler says enthusiasm is contagious, and predicted it would be passed down by the administration from department to department, merchant to merchant, industry to industry, taxpayer to taxpayer.

"The struggle to keep our cities alive," he said, "will be a continuous battle. We've won several skirmishes, and will continue to win if we apply enthusiasm to our fight."

"We should not dwell too long on those things we have lost, but redouble our efforts to replace them," he said.

"Hudson is fortunate," he said, "to have officials who care about the city, its citizens and taxpayers. If we can get the people to believe in government, our fight will have been won."