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


  1. Thank you so much Carole for keeping on this! Your writing makes me feel as if I were there in person.

  2. But don't you think it would have been a common courtesy to let the ward supervisors know?

  3. Flip - wouldn't it have been a common courtesy for the ward supervisor to inform Historic Hudson of the planned demolition of the building pictured above on Robinson street.

    One is a personal slight - the other is an irreplaceable loss.

  4. You're right. There is plenty of room for improvement here from every viewpoint.

  5. Is there any follow up information on this post? My ancestors built a few of those houses and lived there until the 20's. I have a good deal of photographs and oral history of the street. I would love to help in any way I can so that others will see the value in its preservation.

    1. SDB-72: After such a hostile reception, the idea of creating a Robinson Street Historic District was abandoned and has not been revisited. Meanwhile, there has been a fair amount of development on Robinson Street--some sensitive to the original character of the buildings, some not so much--without the benefit of oversight by the Historic Preservation Commission. The historic pictures that you have of the houses would be of great benefit to everyone. If you are willing to share them, as well as the oral histories, Historic Hudson would be an excellent repository:; If you would like the pictures and histories made available to a wide audience here in Hudson, I would LOVE to publish what you have on "The Gossips of Rivertown." Please email me: Many thanks for your comment!