Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dog Tales: William and the Bad Scare

People on our regular dog walk route may have missed William and me in the past week or so. This story tells why. I share it for readers who live with and love old dogs, in the hope that it may spare them some fear and anxiety should this ever happen to their cherished pets.

As regular Gossips readers know, William has been having some issues with loss of appetite. He also has some problems with his left hind leg, which is probably degenerative myelopathy—a condition that causes no pain and for which there is neither a cure nor a particularly effective treatment. (William is fifteen, possibly closer to sixteen, after all.) But it was neither of these things that caused me to call the vet last Tuesday to make an appointment for the next day. It was an abscess I noticed inside the lower lid of William’s left eye, which turns out to be unrelated to anything I am about to tell.

Later that day, after the vet’s office had closed, William’s general health seemed to deteriorate—dramatically. The problem with his hind leg worsened—he was very unsteady on all his feet. He refused everything I tried to get him to eat—even the grilled salmon fillet we were sharing for dinner, the same meal he had scarfed down the night before. Because he was having a hard time getting up and down the stairs, the two of us spent the night on the parlor floor—I sleeping on the couch, he beside me on his dog bed, which I had moved down from my office on the second floor.

Early the next morning, I awoke to find my beautiful dog in a terrible state. His head was tilted to one side, his tongue lolled out of his mouth, he was panting, his eyes moved rapidly from side to side, and he could hardly stand. I feared the worst: my beloved dog had had a stroke.

It was still hours before our appointment. Wanting to put off what I feared was the inevitable—being told that William had reached the end of the line—I waited to take him to the vet until it was time for our appointment. Then I cursed myself for doing so. If it was a stroke, time was critical. My cowardice might be costing my cherished dog his life.

Finally, not long before the actual appointment, I called the vet’s office to tell them I was bringing in a dog in crisis, and I called the friend who had agreed to help me get William to the vet (William hates the car, as longtime readers know) to say it was time to go.

On the way to the vet’s office and while waiting to be seen, I tried unsuccessfully to battle down the dread. I was convinced that I was about to lose my precious companion of fourteen years. Imagine my total and utter elation, when, after I'd given my distressed account of what was going on with William, the first words out of Dr. Steuerwald’s mouth were, “The good news is . . . .”

It was not a stroke. William was suffering from old dog vestibular disease—canine vertigo! It’s not known why it happens, but most dogs recover from it on their own, given time and care.

Today, more than a week later, I am thrilled to say that William has recovered . . . almost. After days of complete immobility, having to endure the indignity of wearing doggie diapers and being fed Ensure with a turkey baster, William is eating solid food on his own again (Rachel Ray’s Nutrish—not the stuff I cook for him), and last night, with a little help from a friend, William went outside for the first time since returning from the vet's office.

Today, we’ve had two walks—the first, just back and forth a couple of times in front of the house; the second—more ambitious—from our house to South Second to Partition to the alley back to Allen Street and home. Look for my beautiful, courageous old dog promenading on Warren Street again very soon . . . maybe listing and faltering now and then, but if you see that, try to ignore it.

My deep and enduring gratitude—and William’s, too—to Rick Rector, who helped get William to the vet, carried him out of the house for his first walk, and was there for us both during this very rough patch, and to Ellen Thurston, who was ever supportive as William struggled back to being himself.

The Original, the Plan, the Result

Last summer, the Historic Preservation Commission worked long and hard with Galvan Partners, represented for this project by Ward Hamilton, to get a design they could approve for 67-71 North Fifth Street. Their requirements were simple. Re-create the building as it once was.

Although the building was a notorious study of abuse and neglect, there was photographic documentation to show how the building looked in the 1930s and probably had looked since the 1880s. All the HPC wanted was that the building look like that again.

The photoshopped image of the house (above), created by Bob Mechling, shows that the way back was not that far and would bring the house to a good and authentic feeling place.

Galvan had other ideas--reflecting either the principal's or the architect's preference for faux Greek Revival design. When the HPC rejected the first design, which featured a central portico with two-story columns, reminiscent of 130 Union (another historic building re-created by Galloway as a Greek Revival) . . . 

Galvan offered this design, with three faux Greek Revival porticoes, reminiscent of 102 and 104 Union Street.

Although it seemed perfectly obvious, to this observer at least, that the HPC wanted to see the house restored to what it had once been not re-created into something it had never been, it was determined that 67-71 North Fifth Street should be the subject of the first ever HPC workshop session, in which members of the HPC could confer directly with the owner and the architect. What actually happened at the workshop session, which took place on August 24, 2012, was that Hamilton appeared with yet a third design for the building--one that reinstated the gable and the front porch extending the width of the building.

On the direction of counsel, Cheryl Roberts, only two members of the HPC participated in the workshop meeting: chair Rick Rector and architect member Jack Alvarez. Rector called the new design a "big, big step in the right direction." Alvarez declared himself "ecstatic that the porch is coming back." He did not, however, comment on the fact that the configuration of the proposed porch was not the same as the original porch. There was considerable discussion of the gable. Rector and Alvarez were concerned that the pitch of the gable (and the roof) was more shallow than the pitch of the original. Rector expressed disappointment that the windows in the gable had been eliminated. 

Given this attention to the gable in the review process--to this observer, the gable and the porch were the critical elements the HPC was looking for before granting a certificate of appropriateness--it's hard to accept that the absence of the gable on the house today could be the "consequence of an oversight."

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Returning to the 4.4 Acres

On June 3, The Valley Alliance announced its discovery that 4.4 acres on the waterfront--almost half of the land that the City must acquire from Holcim as a condition for getting state and federal approval of the LWRP--may still belong to the City because it was sold to St. Lawrence Cement in 1981 without authorization from the New York State legislature.

So far the City has not made any official or unofficial response to this information. On June 10, when the letter from Valley Alliance attorney Ken Dow was introduced as correspondence at the Common Council informal meeting, there was no discussion. At the regular Council meeting on June 18, Council president Don Moore announced that the issue would be taken up at the Legal Committee meeting on June 26, but it wasn't. When Gossips asked about it at the Legal Committee meeting, city attorney Cheryl Roberts said they were waiting to hear from Monahan and Holcim about "title information." One wonders what title information is sought. The sale, which took place on December 21, 1981, is duly documented in the county clerk's office.

 Image courtesy Sam Pratt        

The State of Our Schools

The Albany Business Review continues to publish the statistics from its 2013 School Report. Yesterday, they ranked school districts; today, they reported on student test scores.

Of the eighty-five school districts in the Capital Region, the Hudson City School District is ranked 82, sharing the lower echelon with the other urban districts: Troy 83, Schenectady  84, Albany 85.

Student test scores tell almost the same story. In math and science, the four school districts seem just to be changing positions in the same four slots. In math, it's Hudson 82, Troy 83, Schenectady 84, Albany 85; in science, it's Schenectady 81, Troy 82, Albany 83, Hudson 84. But in English, Hudson breaks from the pack and rises to 78, while the others remain near the bottom: Albany 82, Troy 83, Schenectady 84; and in social studies, Troy rises even higher to 58, with Hudson at 76, and Schenectady and Albany still near the bottom at 82 and 83 respectively.

No Chickens on Every Lot

The public hearing yesterday on the chicken law seemed to serve primarily to validate Mayor William Hallenbeck's position on raising chickens in the city. Few people spoke in favor of keeping chickens, and several spoke against it. John Mason describes the proceedings in great detail in today's Register-Star: "Mayor upholds chicken veto after hearing." The article is accompanied by a memorable picture of Alderman Robert "Doc" Donahue (Fifth Ward) in the act of declaring that, if the law goes back to the Common Council, it will not have the two-thirds majority needed to override the mayor's veto. "The residents of the Fifth Ward do not want chickens as neighbors or in their neighborhood," crowed Donahue, who with his fellow Fifth Ward alderman Cappy Pierro have almost enough votes between them to guarantee it doesn't happen.

What was striking about the hearing was that the mayor responded to every comment, reiterating and elucidating his position on the chicken law. When mayoral candidate Victor Mendolia, who had earlier stated his support for keeping hens and criticized the mayor for calling the chicken law an "elitist law," pointed out that if this were a "true public hearing," the mayor should be listening to comments and not explaining his position, Hallenbeck told him simply that he was wrong. (Gossips has not been able to find any basis in the city charter or New York State general municipal law for the notion that a mayoral hearing is different from any other pubic hearing.) Later when Clay Laugier rose to make a comment, Hallenbeck told him, "This isn't a debate," and insisted that Laugier identify himself as Mendolia's campaign manager.

The chicken incident earlier in the week, reported in the Register-Star on the morning of the hearing, didn't help the cause of backyard chicken husbandry in Hudson. Hallenbeck revealed at the public hearing information that had not been reported in the newspaper. The yard where the chickens were found had no coop where the chickens could roost at night, but the owner of the chickens explained that at night they were kept in a spare bedroom.

Gable Gone

In April, Gossips was shocked to discover that the roof on 67-71 North Fifth Street had been completed, and although the Historic Preservation Commission had granted a certificate of appropriateness to a design that had a central gable, replicating the original house, there was no such gable in the finished roof.

At the Historic Preservation Commission meeting on Friday morning, HPC chair Rick Rector read a communication from Daniel Kent, executive director of the Galvan Foundation--the owner of the building. It expressed the intention to appear before the HPC "to discuss the status of 67-71 North Fifth Street" and "to explain why the gable was not constructed as a consequence of an oversight." So it seems the explanation Gossips reported that a faux gable was being fabricated, to be attached to the roof, was apocryphal. 

The topic of 67-71 North Fifth Street will be taken up at the HPC meeting on Friday, July 12. Kent will be asking the HPC to give a certificate of appropriateness to the building as it "turned out" instead of as the HPC had approved it. 

This isn't the first time that Galvan Partners have strayed from the design approved by the HPC. Case in point: the railings at 102 and 104 Union Street.

Galvan Partners never came back to the HPC for a certificate of appropriateness for the fancy ironwork railings. Instead they tried to use them as justification for installing similarly inappropriate railings at 113 Union Street.

The difference between 102 and 104 Union and 67-71 North Fifth--besides the magnitude of the deviation--is that Peter Wurster is refusing to issue a certificate of occupancy to 67-71 North Fifth until it either complies with what was approved by the HPC or the HPC grants a certificate of appropriateness to the building as it now is.

Interestingly, the design for 67-71 North Fifth Street still seems to be in a state of flux. In the picture of the building taken in April (above), the configuration of doors and windows on the first floor replicates the pattern of the original building, with the doors to the unit at right and the one in the center side by side. In the picture below, taken earlier this month, the door to the center unit has been moved to the middle, with two windows on either side. This move will necessitate an interior layout for the center unit that is quite different--not just a mirror image--from the other two units--something that probably never would have occurred in the 19th century.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Where There's Smoke . . .

Last month, the long awaited and eagerly anticipated restaurant Fish & Game opened on South Third Street, to much hoopla and critical acclaim. No one who has dined there has anything but unqualified praise for the experience, which renders the plight of its near neighbors even more difficult. The widespread enthusiasm for the restaurant makes it easy to dismiss the people whose lives are negatively impacted by it as spoilsports or annoying cranks.

Fish & Game's cutting edge nose-to-tail cuisine involves a lot of roasting and smoking. The restaurant has two fireplaces, one of which is used for roasting meats, and what has been described as a "very serious smoker"--all of which produce smoke, and despite elaborate efforts to mitigate it, the smoke permeates the neighborhood. The restaurant's nearest neighbors complain that the smoke prevents them from opening doors and windows for ventilation and from using their backyards and outdoor spaces. When the smoke emanating from Fish & Game is at its worst, which often happens late at night, neighbors report that it seeps through closed windows and doors and causes burning eyes and throats, nausea, and headaches.

Earlier this month, responding to complaints from Michael Harris and Melinda Slover, who reside and have retail businesses at 253 Warren Street and 259 Warren Street respectively, Peter Wurster, Hudson code enforcement officer, issued to an Order to Remedy to the owners of Fish & Game "for smoke emission that adversely affects the surrounding area," in violation of Paragraph 325-27 (A) of the city code. In response to this action, the owners of Fish & Game are reportedly installing additional baffling and filtering, attempting for a third time to eliminate the problem.

Meanwhile, the complainants are investigating the permitting process for the restaurant to try to discover why the project was never the subject of a public hearing, so that some of the problems they are now experiencing could have been addressed before the fact. The restaurant is located on the edge of the LWRP Waterfront Revitalization Area, and the new zoning for the area, adopted in November 2011, designates the west side of Third Street from Cherry Alley south as Residential. Although the building has been used as commercial space since around 2005, it is not clear when the building was granted a use variance to be a commercial establishment.

Then there is the issue that Peggy Polenberg, who lives on Warren Street not far from Fish & Game, has brought up at Historic Preservation Commission meetings more than once. The alterations proposed for the building, among them converting what had previously been a kind of car port at the back of the building into kitchen space, came before the HPC in May 2012, and a certificate of appropriateness was granted. The drawings presented to the HPC with the application, however, indicate only an air conditioning compressor and an exhaust vent on the roof of the addition--nothing like the elaborate array of equipment that was ultimately installed there.

Chicken Chatter

On the eve of the mayor's public hearing on the chicken law, which he vetoed last week, a Hudson resident was issued a citation by the Hudson police for keeping chickens in a backyard shared by several houses on upper Columbia Street. Even if the proposed law permitting the raising of backyard chickens were in place, the chicken keeper in question would have been in violation. There was no coop for the chickens and no adequate fence to keep them confined. Arthur Cusano has the story in today's Register-Star: "Police: City resident runs afoul of chicken ban." The mayor's hearing on the chicken law takes place at 4 p.m. today at City Hall.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sturm und Drang Over Fourth and State

Yesterday, Gossips reported on the Common Council's angst about selling the former Dunn warehouse on the waterfront. Last night, the Common Council Legal Committee discussed the other City-owned property it had agreed to sell last November: the vacant lot at the corner of Fourth and State streets.

The sale of this property--owned by the City but being used as a parking lot for the county office building at 325 Columbia Street--was not one of the nine items on the agenda for last night's meeting, but Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), who seems most eager to unload this vacant lot, brought it up at the end of the meeting. The discussion, which was heated at times, often alluded to things of which only members of the committee had knowledge. Pierro suggested at one point that the committee needed to go into executive session, but his suggestion went unheeded by committee chair John Friedman (Third Ward). 

Among the bits of information that emerged are these. An appraisal has been ordered for the property, although Friedman expressed the opinion that the property should "go to public auction and let the public decide the price." There is someone who is interested in buying the property to develop it as a commercial parking lot.

During the discussion, Friedman frequently spoke of trying to direct development on that strategic corner. He suggested the possibility of imposing conditions on how the lot should be developed and of soliciting closed bids that included proposals for development and use. In spite of Friedman's interest in applying principles of good urban planning and encouraging the best use of the lot, it was suggested that the City should keep the lot and use it as a parking lot for the proposed senior center at the Armory, although it seems unlikely, to this observer, that seniors will want to trek the long block between Fourth and Fifth streets to get to yoga or Bingo.

Audience member and Fourth Ward resident Linda Mussmann, recalling that the lot was the site of the Fourth Street School, whose demolition in 1994 remains a topic of controversy, called the lot "a key piece of property to the Fourth Ward" and stressed that she did not want to see it developed as "just another parking lot."

Although Pierro pressed to bring a resolution to sell the property before the full Council at its July meeting, and Council president Don Moore affirmed that "the Council has spoken on this," Friedman refused. "We're going to sell this to someone to pave it?" he asked incredulously. "This committee is not endorsing it." He called the idea of developing the land as a parking lot "very shortsighted and a poor use of important land . . . in a neighborhood that is in transition."

Remembering Ockawamick

The Register-Star reports this morning that the Columbia County Board of Supervisors has decided to sell the former Ockawamick School building in Claverack: "County board votes to sell Ockawamick School." The County bought Ockawamick in 2008 for $1.5 million as the centerpiece of a lavishly researched, vigorously promoted, and passionately protested plan to move the Department of Social Services to the geographic center of the county and develop around it a "county campus" six miles away from the county seat. This report written by Lynn Sloneker for ccSCOOP in March 2009 recalls those thrilling days of yesteryear: "Supervisors Approve Move to Ockawamick." 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Anticipated Revenue and Changes of Heart

At the end of the June 18 Common Council meeting, Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward) asked about the vacant lot at Fourth and State streets and the Dunn building on Water Street. It will be remembered that at a special meeting in November 2012, the Council voted to sell these two City-owned properties in order to close a $300,000 gap in the 2013 budget. Now, halfway through 2013, Pierro wanted to know, "When are we going to auction these off?"

In answer to Pierro's question, Council president Don Moore explained that the Dunn building was "working on two tracks." He said that two parties have expressed interest in purchasing the building but gave no information about who the parties might be. He also spoke of a grant from the Department of State, awarded, if memory serves, back in 2008, to evaluate the building and assess "what it would take to rehab it and prepare it for public or private use."

Although the 1996 vision for the waterfront imagined a row of commercial buildings along the east side of Water Street, with the former Dunn's warehouse anchoring the south end of the lineup, and Mayor William Hallenbeck is alleged to have proposed that the waterfront, presumably including the Dunn building, would make a great outlet mall, several members of the Council seem to be questioning the wisdom of encouraging dense commercial development at the waterfront.

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward), who was absent from the special meeting at which the Council made the commitment to sell the Dunn building, stressed that the "value [of the building] cannot be overestimated in terms of long-term waterfront development" and advised that "it should remain as part of what we do down there"--implicitly arguing against simply selling the building to whomever would pay the most for it and had the capital to rehab it.

The self-appointed fiscal conscience of the Council, Alderman Ohrine Stewart (Fourth Ward) reminded her colleagues that the sale of the two properties had been written into the budget as anticipated revenue. Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) suggested that, since the year is already half over, "we need to work on plugging that hole some other way," which prompted Haddad to ask if the money from the recent auction of foreclosed properties might "plug the hole."

Answering the question, city treasurer Eileen Halloran explained that the money from the auction--$425,000--goes into the general fund. Because the City collects taxes for the county and the school district, part of the income from the auction was recouping monies already apportioned, but the amount represented by unpaid city taxes and all of the amount over and above the sum of the unpaid taxes--$85,551--could go toward filling the 2013 budget gap, since the proceeds of the auction had not been written into the budget as anticipated income. She also stated that the City had "a decent fund balance, and we can fall back on that."

The Council was thus assured that the City would not grind to a halt if the Dunn's warehouse was not sold in the next 188 days. Still, Pierro declared, "That parkin' lot should go," referring to the vacant lot at State and Fourth streets, and Stewart concurred.

School Taxes at Work

The Albany Business Journal published its list of salaries for school superintendents in the Capital Region today: "Here are the Capital Region superintendent salaries." Of the ninety-three school districts included, Niskayuna Central School District, which serves an affluent Schenectady suburb, will pay its superintendent the most in 2013-2014: $192,000 in salary and $52,648 in benefits.

The superintendent of the Hudson City School District, Maria Suttermeier will receive $140,000 in salary and $56,000 in benefits. Among Columbia County school districts, Suttmeier's salary for 2013-2014 is less than that of the superintendents for Chatham ($158,094), Ichabod Crane ($153,000), New Lebanon ($145,998), and Germantown ($145,736) but more than that of the new superintendent at Taconic Hills ($125,073).

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Ribbon Cutting at The Barlow

Although proprietors Duncan Calhoun and Russ Gibson report that they had a houseful of guests over the weekend, today marked the official grand opening and ribbon cutting at The Barlow, Hudson's new sixteen-room boutique hotel. Tout le monde turned out at the end of the day to hang out in the comfortable lobby, explore the handsomely furnished and meticulously appointed guest rooms, congratulate Calhoun and Gibson on their achievement, sip wine (white, rosé, and sparkling), and nibble sumptuous hors d'oeuvres from such eateries as Relish, Café Le Perche, and Park Falafel (those are just the cards that Gossips noticed). At 5 o'clock, everyone trooped outside to witness the ribbon cutting, orchestrated by the Chamber of Commerce.

A Gossips Milestone

This is Gossips' three thousandth post. Since the beginning, three and a half years ago, Gossips has been inspired three thousand times to share news, commentary, and history about the very small, very old city of Hudson, New York. Realizing this milestone was approaching, I cast about for a suitable topic for such an auspicious post and came upon this ad from the 1880 Travelers' Directory to the City of Hudson, shared with me by a reader.

It inspired me to mark Gossips' limited longevity with a tribute to a Hudson business with remarkable longevity: J. C. Rogerson's Hardware Store, which has been doing business in the same location since 1832. It is worth noting that when this ad appeared in 1880, promoting such mysteriously arcane wares as clothes wringers and fluting machines, Rogerson's had already been in business for almost half a century.

On the Care and Keeping of Old Wood Windows

On June 1, preservation architect Jack Alvarez, who serves as the architect member of Hudson's Historic Preservation Commission, conducted a seminar on the maintenance and repair of historic windows at the Historic Albany Foundation's "Jamb Session." An article by Matthew Hamilton about that event, which articulates the arguments for keeping a building's original windows and includes tips for approaching a repair project, appeared in the Times Union last Thursday: "Clear favorites: Retaining old windows preserves architecture and dollars."

In the fall, when a homeowner's fancy rightly turns to heat retention and energy conservation, Alvarez will be conducting a similar workshop right here in Hudson.

Photo credit: Matthew Hamilton/Times Union

News from Last Night's BOE Meeting

While the public may still be curious about the basis for the allegations of sexual harassment made against former Hudson High principal Thomas Gavin by district superintendent Maria Suttmeier, he's back. According to the Register-Star, the HCSD Board of Education "agreed that Mr. Gavin, without further incident, will continue his employment with the district until his retirement on Sept. 10, 2015." Gavin will be "back with the district by July 1."  

The Register-Star also reports today that the BOE voted unanimously to appoint Joseph Carr, retired HCSD custodian now working on his bachelor's degree, to the seat that HCSD science teacher Lynn Lee won in the May 21 election. Lee never took the oath of office because to do so would have forced her to forfeit a $20,000 early retirement incentive. Another problem solved.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Ubiquitous Chickens

In recent days, chickens seem to be everywhere.

On Monday last, the day before the Common Council passed the chicken law (by the skin of its teeth--if a chicken had teeth), Pat Bradley did a report on WAMC in which she interviewed the author of a manual for building designer chicken coops and surveyed the status of backyard chicken raising in the Capital District. 

On Saturday, the day after the mayor vetoed the chicken law, WAMC rebroadcast the report (without updating it to include any mention of the fate of Hudson's chicken law), and then an hour or so later, on A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor, in his "News from Lake Wobegon," told about failed legislation in his hometown to limit the number of backyard chickens to four and require them to be confined in a fenced area. The proposed law, so the story went, was meant to address specifically the problem of the Magendanzes chickens, a wild bunch that were running amok in Lake Wobegon, but people who didn't raise chickens and never had came out in force to protest the law they believed infringed on their rights and the rights of chickens.

This coming Friday, the mayor holds a public hearing to find out what the people of Hudson think about the law he has already vetoed, and on that same day, a new exhibition opens at Davis Orton Gallery featuring portraits of chickens. So even if you may not yet--or ever--raise chickens in your own backyard, you can admire their beauty.

Of course, the chickens that are the subjects of Tamara Staples' portraits, which she styles "using light and backgrounds of lush fabrics and papers to elevate her subjects in the same way Dutch painters used such materials to denote wealth and prestige in society," are not raised for anything so mundane as egg production. They are "show chickens," bred to be themselves works of art. 

Staples has published two books of portraits of these pampered poulesThe Fairest Fowl: Portraits of Championship Chickens (2001) and The Magnificent Chicken (2013). Both books are published by Chronicle Books, and both are available at Davis Orton Gallery.

The exhibition, which also includes ink on paper drawings by Rebecca Doughty, runs through July 28. The opening reception is Saturday, June 29, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Hudson in a New Novel

Ever a fan of Alice B. Neal's 1850 book The Gossips of Rivertown, from which this blog takes its name, I have always wished that someone would write a roman à clef about Hudson in the present day--although doing so would likely require that the author have a plan for hasty relocation to another state. Author E. D. Pujol, however, has given us the next best thing: a book about Athens across the river, called The Boys' Garden Club

Here, in part, is how the jacket copy describes the book:
The Boys' Garden Club reads like a haunted midsummer night's dream gone awry but skillfully navigated by a brave Jane Austen-like character, like a cautionary folk tale where a reawakened Rip Van Winkle sings a twenty-first century Yankee ode to dignity before the inexorable passage of time.
Set in Athens, New York, in the summer of 2012, the book is rich in local history and character description and peppered with references to our fair city--usually in comparisons, not always favorable, with the village due west and over the water. There is even a subtle homage to The Gossips of Rivertown (the blog), which gives some sense of the depth of the book's facade of fiction:
Hudson wants to be SOHO--Tribeca! In fact, plans for a new boutique hotel were before the review board that summer, and Gallows Partners, a suspect new developer, was buying city chunks to much river town gossip. In Hudson, there are brand new expensive cars parked all along Warren Street; there is a parade of tall beautiful people strolling it up and down, with discretionary cash burning holes in their deep pockets.
The Boys' Garden Club is getting rave reviews from readers on this side of the river. It may be that this is a book best enjoyed by those at a little distance, who recognize the places and some but not all of the characters and suffer no anxiety about encountering their own fictionalized selves in its pages. 

The Boys' Garden Club can be purchased at two Hudson bookstores--Stoddard Corner Bookshop and Spotty Dog Books & Ale--and online.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Changing Use of Buildings

In recent months, the Historic Preservation Commission has received applications for certificates of appropriateness for facade alterations to two Warren Street buildings--both for the purpose of converting what was originally residential space into commercial space.

In January, it was 103 Warren Street, where the owners wanted to install a triple window on the ground floor of this very early Federal style clapboard house, believed to be the first home in Hudson of Thomas Jenkins, one of the original Proprietors.

The goal of the proposed alteration was to bring more light into that part of the building, where the owners plan to open a retail shop. Although some members of the HPC were enthusiastic about the idea because it would "add more retail" to the street, others felt that it was inappropriate to change the character of a rare surviving 18th-century house to facilitate a change of use. The latter opinion carried the day, and the certificate of appropriateness was denied.

At their June 14 meeting, the HPC was again asked to consider facade alterations to transform the first floor of 745 Warren Street, a three-story residential building, into an art gallery. In this case, the proposal was to remove the first-floor bay and replace it with a single door that would be the entrance to the gallery space. 

In the HPC's discussion of the proposal, Scott Baldinger made the point that the bay, which is repeated on all three floors, is an important aspect of the building's design. Architect member Jack Alvarez asked if the door couldn't be incorporated into the bay instead of removing the bay to create a new entrance. Tony Thompson observed that there were other residential buildings had been converted for use as commercial space without being so radically altered, citing 446 Warren Street as an example.

The HPC ended up not approving the changes proposed for 745 Warren Street out of a desire to preserve the integrity of the house's design.

At the same HPC meeting, the new owner of 546 Columbia Street came to the HPC, informally, seeking advice about restoring his building. The house, originally a two and a half story three bay brick residential building, had been converted into a combination of rental units and commercial space, probably in the 1950s. For its new commercial use, which was believed to have been as a TV repair shop, the two parlor floor windows were replaced with a large "picture window." The house's current owner now wants to restore the facade to its original configuration but explained he was daunted by the magnitude and the cost of such an undertaking.

The house at 546 Columbia Street is certainly not the most insensitive example of converting a residential building into commercial space, although in some ways it could prove the hardest to reverse. Here are some others--one of them right next door to 745 Warren Street.

46 Green Street

86 Green Street

807 Warren Street
743 Warren Street
This contemplation of the conversion of Hudson's historic buildings from residential to commercial and sometimes back to residential again was inspired by this card, a digital image of which was sent to me this morning by a reader.

Remarkably, the card suggests that at one time pianos and organs were sold at 129 Warren Street.

Although I know better, I fell into the trap--possibly because I thought the card to be early 20th-century. How, I wondered, could 129 Warren Street--a building that started its life as a residential building and is a residential building today--have once housed a commercial enterprise dealing in the sale of pianos and organs? 

The truth is, it probably didn't. What's more likely is that the card predates the change in numbering on east-west streets in Hudson, which happened in 1889. What was 129 Warren Street before 1889 became something like 313 Warren Street thereafter, placing Cluett & Sons in the 300 block, in a building that no longer exists, on the site of the municipal parking lot.

The Farm Stand and the Bridge

What if you created a lovely new farm stand, right by your farm, and then, three days into summer, the bridge that brought your customers to you was closed for repairs?

Sadly, that's exactly what's happening to Common Hands Farm. The bridge on Route 23B over Claverack Creek, which connects Hudson to the farm, is closing tomorrow for repairs and is expected to stay closed until Labor Day. But the good news is that Common Hands Farm is moving its farm stand to our side of the bridge, just before the detour, across from the turnoff onto Spook Rock Road.

The farm stand is open at its new location every Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.