Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Blessing of the Animals

Saturday, October 4, is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, and it is also the day for the annual Blessing of the Animals at Christ Church Episcopal. At 10 a.m. this Saturday, animals of "all sizes, shapes, and stripes" will be blessed by Rev. Eileen Weglarz, interim rector at Christ Church, who in former parishes has blessed iguanas, chickens, cows, and horses, as well the dogs, cats, and birds who usually turn up to be blessed at Christ Church. Anyone who has lost a pet in the last year is welcome to bring a photo of that departed companion for a special blessing.

My noble and courageous William, who is now closer to being seventeen years old than sixteen, has regularly been blessed at Christ Church. Sadly, it is unlikely that William will be present for this year's blessing, but I'm hoping if I show up with his picture, there will be a special blessing for him, too.

The Blessing of the Animals takes place in the circle drive beside the Parish Hall at 431 Union Street. In the event of rain, the blessing will happen indoors. All animals who come to be blessed must be on a leash or in a crate. There will be refreshments for both the animals and their humans.

Sunday at the Prison with A. J. Davis

In the late 19th-century, probably when the McIntyre sisters owned the house and not long before the State of New York acquired the property, a kitchen addition was added on the south side of the house we now know as the Dr. Oliver Bronson House.

The kitchen addition mimicked the semi-octagonal shape of the principal rooms on the ground floor of the house, but it destroyed the house's intended perfect symmetry.

A. J. Davis journal entry, September 17, 1849. Avery Fine Arts Library, Columbia University
Over the years, the crumbling foundation and generally ruinous condition of the addition put the integrity of the south wall in jeopardy. The period of significance for the Oliver Bronson House is clear: between 1839, when Alexander Jackson Davis was commissioned to "refit" the house in the new Romantic/Picturesque style, and 1849, when Davis was commissioned again to expand the house, adding the rooms and the veranda on the west side of the house, overlooking the Hudson River.

A. J. Davis 1849 drawing of west elevation. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The kitchen addition did not exist during the period of significance, so, with the blessings of the historic preservation proponents at both the state and federal level, Historic Hudson, the legal stewards of the house since 2008, demolished the kitchen this past August.

This Sunday, October 5, Historic Hudson invites everyone to visit the house to see the achievement of the next step in the house's return to the way it was meant to be, the way it was in 1849 when A. J. Davis completed his work. For those unfamiliar with Hudson's only National Historic Landmark, the Dr. Oliver Bronson House is located on the grounds of the Hudson Correctional Facility. On Sunday, the house can be accessed from noon to 3 p.m. from Worth Avenue. Enter at the gatehouse, turn right at the barns, and park on the lawn. 

The Dr. Oliver Bronson House and Estate was designated a National Historic Landmark in July 2003 for its association with the prominent 19th-century American architect Alexander Jackson Davis. The Bronson House is the earliest surviving example of the Hudson River "bracketed style" originated by Davis.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Of Interest

The Register-Star has a new online poll that asks: "Should Hudson do away with its weighted voted system?" As of 8:15 p.m., Monday, September 29, the affirmative votes from those who want to see the end of weighted voting were overwhelming the negative votes from those who want to perpetuate the status quo.  

Upper Warren Street as It Once Was

The new and growing commercial vitality of Warren Street above Park Place is cause for celebration, but the mid-20th century retreat of business upstreet took its toll on the architecture, especially on the houses that once lined the south side of the street. 

Gossips has more than once contemplated the alterations made in the past to residential buildings to accommodate commercial uses. In June 2013, the Historic Preservation Commission interceded to save the first floor bay of this house, which the owner wanted to remove to create ground floor commercial space. The solution was to insert the door to the commercial space--now the location of Spalon--into the center of the bay. Houses converted to commercial uses decades ago were not so lucky.

This picture from the Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection at the Columbia County Historical Society shows upper Warren Street when the south side of the block was still primarily residential--before it became the architectural mishmash it is today.

Somewhere in this row of houses, probably just to the right of the last house shown in the picture from the Monthie Collection, was this amazing house, which stood at 729 Warren Street. A hundred years ago, Jane E. Heath and her daughter Sally operated a boarding house here. Mrs. Anna Bradbury, who wrote The History of the City of Hudson, New York, was one of their roomers.

The Picturesque house, with its exotic elements reminiscent of the Dr. Oliver Bronson House, may have been demolished to make way for the Warren Theatre in 1938 or for a parking lot needed when the Warren Theatre morphed into a motel, known first as the Roylton Inn (that's right, there was no a), in 1959.


Time Is Running Out

There are just two days left in September, and just two days left to complete the Seventh Street Park Survey.

If you haven't done so already, click here to complete the survey and let your opinions be known about the future of our historic park. The deadline is October 1.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Photo Credit: William J. Beckon
The Register-Star reports tonight that the power outage experienced by many in Hudson and Greenport this morning was caused by a squirrel: "National Grid: outage caused by squirrel." Judging from the report, it seems unlikely that no squirrel was harmed in the incident.

Approvers Remorse

Friday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting was the second meeting of the month--one at which the language of certificates of appropriateness is read aloud and the official vote is taken to grant or deny a certificate of appropriateness. There were nine such votes on the agenda on Friday, and in every case but one the HPC voted unanimously to grant a certificate of appropriateness. The exception was the train-themed proposal for 22 North Seventh Street.

Two weeks ago, when the HPC directed counsel to prepare the certificate of appropriateness, they did so with five contingencies. They wanted to see a photo of the back of the building with the newly (illegally) installed door in place, a photo of the iron gate as it is now and rendering of the proposed reworked gate, a sample of the Hardiplank to be used, and a design for a new sign, because the sign originally proposed involved neon, and, according to city attorney Carl Whitbeck, neon signs are verboten in Hudson.

The applicant, former Germantown supervisor Roy Brown, supplied only two of the five things the HPC had requested, which should have been enough to table the application until the items were provided, but there were bigger issues. HPC chair Rick Rector confessed that, since the meeting on September 12, he had been "obsessed with this building." He shared his opinion that "extending the roof over nothing makes no sense." Rector went on to say, "I do not understand the 'train station' roof. I don't see the reasoning for it, except that it is a decorative object."

HPC member David Voorhees, who had voted against authorizing counsel to prepare the certificate of appropriateness, commented, "This design does not follow any of the criteria set forth in the law."

HPC member Miranda Barry, who had voted with Voorhees at the previous meeting, said it was unfortunate that the commission hadn't discussed these issues at the September 12 meeting. She said she understood the design and its reference to the train but called it "faux, ersatz, and different from anything else we have done in Hudson." She pointed out that the project involved "building something that was never there before" and spoke of the "theme park aspect" of the design.

The newest member of the HPC, Chris Perry said that "theme" had also come to his mind. He called the proposal "antithetical to historic preservation, playing off a sort of superficial aspect."

HPC member Phil Forman defended the design, calling it "very creative" and saying he didn't think it was "untoward" but rather "different and kitschy." Responding to Voorhees and referring to chapter in the city code that is the preservation law, he said, "If we stopped at 169, none of us should be here. . . . If you leave it at 169, hire a cop." He seemed to be saying that the job of the HPC was to help people get through the requirements of the law in order to do what they want. He concluded by saying, "I don't think what we do on Seventh Street will destroy Hudson anytime soon."

Seeming to take her cue from Forman, HPC member Peggy Polenberg called the corner of Union and Seventh streets "an atrocious corner" with "ugly things all around." Polenberg's judgment will undoubtedly come as a surprise to the owners of the Gothic Revival house at 619 Union Street, the new owners of 620 Union Street, originally the home of Robert and Sarah McKinstry, and the architect and the members of the Common Council who are working on the new facade design for 701 Union Street, soon to be the police and court building.

Later in the discussion, Polenberg made the judgment that 22 Seventh Street had "absolutely no historic significance."

Nicole Sacco-Brown, who was at the meeting with her husband, said that the train theme was "not a new theme for that area," citing the Iron Horse Bar, whose name is being co-opted for the "cigar depot." Perry observed that it was a different thing "when a theme becomes visualized." (Historic Note: Before 1993, the Iron Horse Bar was known as the State Grill. It was renamed the Iron Horse Bar for the filming of the movie Nobody's Fool. The owner liked the new name and decided to keep it.)  

HPC member Gini Casasco repeatedly stressed that the HPC should be considering the whole concept. The HPC should be looking not only at the front of the building but also at the back, which is visible from the street in a historic district. One of the contingencies was that Brown provide a picture of the back of the building, similar to the one below, which showed the (illegally installed) door in place. Brown provided a picture of the back of the building before the door had been installed (which also showed the first floor windows that have been eliminated) and a photograph of only the door.

In the end, Rector suggested that the application be tabled. The HPC voted 6 to 1 to do so. The single dissenting vote was cast by Polenberg.

TEDxHudson at the Hudson Opera House

The Marina Abramovic Institute may still be a long way off, but long durational events have arrived in Hudson. Yesterday, a sold-out crowd filled the auditorium at the Hudson Opera House and listened through six hours of TED Talks. The tag line for TED Talks is "Ideas Worth Spreading," and there were many such ideas expressed. Gossips will not, as Katie Kocijanski did in today's Register-Star, try to summarize any of yesterday's TED Talks. (You had to have been there.) Instead I will share what struck me as the most compelling statement of the day, made by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Photo Credit: Jack Berner
Speaking of the Koch brothers and their ilk, Kennedy said, "They treat the planet as if it were a business in liquidation."

Congratulations and gratitude to all the organizers, participants, and sponsors of yesterday's inaugural TEDxHudson event.

Harvest Potluck This Afternoon

This afternoon--Sunday, September 28--Hudson Urban Gardens/Hudson Community Garden invites the public to a Harvest Potluck from 3 to 5 p.m. at River City Garden at 59 North Front Street. Bring a dish or beverage to share, if you can.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Evolution of 366 Warren Street

For the past week or so, 366 Warren Street has been shrouded in green plastic tarps, but it's not impossible to see what's going on behind the curtain. The building has been stripped down to its skeleton structure.

In what was presented to the Historic Preservation Commission as a "facade revision" but now appears to be a total reconstruction of the building, this is meant to be the end result.

The picture below is from the Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection at the Columbia County Historical Society. While the subject of the picture is the fire at the building next door, it shows clearly what 366 Warren Street looked like in 1919.

Wouldn't it have been nice, since it seems the building is being completely rebuilt, if this older design could have been the model for the building's next phase?

An Unveiling on Upper Columbia Street

No doubt there were compelling reasons why people, over the decades, covered their clapboard houses with various kind of siding, probably chief among them being not having to paint. But when that later siding is removed to reveal the wood clapboard and the detailing that was part of a house's original design, it is always cause for celebration. This week the removal of siding began at 819 Columbia Street. A reader provided Gossips with these pictures.

Photo Credit: John M. Schobel

Friday, September 26, 2014


Earlier today, Gossips (and the Gossips reader who took these pictures) noticed this sign up by the hospital, at the intersection of Columbia Street, Prospect Avenue, and Columbia Turnpike.

It seems that tomorrow, when TEDxHudson is happening at the Hudson Opera House, Columbia County Emergency Services will be conducting a "large-scale casualty exercise." At some undisclosed location near Livingston, a pretend disaster will occur, and the pretend victims of that disaster will be transported in very real vehicles to Columbia Memorial Hospital. The details of the exercise were reported in today's Register-Star: "County emergency services to hold casualty exercise." 

More About the Weighted Vote

In today's Register-Star, John Mason takes up a topic Gossips reported on yesterday, the discussion of the weighted vote at Wednesday's Legal Committee meeting: "Legal Committee ponders weighted vote."

After providing some history of the weighted vote, Mason covers basically the same territory Gossips did, but, true to Register-Star tradition, he seeks a comment from long time mayor Rick Scalera. Predictably, Scalera sees no problem with the way things are and goes so far as to suggest, "It's almost a shame for that alderman to get paid the same as a Fifth Ward alderman." By "that alderman," we have to assume he meant any alderman who represents the First Ward or the Fourth Ward.

Pie chart from Government 101 by Victor Mendolia

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Where Was Troy Place?

Demolition by neglect was one of the thirteen items on the agenda for Wednesday's Legal Committee meeting. As at past meetings, the focus of the conversation about demolition by neglect was Richard Cohen's properties at Warren and Fourth streets. Last month, Cohen was given thirty days to present a plan for the buildings. Last night, Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, reported that no plan has thus far been submitted, and Cohen's time will be up on Tuesday.

Relevant to the sad state of things at Warren and Fourth today is this picture of the first block of North Fourth Street, probably taken at the end of the 19th century, from the Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection at the Columbia County Historical Society.

The most amazing thing learned from this picture is that the first block of North Fourth Street was once known as Troy Place, but look at the wonderful stoops on the two townhouses at the right, which are among the properties now owned by Cohen.


News from the Legal Committee Meeting

"Laws are like sausages--it is best not to see them being made." Whether Otto von Bismarck or Leo McGarry on The West Wing was first to express this thought, his reason for not wanting to see laws being made was probably not because the process is excruciatingly tedious and slow, but it might have been. Common Council committee meetings are supposed to last 45 minutes. Last night's Legal Committee meeting went on for 2½ hours.

The first hour of the meeting was dedicated to discussing the topic that had been discussed at length at the Police Committee meeting two days earlier: "nightlife quality of life." No sooner was the topic introduced than Alderman Bart Delaney (Fifth Ward) suggested that all establishments in Hudson that serve alcohol should close at 2 a.m. (In the absence of a local law setting an earlier closing time, state law permits bars to stay open until 4 a.m.) Alderman Henry Haddad (Third Ward) pointed out that bars in Hudson are the latest to close in the area and Hudson has the most bars that stay open after 2 a.m. It seemed there might be consensus around a 2 a.m. closing--an idea that has been suggested many times before--but no. The discussion went on and on.

Alderman Abdus Miah (Second Ward) fretted about lost sales tax revenue if bars were to close two hours earlier. Alderman Nick Hadded (First Ward) suggested that "a lot of the fault rests with the bar owners." Alderman David Marston (First Ward) cautioned against "thinking a 2 a.m. closing will change the way bar owners run their businesses."

Marston's point seems well taken. The incident that inspired the current concern about late night rowdiness, during which a plate glass window at The Crimson Sparrow was broken by people drinking on the sidewalk outside Wunderbar, occurred at 12:30 a.m., and Wunderbar already has a 2 a.m. closing time.

Several at the meeting suggested or intimated that there needed to be greater police enforcement of laws that already exist. Police commissioner Gary Graziano took offense at the criticism of police enforcement, pointing out that there are only three officers on duty in the wee hours of the morning and explaining that when officers weren't busy with other calls and parked near problem establishments, the owners of those establishments complained about the police presence.

After nearly an hour of discussion, Delaney turned his suggestion into a motion: that the committee direct the city attorney to begin the process of writing a local law requiring all bars in Hudson to close at 2 a.m. Council president Don Moore said he would "second it next month." He wanted to know first "what the reaction would be from the bar owners."

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who chairs the Legal Committee, asked Graziano what it would cost "to police problem establishments." Along with the request, he shared the opinion that "the police contract serves the men and women of the police force well, but it does not serve the city well." Apparently the only way to get more officers to work on weekend nights is to pay current officers overtime.

The meeting that began with one weighty topic ended with another: the constitutionality of the weighted vote. Friedman summarized his opinion of the situation: "It seems pretty clear to me that our system is unconstitutional and would not survive a challenge in court." He continued, "The fact that it is so hard to explain argues that it should be changed." He expressed his preference for equal election districts, each with a single alderman.

Speaking of the findings presented by the Hofstra law students who studied Hudson government, Moore commented, "My sense of the report is that there really isn't a good reason why we have a weighted vote." He called equal election districts "the gold standard" for achieving one person, one vote.

Because the meeting had already gone on for almost two hours when this item on the agenda was reached, the weighted vote did not get as much discussion as "nightlife quality of life," but some interesting information was revealed. When the Hofstra students were presenting their findings about the weighted vote back in May, long time mayor Rick Scalera, who is currently the supervisor for the Fifth Ward, noted the students' findings had "conveniently left out" the fact that a referendum to change the ward boundaries had been defeated twice in the past. Last night, Delaney also made reference to the referendum being "handily defeated" in 2003. As it turns out, the vote in the 2003 referendum was much closer than Scalera and Delaney would have us believe. Moore pointed out last night that in 2003 referendum the vote was 610 to 678.

Second Ward resident Steve Dunn revealed another surprising bit of information related to the weighted vote. Dunn claims that the population of the Hudson Terrace apartment complex--half of which is in the First Ward and half in the Second--was switched in the population figures used to calculate the weighted vote.

Dunn alleges that population of 15 North Front Street, where there are more units and more residents, was attributed to the First Ward, and the population of 15 South Front Street, where there are fewer units and fewer residents, was attributed to the Second Ward. According to Dunn's calculations, the accurate population count for the Second Ward is 1,309 not 1,281, and the accurate population count for the First Ward is 755 not 770, making the First Ward, in Dunn's words, "close to a rotten borough"--a  rotten borough being "a depopulated election district that retains its original representation."

In its long duration meeting, the Legal Committee did take action on one piece of legislation. They agreed to move the legislation forward that would establish minimum sizes for dwelling units: 350 square feet for studio apartments; 500 square feet for one-bedroom apartments. The legislative findings of the proposed amendment are stated in this way: 
The Common Council of the City of Hudson finds that it is in the public interest as well as the health safety and welfare of residents of the City of Hudson to determine an appropriate minimum square footage for dwelling units constructed within the City which is [sic] to be used for human habitation. The Council finds that a minimum of 350 square feet for studio apartments and 500 square feet for larger dwelling units are [sic] necessary to mitigate any negative health, safety and welfare impacts of living in smaller, more constricted size apartments.
The Council also intends that this local law shall be given prospective affect only and that no existing dwelling unit used for human habitation shall be affected thereby.
The fact that existing apartments will be grandfathered is probably a good thing, since, as we have seen, all the one-bedroom apartments in Hudson Terrace are only 387.5 square feet--significantly smaller than proposed 500 square foot minimum.

Also, the new owners of 949-951 Columbia Street, who are converting what had been a medical office into residential apartments, are proposing two new dwelling units: a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment. The one-bedroom apartment will be 420 square feet--also smaller than the 500 square foot minimum.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

L'Shana Tovah

Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown today. As Gossips' shiksa tribute to the Jewish High Holy Days, we share this drawing by Hudson architect Henry S. Moul, discovered in the Evelyn and Robert Monthie Slide Collection at the Columbia County Historical Society, for Synagogue Anshe Ammes, built in 1909 on lower Warren Street.

The building today is Shiloh Baptist Church.


Imitation the Highest Form of Flattery?

The New York Post reports today that Sarah Dibben of Swallow Coffee is suing a coffee shop in Brooklyn for appropriating the name Swallow: "Williamsburg cafe sued for stealing name and upstate hipster vibes."

Thanks to Dorothy Heyl for bringing this to our attention

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

TEDxHudson at the Hudson Opera House

Since its founding as City Hall in 1855 until 1962, when the building was abandoned, the Hudson Opera House was a popular stop for traveling performers, authors, and lecturers. Notable speakers included the Transcendentalist poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and the author and poet Bret Harte. Susan B. Anthony visited at least twice, speaking out against slavery and for woman suffrage. In 1914, Theodore Roosevelt regaled a crowd with accounts of his adventures in Africa. 

This Saturday, the great tradition continues with TEDxHudson, which brings inspiring speakers together to explore the theme of "Crossroads."

The event was announced in May, at the Hudson Opera House Spring Fling Gala. Yesterday, HOH revealed the full list of speakers and performers who will participate in the all day event this Saturday. The guest of honor is Alice Waters; the TEDxHudson House Band is made up of Bobby Previte (music director), Brian Dewan, and Jonathan Talbott. 

The event has been sold out for weeks. For the fortunate who have secured their tickets, here is a preview of what's in store.

Session 1  (in alphabetical order)
Ben Banks, Farmer and Environmentalist
Guillermo Fesser, Journalist
Charles T. Gehring, Historian
Chris Johnson, Cultural Historian
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Environmentalist
Alice Waters, Chef, Restaurateur, Food Activist, and Author
Young Paris, Musician

Session 2 (in alphabetical order)
Lisa Dolan, Educator
Lady Moon, Singer/Songwriter
Jack Lindsey, Community Activist
Katharine Millonzi, Gastronomist
Bruno Pasquier-Desvignes, Artist
Greg Quinn, Horticulture Expert
Pilar Ryan, Leadership Consultant, Historian, and Retired Army Colonel
Tim and Nina Zagat, Entrepreneurs and Publishers

Session 3 (in alphabetical order)
Jamie Bennett, Arts Advocate and Grantmaker
Kat Dunn, Mixologist
Charlie N. Ferrusi, Activist
Coss Marte, Fitness Entrepreneur
Stephanie Monseu, Ringmistress
Eliza Nagel, Lawyer
Surprise Guests

Between Sessions 1 and 2, there will be lunch, provided by Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions. After Session 3, there is a cocktail reception, provided by The Hudson Standard, Harvest Spirits, and Due North.

Hudson After Hours

At their meeting last night, the Common Council Police Committee discussed the problems associated with bars that stay open after 2 a.m. and attract most of their patrons in the wee hours of the morning. A focus of attention apparently was the Savoia, which, according to letter written by HPD chief Ed Moore to William Ghee of the New York State Liquor Authority, "has been the subject of hundreds of calls for police services over the decades" and at least fourteen this year.

John Mason has a report on the meeting in today's Register-Star: "Committee considers bar fights, noise."

Important Meeting Tonight

Kim Jen/The Ithacan
Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York Department of State's Committee on Open Government, will conduct a workshop on open government tonight, Tuesday, September 23. The workshop, organized by Hudson Forward, takes place at Basilica Hudson, 110 South Front Street, beginning at 6 p.m.  

School Days Past in Hudson

In 1914, a hundred years ago, the building at 401 State Street, now used as a county office building, was under construction as the new Hudson High School.

Twenty or so years later, the population of high school students in Hudson had outgrown the building. To deal with overcrowding, classes were held both at 401 State Street and in the school building across Fourth Street, which had been the original high school but was then Central Grammar School.

Each time classes changed throughout the day, students had to file across Fourth Street to get from one building to the other.

Because the high school had reclaimed one of the elementary schools, the overcrowding impacted the elementary schools, and younger children attended school only half days.

In the 1930s, while the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression, Hudson needed a new high school. To muster taxpayer support, the Hudson Board of Education appealed to Hudsonians' civic pride. They assembled all the schoolchildren and took a picture of them, which appeared in a pamphlet published by the school board with the caption: "'UNDER PRIVILEGED' Hudson's children to whom but half-time schooling is given."

Here's how Walter First in his scrapbook, where Gossips found these two images, recalled the time.

In the early 1930's, there was an appeal to the taxpayers of Hudson by the Board of Education for a new High School. The Proposition Pamphlet listed the financial budget data, and included pictures like these. The request for Taxpayer approval ended as follows:
"We, the Board of Education, have done our best, but you all know, at its best, conditions are deplorable."
Having been there at that time, I can agree. The campaign was effective. The taxpayers approved, and the new High School was completed for the 1938 Graduation Class.
The building we now know as Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School was built was a New Deal Public Works Administration project. It was completed in November 1937 and was originally known as the Chancellor Livingston High School.