Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How It All Began: The Warren Street Project

By now, most Gossips readers are familiar with the Hudson Vision Plan, the twenty-year-old planning document that informed the development which has happened so far on the waterfront and was heavily referenced by NYS Secretary of State Randy Daniels in his 2005 decision that brought an end to the proposed St. Lawrence Cement plant. The grassroots citizens' effort that produced that document had other results as well, which are not as well known or remembered.

In 1994, the Hudson Opera House, Inc., the newly formed not-for-profit that had just purchased 347 Warren Street, the 1855 building which had started out as Hudson's city hall, was awarded a Hudson River Valley Greenway grant to hire consultants to help envision Hudson's future. Led by a core group of HOH board members, about 150 Hudson residents and business owners--some newcomers to Hudson, some not--organized to advance the visioning process. They formed committees and met every month, devoting half of the meeting time to presentations on various topics by various people and the other half to committee planning sessions.

One of the Vision Plan committees was the Business & Historic Preservation Committee. (It was prescient that those two topics should be combined.) That committee set for itself the task of inventorying every building on Warren Street. The mile-long street was divvied up by blocks, and committee members visited every building to find out who owned the building and how it was being used. To accompany this data, the committee wanted a photograph of each building. As good fortune would have it, photographer Lynn Davis, who had established her reputation in a joint show with Robert Mapplethorpe in 1979, and her husband, screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer, were members of the Business & Historic Preservation Committee. Davis was between projects, so Wurlitzer suggested that she take up the task, and she did.

Over the next two years--1994 and 1995--Davis photographed every one of the more than 300 buildings on Hudson's main street. Wurlitzer would drive her up and down Warren Street in the early morning and late afternoon, when the light was good, in search of buildings without cars parked in front of them. She preferred to shoot in the winter, when the view of the buildings was not obscured by foliage on the trees. When the daunting task was finally complete, two things had happened. The Business & Historic Preservation Committee spawned an independent Historic Preservation Committee, and the entire Vision Plan initiative crumbled in the fall of 1995, during a bitterly fought mayoral campaign that pitted incumbent Rick Scalera, then seeking his second term, against a challenger who had the support of many involved in the Vision Plan, Lou Boyce.

In the spring of 1996, Davis showed some prints from what she called "The Warren Street Project" to the members of the Historic Preservation Committee, who had come together again months after the Vision Plan initiative had ended. They were awestruck. These were not simple photographs to document buildings in a particular period in time; they were portraits--works of art. In that moment, the defunct Historic Preservation Committee determined to transform itself into what would be the not-for-profit Historic Hudson and to launch its mission of promoting the appreciation and preservation of Hudson's architectural heritage by exhibiting all the images in Davis's Warren Street Project as its inaugural event.

On October 12, 1996, a month-long exhibition of The Warren Street Project opened at the Carrie Haddad Gallery. Carrie Haddad, whose art gallery was the first in Hudson, was a member of the Vision Plan Historic Preservation Committee and one of the founding members of Historic Hudson. Although the gala inaugural event didn't happen until evening, the installation of The Warren Street Project, which requires 200 linear feet of display space, was completed that morning. Throughout the afternoon, people wandered into the gallery to have a look. Gossips (of course, the blog Gossips didn't exist at the time) was there to witness a local woman, who had undoubtedly walked past these buildings every day, study several feet of images, then turn, and say with amazement, "I never realized how beautiful these buildings are!"

In 1996, this amazing collection of photographs was exhibited to inspire appreciation for Hudson's architectural heritage. Twenty years later, in 2016, the collection will be exhibited again, in its entirety, for the first time in two decades, to celebrate not only Historic Hudson's twentieth anniversary but also the power of historic architecture and its preservation to revive a city and all the individuals whose investments and commitment to historic preservation made it happen.

During the entire month of October 2016, Lynn Davis's monumental Warren Street Project will be exhibited at Vincent Mulford Antiques, 419 Warren Street. A gala opening of the exhibition will take place on Saturday, October 1, from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information and to reserve your place at the opening celebration, visit www.historichudson.org

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