|Photo: Robert Umenhofter|
The site of New York State’s oldest surviving theater, the Hudson Opera House has completed the final phase of a major restoration project begun in April of 2016. The re-opening of the historic theater is accompanied by a name change: the Hudson Opera House will be renamed Henry Hudson Hall.
In honoring the city’s historic namesake, Henry Hudson, the new name marks a significant evolution for the iconic venue, which, from its founding in 1855 until the building was abandoned in 1962, has witnessed some of the most exciting cultural, social and political events of the day. Since 1992, when the building was rescued from destruction, it has played a pivotal role in the cultural and economic advancement of the region.
“This is a defining moment in the life of this treasured building and this organization. The energy and momentum brought on by the restoration project, and the exciting new possibilities it presents in terms of programming demanded we address misperceptions about the building and, most especially, our name,” says Gary Schiro, Executive Director of Henry Hudson Hall.
“In working with the Opera House Board of Directors, executive staff, and Megan Kent, founder of Megan Kent Branding Group, we learned through discussions with constituents and key community stakeholders just how limiting our misplaced identity as an ‘opera house’ has been in our efforts to engage new and diverse audiences. The two most prominent names in the history of the building–City Hall and the Hudson Opera House–are both equally misleading,” says Schiro. “We feel the name ‘Henry Hudson Hall’ honors the richness of the building’s past while creating a bridge to a bold new future–one that advances the organization’s role as a leader in the civic and cultural life of the region.”
Megan Kent, of MKBG says, “By awakening a sense of adventure, exploration and excitement, Henry Hudson Hall will be a place for everyone to discover something new. In naming Henry Hudson Hall after this city’s historic namesake—a man whose entire being was possessed by a spirit of discovery—we appropriately honor the history and future of this building.”
With the reopening of its magnificent theater, Henry Hudson Hall is poised to become a cultural beacon for residents and visitors to gather year-round and enjoy a rich array of quality performances, concerts, exhibitions, workshops, community events, talks, and more.
THE HISTORY OF HUDSON’S “OPERA HOUSE”: THE EVOLVING IDENTITY OF A TREASURED LANDMARK
Designed by architect Peter Avery, the building was constructed in 1855 as Hudson’s City Hall. In addition to city offices, the Greek Revival structure housed a bank, the police station, post office, and library, as well as a magnificent performance hall on the second floor. During the late 1800s, as it became popular for towns and cities to have ‘opera houses’, the upstairs performance hall was renovated to include a proscenium stage and dressing rooms.
In 1881, City Hall then became known as the Hudson Opera House, although only a few operas were ever performed there. Around 1900 the building was often referred to as the Elks Theatre, when the management of the upstairs theater was overseen by the Hudson Elks Lodge. By the 1920s the building had again become known as City Hall. In the 1960s, when City Hall moved to 520 Warren Street, the building was briefly known as the Moose Lodge before closing in 1962. For three decades, the building sat vacant and had fallen into disrepair. In 1992, a group of citizens formed a non-profit and purchased the building to preserve its legacy and history and give it new life as an exhibition and performing arts center.
A NEW ERA: THE RESTORATION PROJECT
Completed ahead of schedule, renovations and improvements of Henry Hudson Hall’s facilities were funded by an $8.5 million campaign, of which $7.5 million has been secured with lead gifts from the Board of Directors; public support from Empire State Development, New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, New York State Council on the Arts; and private funds from foundations and individuals, including major gifts from the Educational Foundation of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also provided investment through its Community Facilities Program, secured with assistance from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and in partnership with Kinderhook Bank, which aims to improve rural community infrastructure and quality of life.
Renovations to the second-floor performance hall include a flexible 300-seat theater, new heating, ventilation and cooling systems, high-end performance equipment and extensive rehabilitation of the mezzanine, stage and support spaces. Installation of structural steel and a new basement slab help to support the structure, while asbestos and lead abatement, installation of an elevator, and new electrical and fire systems have upgraded the building’s safety and accessibility. The restoration and improvements were overseen by Preservation Architecture, and carried out under the great care of Consigli Construction NY.
|Photo courtesy Henry Hudson Hall|
LOOKING AHEAD: A SEASON OF DISCOVERY
The 2017 season opens with The Proprietors Ball on Saturday, April 22, followed by a Community Day on Sunday, May 21, with free performances and workshops by Hudson’s own Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. Opening concerts include Classics on Hudson’s first season under the artistic direction of renowned flautist Eugenia Zukerman, with concerts by Brooklyn Rider, the virtuoso violinist Tim Fain, and NPR’s Christopher O’Riley performing with cellist Matt Haimovitz.
Exhibitions include the return of LightField with Just the Facts: A Festival of Documentary & Vernacular Photography, with works by Brenda Kenneally, Stacy Kranitz, Zoe Strauss, and others who take an unflinching look at working-class people of all ethnicities who have become the focus of insecurity and fear worldwide. Hudson-based choreographer Adam H. Weinert returns with his critically acclaimed eveninglength dance piece MONUMENT, a dynamic new performance with original music that explores the historical legacy of the choreographer Ted Shawn through a contemporary lens. Not least, the young, visionary opera director R. B. Schlather has been commissioned to direct a new production of The Mother of Us All, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s 1947 opera inspired by Susan B. Anthony. The American social reformer and women's rights activist spoke twice on the very stage where this production will premiere in November.Afterword: Gary Schiro and Megan Kent were on WAMC's Roundtable is morning, talking about the completion of the restoration and the new name. You are hear that interview by clicking here.
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