Tuesday, October 10, 2017

About That Move--55 Years Ago

We know from the building history provided on the Hudson Opera House website that City Hall, for which purpose 327 Warren Street was constructed in 1855, was moved upstreet to 520 Warren Street in 1962. In hindsight, we can all see the effect that move had. The "business district" became concentrated in the 500 and 600 blocks of Warren Street, the areas below Fifth Street became abandoned and unwelcoming, it took decades to revive Hudson below Fifth Street, and the rebirth of 327 Warren Street as the Hudson Opera House was the major driver of that revival. 

Gossips has never investigated what controversy, if any, surrounded the decision to move City Hall, but it being Hudson, you figure there had to have been some. Recently, I stumbled upon an article in the Albany Times Union from October 1963, which revealed that at least one person had some prescience about the consequences of moving City Hall. It was Michael LeSawyer, who was the Democratic candidate challenging Republican Samuel Wheeler in the mayoral race that year. Here's what the Times Union reported on October 17, just weeks before the election.

Switch of Hudson City Hall Draws 
Attack by Democrat
Democratic mayoralty candidate Michael Lesawyer today lashed out at the Wheeler administration for switching city hall locations and said, "Downtown Hudson was sold down the river."
He strongly criticized his opponent, incumbent Republican Mayor Samuel T. Wheeler, for shifting city hall to its present location and said it was a "severe blow" to downtown property owners.
Mr. Lesawyer also claimed that the switch of city hall buildings has effected [sic] downtown business in general and added, "the foresight of the administration to date is definitely zero."
Sees Tourism Loss
"Walking through downtown Hudson one can feel the depressing effect," Mr. Lesawyer said. "It is hard to believe that a former spokesman (Mayor Wheeler) for the Taxpayer-Rentpayer Association is responsible for this situation. Yet it is true.
"You will recall the assurances that the interests of the property owners would be protected. The assurances and promises were definitely broken. Property owners have suffered by the change," he said.
Mr. Lesawyer contends that nothing was planned or considered as to the effect on the downtown area. He said with the aid of the Planning Commission attempts could have been made to rebuild or maintain the area "as a thriving center of the city."
Referring to the $4,000 selling price, Mr. Lesawyer said, "Even a parking facility would have been worth considerably more than the price received for the old city hall."
Touching on what he termed "a lack of foresight," the Democratic candidate said, "Next year, and the year after, this city will lose out on the possible benefits from the 1964 World's Fair because of a lack of initiative. It is hard to believe that the opening of the Fair is only a few months away. The administration has failed to offer plans or suggestions to attract the millions of tourists, by-passing the city, to at least stop in for a visit."
Mr. Lesawyer concluded: "We have an abundance of historical sites and interests that people would like to see and visit. Tourists spend money and a definite shortage of money exists in this city."
Common Council minutes show that on October 25, 1962, the sale of 327 Warren Street to the Loyal Order of Moose for $4,200 was approved by the Common Council, with the Council president and eight aldermen voting for it, and only two aldermen voting against it. What the City actually paid for 520 Warren Street is difficult to determine. There is evidence in Council minutes of a complicated deal that involved leasing the former bank building for $1 a year for eight years, from an entity called Claverack Landing Corporation, which then held the title to the building, and the exchange of shares of stock. What is clear from Council minutes is that the City spent more than $13,500 to renovate the building for use as city hall.

On November 6, 1963, the Times Union reported that Wheeler won reelection for his second term as mayor, "by the landslide plurality of 1,598 votes." Wheeler, who served four nonconsecutive terms as mayor of Hudson (1962-1965, 1968-1969, 1974-1975), was in office in 1969 when the General Worth Hotel was demolished and the Common Council committed the City to the vast urban renewal project that changed it forever. It's intriguing to contemplate what might have been if the outcome of the 1963 election had been different.

1 comment:

  1. Linda Lesawyer Dousharm. That was my father. Insightful man who way back when also promoted a community college. He died at 62 with so many promising thoughts and ideas.