Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Great Pretenders

On the subject of new construction in historic neighborhoods, the advice of historic preservation has always been that new buildings should be compatible with the existing historic fabric but not imitative. The disadvantages of new construction being imitative are usually spoken of as a lack of authenticity and creating a built environment reminiscent of Disney World. Another problem is that people won't be able to distinguish the authentic from the imitation. 

Early in the 2000s, Housing Resources of Columbia County (now Galvan Housing Resources) did a project on the north side of town called Hudson Homesteads. The intention was to create new houses that would fit in with the existing architecture. In carrying out this project, Housing Resources worked with people who had done something similar in Poughkeepsie. That the project may have been too successful in achieving its goal first occurred to me a couple of years ago when I went on a walking tour of Hudson offered by a group headquartered in Brooklyn. The tour guide stood across the street from 350 Columbia Street, one of the Hudson Homestead houses, and explained that, in the heyday of Diamond Street, the house had been a brothel operated by one of Hudson's more notorious madams.

The tour guide may have gotten the wrong house altogether, since, according to Bruce Hall's book Diamond Street, Mae Healy operated her brothel at 328 Columbia Street not 350, but what obviously never occurred to him was that the house he was talking about didn't exist during the heyday of Diamond Street. It wasn't built until around 2005.

Recently I discovered that Hudson Homestead houses have even fooled Historic Hudson. In 2010, Historic Hudson proposed making Robinson Street and the adjacent portions of North Second and North Third streets a locally designated historic district. In the document presented with that proposal, 62-64 North Second Street, two houses that were built by Hudson Homesteads on the site of structures destroyed by fire in 2003, were identified as "c. 1890."

Addendum: This morning, Neal Van Deusen provided the link to a video of the fire that destroyed the buildings on North Second Street. Click here to view it on YouTube. 

1 comment:

  1. While creating my walking tour, "Hudson, New York - A Walk Off the Beaten Path" (, I used info. from another tour which said, "#350 & 352 where Ma Brown and Mae Gordon kept brothels". That same address was the site of a candy store run by Charles Whitford, one of the subjects of a movie about a Black Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War called GLORY. Even if the building is newer, the site is still worth acknowledging.