The Gossips of Rivertown--a blog of news and commentary exclusively about Hudson

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Charles Williams Has a Buyer

Since the City of Hudson acquired it back in 2003, in exchange for the lot on Columbia Street where county health department building now stands, the Charles Williams School has stood vacant but not for want of plans to reuse it. First it was going to house the police department and city court. Then it was going to be an intergenerational center. Then a plan was floated to make it the location of HCSD's Alternative Learning Program combined with a C-GCC satellite site and a business incubator. Most recently it was going to be the county's emergency shelter for women and children. The good news is that it's not going to be any of those things.

The City intended to sell the building at a public auction on October 17. No one showed up for the auction, but bidding for the building happened anyway. Last night at the Common Council Finance Committee meeting, Treasurer Eileen Halloran announced the winning bidders: Steve Johnson and Walter Sudol, who offered $275,000. Other bidders were Colin Stair, the Islamic Community Center, and a fourth party.

Johnson and Sudol, who have a house in Ancram, plan to use the prewar school building for artists' studio space and to exhibit their own art collection. They have expressed their intention of restoring its original interior configuration.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Guide to Living in a Historic House

I just learned that the Landmark Society of Western New York in Rochester has posted their comprehensive guide to living in a historic house on their website. Since virtually everyone in Hudson lives in an old house, it might be a useful document to be aware of. For anyone reading this blog who is on the Hudson Historic Preservation Commission, it may be something you would want to bring to the attention of those who come before you and the community in general.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Today Is Dutch-American Heritage Day

November 16 is Dutch-American Heritage Day. It was proclaimed so by Congress and the first President Bush in 1991 because on November 16 in 1776 Dutch forces on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius returned the salute of the American brig-of-war Andrew Doria, making the Netherlands the first country to salute the flag of the new United States. In 1782, the Netherlands was also the first country to recognize formal diplomatic relations with the United States.

Of course, Dutch-American Heritage Day is of particular interest to me since I'm of Dutch origin--descended not from the Dutch who settled here in the Hudson River Valley in the seventeenth century but from the Dutch who immigrated to America in the nineteenth century and settled in southwestern Michigan. For anyone who's interested, I'm including a link to an opinion piece that appeared yesterday in the Holland Sentinel, the newspaper of the city where I grew up. If curiosity compels you to read it, you will understand why I accompanied this post with a picture of wooden shoes I danced in when I was in high school.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Latest News from North Front Street

The salvaged materials are being sold at the site, but if you need to speak with Jim Bent before going down there, I now have his phone number: 518 332-6848.

I learned today that there are no plans to salvage the brick. The walls will simply be knocked into the cellars. So if you need old brick, you might want to call Jim Bent and make some arrangement.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Demolition Update

The disassembly of the brick buildings on North Front Street next to the Fugary Boat Club continues, and the prediction is that the connector building and the north building will be gone by the end of the week. But there is hopeful news for the south building--the one that has been determined to be structurally sound.

The south building had been scheduled to be demolished in April, but I learned today that Eleanor Ambos--owner of the Pocketbook Factory and the Allen Street School--has gotten involved and is working to persuade Bentley Meeker, whom she knows, to keep that building standing. Of course, with the other two buildings gone, a major impediment to developing the site--lack of parking--has been eliminated, and with the $14 million upgrade to the City's waste water treatment plant soon to begin, another major impediment to development--odor from the treatment plant--may also be alleviated.

In the meantime, there are wonderful salvaged building materials for sale at the site. Douglas fir and heart pine flooring--all pegged, so there are no nails--and heart pine columns--8-foot columns selling for $30 a piece; 12-foot columns for between $30 and $55 each. If you have need for such materials, it would be great to keep these things in Hudson.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Some of Hudson's Last Historic Waterfront Buildings Are Coming Down

As I write this, the brick warehouse buildings on Hudson's waterfront, at the corner of North Front and Dock streets, are being taken apart in preparation for demolition. These are the last and only historic waterfront buildings remaining on the north side of the city.

Over the summer, a portion of a wall collapsed on one of the buildings--one that had been without a roof for several years. This created a hazardous situation, and a few months ago, the Common Council was asked to approve hiring a structural engineer to inspect the building so that, according to City Attorney Jack Connor, the City could condemn it and get it demolished. (I abstained from that vote because I couldn't bring myself to support a move whose ultimate goal was the demolition of a historic building.)

During the last week in October, I heard from a constituent that the buildings were going to be demolished within 24 hours. That turned out not to be true--at least not true at that time. I spoke with City of Hudson Code Enforcement Officer Peter Wurster who told me that the owner, Bentley Meeker, had been sent a certified letter to which he had 24 hours to respond. The letter, Wurster told me, informed the owner that he had 10 days either to agree to demolish the buildings or to come up with an acceptable plan for stabilizing them. Wurster told me that Meeker was already talking with Dan Proper at Crawford & Associates to come up with a plan for stabilization. At that time, only the north building and the connecting building were being discussed.

Yesterday I heard from the same constituent that all three buildings were coming down, so this morning I went over there to see for myself and take some pictures. At the site, I spoke with Bonnie Bent, the wife of Jim Bent who is the salvage contractor disassembling the buildings. According to her, the central building connecting the other two is coming down first, then the north building. The south building, which is structurally sound, is scheduled to come down in April, when the Bents and their crew return from wintering in Texas.

Talking with Bonnie Bent, I tried to get an explanation of how things had gotten to this point. She told me that Mayor Scalera had ordered the demolition and that the owner was agreeable, but she could not tell me if the owner had proposed a plan for stabilization that had been rejected by the City or if the owner had decided, in the face of the expense of stabilization, simply to let them go.

The real frustration here is that, in a city filled with historic buildings, in a city that owes its economic renaissance in recent decades to its historic architecture, there is no real commitment in city government--more specifically, in the mayor's office--to preserving the city's architectural heritage. The remedy the City regularly seeks for buildings that have fallen into disrepair--from the Fourth Street School in 1994 to the Chicken Shack in 1998 to these riverfront warehouses in 2009--is always demolition.

The justification, of course, is public safety. According to Bonnie Bent, when the salvage crew first entered the warehouse buildings, they discovered squatters living there. She assured me that they were now locking up to prevent people from getting inside. If these precautions are adequate to ensure public safety now, why couldn't the City have taken the same measures to protect the public while every possibility was explored to preserve an important feature of Hudson's irreplaceable architecture?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Hundred Years Ago in Hudson

A friend just brought to my attention this excerpt from a biography of Alexander Woollcott--the theater and literary critic who was a close friend of Dorothy Parker's, an original member of the Algonquin Round Table, the model for the character Sheridan Whiteside in The Man Who Came to Dinner, and a 1909 graduate of Hamilton College.
In the fall of his senior year Woollcott sought out the possibilities of gainful employment following his graduation from Hamilton.

"Primarily, I wanted to become a teacher and actually got as far as to apply for the principalship of the high school at Hudson, New York," Woollcott wrote.

"The Hudson school board was gracious and encouraging, but during the tea table conference in what passed for a mansion in Hudson one of its more taciturn members took me aside.

"In a whisper he explained that, whereas the ordinances of the town were modern enough to frown on corporal punishment, it was an open secret that the principal must be prepared to thrash the occasional hoodlum among the students. Tranquil months might drift by without its ever being necessary actually to join combat. But that would only be because the principal was able subtly to convince the entire student body that he could, were he so inclined, take the toughest brute in the senior class and beat the living daylights out of him.

"This colloquy was held in a bay window which looked out on the elm-lined street of the old riverside town not far from Albany. At the moment three students were on their way home from football practice, their alarming bulk increased by the doggy high-necked sweaters of yesteryear.

"'There,' said my counselor on the school board, 'could you scare the wits out of one of those?'

"So I decided to become a reporter."

--From Smart Aleck: The Wit, World, and Life of Alexander Woollcott by Howard Teichmann (Morrow, 1976)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hudson Terrace Receives $2.25 Million in Stimulus Funds

I discovered this information on Wednesday in the Albany Business Review. So far as I know, this has not yet been reported in the Register-Star or the Columbia Paper. Part of the justification for using stimulus money for this project is that it will employ lots of local tradespeople and put money into the local economy. I hope this will be true.