A blog about Hudson, New York

Chipping Away

I remember the first time I saw Hudson. It was the winter of 1985 and my parents had picked me up at the Amtrak station to take me to their recently purchased house in Chatham. My mom asked my father to drive down Warren Street so that I could see the town. As we turned up Warren from Front, she explained that the state had been providing funds to the city for basic street and facade improvements but that, for the most part, it was a ghost town.

And so it seemed. But as we continued up the street, I exclaimed “Oh my God, it keeps going on and on,” amazed to see such a contiguous a collection of intact historic buildings so off the beaten path. When we reached the derelict but augustly handsome Opera House, I said “stop the car!” (which I think my dad did, at least long enough for me to write down the info on the for-sale sign attached to it).  By the time we reached the streamlined moderne diner, so tightly jimmied into the 19th-century streetscape, I was smitten and made a mental note that Hudson might be a place I’d like to live in some day.

I’ve had urban epiphanies such as these before and since, moments when grand architectural intentions of the past suddenly popped up into a  tableau- vivant present: once in London, on top of a double decker bus as it turned into the crescent of Regent Street, a moment in which I could swear I heard trumpets playing Handel; in an18th century  underpass leading to the Place des Vosges in Paris, where I came upon a gaggle of French schoolchildren yelling out “les igloos!”  after being asked “Ou habitez les Eskimos?” by their (impeccably clad) teacher; while hanging with a friend at the Central Park Lake one summer evening in1974, marveling at the glowing limestone linearity of the Fifth Avenue skyline, the drumbeat of tropical lands and the smell of pot filling the air around us; the list goes on and includes such moments in cities such as Los Angeles, Provincetown, Boston, and South Beach.

Hudson was the smallest (and least “vivant”) of those but made no less memorable an impression. And continues to do so, as it is reclaimed, lot by lot,  by the kind of private investment this town’s noble infrastructure deserves. Way too often, however, we’re confronted by a municipal and county level mentality that is constantly finding new ways to chip away at the town’s birthright—the extraordinary appeal of its physical landscape, both natural and man- made — as well as the morale of the people who moved here because of it.  (This can be done in so many ways: long term inertia and lack of imaginative initiative can be just as damaging as poor or wrongheaded planning and design.)

The latest battle–against the proposed demolition of the early 19th century Peter Miller  house at 900 Columbia Street–is the kind of thing people fought against in the 60s, 70s and 80s but just shouldn’t be happening now, at least not here. It’s particularly disheartening because the group that owns the building, the Mental Health Association of Greene and Columbia Counties, is a worthy organization that should be counted as one of the good guys. At the same time, the structure in question is neither on the historic register nor in a landmark district–  at least not yet— but it is a handsome devil, and its absence would leave a gaping hole in an already compromised area that needs all the good old buildings it has.  Still, it is happening…so let’s all do what we can to stop it (sign the petition here) and move on to the next, hopefully more positive thing right away. –Scott Baldinger

3 Responses to Chipping Away

  1. MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION PERSPECTIVE ON 900 COLUMBIA STREET

    There have lately been a few letters to the editor in the Register Star and a petition campaign regarding the Mental Health Association of Columbia-Greene Counties’ (MHA) plans for the property it owns on 900 Columbia Street in Hudson. Although a couple of the letters were needlessly provocative and misinformed, we do appreciate the tone of the letter from the Board of Directors of Historic Hudson. Although the building in question is not in an historic district, nor on the Local or National Historic Registry, nor ever part of a tour of Historic houses in the 20 plus years we owned the property, we respect their passion for saving older buildings and would expect nothing less in their response to our plans. We would like to take this opportunity to present our side of the issue.

    The mission of our agency is to assist people affected by mental illness in gaining skills and supports so they may live productive lives in the community with dignity and hope. We have been doing this since 1958, growing steadily such that we now serve over 1,000 children and adults in Columbia and Greene Counties. In addition, we provide preventive services to many youth and adults who may be at risk. We assist people in the areas of work, school, socialization, housing, goal setting, advocacy, peer support, strengthening families, crime victims support, managing symptoms, and crisis management, among other areas.

    In the area of housing, we operate three 24 hour supervised residences and over 100 scattered site apartments. One of the supervised residences is located on 900 Columbia Street. It serves 10 adults who are learning skills that will enable them to live successfully in the community as they transition to more independent living. In this home, all 10 residents share common living space and one kitchen, with most in shared bedroom situations. Funding is primarily through the NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH). The current philosophy of the OMH is that whenever feasible, these large community residences should be replaced with clustered one or two bedroom apartments that are more in keeping with the way most people live. It is easier to learn skill building, allow for needed privacy, and is overall a more effective model than sharing space with 9 other people. The OMH has spent quite a bit of money over the years on the current building. At this point, however, given the state of disrepair and the enormous amount of money needed to return it to a functional living space, the OMH has indicated to us that they will no longer fund the building. In addition, even if this were possible, retrofitting the current building to fit the needs of the residents is not fiscally feasible, and it would displace them during renovation.

    We have been searching well over a year for an ideal place for these clustered apartments, and have endured significant hostility from potential neighbors in alternate sites for which we expressed interest. In that process, we have come to the conclusion that the current property is wonderfully suited for our purposes. It is near Warren Street, within walking distance to markets, and close to doctors’ offices. We have not found a better site to meet the needs of the residents, which must be our utmost concern. Besides, at this time, there is no longer funding to purchase an alternate site. The MHA plan is to build clustered apartments in the back portion of the property while the residents continue to live in the current structure. Once the clustered apartments are ready for occupancy, the residents would move in and we would remove the current building, replacing that area with an attractive lawn, gardens, perhaps benches, and an area for our vehicles. The new facility will be wheelchair accessible, attractive, comfortable, affordable, and of greater benefit to the people we serve. The OMH and the MHA can simply no longer take responsibility for the current house as it is not in keeping with the mission of the organizations.

    That being said, if Historic Hudson would like to initiate a conversation that includes well-thought out, practical ideas that go beyond simply suggesting we relocate or somehow save the building on our own, and most importantly takes into consideration the best interests of our clients, we would be pleased to participate. We feel ultimately this priority by our agency is in the best interest of the citizens of Columbia County.

    Jeffrey Rovitz, Executive Director

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