Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happening This Week . . . A Hundred Years Ago

In 1914, this event would no doubt have been one that all the fashionable ladies of Hudson planned to attend in the coming week.

The picture below shows The Bouquet Millinery (yes, it seems there is a typo in the ad) in 1909, decorated for the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. In 1909, Mrs. N. E. McManus (seated at right) was the proprietor and Kathryn Martin (second from left) was one of the milliners. In 1914, Kathryn Martin (K. F. Martin) appears to have taken over the business.  

Below is 513 Warren Street today--now Eustace & Zamus Antiques.


A Discovered Memory of Seventh Street Park

We know from Anna Bradbury's History of the City of Hudson, New Yorkthat prior to 1878, when the Public Square was beautified to become the park as we (more or less) know it today, the land, which had been donated to the City with the intention that it be a park, "was denuded of its fine old forest trees and paved with cobblestones." This early picture of the corner of Warren and Seventh streets gives a sense of what the Public Square was like before 1878.

Today, Gossips discovered this memory of the Public Square in the Hudson Evening Register for September 21, 1914. It appeared in "Personal Notes and Jottings," a regular feature that primarily reported trips made and visits received by Hudsonians.
James M. Doran, a Troy undertaker, was a Sunday visitor in town. He was a former resident of Hudson, attending old Public School No. 3, and he inquired after a number of his old schoolmates of thirty years ago. He visited the hose house on Public square and said that he recalled when Public square was not a park but had [a] big well in its center, from which the firefighters drew water with hand engines.
Photo of Warren and Seventh streets from Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, by Byrne Fone
Photo of Edmonds House Company courtesy Historic Hudson

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Identifying a Long-Lost Church

The location of the church in this picture, which is among the images that Byrne Fone collected for his book Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait, has always been a mystery, but it is a mystery no more.

Recently, Gossips had the opportunity to spend some time with a scrapbook created by Walter First for his children and grandchildren. In that scrapbook was the picture below, taken in 1916 on the steps of the very same church building.  

It turns out that this was the first "Italian Church." A newspaper clipping accompanying the picture in Walter First's scrapbook has this to say about the church and its location.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel formed as an Italian national Roman Catholic parish in 1908.
The year before, Mrs. Rosaria Cardinale, wife of Angelo Cardinale, had deeded property at Promenade Hill and Market Place to Frank Rose, Gennarino D'Onofrio and Gustino D'Inguillo for the first church. On June 10, 1908, the property was conveyed to the church.
The parishioners of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel worshiped in the church on North Front Street until 1928, when they moved to their newly erected church building at the corner of Union and Second streets. In the scrapbook, First shared these memories of an annual festival held by the church when it was located on North Front Street.
In the 1920's, during July, Market Place was the scene of an annual "Street Festival," held on the mall at the entrance to Promenade Hill park. It was sponsored by the Mt. Carmel society, and a band-stand was erected in the center, from where a group of Italian musicians played concert renditions. I believe the band leader was Deno Gazzera. Around the stand were the usual refreshment, game, and gift booths. I recall the "greased pole" competition: A 10-dollar bill was tacked at the top of a wood flagpole, coated with vegetable oil; and the goal was to retrieve it. The contestants, in bathing suits or shorts, using no shoe spikes or climbing devices, would reach for the prize by shimmying. Teamwork in a final attempt brought on the successful conclusion. One man climbing on the shoulders of another, and another, and another, until the 10-dollar bill was in the top man's grasp. The guy on the bottom, carrying the full weight, had to be a "super man"; and cousin John Ziemba fit the call. John was a part of an acrobatic team that performed a vaudeville act at area shows, including the Playhouse Theatre. Quite tall and muscular, he was the bottom man of a three man team. John Cordato, small in stature, was the top man in many of their leaps, flips, and tosses.
On the final night (Saturday), would come the fireworks show. Spinning wheels, streamers, explosive and incendiary displays; all hanging from street poles and wires along the full length of North Front St. And then the finale, the sky-rockets and colorful bombs bursting in the sky.

Of Interest

Phase 3--the last stretch--of the High Line in New York City is opening tomorrow, and an article about it by Michael Kimmelman appeared in The New York Times today: "The Climax in a Tale of Green and Gritty." 

Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Kimmelman makes an observation in the article that should be heeded by those embracing a High Line inspired makeover of Seventh Street Park: 
[James] Corner [who designed the High Line] calls the city around the park its "borrowed landscape." The inimitability of those surroundings, and the park's site-specific detailing, are major reasons the so-called High Line effect has been . . . fool's gold for so many other cities that have wanted to follow in New York's footsteps.

"You Say Either and I Say Either"

It's becoming a routine. A Common Council initiative is reported in the Register-Star, and Mayor William Hallenbeck talks to John Mason or issues a press release voicing his concerns, reservations, objections to whatever the Common Council is considering. 

Earlier this week, it was First Ward alderman Nick Haddad's suggestion that the Common Council hold its informal meetings at various locations throughout the five wards. Where the legislative body holds its meetings doesn't really seem to be the business of the executive branch of government, but the mayor made it his, dissing the idea and telling Mason, "I would certainly question their motivation." 

Today, it's the occupancy tax proposed by Third Ward alderman John Friedman, to be added to the room rates at hotels, guest houses, and B&Bs in Hudson. Mason reports in the Register-Star on a press release issued by the mayor on the subject: "Mayor questions proposed B&B tax." 

It seems Hallenbeck fears that a 2 to 8 percent tax would make guest rooms in Hudson "unaffordable or less attractive" and intends to research the issue himself. "I will arrange a meeting with the owners/operators of our city-wide B&Bs," Hallenbeck states in his press release, "which will help me in two areas. First, it will help me identify further who they are and who runs them, and secondly and most importantly get their advice on this and any other issue that they have concerns about pertaining to B&B businesses."

Friday, September 19, 2014

How Gossips Spent Thursday Night

If you went to only one city government meeting in Hudson this week, it probably should have been the Economic Development Committee meeting on Thursday night--provided that you arrived about an hour late.

The presentation by Barton & Loguidice was promised to "familiarize the committee and public with transportation and waterfront sustainability planning concepts; introduce projects from other communities; and look at potential streams of funding that may help Hudson address impediments to sustainable development." It was also promised to take only fifteen minutes. 

For people who were here in Hudson twenty years ago, the presentation gave a sense of deja vu. It began with Ted Kolankowski explaining how the firm had helped Mechanicville revitalize its main street and connect with its waterfront--which is where Hudson was in the mid-1990s, when people were attending Hudson Vision Plan meetings and Roberta Gratz and Norman Mintz gamely included Hudson in their book Cities Back from the Edge

After a half hour of hearing about Mechanicville, Council president Don Moore, who chairs the Economic Development Committee interrupted. "We were hoping you would take the strategies you have and apply them here." Moore wanted to know specifically how Barton & Loguidice could help Hudson get funding to repair or replace Ferry Street bridge. The presentation went on for another fifteen minutes, with the audience making comments and asking questions and Nadine Medina of B & L talking about her areas of expertise, until Moore brought it to an end. "I am grateful that you folks came," Moore told them, "but I was expecting more about us and less about what you've done." The team from Barton & Loguidice is expected to return in two weeks with a presentation more tailored to the purpose.

After spending an hour on the first agenda item, the committee moved on. The next item of significance was the Ferry Street bridge. John "Duke" Duchessi presented a letter he had drafted for the mayor and Common Council president to sign, the purpose of which was to get the Department of Transportation more involved in the City's efforts to address the bridge.

Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward), who sits on the committee, urged that the letter be reviewed immediately. He then began reading the letter himself and declared, "I just read the first paragraph. This could have been solved with a phone call." Tossing the letter on the floor, he said with exasperation, "It took thirty days to draft a letter. It took three years to get to this point."

Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward), also a member of the committee, stressed the urgency of repairing the bridge, noting, as he has before, that "when a bridge begins to rust, it loses 25 percent of its carrying capacity." He urged that the City find "engineers who specialize in this kind of thing" and move forward. Moore instructed Duchessi to prepare the letter for his and the mayor's signatures. "Send the letter," he told Duchessi, "and call right afterward. Let's get these people up here."

There was also information shared from the Capital Region Economic Development Council 2014 Progress Report, which came out last month. Of the thirty projects that document lists as "Primary Recommendations," three are of interest: the Hudson Opera House ($500,000) Columbia Memorial Hospital ($300,000), and Premier Brands ($274,000 to develop a facility in the old WalMart building in Greenport). Other Hudson projects are also mentioned in the report. Under the head "Priority Projects Beyond ESD that scored 20," there is one Hudson project: Hudson Opera House: Lighting and Rigging Equipment. In a third category, under the head "Regionally Significant Projects that scored 15," five Hudson projects appear: Hudson Opera House: Market Hudson NY; Hudson Development Corporation: Hudson Wayfinding Program; City of Hudson: North Front Street Stormwater Separation; Columbia County: Hudson North Bay Recreation and Natural Center; and City of Hudson: Hudson Urban Park Redevelopment (a.k.a., Seventh Street Park). 

Gossips has made several phone calls to try to understand the significance of these recommendations, but so far none has yielded an answer.

One good piece of news shared at the Economic Development Committee is that the "transloading facility" has, in the words of Supervisor Sarah Sterling (First Ward), "gone away." This plan, which involved transporting goods by truck to a facility near the ADM plant and shipping them out by train, would have increased the number of trains passing through Hudson on the ADM spur and would probably also have increased the number of trucks coming through the city. The transloading facility was a favorite with the Capital Region Economic Development Council and had been awarded $2.6 million in grants. The explanation going around about its demise is that when the people behind the project found they would have to invest some of their own money to make it happen, they abandoned the idea. According to Moore, the $2.6 million now "goes back into the pot at CREDC."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Nothing Is Ever Easy

Conducting a survey is not a simple task. There are how-to courses--online and probably in classrooms, too--to teach people how to design a survey, how to get survey responses, and how to analyze survey results. One wonders if any of those courses warns against what happened with the Seventh Street Park Survey, meant to find out what kinds of improvements the community wants for the park.

Back on August 18, at the end of a Hudson FORWARD meeting, Sheena Salvino and Branda Maholtz of the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) handed out a few paper copies of the Seventh Street Park Survey. One of the items on the survey as it was distributed that night proved problematic. It was this one, which asked respondents to rate, on a scale of 1 to 10, the improvements they wanted for the park.

The item was confounding. People were unsure how to answer if they wanted more than "Remove Fencing Around Fountain" but less than "Completely New Concept." What number represented simplify and restore it? Salvino and Maholtz recognized the problem and changed the item, so that the scale went from "Historic Restoration" to "New Concept/Redo."

Some less dramatic changes were made to the survey as well. Respondents who didn't live in Hudson were asked to tell where they did live, and the options for the question "How do you use 7th Street Park?" were reordered, moving "Getting Children outside" closer to the top.

Changing a survey after its distribution has already begun seems an unwise thing to do, and in this case, it has had some very wide ranging consequences. Although only three or four people at the Hudson FORWARD meeting completed the survey and handed it back, one person at the meeting took the survey with him, made numerous copies, and distributed the copies to others. Yesterday, when seventy-five of those surveys were delivered back to HDC completed, the immediate reaction was that those surveys could not be counted because they had been completed using the wrong form. Predictably (and understandably) that response caused a brouhaha that reportedly involved the mayor and the city attorney before it finally calmed down. It seems now that a way has been figured out to analyze the results even though they are coming in on two different versions of the survey.

When Gossips spoke with Salvino yesterday, she spoke of her concern to preserve the integrity of the survey. It would seem that the integrity was already compromised when items were changed after some paper copies had been distributed. Still, the problems of analyzing the results should not be unsolvable. If the paper surveys are to be scanned by machine, which seems unlikely, the change in order of the possible responses to one of the questions will require that item to be analyzed by hand. 

The "Scale of 1-10" item presents a bigger problem. There are asterisks on the survey indicating which items the respondent is required to complete. On the original survey, the "Scale of 1-10" item had no asterisk; on the revised survey, it does. People completing the original paper survey could have just skipped that item, and perhaps it should be skipped on all surveys when analyzing the results. There are many other questions that get it the same information.  

The sad thing is that, after this snafu, people may be unlikely to have much confidence in the survey's findings, whatever they are.

Meeting of Interest Tonight

The Common Council Economic Development Committee has its regular monthly meeting tonight--Thursday, September 18--at 6 p.m. Instead of happening at City Hall, where committee meetings are typically held, the meeting will take place at 1 North Front Street. The reason for the change of venue is a presentation by Barton & Loguidice, a consulting firm of engineers, environmental scientists, planners, and landscape architects based in Albany, on "transportation and sustainability planning as it pertains to waterfront development." Sheena Salvino, executive director of the Hudson Development Corporation (HDC) explains the purpose of the presentation in this way: "to familiarize the committee and public with transportation and waterfront sustainability planning concepts; introduce projects from other communities; and look at potential streams of funding that may help Hudson address impediments to sustainable development."

About the Weighted Vote

On the topic of the weighted vote, John Mason summarizes the Hofstra report and what Council president Don Moore had to say about Hudson's use of weighted voting yesterday on @Issue in today's Register-Star: "Report questions city's weighted-vote system."

The Peasants Are Revolting . . .

The Register-Star today has coverage--an article and Part 1 of a video--of yesterday's public hearing in Ghent on the PILOT for Ginsberg's Foods: "CEDC land cost $109K, not gifted."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Not to Be Missed

Sam Pratt reports on a surprising revelation at the public hearing about Ginsberg's Foods this morning: "County paid $110,000 for land it's selling to Ginsberg's for $1."

He Said, He Said

On Sunday morning, an interview with Mayor William Hallenbeck was aired on WHUC. On a radio show called What's Going On, the mayor talked with John Wallace about a dog park, dogs in the cemetery, parking around the hospital, recent grants for new bullet-proof vests and digitizing cemetery records, waterfront development, and mass gatherings. If you missed hearing the show at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, you missed hearing the show.

On Wednesday morning, an interview with Common Council president Don Moore was broadcast on WGXC. On the radio show @Issue, Moore talked with Victor Mendolia about the Hofstra study, weighted voting, the Hudson Hudson Authority and the governance of Bliss Towers, Viridian and the City's energy usage, and the proposal to hold informal Common Council meetings in places other than City Hall. If you missed hearing the show at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, you can hear it online.

The Burden of Mayoral Appointments

It is the mayor's responsibility to appoint members of the regulatory boards: the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Historic Preservation Commission. The mayor also appoints five of the seven members of the governing board of the Hudson Housing Authority, which oversees Bliss Towers and Columbia Apartments (a.k.a. "the low rise"). Mayor William Hallenbeck doesn't seem to like this part of being mayor very much. He took almost a year to fill a vacancy on the Historic Preservation Commission, and, months after Phil Abitabile resigned, there is still a vacancy on the Zoning Board of Appeals. When the mayor does make appointments, his choices can be problematic. A letter from Victor Mendolia to HHA executive director Jeff First, presented to the Common Council on Tuesday night, alleges that the mayor's most recent appointments to the HHA board are in violation of Public Housing Law. 

The following statement is quoted from Public Housing Law [N.Y. PBG LAW Paragraph 30: NY Code--Section 30]: "Not more than one member of an authority [the HHA directors are called "members of the authority"] may be an official or an employee of the municipality at any one time." A few months ago, the mayor appointed Kathy Harter and Geeta Cheddie to the HHA board. Both women currently serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals and, in that capacity, are public officers, or "officials of the municipality." It would appear that, according to Public Housing Law, only one of them may serve on the board of the Hudson Housing Authority.

Another Tempest Brewing in the Teapot

Last night at the Common Council meeting, Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) suggested that, in order to engage the community more effectively with city government, the Council should, starting in the new year, hold its informal meetings in different locations throughout the city. This, he said, would send a message to citizens: "If you can't make it to City Hall, City Hall will come to you." Council president Don Moore observed that this would be useful, particularly since Dan and Mary Udell have stopped videotaping Council meetings to be shown on public access TV. Alderman Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward) declared it "a great idea," calling it "traveling City Hall." Alderman Ohrine Stewart was similarly enthusiastic, saying, "It shows the citizens of Hudson that you care." Only Alderman John Friedman (Third Ward) expressed reservations, commenting that giving adequate prior notice of meetings in changing locations might prove difficult.

Mayor William Hallenbeck, however, raised objections to meetings of the legislative body taking place in locations other than City Hall. During the meeting, he suggested that there might be something in the city charter prohibiting such an irregularity. Always on the scent of a good political squabble, reporter John Mason contacted both the mayor and Haddad after the meeting for further comment. He reports what they had to say to today's Register-Star: "Council meetings may go on the road."

Although the mayor seems to think there is some kind of hidden agenda behind what he disses as the Common Council's "traveling roadshow," the suggestion can also be seen as an attempt by the Council to get closer to the model of the New England Town Meeting, without actually abandoning the model of representative democracy. 

The idea of taking City Hall to the people calls to mind how city government used to operate in Hudson--twenty years ago. The Common Council met once a month to vote on resolutions. The content of those resolutions was not known in advance by the public, and it wasn't always clear if the aldermen had read the resolutions before they were asked to vote on them. If a member of the public wanted to speak at a Common Council meeting, he or she had to get permission from the Common Council president, who in those days was Mim Traver. This had to be done in advance of the meeting by contacting Traver, who would want to know what you wanted to speak to the Council about.

It was at the beginning of Ken Cranna's single term as mayor, in 2000, that the practice of having an informal Common Council meeting was initiated. Occurring the week before the Council's regular meeting, the informal meeting was meant to serve two purposes: (1) resolutions were introduced, giving the aldermen eight days to study their content and consult their constituents, if need be, before they voted; (2) the public was invited to address the Council on any issue of concern. 

Although the idea that the Council needs to go to the people gives the impression that Hudson is some vast metropolis where it is necessary to travel great distances to get to City Hall, there is nothing sinister or seditious about the proposal. It is simply an attempt--whether sensible or wrongheaded--to engage the people of Hudson in the governing of their city. If the plan proves to be impracticable or ineffective, it can be abandoned, with no harm done.  

Not to Be Missed This Morning

As a preface to this morning's public hearing on the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) being offered to Ginsberg's Foods, Sam Pratt assesses the "maneuvers and machinations" behind the deal: "Insiders grant Ginsberg's a grab bag of goodies."

The hearing takes place at 10 a.m., Wednesday, September 17, at the West Ghent Firehouse, 74 Bender Blvd., West Ghent.  

The image accompanying this post is from Pratt's blog

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Tale of Two Public Squares

First, a reminder: Only two weeks remain to share your opinions and ideas about Seventh Street Park and the proposal for its restoration/re-imagining. Click here to access the online survey.

A reader recently informed Gossips that Cleveland, Ohio, is also contemplating a makeover of its public square--a ten-acre civic space in the center of a city with a population of about 400,000.

Public Square , Cleveland: 1907 | Shorpy Historic Picture Archive

Here's what Cleveland Historical has to say about Public Square:
Laid out by Moses Cleaveland's surveying party in 1796 in the tradition of the New England village green, Public Square marked the center of the Connecticut Land Company's plan for Cleveland. Since 1861, when City Council renamed it Monumental Park for the statue (later moved) of Battle of Lake Erie hero Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, Public Square has served as a site of public memory. A statue of Cleaveland was erected on the square in 1888 and on July 4, 1894 the 125-foot tall Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument was dedicated on the square's southeast quadrant in honor of Civil War veterans. In 1879, Public Square garnered international attention when inventor Charles F. Bush showcased one of the world's first successful demonstrations of electric streetlights there.
Cleveland is about to embark on a $30 million makeover of Public Square. The designer for the re-imagined Public Square is landscape architect James Corner, who collaborated on the design for the High Line in New York City and whose name is often invoked by Cathryn Dwyre, the creator of design for Hudson's re-imagined Public Square. (Corner was chair of the department when she got her Master of Landscape Architecture degree at the University of Pennsylvania.)

The Cleveland makeover includes a couple of elements familiar from what has been proposed for our own Public Square: an interactive water feature (the one proposed for Cleveland is a "splash zone" in summer and an ice skating rink in winter) and seating steps. The Cleveland makeover includes a cafe and an "event lawn," but it does not include a dog park or a "topo playscape."

The plans for Cleveland's Public Square makeover were presented in a public forum in June, and the work is expected to begin late this year. The goal is to have it completed in time for the Republican National Convention, which will take place in Cleveland in 2016. reported that when presenting the design, Corner cited the High Line, Millennium Park in Chicago, and Campus Martius Park in Detroit as "examples of ways that cities are creating compelling public spaces to encourage people to linger and businesses to invest." Corner is quoted as saying, "These are significant investments that aren't only beautifying, aren't only socially enriching and socially enhancing, but also will boost the economy of the city if not the region." (Just a few weeks after this statement was made, Detroit filed for bankruptcy.)

The striking thing about the plan for Cleveland's Public Square is that it seems so much simpler than the plan that has been proposed for Hudson's Public Square. Essentially, in addition to the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, which has been there since 1894, this ten-acre public space has only three major elements: a water feature, a cafe surrounded by outdoor seating, and an event lawn.

The apparent simplicity of Corner's design for Cleveland's Public Square brings to mind that many people thought the improvements to Hudson's Public Square should be a matter of simply "editing" to make the space more like what it once was. Far from simplifying what's there, the design proposed rejects everything old and tries to cram too many elements of what is trendy and new in park design into our little half acre space.

There is an interesting irony about the two public squares. By the influence of wealth and privilege in the 19th century, train tracks run diagonally through the Public Square in Hudson. By design, buses will run through the center of Public Square in Cleveland. Judging from the posts that appear on the Facebook page Save Public Square, buses bisecting the square is what disturbs Clevelanders most about the proposed design.

New Windows at the Courthouse

The installation of the new windows at the courthouse, which started on Friday, continues this week. This was the scene this morning, as old windows were being removed and new windows installed.

Photo credit: Peter Meyer
The disappearance of the nasty vinyl windows, which were installed in the first floor windows in the early 1990s, is cause for celebration. Now that the building has central air conditioning, there is no need to have air conditioners poking out everywhere.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Interesting Reading on the City Website

It will be remembered that, during the spring term, a group of law students at Hofstra University, in a seminar called "Special Problems in Municipal Law," led by Eric Lane and Ashira Ostrow, studied Hudson government. The students presented a summary of their findings to the Common Council and the public in May. The full report has recently been received and is available for review by all on the City website.

Update on the Police and Court Building

It has been almost ten months since the Common Council voted to purchase 701 Union Street for use as the City's new police and court building. In that time, while the plans were being examined and refined both by the Hudson Police Department and by the New York State Office of Court Administration, nothing much has been reported about the progress of the project.

On Friday, Gossips spoke with Alderman Nick Haddad (First Ward) and Council president Don Moore about the project and learned that OCA had signed off on the plans on the previous Wednesday. OCA approval was required before moving forward. The construction documents are now being prepared, and it is expected that they will be ready to be sent out for bids the end of November, and the bids will be received at the end of December. Because much of the reconstruction work is inside the building, the project can begin in the dead of winter. 

Not to Be Missed

Gossips' report on Friday's Historic Preservation Commission meeting has inspired a new post by Matthew Frederick on his blog Hudson Urbanism: "Doing tacky right."