at the historic Hudson Opera House
March 23, 2017
The site of New York State’s oldest surviving theater, the Hudson Opera House has completed the final phase of a major restoration project begun in April of 2016. The re-opening of the historic theater is accompanied by a name change: the Hudson Opera House will be renamed Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House.
Hudson Hall is an evolution of the initial name announced on March 13, 2017, Henry Hudson Hall. In a statement to the media about the name revision, Executive Director Gary Schiro said:
“In moving forward with the re-opening of our newly restored performance hall and our new name, I, together with the Board of Directors, my Co-Director Tambra Dillon and our staff, acknowledge the concern expressed by some that we would highlight a historical figure [Henry Hudson] who may not reflect the spirit of inclusion and community we value.
We want you to know that we have listened, with great respect, to those of you who have raised this issue, along with the tremendous affection shown for the Hudson Opera House. We are revising our name to “Hudson Hall” and our branding will retain a reference to our historic Hudson Opera House.
This past week we have been heartened by the passion with which our neighbors and patrons regard this organization. With your support over the past 25 years, we are nearing completion of this beloved and historic building. We look forward to the opportunity to open the doors of the upstairs performance hall to the people of Hudson and our region for the first time in over 55 years.”
The new name marks a significant evolution for the iconic venue, which, from its founding in 1855 until the building was abandoned in 1962, has witnessed some of the most exciting cultural, social and political events of the day. Since 1992, when the building was rescued from destruction, it has played a pivotal role in the cultural and economic advancement of the region.
“This is a defining moment in the life of this treasured building and this organization. The energy and momentum brought on by the restoration project, and the exciting new possibilities it presents in terms of programming demanded we address misperceptions about the building and, most especially, our name,” says Gary Schiro.
With the reopening of its magnificent theater, Hudson Hall is poised to become a cultural beacon for residents and visitors to gather year-round and enjoy a rich array of quality performances, concerts, exhibitions, workshops, community events, talks, and more.
THE HISTORY OF HUDSON’S “OPERA HOUSE”: THE EVOLVING IDENTITY OF A TREASURED LANDMARK
Designed by architect Peter Avery, the building was constructed in 1855 as Hudson’s City Hall. In addition to city offices, the Greek Revival structure housed a bank, the police station, post office, and library, as well as a magnificent performance hall on the second floor. During the late 1800s, as it became popular for towns and cities to have ‘opera houses’, the upstairs performance hall was renovated to include a proscenium stage and dressing rooms.
In 1881, City Hall then became known as the Hudson Opera House, although only a few operas were ever performed there. Around 1900 the building was often referred to as the Elks Theatre, when the management of the upstairs theater was overseen by the Hudson Elks Lodge. By the 1920s the building had again become known as City Hall. In the 1960s, when City Hall moved to 520 Warren Street, the building was briefly known as the Moose Lodge before closing in 1962. For three decades, the building sat vacant and fell into disrepair. In 1992, a group of citizens formed a non-profit and purchased the building to preserve its legacy and history and give it new life as an exhibition and performing arts center.
A NEW ERA: THE RESTORATION PROJECT
Completed ahead of schedule, renovations and improvements of Hudson Hall’s facilities were funded by an $8.5 million campaign, of which $7.5 million has been secured with lead gifts from the Board of Directors; public support from Empire State Development, New York State Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, New York State Council on the Arts; and private funds from foundations and individuals, including major gifts from the Educational Foundation of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also provided investment through its Community Facilities Program, secured with assistance from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and in partnership with Kinderhook Bank, which aims to improve rural community infrastructure and quality of life.
Renovations to the second-floor performance hall include a flexible 300-seat theater, new heating, ventilation and cooling systems, high-end performance equipment and extensive rehabilitation of the mezzanine, stage and support spaces. Installation of structural steel and a new basement slab help to support the structure, while asbestos and lead abatement, installation of an elevator, and new electrical and fire systems have upgraded the building’s safety and accessibility. The restoration and improvements were overseen by Preservation Architecture, and carried out under the great care of Consigli Construction NY.
LOOKING AHEAD: A SEASON OF DISCOVERY
The 2017 season opens with The Proprietors Ball on Saturday, April 22, followed by a Community Day on Sunday, May 21 with free performances and workshops by Hudson’s own Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. Opening concerts include Classics On Hudson’s first season under the artistic direction of renowned flautist Eugenia Zukerman, with concerts by Brooklyn Rider, the virtuoso violinist Tim Fain, and NPR’s Christopher O’Riley performing with cellist Matt Haimovitz.
Exhibitions include the return of LightField with Just the Facts: A Festival of Documentary & Vernacular Photography, with works by Brenda Kenneally, Stacy Kranitz, Zoe Strauss, and others who take an unflinching look at working-class people of all ethnicities who have become the focus of insecurity and fear worldwide. Hudson-based choreographer Adam H. Weinert returns with his critically acclaimed evening-length dance piece MONUMENT, a dynamic new performance with original music that explores the historical legacy of the choreographer Ted Shawn through a contemporary lens. Not least, the young, visionary opera director R.B. Schlather has been commissioned to direct a new production of The Mother of Us All, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s 1947 opera inspired by Susan B. Anthony. The American social reformer and women’s rights activist spoke twice on the very stage where this production will premiere in November.