The original Pike Plan, the white-painted colonial-style wooden canopy on Wall and North Front streets that was erected in the 1970s, transformed the cacophonous storefronts and signs of Uptown into an outdoor mall with the feel of a Western frontier town.
As everyone in Kingston knows, the old decaying structure is now being dismantled and replaced, with completion of the new canopy due on Oct. 22. In such a historic place as Kingston, it’s hardly surprising that in the process of renovation, fascinating architectural details on a few storefront façades that haven’t seen the light of day in more than 30 years were revealed as the old canopy was torn down. For a week or so — until the contractors once again covered up the find with the new overhang — the ghost of Kingston’s past breathed again, with the newly exposed iron capital or wooden store sign conjuring up a time when shoppers in bustles and top hats crowded the streets and transport was by horse trolley.
The discoveries have only served to fuel opposition to the Pike Plan. They are further proof, these opponents say, of the harmful impact of a canopy which conceals their storefronts, not to mention the identity of their retail business, and detracts from the historic character and individuality of the buildings. “It homogenizes the neighborhood and takes away from the individual beauty of the buildings,” said Joe Concra, owner of 308-310 Wall Street, an 1860 Italianate building that currently houses Elephant Wine Bar and Market Basket Deli. When the contractors removed the old canopy, a leaded glass transom window was revealed over one of Concra’s storefronts and the elaborate, decorated capitals of two iron columns, bearing the stamp Rondout Iron Works, was uncovered over the other.
“The largest problem with the Pike Plan is that it’s not increasing visibility like they said it would,” said Concra, noting that the 10-foot elevation of the canopy unfortunately covers up the upper portion of the original storefronts, many of which measure 14 feet high. “The buildings were designed so that the windows would open up to allow air to flow through,” a feature that is obviously no longer operative. Furthermore, the original brickwork of the building facades was designed to lead the eye from the top of the façade down to the storefront — a feature that’s destroyed by the Pike Plan. “From an architectural and historical neighborhood point of view, the Pike Plan further hides what was the original structure,” Concra said. “It’s a mall.”
Sam Bernstein’s sign
Perhaps the most unusual and significant artifact that came to light was the original 1890s wooden sign that still graced the corner building at 34 North Front St., now The Salon at Dream Weavers. The black hand-painted sign, which has white stenciled letters reading “Sam Bernstein & Co.,” is a very rare remnant of a clothing emporium that was one of the most successful retail businesses in Kingston, notes Dream Weavers owner and staunch canopy foe Dominick Vanacore. Pointing to a framed photograph of the store that hangs in his café, in which the sign is clearly visible, Vanacore said that Bernstein opened his store in 1892 in the three-story corner building, which replaced the old stone Tappan House. Bernstein also purchased the adjoining, 1840s two-story building next door. He was one of Kingston’s leading citizens, a member of the school board and a founder of the brick tuberculosis hospital on Foxhall, which still stands.