All Transart House project needs is money

The house on Henry Street. (photo by Jesse J. Smith)

The house on Henry Street. (photo by Jesse J. Smith)

Mayor Shayne Gallo said he’s standing by a nonprofit group’s efforts to restore a decrepit but historic home on Henry Street. But, he cautioned, he would not approve any city funding for the project until the nonprofit demonstrated that they had the capacity to follow through on the ambitious but long-delayed restoration job.

The Burger-Matthews house at the corner of Henry and Prospect streets had stood vacant and decaying for decades. Over the years the city, which held title to the property, had handed over the deed to series of owners in hopes of seeing the house restored, only to take it back when renovation efforts faltered. In 2008, owners Jennifer Schwartz Berky and Todd Diffee went to the Common Council asking that the deed be transferred to Transart & Cultural Services. The nonprofit arts group, based in Ulster Park, promotes African and African-American arts and culture through educational programs and an annual jazz concert in Poughkeepsie. Back in 2008, Transart Executive Director Greer Smith laid out for the council an ambitious plan that called for stabilizing the structure, renovating the interior and exterior and turning the building into a cultural center and exhibition space in the heart of Kingston’s African-American community. Smith said the project represented an opportunity to draw visitors to Midtown and create a cultural anchor and source of pride for residents of a distressed neighborhood. The council approved the transfer, over objections by some aldermen who doubted the restoration job was feasible and preferred to see the building torn down.


Using a state grant, Transart carried out some of the job, including fencing off the property, weatherproofing the roof and repointing a crumbling chimney. Then, work appeared to come to a halt. Five years after the transfer, the exterior of the house remains dilapidated and little was heard about the project. That changed earlier this summer when the Henry Street project was cited in a Midtown revitalization plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and touted at a City Hall press conference as the Business Art Entertainment and Technology (BEAT) initiative.

Smith, meanwhile, said despite outward appearances, the restoration work has advanced slowly but steadily with a focus on shoring up and stabilizing the interior of the 1870’s vintage Victorian.

“Unfortunately, the work that has to be done first is not the cosmetic bells and whistles that people can see on the outside,” said Smith.


There are 2 comments

  1. gerald berke

    All Texas needs is water and some good people. And as has been pointed out, that would probably do it for Hell as well.
    Please leave off of your pursuit of Gallo…
    Transart has been desperately lax in involving the community, in doing some hands on work on that place, in explaining to people that that is NOT just some abandoned wreck, since that by god is sure what it looks like.
    The Kingston Times is way out of line on this, and not at all adequately informed.
    Transart will fare very very well under Gallo, as has Hodge and Midtown with BEAT and what will be the Lace Factory start up early next year.
    And as a little plug for the Ward 4 candidate Steve Laden, that man is a strong community minded leader and an accomplished artist and art teacher and with an alderman like that, I think Transart will do much much better.

    1. The Red Dog Party

      Thank you Mr. Burke for your very kind words. I have known Greer Smith and TRANSART since my days as the Grants Manager for the Dutchess County Arts Council. Ms. Smith is exactly correct, there has been a meltdown of funding sources, making the restoration job all that more difficult to accomplish.

      Mr. Burke has a point. Community involvement is all important, witness the Rehr Immigration Center and the proposed Irish Center, both doing a yeoman’s job in fundraising through the community.

      The Matthews House has an interesting story, and as architect Alan Baer states, the interior is quite unique. All good fundraising and audience development begins with telling an interesting story. Let’s hear that story and history, it will spur public interest.

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