In a 14-year-long effort, local residents have worked to restore the Hudson Opera House, New York State’s oldest surviving theater. Situated at the base of Warren Street, the 1855 structure, designed by local architect Peter Avery, housed various civic offices in its day: the Post Office and Police Station, the Franklin Library and the First National Bank of Hudson. After City Hall moved up the street in 1962, it was purchased by an out-of-town developer who let it languish in decay for nearly 30 years, much as the whole neighborhood of lower Warren Street was abandoned.
When restoration was begun in 1992, the organizers faced the awesome task of raising funds to stabilize and upgrade the exterior, the foundation, the basement and the main floor of the building. They’ve mounted no fewer than 13 capital projects to generate an estimated $3 million so far, through foundations, private individuals, local businesses, governmental and federal sources.
“Completion of the first floor has been done, while at the same time we’ve offered programs as a multi-arts center: a full series of workshops in artmaking, music, dance and theater for adults and children,” says Joe Herwick, deputy director of the Hudson Opera House. “Plus, we collaborate with other spaces on the outside to continue to ‘ramp up’ world-class music performances, like our recent show with ETHEL. We’ll present cutting-edge music and theater, even collaborating with organizations in New York City, like the New Victory Theater, to present things you wouldn’t normally get to see here in Hudson.”
Fundraising continues in order to restore the second floor, which will become a flexible 300-seat theater. Herwick says, “We’re putting all the pieces together to complete the restoration upstairs. The design team [Marilyn E. Kaplan of Preservation Architecture, theater consultant Christopher D. Buckley, P&PFC, Inc., mechanical engineers from IBC Engineering Services, Inc., structural engineers from Crawford & Associates and Dan Clayton of Clayton Acoustics Group] has met, and the design work has been done. Now we’re getting the rest of the financing in place to finish.”
The second-floor space once housed a magnificent auditorium that was used for everything from theatrical presentations to cotillions to poultry shows. There were painting exhibitions by Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford, poetry readings by Bret Harte, rousing Abolitionist lectures by the likes of Henry Ward Beecher and Susan B. Anthony. And in 1914, Teddy Roosevelt regaled a crowd with his African adventures.
Even without updated systems in place, the Opera House recently hosted TEDx on the second floor, an event that took place just last September “when heat didn’t much matter.” The daylong inaugural event brought together national leaders – Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Alice Waters, to name a few – along with artists, health care providers, educators, historians, writers, farmers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs and other locals. (The complete lineup can be seen on https://hudsonoperahouse.org.) Herwick says that TEDxHudson is now owned and curated by the Opera House, once again securing its reputation as a “cultural beacon” in the upper Hudson Valley.
While the final phase of the restoration program gets underway, the Hudson Opera House will continue to serve the community with year-round programming, including afterschool activities for kids and other community arts events. Meanwhile, the grand structure is open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Building tours, readings and all exhibitions are always free of charge. Come check it out.
Hudson Opera House, 827 Warren Street, Hudson; (518) 822-1438, https://hudsonoperahouse.org.