It may seem to the City of Hudson’s residents and visitors that restoration of the historic Hudson Opera House has been going on forever – since 1993, anyway – but the most important step has just gotten started. Stabilization of the building, including a new roof, fire stairs and restored cornice, made it possible to use its ground floor for public programming, and that will continue while the big work upstairs is underway. One year from now, if all goes according to schedule, audiences will be able once more to enjoy concerts in the magnificent second-floor performance hall at 327 Warren Street.
Built in 1855, originally to serve as Hudson’s City Hall, the Hudson Opera House houses New York State’s oldest surviving theater. It became a regular stop on the national lecture circuit that was such an important component of public life and thought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bret Harte read his poems here, and Frederic Church and Sanford Gifford exhibited their paintings. Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a talk on “Social Aims,” and Teddy Roosevelt on his expeditions to Africa. Susan B. Anthony visited twice, lecturing on abolition and women’s suffrage. But in 1962, the deteriorated building was abandoned and sat vacant for three decades.
Now, after a very ambitious fundraising campaign that has so far secured $7 million of the $8.5 million needed for the next stage of the capital project, the performance hall is finally being restored. Its adaptation for modern use promises to yield an intimate and flexible 300-seat theater to provide contemporary programming, accessible for the first time to the mobility-impaired via a new elevator tower. Besides rehabilitation of the performance hall itself, this next phase will include work on the mezzanine, stage and support spaces, including five dressing rooms, a lighting and sound booth, a Green Room, laundry and accessible restrooms. Lead and asbestos abatement and new electrical, fire protection and HVAC systems are all on the docket, along with some more upgrades to the building’s exterior masonry, windows and doors.
The team assembled for the project has very impressive credentials in historic preservation, with restoration work on the State Capitol, the FDR Library and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, among other New York architectural treasures, under their collective belts. They promise that “the character of the historical building will be retained,” and that “new elements will be sensitively incorporated to retain the overall historic character of the spaces.” Notably, the 19th-century raked-floor stage will be preserved – an arrangement rarely seen nowadays (but beloved by opera companies), in which the performers are positioned on an incline, rather than the audience.
This major phase of renovation is expected to be completed in spring 2017, with the recommissioned hall housing a full 2017/18 performance season. “We look forward to reopening the space to artists and our public a year from now, when the Hudson Opera House will be transformed into a beacon for artistic discovery and exploration,” said executive director Gary Schiro upon announcing commencement of the work on March 21.
Want to chip in and help the ongoing effort to complete the Hudson Opera House restoration? Visit https://hudsonoperahouse.org for a link to donate toward the final $1.5 million needed for additional fixtures and fittings, soft costs and operating capacity. The website will also post updates on the project, also with continuing programming in the ground-floor gallery.