Each year, Friends of Historic Kingston’s annual preservation awards serves to showcase an impressive recent restoration project and last Thursday’s event was no exception: the Nov. 2 gathering was held in the Welch Industrial building, formerly one of those down-at-heels, generic-looking warehouse-type structures in Midtown that gleaned nary a second look in days past. But thanks to the magnificent restoration and inspired redesign by new owner Aaron Rezny and his team, the building has a dramatic new lease on life and is now a showcase of industrial chic. Rezny, a food photographer who relocated his photography studio from Manhattan to the restored building in 2016, said initially people thought he was nuts, but the move has proved to be prescient.
“Three years ago, I was crazy and now I’m a visionary,” he told the crowd. The building’s exposed brick walls, polished cement floor, which resembles worn stone, and monumental wooden roof trusses, revealed when the first-floor ceiling was removed, conjure up the coolest of Chelsea gallery spaces. It’s evidence that appreciation of and investment in Kingston’s striking architectural legacy is in full swing.
Rezny and his team was one of the five recipients of this year’s awards, which as is the custom were each presented by a different FHK board or committee member. The other recipients were Paul O’Neill, organizer of the Buried Treasure Lecture Series; Arthur and Lillian Nazginov, for restoration of the Teichler Bakery Building, located at 474 Broadway; Bill Cloonan, for the care and ultimate replacement of the fountain at Academy Green park; and Tamara Ehlin and Charles Mallea for The Forsyth B&B, located at 85 Abeel St.
After introductory comments by FHK president of the board Jack Braunlein — he noted this year marks the nonprofit organization’s 50th anniversary — FHK emeritus president of the board Peter Roberts presented O’Neill with FHK’s Local History award. Roberts noted that the popular lecture series, held monthly in a spacious room on the premises of the Senate House from August 2012 through January 2016, attracted on audience of 70 people on average and involved the participation of 41 organizations on local, state and national levels. Topics included such 19th-century movers and shakers as Thomas Cornell and Samuel Coykendall to abolitionist and women’s suffragist Sojourner Truth to the Ulster County Courthouse and World War II hero Robert Dietz. The series “helped realize the significant roles played by Kingston citizens,” said Roberts.
O’Neill characterized the series as “a community effort” and thanked Ulster County clerk Nina Postupack and several others, including Kingston historian Edwin Ford (“if you can convince Ed to be part of your program, it can’t fail,” he said). The program featured 39 presenters, and videotapes of each presentation, recorded by Bob Rizzo, will soon be uploaded to the City of Kingston website. O’Neill credited Joe Tantillo for branding and doing the design work for the series and Kingston Times columnist Hugh Reynolds for his regular coverage of the lectures (with the articles to be collected and soon published in a book).
Marissa Marvelli, a member of FHK’s Preservation Committee, presented Arthur & Lillian Nazginov with the Stewardship Award for the Teichler Bakery Building. Slides of the building showed its former deteriorated state, including a missing storefront that left a blackened wound on the first floor façade. According to Marvelli, the building was constructed in 1911-12. Its original owner, Gustav Teichler, had moved his third-generation German bakery from Hasbrouck Avenue to Broadway. It was a bakery until 1936 — one specialty was “steamed beet bread” — and later functioned as a luncheonette.
The Nazginovs, who reside in Queens, hired Scott Dutton do the restoration. It includes a handsome new façade on the first floor, which now houses The Yoga House, and an upstairs apartment. Arthur Nazginov said the building has been restored roughly to its appearance in 1912; whenever possible, he sought to preserve original features, down to the locks and hinges. He had to replace more than half of the joists and installed 30 replacement planks carefully matched to the existing wood floor.
The couple’s next project is the renovation of 690 Broadway, adjacent to UPAC, which was originally occupied by the Kingston Gas and Electric company, which later morphed into Central Hudson. They are seeking to list the former warehouse, retail store and office complex, which also dates to 1912, as a state historic landmark.
Font of excellence
FHK President Emeritus Avery Leete Smith noted that Academy Green, the triangular green oasis that has become the object of contemplation for motorists enduring the bottlenecking traffic on Governor Clinton Boulevard, has long been “near and dear to all Kingstonians” and is an historic point of assembly. He credited the Ulster Garden Club with overseeing the plantings for many years. Local attorney Bill Cloonan also has spent years “devoting his time and wallet to working on the park” and was instrumental in the recent design of the park as a “sculptural landscape that serves as a gateway to Uptown,” of which the key element was finding an appropriate replacement for the cast-iron fountain.
Cloonan said he and the garden club began to search for a replacement after the original fountain “snapped” due to excessive deterioration. (The 100-year-old fountain originally stood on the estate of the owner of the Newark Cement company and was moved to St. Ursula’s Academy, located on Grove Street. before finding a home at Academy Green, according to Cloonan.) He wanted to find a replacement that also featured the swan reliefs that graced the base and finally found one in Atlanta. Cloonan said the fountain is also working, with the water needing to be replaced every few days.
Brooklyn to B&B
FHK board member Eli Basch briefly reminisced about pre-urban renewal Rondout, where he grew up, before presenting a stewardship award to Ehlin and Mallea. He expressed gratitude that the original plan to tear down the buildings on the west side of Broadway didn’t occur, preserving 85 Abeel, an unusual low-slung brick building with a porch running along the full length of the front. Basch said it was built for the mercantile workers associated with the D&H Canal and originally housed an oyster house, ice cream saloon, and chandlery. “For 25 to 30 years, no one knew if it had a future,” he said, noting that it was the opening of the Armadillo on the same block in the 1980s that spurred the neighborhood’s slow recovery, culminating most recently in the opening of the Forsyth B&B.
Ehlin and her husband, Charles Mallea, who is an architect, bought the building in 2016 and converted it into a B&B. Migrating up to Kingston from Brooklyn, Ehlin said she always planned to open a hospitality business. The B&B attracts guests from all over the world and has been “a tremendous success.” (The Forsyth, and a decent-looking plum galette baked by Ehlin, was recently featured on WCBS-TV’s travelogue program Toni On! New York.) A barn located in the rear of the property has also been renovated.
In his presentation of a stewardship award to Rezny, FHK board member Frank Flynn noted the Welch Industrial Building had successively been a manufacturer, auto accessories store and machine shop through the decades of the 20th century and was most recently a warehouse with offices upstairs. After purchasing the building three years ago, Rezy worked with California-based architect Christopher Richartz and local builder Shawn DeLisio (both of whom shared the award with Rezy) to restore the building. The siding was removed, revealing the original brick walls, and the ceiling taken down to expose the trusswork. “I wanted it to have a historic feel and be modern,” Rezy said.
A kitchen without walls, which is where Rezy sets up his photo shoots, takes up part of the large central space, while his office is in the front of the building; blown-up photos of food and other subjects by Rezy, line the entrance. The biggest change to the building was shifting the entrance to the side alley, which is paved with brick and furnished with a few tables and chairs; the intimate space, which borders a brick industrial building on the opposite site, has the ambience of a European street café.
Rezy, whose book with Jordan Schaps, Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food, was reviewed in The New York Times (Joan Rivers reminisced about the meals ate as a child growing up in Brownsville in the delightful introduction), said he plans to open a photo gallery in the building in the spring and is collaborating with the Center for Photography at Woodstock in the spring.
Kingston has been “very welcoming,” he said. From the community to the planning board to the city government, “everyone’s been enthusiastic about us being here.”