By STACEY MORRIS
Byrne Fone remembers vividly the day he drove into Hudson for the first time.
It was around 1983. He and his partner, Alain Pioton, were out on a drive from their home in Pine Plains, and they stumbled onto the sleepy Hudson River city by accident.
"I didn’t actually know the city was there," Fone recalled. "But we turned onto Warren Street and came upon what was very nearly a ghost town.”
Driving up the nearly deserted street, he and Pioton were stunned at the quality of the architecture.
“I recalled thinking, ‘It's all here, every style that America ever built in the 18th and 19th century, even early 20th century,'" he said. "And I also thought, 'This place is going to happen.'”
Fone and Pioton were so impressed that they ended up buying four buildings on Warren Street and opening The Hudson Antiques Center in 1985. The shop was among the first in a wave of antiques stores that took up residence in vacant Warren Street storefronts over the past two decades.
Fone's interest in the city's architecture grew over time, and he became a board member of Historic Hudson, the city's volunteer preservation group. Soon after joining the board, he got the idea of putting together a book that would document Hudson's architectural history.
The result is "Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait," newly published by Black Dome Press. Photos from the preservation group's archives are paired with text by Fone, an emeritus professor of English and American literature at the City University of New York. Photos from the book will exhibited for two weeks beginning Sept. 24 at the Mark McDonald Gallery on Warren Street.
Witness to a rebirth
Hudson's revival was somewhat slow in coming, though Fone remained sure it would happen as the downtown began to attract more of the antiques trade he and Pioton helped to pioneer in the city.
“For a long time we were the only boys on the block," he recalled. But by the end of the 1980s, their shop was one of about 15 antiques stores; today there are more than 70.
By the 1990s, the revival took hold in earnest as the city was discovered by a new wave of artists and other creative types, mainly from New York City.
“Houses that once sold for $35,000 or $60,000 now go for $300,000 to $400,000, and commercial buildings for even more," Fone said, adding that even these prices are still seen as bargains by buyers from Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Fone's interest in architecture isn't merely an abstract one. He has extensive experience in restoring houses, and his projects have included a Greek revival house in Brooklyn, an 18th farmhouse in Columbia County, a couple of New York City brownstones, a stone-and-shingle early 20th century arts and crafts house in Chatham, a couple houses in France and five in Hudson.
“I suppose I have a obsession with architecture -- not as an expert or professional, but as a passionate and I hope knowledgeable lay person,” Fone said.
A message of preservation
Much of Fone's book is devoted to photos of Hudson's buildings and streets as they appeared in various eras from the 19th century through today. But its historical text represents the first time in several decades that anyone's written a detailed history of the city, Fone said.
One of the motivations for a book on Hudson's architecture, he said, was his sense that the city wasn't being fully appreciated for its historical and aesthetic value.
“Some of it was being lost, especially by careless destruction by the city itself, which did not seem to appreciate its own buildings," Fone said. “It seemed to me important that the record of Hudson's s past -- both its history and its architectural history -- should be made available as a guide to what its future could be."
The threat to Hudson's architecture, he acknowledged, also comes from some well-meaning newcomers.
"Over the years I have seen people come to the city and buy and restore buildings -- some well, some badly."
Now that his book is a reality, Fone said he hopes it will change people’s views on preservation and restoration.
“A city’s architecture is the outward and visible manifestation of a people’s history," Fone said. "Every board and brick tells a story, and buildings are the material history, just as documents are the intellectual history of an age. We destroy them, or carelessly alter them, at our peril.
"Because when we destroy a building, or turn it into something it never was, or gut it and remove its interior detail, or carelessly alter its exterior according to individual whim and not in accordance with what the history or style of the building reveals to us, we engage in a kind of cultural vandalism.”
Although new owners of Hudson's historic buildings will come and go, he said it’s important not to get carried away with the concept of ownership.
“Ultimately we are stewards of the buildings, and as such we need to pass them on to the future as intact and undamaged as we can,” Fone said. “If we don't, we have erased our history and deprived the present and future of the lessons of the past.”
A special exhibit of historic photographs of Hudson, N.Y., opens Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Mark McDonald Gallery, 555 Warren St., Hudson. The exhibit opening, from 4 to 7 p.m., features a lecture and book signing by Byrne Fone, author of "Historic Hudson: An Architectural Portrait." The lecture is at 5 p.m. The exhibit remains on display for two weeks.
Copyright 2005 Hill Country Observer