About What’s Being Lost...
It’s not usual that we get so specific that we address
an editorial towards a single building in these pages. But a
recent decision to raze the heavily fire-damaged Phoenicia Hotel
has us worried, and hoping that some thoughts could affect change
in a way that opens up a more thoughtful approach to this site,
which we feel is key to the health of both the towns these papers
we publish cover.
The building in question has been the lynchpin for the Main
Street of Phoenicia, the key tourist-drawing community along
the Route 28 stretch that centers this bucolic rural stretch
of the state we call home, for well over a century. Despite
some bad aesthetic choices over the years, and a revolving door
for businesses seeking to rent its front office and restaurant
spaces, the place breathed a sense of history to the surrounding
community. It spoke quietly of past times that were closer-knit
and proud of the ways villages come together in wild places
to offer folks a close-knit sense of hoiminess… something
far different from the car-wary spaces of today’s malls
and other retail-oriented centers.
We have been hearing of talk that whatever is now built to replace
the old Phoenicia Hotel should have deeper set-backs from the
street and sidewalk to allow for outdoor seating. We are also
hearing that some are seeing the location as being perfect for
community, instead of retail uses.
This all worries us to the point where we think the future of
this structure, or its site, if razed, should become the focus
of a regional planning process that brings together not only
our best talent, architecturally and design-wise (civic and
structural), but also everyone who has treasured Phoenicia’s
Main Street at some point and feels sentimental, or even curious,
about its future.
What to build or not build at this location is not a decision
that can be made by a single business owner, solely. The Hotel,
like it or not, was a local landmark on a par with a World Trade
Center or Pennsylvania Station. It’s passing, and eventual
replacement, should concern all who use our Main Streets as
an extension of our homes.
Over the years, we’ve seen other towns in the area grapple
with missing landmarks, or seeking to rebuild their Main Streets,
and failing miserably as often as they succeed. Look at the
1960s and 1970s, deeply set-back brick buildings that ended
up breaking the street fronts in Delhi and Margaretville, or
the odd circumstances whereby half of the Rondout’s Broadway
buildings were taken out only to be later replaced in a replica
of what was missed? Look at the Self Storage units and fences
that have marred the center of Fleischmanns, once considered
our area’s architectural gem; or the way Hunter’s
Main Street has become a bland ghost of what was once a vibrant
mix of varying vernacular building styles.
Consider how those places that have maintained an authentic
sense of their historic look, from Woodstock to Catskill and
Hudson, from Andes to High Falls and Rosendale, have ended up
thriving because of their preservationist tendencies, be they
planned or not. And how those places that have turned their
backs on such community-minded efforts have faced eventual troubles
maintaining the very fabric that makes them feel warm and welcoming.
Look at what happened to Olive and its once-thriving hamlets
Once razed, a building’s street front is lost forever.
Once removed from its building fronts by even a yard or two,
a Main Street can lose its currency.
We have many experts, as well as caring amateurs, who have studied
these things on a regional and, via history, more localized
level over the years. They should be called in to lead our discussions
into these matters. There is plenty of preservationist money
that can help us all in this situation.
Yes, it’s a hard process that will involve disagreement.
But it’s about our history. Which means it’s also
about our future.
THIS should be one of the key community planning decisions of
our day. Think about it.