Entries in NY (1)
How one historic community utilized its architectural assets, and great location to become a 21st century destination city for the arts.
Over the past several years, I couldn’t pick up my local newspaper without reading about Peekskill, New York. It is located only 45 minutes from Grand Central Terminal. This Hudson River city has had its share of problems endemic with post-industrial urban cities, after its decline as a manufacturing center in the 1960's and 70's. However, its latest claim to fame is a dynamic renaissance, as an enclave for the arts!
In the early 1990’s its magnificent stock of downtown historic buildings, experienced high retail vacancy rates, and the city saw its population decline. City leaders crafted a strategy to rebrand Peekskill as an arts destination, and fostered significant economic development initiatives. According to Census figures between 2000 and 2008, the city’s population, actually rose by 8.6 percent, and now has 24,484 residents.
The success of this work can now be seen in the number of new restaurants, galleries, and artists housing that is located within its downtown. Peekskill has two National Historic Districts, and much of the urban revitalization has been centered within downtown, which has 150 buildings (dating from 1750-1974) listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The buildings represent a wide-range of architectural styles, but many are Greek Revival and Italianate. This attractive stock of intact buildings recently served as a set for the HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, starring Oscar winner Kate Winslet, which recently filmed there. Peekskill was transformed into 1930's Hollywood, complete with palm trees. Like many nearby Hudson river communities, the city is known for its Victorian homes.
The Festival itself is part of a series of city-sponsored concerts that closes off several blocks in the heart of downtown to traffic on Saturdays during the summer. It gives visitors the opportunity to stroll the local art galleries, which also stay open later. In addition to several city streets being transformed into a rather animated pedestrian mall, local restaurateurs bring tables onto the sidewalks and beyond for al fresco dining. Several vendors also lined up to serve rather casual fare. Children were provided with chalk, and create mini-masterpieces in the middle of the street. How fantastic was that?
Throughout the evening, people stood shoulder to shoulder truly engaged in the experience. When the entertainers hit the stage, it became one spontaneous street party. People danced. They sang. They swayed. They smiled. Occasionally voices carried, enough to carry a lively backdrop to the show. It was like being in the middle of a movie, as a sea of humanity, so beautifully diverse, and so electric, came together in the cozy confines of downtown.
It’s admirable to see a city take time to provide dynamic opportunities for residents and visitors to experience summer in ways that are far more interesting than merely retreating inside to stay close to the air-conditioner. Summer’s perfection is evident in small meaningful ways from seeing the stars, hearing cicadas, and in this case, even catching a breeze from the nearby Hudson River. After staying for all five sets, it also meant that my sweater came in handy after sunset.
The dynamic blues and jazz festival is not Peekskill’s only regional attraction. The Peekskill Arts Council, and the Peekskill Business Improvement District, working in conjunction with the City of Peekskill, has been instrumental in creating dynamic experiences for visitors and locals alike. Artists’ studio tours, public art installations, and access to local and national musicians have all given the community a positive arts buzz. Additionally, Peekskill Celebration, an annual festival in the 15-acre Riverfront Green Park, that will be held August 6-8, celebrates the city's maritime heritage, when almost 40,000 attend a weekend full of boat races, fireworks, and various attractions.
In June, the Peekskill Arts Council’s annual open studios event, had work on display by 100 artists in 40 studios, with 17 other venues participating throughout the city. As a testament to the city’s commitment to the arts, the Peekskill Art Lofts Coop, an affordable 28-unit limited cooperative community, specifically for artists, opened in 2002. The 1250 – 2000 Square foot live/work lofts are also conveniently located in the heart of downtown.
The New York region is often notorious for pricing out many artists, so I applaud Peekskill’s ongoing commitment to sustaining a viable residential arts community. It is definitely worth a visit! Here are some other noteworthy places to see:
See the architecture! This is one of the stops found in the FREE, self-guided Downtown Peekskill Historic Walking Tour.
FORMER KENTORA HOTEL ~ 1 North Division Street the distinctive and purely decorative onion dome or turret attached to this corner building since 1905 is a kind of exclamation point announcing the downtown center. Originally the Empire House Hotel in 1885 (with William Brennan as proprietor) the brick corner building was identified as the Kentora Hotel in 1907. “Kentora” was coined from the owner’s names, Clune and Torpy. Guest rooms were upstairs, and a saloon was downstairs. It was home to the Clinton Drug Store from about 1910 to the 1960s. The street level business has been occupied by Submarine Galley for many years. [Source: Downtown Peekskill Historic Walking Tour]
How Peekskill Celebrates the arts every day:
Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art: non-profit arts and education organization founded by the Marc and Livia Straus family. The Center is dedicated to the development and presentation of exhibitions and interdisciplinary programs that enrich our understanding of contemporary art, its contexts, and its relationship to social issues. HVCCA operates a 12,000 square foot exhibition space and is the primary sponsor of the Peekskill Project, an annual, city-wide exhibition of site-specific artwork.
Paramount Center for the Arts Center: A landmark theatre serving as a venue for concerts, movies and other performing arts events. It recently underwent a massive renovation and historic restoration, and serves 65,000 visitors annually.
Peekskill Center for Digital Arts, Westchester Community College Extension: This is one of the Hudson Valley's premier digital arts resources located in the downtown artist-district of Peekskill. The Center for the Digital Arts, has six post-production studios on 27 North Division Street and is dedicated to fostering digital arts education.