Meet Michael Lidgus, a new Newburgher who is restoring and rehabbing the old Christian Science Church at 188 Grand Street into his new home. He is a retired aerospace design engineer who now gets to do what he loves doing every day of his life – rehabilitating an old building. Read Michael’s home adventure journey and his future plans for the late church. Truly inspiring for anyone else who desires to repurpose and reuse an old Newburgh building!
Michael Lidgus found Newburgh about two and a half years ago but, before deciding on Newburgh he had searched all along the east coast to make sure he was making the right decision; visiting New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Carolina’s, and even Georgia. He ran across interesting old buildings in his travels but New York called him back for family. His daughters live in NYC and he wanted to be closer to them. Newburgh’s train access was a plus because he dislikes driving in the city and dislikes finding a parking spot even more.
For about a year and half he persistently tried to purchase the old Jones Automotive Shop on Wisner Avenue which never materialized. Then, one day he stumbled across 188 Grand Street. It was overgrown with ivy and greenery and it looked abandoned. Being proactive, Michael went online and researched the property and found that it was owned by the Newburgh Community Land Bank. He wrote a proposal which was accepted and, on August 2nd he closed on the church.
Michael is quite the adventurer! He bought a trailer from Craigslist, sight unseen to live in while doing renovations on his future home. Since starting renovations he has repaired the slate roof and just a weeks ago got the electricity turned on. He is also clearing out old carpet in the basement. The building has seen a lot of water damage since the old roof was never properly cared for. This project will be a combination of restoration and renovation. Although the church appears to be quite large from the outside, the space is mostly taken up by a sanctuary and many other tiny rooms. It was never designed to have someone live in it. There were rumors that the church used to be a home. However, Michael explained that in the 1800’s there indeed did exist a home on the property that was used as a church but, it was torn down to make room for a larger building which is the one he is working on now. It was built in 1940. He says that although his home might not have some of the charm as some late 1800’s houses, he thinks the exterior of his home is beautiful with its locally quarried stone. The church was a very plain church, but Michael says that there are 8 brass chandeliers in the sanctuary that are stunning and they make up for the plainness.
When I asked Michael what it was like to work the City of Newburgh Land Bank he said that they made buying the home “a piece of cake”. His feelings as a customer were that they were “great and supportive” and they “introduced him to the right people”. Madeline Fletcher, the Consulting Director, was “heaven to work with” and his experience with Fire Chief Vatter equally pleasant. Before moving in to his trailer, Michael lived on Lander Street or “Blood Alley” as it was made famous by NY Magazine in 2011. However Michael says that he enjoyed his time living there. People treated him like anybody else and were very welcoming. In fact, he learned people might not be as they seem, in a good way.
Michael’s impression is that Newburgh is coming out of the era that has made it notorious. He feels it’s being reborn and just like a real birth, the birthing process is difficult. When I asked him what words of encouragement he would give other people wanting to take on similar projects in Newburgh, he said that there is a place to be purchased here for anybody. There are so many beautiful buildings for anyone willing to do the work. There are properties that you can’t find in a lot of areas for the prices that they are going for in Newburgh. He feels Newburgh was “made just for him”. The City of Newburgh is glad to have you Michael! We can’t wait to see how your home develops!
Meet Chuck Thomas, the new director of the Newburgh Free Library. He is a fascinating man with a background in archaeology and anthropology. Learn how the library is bringing people into downtown Newburgh and the changes Chuck has witnessed over the past 16 years while working there. He and his new bride Nancy Thomas also run the Goldsmith Denniston Bed and Breakfast. Thanks Chuck!
Where did you grow up and how did you end up in Newburgh?
I like to say I was born in a small library in Bismarck, ND, but I remember nothing but snow. Shortly thereafter we moved to a small town in Kansas and by the third grade my family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah – it was there that I grew up. I had the wonderful opportunity to grow up and have the run of a magnificent library, since my dad was the Director of the Salt Lake Public Library, and while we were there I watched the construction and opening of a brand new, grand library. My dad was hired as the Director of the Ramapo Catskill Library System in Middletown, NY and that was when we moved to New York. I wound up in Newburgh through a fortuitous set of circumstances. I was writing grants as a sideline and I was hired by the then-Director of the Newburgh Free Library, Mary Ellen Leimer, to work with their literacy program part-time. After a couple of years we realized that the library world was a good fit for me and Mary Ellen found a place for me in the library full-time. Since my mom and dad were both librarians it was a natural transition. I moved to Newburgh with my late wife, Alice Dickinson, from Montgomery, so we could be close to home and work while she underwent treatment for terminal cancer.
What was your career before you worked at the library?
I went to school for anthropology and archaeology and worked in the museum field and consulted for the NYS Office of Historic Preservation on projects such as the cultural resource survey for the Upper Delaware National and Scenic Recreational River and the Delaware and Hudson Canal Landmark survey, identifying historic features within the proposed river boundaries and along the canal from Lackawaxen PA to High Falls, NY. Subsequently I and two partners started a Cultural Resource Consulting firm preparing the cultural resource components (history and archaeology) for environmental impact statements for private and municipal projects. As I aged a bit- fieldwork can be strenuous- and was working at the library already, I realized that both fields had many commonalities. Both involve researching and gathering and compiling information, organizing that information and disseminating the results to the public and stakeholders.
Congratulations on being appointed director of the library! What are some of the functions of your position and what positions did you hold prior.
Thank you and many thanks to all those folks who have made my journey possible. It a nutshell the director is responsible for the management, operations and functions of the library under the guidance of the trustees of the library. In the case of Newburgh, the trustees of the library are the elected members of the Board of Education of the Newburgh Enlarged City School District and I report to the Board and serve under the Superintendent of Schools. This is a unique situation, only two libraries in NYS have this arrangement, and it provides us the opportunity to serve as an educational and resource arm of the school system to provide enhanced opportunities for our chartered service area: the City and Town of Newburgh and the Town of New Windsor.
I began as a grant writer for the literacy program at the library, then it was the Literacy Volunteers program. I was hired as a Library Assistant first in the Local History Dept., still working on grant and funding development, and later in the Outreach Services and Programming Dept. I began working to obtain my Masters in Library Science and Information Services at Albany and five years later I completed my degree. I also received my certification in Public Library Administration from the Palmer School of Long Island University and worked as a librarian in Newburgh under the leadership of Muriel Verdibello.
The library now has a satellite location in the Newburgh Mall. Tell us about the reception it has received and the ability it has to draw people into downtown Newburgh.
The branch at the mall is a terrific asset to our community. We have added hundreds of new library users and made access to the resources of the library much more convenient. Because the branch is much smaller, we have fewer items on the shelf, but you can have all of our books and materials sent to the branch for pick-up and you can return items to the branch, no matter where you checked them out. We only have delivery two days a week at the branch, so if a person is at the branch asking for a book we often can check the catalog and tell them the book is available on the shelf downtown, and we can put that item on hold and if it is wanted immediately, we encourage people to go right over to the downtown facility and pick it up themselves. More often than not, the person that does get in the car and drive downtown is pleasantly surprised to find a clean, safe and fully staffed facility that has the items they need ready and waiting. We also have found that people read about our many exciting programs at the main library and they venture into town for the program and realize what they have been missing. For various reasons people don’t have a reason to come downtown or perhaps remember a downtown that was not necessarily welcoming. We have changed all that and are learning that if we can get folks into downtown they will keep coming downtown for all that we (and the surrounding community) have to offer.
What differences have you seen in the neighborhood working at the library for the past 16 years?
Ours is a much different neighborhood that it was. Back when, we hired off-duty city police to provide security at the library. Now there is no need for that, we have security and cameras and lights but the worst we see is the occasional panhandler and mischief. With many newcomers to the neighborhood and the addition of Orange County Community College campus, plus the city’s Heritage Center and vibrant churches this is a neighborhood growing into its potential as a place to come to.
What community based programs does the library offer?
I might need an entire interview for this one but from toddler story-times, to movies, free computer training, bilingual homework help, a Parenting center, Job info Center and literacy services, citizenship info and income tax prep help, this library is your community center.
What resources are available for people who want to investigate family genealogy, local history or information about their old house.
The library has a local history and genealogical collection that dates back to the beginnings of the library in 1850. By 1875 when Charles Estabrook, a history teacher, became the librarian, the collection expanded by leaps and bounds as Estabrook recognized the importance of assembling a collection of information on the families and history of the region. Over the past 300 years many new Americans have arrived and made their imprint on Newburgh as they arrived in NYC and headed up the Hudson River for new opportunities. The histories of these families are represented in our collections. We still encourage researchers with genealogical roots in Newburgh to deposit a copy of their research with us for future investigators. In addition to print materials we also provide web-based resources such as Ancestry.com and Heritagequest.com. Listings of the buildings in the National Register Historic District are available as well as unique materials such as the Sketchbook of Frank Estabrook, a prominent architect. A remarkable collection of city directories dating back to 1856 traces the people and places of Newburgh on a year-by-year basis.
What is the biggest change you have seen in Newburgh over the years?
Well, I came after the worst had happened, urban renewal had demolished the waterfront lands and more but the only renewal that happened was the construction of the present library building. We were a city waiting for a savior to come and bring us back to the All American City of the 1950’s. Several potential suitors came along but no one person could undertake the work and provide the love that Newburgh needed. What I see now is a new growth within the city, with new neighbors coming in and new businesses and industries beginning to flourish. We are no longer waiting for someone to save Newburgh but rather recognizing the synergy of this city and its environs and encouraging and welcoming new Newburgers who are coming to be part of the organic, natural growth of a new community.
What advice would you give someone who would like to move to the City of Newburgh?
Don’t wait too long to look into Newburgh; look at opportunity, not weakness and think about what Newburgh will do for you and what you can bring to Newburgh. Visit the library, the historic sites, the waterfront. Explore the wealth of spaces that are available for your family and your business and come and meet the people of Newburgh.
You are the new executive director at Safe Harbors of the Hudson. What other work have you done in Newburgh prior to your new position?
I was the Director of the Historical Society of Newburgh Bay and the Highlands for 7 years prior to starting at Safe Harbors. I also served on the board of the Ritz Theater.
What are your responsibilities as executive director?
I oversee the Safe Harbors project, which includes the Cornerstone Residence, 128 units of supportive housing; the Ann Street Gallery, Safe Harbors Contemporary arts venue, the Lobby at the Ritz, our intimate performing arts space and the historic Ritz Theater, which we are working to restore into a large scale performing arts center.
What projects is SHOH fundraising or advocating for?
Safe Harbors fundraising efforts support our ability to provide quality, attractive and innovative housing for the formerly homeless, those living with mental health diagnoses, low and very low income working adults and artists in need of affordable live/work space; programs and community events to include GED classes which are free for our residents and Newburgh community members; outings and events for our tenants, in house amenities to include a full fitness center, library, computer lab; public art (such as the mural project), the community clean up, free outdoor concerts and markets for the community, etc.
What influence do you think SHOH has had on Newburgh since the 2006 ribbon cutting?
Safe Harbors has transformed a formerly blighted building, which was a hub of drug and crime activity and transformed it into a community and cultural hub, a place where people live with dignity and respect and where neighbors and tourists flock to our gallery and Lobby concert series. The corner of Broadway and Liberty is a gathering place for families and community organizations, the building itself, with the marquee, the mural and the open air exhibition of Newburgh portraits has created an iconic façade. We are truly an anchor institution in the City of Newburgh.
What would you say to the critics who feel that the supportive housing SHOH provides is counter productive to the economic development of Newburgh?
I would say take a look at what we’ve done! I would say well-designed, supportive, affordable housing can transform communities, bringing economic opportunities without pushing anyone out. I would point to the people who meander from a concert in the Lobby to the Wherehouse for dinner, I would point to people who come to the Ann Street Gallery for an opening reception and end up shopping at Newburgh Art Supply. I would point to people who have the support they need on site so they don’t seek treatment at the emergency room. Supportive housing reduces the drain on community services. When we have 300 people in our lobby for a cupcake baking contest one weekend, 125 people for a concert the next, 100 people in the gallery for an opening the next, and on top of all that, we are helping the homeless to be housed, the uneducated to receive their degrees, I say, go us!!!
The Ritz Theater Lobby has already had Grammy, Tony, and Oscar winning performers. How will a full fledged theater contribute to the revitalization of Newburgh?
We really have great performances at the Lobby, which draws amazing talent and hundreds of patrons. A fully restored Ritz Theater will be an 825 seat venue, which allow us to bring more talent to downtown, bringing thousands more people to our City, creating many more jobs, spurring economic development and enhancing the cultural hub we have already created on Lower Broadway.
If someone is learning about SHOH for the first time, what is one thing they should know about your organization?
I think our mission statement sums it up…we are transforming lives and building communities through housing and the arts!
Do you feel safe in Newburgh?
Absolutely. I have worked in the City for 9 years and never once have I felt threatened in any way. I routinely leave the building in the evening, after a performance, an art opening or a late night and walk to my car on Broadway, Liberty or Ann Street and no one has ever bothered me. My car has never been broken into or vandalized. You have to be smart, like in any city, but I feel absolutely safe. I think it’s important to note, too, that our building is graffiti and vandalism free. We have a beautiful mural, photos mounted on the wall, planter in the front and the back of the building and, in my nearly 2 years here, the building has never suffered any damage.
How can people help contribute to SHOH?
Attend a concert, become a Friend of the Ann Street Gallery, participate in our 5K, attend our gala, or simply send us a check or click on the Donate button on our website (Ritz Donation, Ann St Gallery Donation, SHOH Donation)! There’s no shortage of ways to give!!
Meet Newburgher, Yaakov Sullivan, a retiree who has moved to Newburgh from Brooklyn. He is passionate about Paris, he is an actor, and president of the Newburgh Heights Association.
Where are you from and how did you end up in Newburgh?
I am originally from Milwaukee, WI, but came to New York to do my graduate work a few decades ago. Then moved to Israel where I lived for 12 years. What brought me to Newburgh was a Newburgher with family roots in the city. I worked for 15 years at Columbia University and Kevin Burke was working at the time in the same office. During this time, my dream was (and still is) to retire to Paris, a city I love passionately. Kevin persuaded me that if I wanted to buy something in France, I would need to move from my Brooklyn rental to a place where I could own my own home which I could eventually sell and use the proceeds to buy something in Paris. And where better to buy than in Newburgh! So I did in March 2008. Whether it will get me any closer to my dream of owning a place in Paris…well,let’s say that hope springs eternal, reality often lags behind. But I love my house and my neighbors. We have a real sense of community in the Heights.
You went from living in a studio in Brooklyn to a 3 bedroom house in Newburgh. Tell us about your house.
The house was built in 1881 and had been turned, like so many, into two separate units. The couple I bought it from had returned it to its original one house arrangement. I wish that were the case throughout Newburgh where so many homes have been cut up like body parts for landlords to collect more rents.
Why did Newburgh’s blight and other problems not deter your from purchasing a home here? How is the Newburgh Heights Association involved with the community?
Newburgh has many problems plaguing it; poverty, lack of an economic base providing people with good paying jobs, many youth who have dropped out of school, gangs, a population that is terribly divided by race and class. All of this in a setting along the Hudson that is breathtaking. The way I look at it is that all of the problems are surmountable and part of living in any urban area. The problems may seem intractable but much of what needs to be done can be done on a neighborhood level, very local, since it is at that level that all of us are challenged by the same problems, safer streets, making our area more livable and aesthetically pleasing which can have a calming effect on a population, holding landlords accountable for code violations and making sure that tenants are responsible and respectful of their external and internal space. This is one of the motivating factors that led us to form the Heights Association. To date we have held garden sales for residents to buy flowers and plants for their yards, we have an annual caroling party at Christmas. This October we have a program for the children of the neighborhood to work with a professional artists group designing banners which will be placed along Liberty St. from Benkard to Bay View Terrace. We will be working with the police to express what are concerns are in the neighborhood and to learn what they are doing to stay on top of the situation in the Heights. Communication is critical. We are working to make the bluff more utilized. These are a few of the things we have been working on and of course we are always looking to expand our membership in wider areas of the Heights.
Tell us about your Off-Broadway play that you are performing in NYC.
While I was working at Columbia, I was a writer and researcher but since my retirement, I have gone back to acting which was my career for a good number of years. I recently closed a show at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in the city. It was called “The Great Society” and dealt with the LBJ years, the conflict in his life as a president who wanted more than anything to be remembered as America’s greatest social reformer but had the millstone of the Vietnam War around his neck which seriously damaged his presidency. I played Georgia senator, Richard Russell. It was a great experience being on the boards again. The show may move on to a bigger venue and I look forward to the having the opportunity of working on other theatre projects. Living in Newburgh presents me with challenges of working in theatre but I believe they can be adequately met.
What are some of your hopes for the City of Newburgh?
I hope to bring cast members from “The Great Society” up to visit Newburgh. I talk up Newburgh with all those I meet since I think it has a unique community and is a wonderful environment for artists. I look forward to my future here and in helping to make our small city on the Hudson, a community that is working together to make it a place that can provide good jobs and one in which all parts of the city will be pleasing to live in and walk in, a community that is a credit to all of its residents.
The sale of Caffe Macchiato is now complete and new owner, Claudio Pantoja has taken over. The official take over date was Monday, August 26th. He is currently waiting for his permit from the Department of Health to open the doors again (edit they are open today the 29th).
Born and raised in Newburgh, Claudio has always wanted to open a cafe. It is 100% what he wants to be doing. He has over a decades worth of experience working with coffee. His repertoire includes working at a coffee shop in Newburgh, Starbucks for 9 years, and Gimme! Coffee where he worked in NYC. He also worked in a bistro in Carmel, NY. Last year his father passed away and it had always been his dream to open up a cafe. Claudio, and former owner Barbara found each other over Facebook and the connection was made. Everything seemed to fall in place for him at the right time. Caffe Macchiato was the exact kind of place he was looking for.
For those of you wondering what to expect under the new management Claudio says that he wants to keep everything the same. However, he would like to focus more on coffee and the morning crowd that has been practically been begging for earlier hours. At the beginning Claudio will maintain previous business hours until he can work out the kinks of running the business. Afterwards, he plans to attract the morning crowd by opening up earlier. Claudio would also like to explore expanding the menu to appetizers and tapas and perhaps even an early dinner that will commence being invitation only and then reservation only. But, for those of you with restricted diets, fear not. Claudio also has a restricted diet and would like to include specials for those of you that are vegans. The movie special with the Downing Film Center will also continue.
Claudio just turned 31 and he plans to infuse a youthful vibe into Caffe Macchiato. The cafe will be offering free WiFi and he even started an Instagram account (Macchiato12550) for those of you wanting to see yummy photo updates. Claudio is a graduate from Northeastern University in Boston and was part of the first wave of the Facebook phenomenon and definitely plans to update the Facebook fan page regularly. Two years ago on November 23rd Claudio went blind. He couldn’t see and had multiple surgeries to correct his vision. He says he is now feeling the best ever. The opening of the cafe seems to be happening at the right time for Claudio and he could not be more elated.
There are plans for a grand opening party, but it will most likely be an invite-only event. To get in contact with Claudio just stop on by to Caffe Macchiato.
Newburgh appreciates the hard work that Barbara and Edwin put in at Caffe Macchiato over the past 9 years. It has made Newburgh a destination and has established a standard for the block. It is so wonderful to see that the space will not go empty and that the revitalization of Liberty Street will continue.
I am always asked what made me create Newburgh Restoration, and the simple answer is Anna and her blog Door Sixteen. She’s been interviewed on A Beautiful Mess. Here’s your chance to take a look at what a renovation in progress looks like in the City of Newburgh.