Beacon Sheds Crummy Image With Galleries, DIA, Train

“When I moved to the area, it was basically a ghetto,” said Mary Madden, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, as she walked through Beacon, a town along the Hudson River some 65 miles north of New York.

“The first time I drove down the street in 1999, everything was boarded up,” she added. “There were syringes on the ground.”

Even so, Madden, enterprising and newly divorced, bought a wreck on the corner of Main and Cross Streets, then spent a few months cajoling the puzzled resident drug dealer to depart with his clients. (For a slideshow of images of Beacon, click here.)

We spoke on a late Saturday afternoon as food platters and wine arrived at the Mad Dooley Gallery, where Patricia Reller’s captivating figurines dangled in the window and glittered on the wall.

The party coincided with Beacon’s popular “Second Saturdays,” when the galleries along Main Street stay open into the evening and a glass blower draws an appreciative audience at the Hudson Beach Glass studio. For a slide show, click here.

Many Dogs

Beacon has taken off. As the sun set on cafes, antique and junk stores, tourists and locals, all of whom seemed to be walking at least one dog, strolled along the street. Not a syringe was in sight.

Madden’s old homestead is now the RiverWinds Gallery which sells modestly priced jewelry, photographs and paintings.

Across the street, a small crowd studied an elegantly provocative anti-fracking piece by Tatana Kellner that was displayed in the window of the edgy Theo Ganz Studio.

Inside, painter Joseph Ayers continued the theme of environmental disasters with his picture of a lost whale.

The catalyst for Beacon’s turnaround was the establishment in 2003 of Dia: Beacon. In a town of about 15,000 people, the massive contemporary art collection, housed in a restored, 300,000 square-foot warehouse was a reality-changing event.

“We knew Dia was going to put Beacon on the map,” said Linda Hubbard, president of the Beacon Arts Community Association, and co-founder of RiverWinds. “Dia opened in May, and we opened in July.”

Scenic Complex

Main Street’s gentrifiers moved from the west (the Hudson River) to the east (the Fishkill River), so far skipping a forlorn middle stretch, though a branch of Madden’s credit union holds out hope.

As the mile-long street curves toward the Fishkill -- an area that long resisted revival -- the dramatic improvements include the opening of Swift at the Roundhouse, a handsome restaurant in an old factory building.

“I haven’t talked to anyone who remembers there being anything in it, so the building must have been empty for 50 or 60 years,” said Brendan McAlpine, whose father, Bob, is the developer.

The scrubbed brick complex includes an expanding boutique hotel and spa.

Still Alive?

“This is the first stop on the Metro North Line where a young couple can afford to buy a house,” said Greg Glasson, an artist and owner of Glasson Sculpture Works in Gardiner, New York. (He is also Madden’s husband, having met her in Beacon). “A lot of young people move up here from Brooklyn, from filmmakers to writers to photographers.”

With the addition of tourists to the town’s burgeoning creative class, the community has been able to sustain a year-round cultural scene.

“My lawyer used to drive by my building every day to make sure I was OK,” remembers Madden. “Those days are gone.”

(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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