Man stands alone in protest of plan to raze historic Schenectady hall
SCHENECTADY A leisurely bystander paused in front of the former Odd Fellows Hall on Saturday to ask Tom Hodgkins what he was fighting for.
“Somebody’s going to tear this down?” he said, staring up at the historic State Street structure bearing the familiar red “Arts at 440” inscription.
“They bought out the government,” Hodgkins shouted, as his three small children played nearby. “They’re going to tear down a temple for greed.”
“Do you have any petitions?” asked the bystander.
Clutching his cardboard sign reading “Built for love, razed for greed,” Hodgkins smiled and shook his head.
“We’re just appreciating this building and the values it embodies before it’s gone,” he said. “It’s already been done. The city’s been bought out. It’s done. We’re just here to appreciate it before it’s gone.”
His message was simple, but resigned: inform the people.
The former International Order of Odd Fellows Hall, located at 440 State St., is slated for demolition before year’s end. The decision was approved Wednesday by members of the city Planning Commission after building owner Tony Civitella urged the commission to move ahead with demolition plans so construction wouldn’t be delayed until spring.
But to rush through approval of a demolition that will eradicate a historic piece of the city is undemocratic to Hodgkins. So he stood outside the building, with his three kids, his sign, drums and bells, for two hours Saturday before packing up his belongings and leaving.
“I think it’s important that we keep our heritage,” Hodgkins said. “This is not just some apartment building, it’s not some bank. It was a building built by the community. It wasn’t some rich man’s house. It was built by the people for the people.”
Although Civitella originally called for leveling only the rear two-thirds of the structure, it was determined that the ornate terra-cotta façade is inseparable from the brick substructure of the building, prompting the decision for complete demolition.
Overall, the construction project will cost $5 million. The Metroplex Development Authority in June said it would give Civitella a $150,000 renovation grant and $60,000 façade grant so his software development company, Transfinder, could move its headquarters into the building formerly owned by Proctors.
“But that was the plan all along,” said Hodgkins, who wore a foot-and-a-half tall birch bark hat on his head and a bell on his waist, of the demolition. “That was the plan. That was the Trojan horse. They had a reason to subvert the democratic process because Metroplex is not a democratic organization. They are unaccountable. They have a job, and they will do anything to accomplish what they want.”
Transfinder has plans to incorporate an open space environment and work modules with access to sunlight by installing large windows on each of three floors, balconies and space for a garden on the third floor. Civitella must go before the commission in a month for an architectural review of his building before the plan can move forward.
Schenectady Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton was not pleased with the commission’s decision. She criticized the new plan, questioning whether the terra-cotta façade was the real reason Transfinder wanted full demolition.
“A lot of people are upset with it,” she said. “I’ve been getting calls from people saying they’re not too happy about this.”
The State Street structure was built by the fraternal organization to embody the principles of love, truth and friendship, said Hodgkins. The community organization spent years involved in charitable works and providing homes for orphans and the elderly, he said.
“I think it’s just a real shame that this had to happen,” he said, “that the developers run the city instead of the people.”