Colin, Albert, and I became good friends when I bought their historic Brooklyn co-op. When I later proposed looking for an upstate home together, we agreed our must-haves included Victorian architecture, Hudson River views, and a location far enough — but not too far — from New York City.
We found ourselves in Newburgh in a cramped realtor’s office, about to make an offer on the only available listing, when a newsprint brochure with a small photo of the Hudson River caught my eye. ‘River Views from Huge Front Deck. Victorian in Need of a Little TLC,’ said the caption.
“Wait,” I said. “Can we try this one? Today?”
“You can call on your own,” our realtor demurred. “I don’t like going into that area.” We made a polite exit.
I dialed the number on my flip phone, and a woman picked up. “Go south on Liberty, left onto Overlook Place and follow the road. I’ll meet you,” she said.
Colin maneuvered his Honda over puckered asphalt and past cracked sidewalks. Many of the low-rise brick buildings were boarded up and spattered with graffiti. Others housed two barber shops, a liquor store, a bodega, and a jerk chicken takeout place; the remainder were residential. Children kicked a partly deflated soccer ball up and down the block while their moms chatted on nearby concrete stoops. Broken television sets and Styrofoam containers lay piled alongside overfilled trashcans. Though it was early 2005, it reminded me of the NYC I’d come of age in during the 1970s.
After a few blocks, we entered a less densely populated area filled with aging, one- and two-family homes. We turned left, curved right, and froze. A magnificent panorama of the river, hugged by Mount Beacon, sat directly across from us. The bridge was to the north. To the south, we could see all the way to Bannerman’s Island, Storm King, and beyond. We quickly surveyed the house with the agent, but mostly remained on the second floor deck, spellbound by the view.
An elderly neighbor emerged from his house with a large mixed-breed dog that stood obediently by his master.
“Hey up there,” he waved. “Beauty, right? How ya doin’? You movin’ in?”
“Maybe!” I laughed. “I’m Hannah.”
“Well, welcome! I’m Roy, and my wife is Betty. And this here’s King. He’s friendly.”
The house itself needed more than “a little TLC.” Most of the woodwork had been stripped away or painted over, and the walls were covered in thin paneling or faux brick veneer. The hardwood floors were obscured by thickly adhered gold linoleum, mottled orange and brown shag carpeting, or both. Whole windows had been blocked off with sheetrock and dropped ceilings installed in an effort to conserve heat. Colin and Albert passed. As for me, I quickly made an offer on the ravaged Victorian — enthralled by the familiar brutality of the place and its ineffable, immutable beauty. It was more than a view; it was a perspective.
A month after signing the contract, I met the husband who stuck: an artist/contractor who moved in and took on the rehab. I settled my daughter in college, found work in the Hudson Valley, and joined him full-time three years later. We adopted a big, friendly dog; engaged neighbors in fixing a few more houses; and immersed ourselves in building strong community ties to get Newburgh back on its feet.