It was not until food photographer Aaron Rezny learned more about Kingston’s urban renewal efforts that he realized the full significance of his award.
The Friends of Historic Kingston recently presented Rezny, his architect Christopher Richartz and builder Shawn DeLisio with a 2017 Local History award for transforming a forlorn Prince Street industrial space into a stylish photography studio. After learning more about the city’s razed structures, Rezny was not only pleased to be recognized for his architectural vision but honored to have played a part in saving Kingston’s history.
“I didn’t realize what had gone on in Kingston through urban renewal, all the buildings that were taken down,” said Rezny, referring to the city’s Rondout neighborhood that was partially demolished in the late 1960s.
Rezny’s studio is also a stone’s throw from Kingston’s old Post Office, torn down in 1965, and still mourned by many residents. It was the demise of the post office, an elegant circular building, that helped launch the Friends of Historic Kingston and inspired efforts to preserve local architecture.
“It’s created an opportunity for the renaissance of older buildings, being saved and redone, like what I did with my building,” said Rezny.
For the past few decades, the annual awards have recognized individuals for outstanding work in the area of local history, community stewardship, and restorations that help to preserve the city’s rich historic fabric.
“The awards raise consciousness about the importance of preserving the architecture and history of our city,” said Jane Kellar, FHK executive director. “Publicizing the potential loss of great buildings never loses its importance.”
Past award winners have included banks, firehouses, homes and industrial spaces such as Rezny’s studio. Rezny, who works for national brands such as Gerber, Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Nabisco and Russell Stover, bought the space two and a half years ago, prompted in part by escalating rents in New York City. At the time a friend warned him that he had three years to buy in Kingston, based on the speed of the city’s creative revival. Rezny acted swiftly. The industrial building was the first property he saw. He knew it was right, but he also foresaw a major renovation.
“The ceiling height was really low, 10 feet, and that wouldn’t have worked for me, but I had an instinct, because I’ve done other remodeling work, that there was a cathedral ceiling under the sheet rock. I was pleasantly surprised when we took a peek and saw these beautiful old beam trusses. It was more, architecturally, than I had dreamed of. Once I knew I could open up the sheet rock, I knew we would be able to work here.”
Rezny’s team raised the ceiling, leaving the bare wooden trusses in place and adding skylights that flood the studio with sunshine. The trusses provide a natural contrast to exposed brick walls, now painted snowy white. Richartz suggested moving the entryway to an alleyway at the side of the building, where colorful existing graffiti was left in place to frame the new glass doors. The doors lead to a gallery that will highlight the work of fine art photographers.
“We put the pavers in the entryway and have trees growing there. We used nice features of the old structure and repurposed them,” said Richartz.
Rezny and Richards, who have known each other since the 80s, worked together on previous buildings, including Rezny’s former Chelsea studio and his longtime Woodstock home.
“Aaron is a really good client to work with,” said Richartz. “He’s got really good taste and he’s sophisticated in design. “
Rezny predicts more photographers will soon have studios outside of New York City, since an affordable space such as his no longer exists there.
“This space is a dream, drenched in daylight,” Rezny said. “It’s on the ground floor so we can drive cars in. It’s ideal.”
Both Rezny and Richartz agree with the Friends of Historic Kingston that there’s a lot to be said for repurposing an old space, especially when it preserves the city’s history.
“There’s always value in saving things that are well done,” said Richartz. “It also works with Kingston, what’s going on in Kingston right now, lots of repurposing of existing structures that keeps the history of a place and brings it up to date.”