Who knows what you’ll find when going through a home that has been lived in for some 60 plus years. Even more intriguing is trying to fathom why certain things were saved. It can be an interesting inquiry figuring out what motivated a person to keep certain items.
I’m having fun trying to imagine why my parents held onto a newsletter produced 42 years ago by the city of Peekskill’s Planning and Development department, edited by Dwight Douglas. Maybe because it was Vol. 1, No. 1 and detailed the plan for downtown’s new facelift?
The newsletter’s front page, reproduced below, reported the facelift would impact an area of 25 acres and would be completed in several stages. Work began on phase one on July 7, 1977. The ‘massive program to revitalize the central business district’ included brick and concrete paving, trees and low plantings, new street furniture, custom lighting, new signage promoting the downtown, improvements to an adjacent parking lot, a pavilion at the focal point of the project, for special promotional and community activities, organized by the Chamber of Commerce. That pavilion would be at the center of the area known as Jan Peek Square at the intersection of Division Street, Park Street and Central Avenue.
The price tag of the initial downtown development was estimated to cost over $700,000. The job was given to the ‘lowest responsible’ bidder, Bellino Brothers Construction Company of Yonkers. On the front page was an artist rendering of Jan Peek Square’s pavilion which today is known as the gazebo.
Three weeks ago that same gazebo received a fresh coat of paint and mention by Councilwoman Kathie Talbot who posted this picture of it along with the comment:
Omg. Happiness is a newly cleaned, painted and landscaped gazebo!! Gave high praise to 4 DPW guys doing the work. Landscaping is really perfect and what an improvement!! This is temporary fix. Need plan for replacing it. Need creative thinking.
The day after the current picture of the gazebo was posted, I read a piece about Peekskill in the USA Today section of the Journal News. The author, Bernie Zipprich, grew up near Peekskill and heard stories from his family about the city during its heyday in the 1950’s and 60’s when it was a company town. Standard Brands was the company and one long-time resident, Eleanor DiMilia, told me on paydays the sidewalks couldn’t hold all the people who were downtown shopping. That changed when Standard Brands closed the factory at Charles Point and malls opened in Cortlandt taking people and dollars away from the downtown. Zipprich referenced that in his article, ‘the bulldozing of hundreds of residential and commercial buildings to eliminate blight.’ The politically correct term was ‘urban renewal or community development.’
Zipprich opines the bulldozing raised the startup costs for new businesses, making it harder for downtown to recover. Consequently, by the 1980s and 1990s, when he was growing up, downtown Peekskill was a shadow of its former self. But that has changed he’s discovered during recent trips here. When he visits his family and comes downtown now he feels a sense of genuine community.
He posits: “What if the answer to what separates us lies not in places like Washington or Albany, but in places like downtown Peekskill and our other river towns? What if part of the answer lies in those serendipitous encounters that over time contribute to a sense of familiarity and place? If we can reclaim a greater sense of community, can we reclaim our ability to get along? I don’t know if Peekskill’s planners and entrepreneurs thought such heady thoughts as they worked to bring about Peekskill’s revival, but I like to think that’s what they’re accomplishing.”
His words confirm what former Mayor Fred Bianco wrote in his inaugural letter from the 1977 newsletter, “Peekskill is a city of many facets. It is both historic and modern, suburban and highrise, a water town and a rail head. …Devising a unified and progressive community development program for a town such as ours is no easy task.”
That was certainly true some 42 years ago as the downtown revitalization began on a physical level. That work continues today and focuses on the building of relationships between all the stakeholders who call Peekskill home.