In her famous song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell sings they “paved paradise and put up a parking lot with a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot.” While the vacant lot at 1028 Main Street wouldn’t be called paradise by any stretch of the imagination, it is next door to a bit of paradise that’s been a park in Peekskill for the past 89 years.
Pugsley Park, deeded to the city by Cornelius A. Pugsley in 1931, is a green oasis offering serenity and beauty in its location in the downtown between Main and Howard Streets. The empty plot adjacent to the western side of the park is under review by Peekskill’s Planning Commission to become a 31-space parking lot for Sav-Mor Auto Parts which plans to move from its location a few blocks away at 982 Main Street. Robert Joseph, owner of Sav-Mor Auto Parts, purchased the former Salvation Army Thrift Shop building and the lot next to it for his expanding auto parts business.
At the Historic Landmarks & Preservation Board June meeting, conducted through teleconference, the board approved the plans re-submitted by Joseph and his architect Joseph Thompson for the vacant land next to Pugsley Park. That action sends the plans to the city’s Planning Commission which is scheduled to meet virtually on Tuesday, July 14 at 7:30. The public can comment on the proposal by emailing city planning director Jean Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org. By going to the city’s website at www.cityofpeekskill.com and clicking on Boards and Commissions there will be a phone number available for residents to call in during the meeting to comment.
Architect Thompson presented the initial proposal to the Historic Landmarks & Preservation Board at their May meeting where he heard comments about the need for landscaping islands and other design elements to hide the cars in the parking lot from people using Pugsley Park.
He also heard about the need for a watering system for at least two years that would ensure new plantings that will act as a barrier between the park and parking lot the opportunity to thrive. At the June meeting Thompson returned with changes to the plans to incorporate concerns the board raised during the May meeting. Those items include historic type lighting as avisual extension of Pugsley Park and screening of parked vehicles, decorative metal fencing along shared property line with Pugsley Park, landscaping, retaining walls and historic type parking lighting to compliment city street lighting and adjacent Pugsley Park lighting.
The vacant lot that is slated to become a parking lot for an auto parts store was the site of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) headquarters that was razed in the 1990’s.
In Chester Smith’s “Peekskill, A Friendly Town: Its Historic Sites and Shrines: A Pictorial History of the City from 1654 to 1952” the backstory of Puglsey Park is recounted.
“In 1928 Mr. Pugsley conceived the idea of presenting to Peekskill a public park so he purchased the property on Main Street between St. Paul’s Methodist Church and the YWCA and running through to Howard Street on the north. There were five houses standing on this property. Mr. Pugsley had them removed and had one attached to the YWCA as an addition to its building, and the other three he had removed to the vacant portion of the property between Howard Street and the property of St. Paul’s Methodist Church, and presented one to the Associated Charities, one to the Daughters of the American Revolution and one to the YMCA. One house was torn down. Then he converted the vacant land left after the removal of the buildings into a park, with laid out walks, set out shrubbery, an artistic fountain in the center and a walkway from Main Street to Howard Street though the park, all at a cost of $200,000. On May 28, 1931 a formal presentation of the Park to the Village of Peekskill and the building to the respective organization took place in front of 200 people.” Its deed restricts the use of the park for baseball, football or other games.
The deed further states that should the three parcels of land adjoining the right of way on the east or any one of them become the property of the Village of Peekskill or its corporate successor by reason of the reverter clause contained in the respective deeds to the grantee thereof, then and in such events such parcel or parcels shall be added to the Park property herein conveyed and the building or buildings thereon may be removed and the land may be cleared, graded and laid out in accordance with the general scheme of the Park herein conveyed. Such land is not to be mortgaged, leased or used by the Village of Peekskill or its successors for the purpose of building nor shall any building which reverts to the Village of Peekskill or its successor be rented, or used for any income or profit whatever.
By the time Chester Smith’s book was published in 1952 the building deeded to the Associated Charities at 1025 Howard Street was owned by the City of Peekskill and used by its recreation Commission as the Teenage Canteen. The house deeded to the Daughters of the American Revolution became the Park Professional Building at 1 Pugsley Park. The house deeded to the Young Men’s Christian Association was also subject to the life use of his niece, Cornelia Puglsey.
Even in 1952 there was discussion around Pugsley Park becoming a parking lot. “The suggestion put forward by some individuals and civic groups that Pugsley Park should be used for off-street public parking is most reprehensible. The Park’s use for such a purpose would be both unethical and illegal. A community that will not keep faith with the deceased donors of Parks and other legacies deserves neither parks nor legacies and merits the severest condemnation of all right-thinking people,” wrote Chester Smith.