Restored by the same architects who helped refurbish the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls is, against all odds, celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.
And, as many had hoped, it is performing a role in Hudson Falls not unlike the one played by BAM in Brooklyn in the 1970s: bringing a neglected downtown back to life.
“Hudson Falls is an old industrial city, but one now supported by a new industry: the arts,” said Jonathan Newell, the musician who, more than any other single individual, is responsible for the Strand’s recovery.
“This building is a survivor: still here and still producing creative activity,” said Newell. “Until recently, there wasn’t a music venue in this region which could host national acts. So it’s been amazing to learn what this hundred year old theater can handle and to see how much people are enjoying their experience here.”
Growing up in Hudson Falls, Newell was always aware that downtown Hudson Falls once had a movie palace of its own, but he did not know its precise location until he happened to be in the Town Hall one afternoon. He asked the Town Clerk if she knew anything about it. Rather than answering his question, she took a key from a drawer and said, “Follow me.”
They walked down the hallway, entered a narrow doorway, climbed a flight of stairs and, lo and behold, they were standing in the balcony of an Art Deco treasure. More than fifty years ago, the municipality purchased the building and turned it into a town hall, obscuring but never completely obliterating the theater it once had been.
In 2016, the town agreed to sell the building to the Hudson River Music Hall, the non-profit arts organization founded by Newell, Stuart Kuby and Nick Bettino, and funds were raised to restore it as an arts center.
By 2019, the movie theater had been transformed into a performance space, one that Newell says is “as intimate as your mother’s kitchen, but with a much better sound system.”
The theater was ready for its grand opening, which it celebrated with a special concert by Hudson Falls native Tony DeSare and his big band.
“Until our work was suspended by the pandemic in 2020, we had a great run,” said Newell. “We began to realize just how much activity could be produced here. We were open seven nights a week.”
With assistance from a $50,000 grant from National Grid, the Strand’s board of directors took advantage of its enforced inactivity to create the backstage spaces necessary to support the performers and their crews.
“As it turned out, that’s what was required if we were to host national acts,” said Newell.
Eight high-profile rock bands, in the midst of national or international tours, performed at The Strand this summer.
“Those are the acts that pull people into The Strand,” said Newell. “They generate the revenues that enable us to make riskier choices, booking jazz groups and classical musicians, for example.”
Newell envisions the future of The Strand as an upstate equivalent of the 92nd Street Y on New York’s Upper East Side: “a cultural community center for the region that happens to be our neighborhood.”
“We’ve tried to create a variety of experiences,” he said. “Hopefully, that will keep working.”