Church owner protests labeling

The Rev. Edward Cross speaks in support of designating the old Shiloh Baptist Church as a local historic landmark at a public hearing Feb. 28. File photo

HUDSON — The Hudson Common Council unanimously voted to acknowledge the former Old Shiloh Baptist Church property as a landmark Tuesday night.

The vote took place after Victoria Milne, who owns the property, at 241 Columbia St., passionately urged the council not to pass the resolution.

The opportunity to debate the resolution would have been at the informal Common Council meeting last week, but Milne did not attend because she did not know how to join the Zoom meeting, DePietro said.

“I will let her speak. It’s really not up for discussion, but I think we should just give her the chance to say what she would like to say,” he said.

Milne said the building should not be designated as a landmark.

“You can imagine this feels like an ambush and it has unfolded like a conspiracy. I do not want to own a designated building and I deeply resent the way preservation designation has been proposed to be forced on me against my will,” she said. “I am a multi-decade design professional. I disagree with the principles of historic preservation and I do not want to be governed by them.”

Milne said she supports honoring the African-American worshipers of the former church, and thinks a plaque or piece of art would be more appropriate than a designation.

“In my profession, I have installed many artworks that tell African-American history and culture,” said Milne, who is not Black. “So, normally what does and does not tell an African-American community’s story would obviously not be my call. But in this case it will be at my expense, and I would rather be spending my money on something that would be more effective at telling people’s story,” she said.

She pointed out that the building was not properly preserved when owned by the city.

“And only now when a new person from out of town owns the building you all come together to suddenly determine that a building that is no longer your responsibility or your expense is a treasure — the development of which you must control. To me this is shameful. I am your neighbor,” she said.

Milne purchased the building in May 2019 for $170,000 while living in Brooklyn. She has been developing a plan for it since, she said. She was not aware of the full history of the building when she acquired it.

She bought the property from DJALI LLC, which previously purchased the property for $1 from Glenn Rice, who shares an address with the company in Manhattan. Rice bought the property from the city at a December 2017 auction for $35,907. In September 2019, Milne transferred ownership to 241 Columbia Lodge LLC, which shares her address in Brooklyn. She said she had not heard about the plans for the building to be designated a historic landmark until the days leading up to the public hearing that took place Feb. 28.

At the hearing, the Rev. Edward Cross said the church had been a place of refuge in Hudson through economic depression, wars, segregation and racism.

“I can remember how strong the church was, how strong the Black community was, and how strong the church made it,” Cross said. “Somebody needs to tell that story, and nobody tells that story better than that building.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, 2nd Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga asked Milne if she would consider working with Cross to revive the building as a church.

Milne said that was not her plan for her investment.

“So that would be difficult,” Milne said.

Fifth Ward Alderman Dominic Merante questioned Milne about being unaware of the building’s history.

“You didn’t do a thorough investigation of your investment,” Merante told Milne.

Milne said she knew the building had been a Masonic lodge since 1966.

“I’m not sure what else you expected me to know,” she said.

Merante said he was born in 1966, and growing up, he knew about the church and its importance to the neighborhood.

“Doesn’t this [designation] also give you an opportunity to apply for historic funds to help renovate the building?” Merante asked Milne. Milne said she had not looked into that possibility.

Shiloh Baptist Church was founded in 1915, and met at the 241 Columbia St. building until 1965, when it moved to 14 Warren St.

Cross’ congregation, Endless Love Temple, had been renting the space from the owner before it was seized by the city in 2017.

The landlord deeded the property to the congregation, but it was too late. The property had been taken by the city and the congregation did not have a claim.

First Ward Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff said she agrees with part of Milne’s argument, but she supports the resolution.

“I understand your point, Victoria, about the idea that historic preservation in itself is not an appropriate response to what has been lost in the loss of that church, but I also support this resolution,” Wolff said.

Fifth Ward Alderwoman Elaine Halloran was not present at the meeting.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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