Hudson River School painter’s New York estate to undergo $25m, ecologically-minded revamp

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Big changes are coming to the Olana State Historic Site, the 150-year-old house museum and surrounding landscape in Greenport, New York, once home to the Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church. The estate will undergo major construction over the next two years courtesy of a $25m investment from state and private funding, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced on 13 December.

The historic mansion will remain untouched, save for a new exterior paint job and woodwork restoration, but a new all-electric and carbon-neutral visitor centre, named the Frederic Church Center for Art and Landscape, will eventually grace the 250-acre site. Additional projects include the construction of a maintenance facility and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking area, the rehabilitation of a dam and spillway, the integration of native plant species and outdoor lighting that reduces light pollution.

“The new projects will build on the legacy of Olana—the visionary home, studio and landscape design of artist Frederic Church and his family,” Hochul said in a statement. “The Frederic Church Center will add to this canvas and help to welcome patrons to one of the most strikingly beautiful places in New York State.”

Rendering of the Frederic Church Center lobby Courtesy NY State Parks

First opened to the public in 1967, Olana was the home of Church and his wife, Isabel Church, from 1872 until their deaths at the turn of the century. The mansion, with its distinct blend of Victorian and Moorish styles, appears like a fanciful castle on a hill, and is filled with Church’s paintings, sketches and objects he collected throughout his lifetime. Today, the eclectic time capsule draws more than 200,000 visitors annually, but it was once under threat of destruction: in the 1960s—at a time when Victorian architecture was unfashionable—one of the family’s heirs planned to sell the then-crumbling house and its contents. A successful preservation campaign led to its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1965 and its purchase by the State of New York the following year.

The $25m plan is likely the most transformative project at the site since its founding: previous projects included the restoration of the Churches’ bedroom suite and a guest room, and a restoration of Crown Hill, a landscape feature that offers panoramic views over the complex. Construction of the Frederic Church Center is set to begin in the spring of 2023, with an anticipated opening date in the spring of 2024.

“Fifty-six years ago private citizens and New York State joined together to save Olana from destruction,” Sean Sawyer, president of the Olana Partnership, the nonprofit that supports the site, said in a statement. “The Olana Partnership is thrilled to mark the next, brilliant chapter in Olana’s story, one in which the commitment of our board and supporters has been joined by New York State to make the fullness of Frederic Church’s vision apparent for new generations.”

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