KINGSTON–When Karl Slovin first visited the former Hutton Company Brick Works on Kington’s historic waterfront four years ago, he was instantly smitten and could see beyond the blight.
“This was like a scene out of ‘Jurassic Park,’ with trees growing out of all the buildings and acres of garbage,” said the president and chief executive officer of MWest Holdings, the property owner.
“We took out 80 dumpsters of garbage with sheets of metal and sofas and refrigerators and cars. It took about a year just to see the buildings and cut away the trees that were growing in and around them.”
Today, it is a much different scene.
The intact structures dating from the Hudson River brick manufacturing era look strong, fresh and alive.
New roofs have been installed and many of the buildings have been scraped, primed and painted. The wide-open grounds are smartly landscaped, offering tranquil views of the waterfront and Rhinecliff Bridge in the distance.
All of this makes for an ideal concert setting, blending the old and new and backed by the vision of a developer who says he appreciates history.
MWest Holdings, based in Los Angeles, seeks architecturally rich and historic buildings–mainly in New York and California–and specializes in adaptively reusing them.
Like Slovin’s other projects, that has been the thrust behind Kingston’s historic riverfront property.
“We’ve used what we have here–the infrastructure, these amazing relics of the past and New York State’s industrial prowess and are showing it off and highlighting it,” he said.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Slovin, who has teamed up with the Bardavon 1869 Opera House and the city of Kingston, will highlight it in a special way.
Bob Dylan, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, will be performing at the Hutton Brickyards for an inaugural concert on the grounds.
The balladeer and Nobel prize laureate will play the 3,500-seat venue both nights with his back to a brick wall.
He will face the river, watching the boats go by as he plays his timeless, transformative songs that shaped a generation.
“Dylan wanted to be here,” Slovin said. “He had choices of venues, but he likes opening venues, and he really was into the story and history of this place.
“He’s a real history buff and really understands the importance of the urban environment and the pieces that created it, and him being here was critical, so it couldn’t be more perfect.”
The former Woodstock resident was initially slated to perform only on June 24, but the tickets sold out almost as soon as they were up for grabs.
Bardavon Executive Director Chris Silva saw that as an opportunity to add a second concert. Both came about due largely to a relationship he had forged with Dylan and his team.
“I called his manager, who I knew, and pitched the concept of being the first artist to play in a historic site on the banks of the Hudson River in Kingston, and they loved the idea of it because Dylan plays everywhere, but he likes to play new places, even if they’re really old places,” Silva said.
“We made the offer that they wanted, and it happened very quickly. Then, we went on sale and sold out Saturday night in 12 hours, so I noticed that he had a couple of days off before Saturday night. Again, I called the manager and said, ‘What’s the chances of adding another date?’ He said, ‘The chances are good. Make another offer,’ so we did, and in five minutes, we had it confirmed.”
Making it all happen has been nothing short of Herculean, according to those involved.
“Karl and his team have been a real pleasure to work with,” Silva said. “They’ve been reconstructing these buildings and landscaping and doing a tremendous amount of work, and then we started working on terms of what we needed to make it a venue for things like house lights and work lights and power, and they were very enthusiastic.
“We actually asked them to cut a mountain down, and they did, so we could get the stage in, so
it’s been a real collaborative effort the last five or six months.”
The Bardavon is charged with bringing in everything like the bathrooms, backstage catering, dressing rooms and chairs. It also is collaborating with Smorgasburg, the Brooklyn-born food
and flea market that runs once a month in Kingston, to serve food and beverages before, during and after the shows.
Kingston officials have been another huge part of what is bound to be a monumental moment for the city.
“We’ve been on the site numerous times to make sure that all of our partners and local law enforcement agencies are in the loop and on board with what’s happening this weekend,” said Mayor Steve Noble.
“We’re excited to have a Nobel laureate come to Kingston and perform. It puts Kingston on the
map. It’s a beautiful venue and it’s a whole new crop of people who are hopefully going to fall in love with Kingston and visit our restaurants and shops and come back to this site for other events.”
Noble called the city’s partnership with Slovin a “match made in heaven.”
“When Karl Slovin first came here with these ideas and plans to open up the brickyard and invest a lot of time and money into preserving our history, I knew it was a great match,” the mayor said.
“I like his ethic and how he does his developments, and this is just a prime example of what can happen when you take someone who cares about history and restores a dilapidated historic site.”
Slovin said his goal has always been to enhance the property while maintaining its unique character. For him, the Dylan concerts fit in nicely.
“These were the bricks that built New York City, Yankee Stadium, the Cloisters and the Empire State Building, so this is the story of the people of Kingston–largely, Italian immigrants who worked their sweat and labor and broke their backs to build New York City.
“There’s no one more perfect than Bob Dylan to tell that working person’s story, so it’s a beautiful thing for us.”