24 March 2017 06:09PM
On Monday, March 13, 2017, Hudson Opera House abruptly announced a change of name to Henry Hudson Hall.
A fast and literally furious backlash exploded online. Dozens of sad, angry, dismayed, and bewildered commenters railed against the loss of an iconic name, and the adoption of an unappealing mouthful with no Hudson resonance, honoring a man who betrayed and murdered native Americans.
Ten days later, yesterday, Executive Director Gary Schiro announced a compromise. The name would now be Hudson Hall, with an occasional modifier “at the historic Hudson Opera House”.
It’s a step in the right direction. The new new name is, at least, not a tribute to a bad man, but it’s still clumsy and inelegant.
The newly restored theater could have its own name, although Hudson Hall is generic to the point of meaninglessness. (There are numerous other Hudson Halls—Dutchess Community College, Mercy College, Duke University, SUNY Plattsburgh, Hudson Hotel, Willamette University, Lincoln University, University of Kansas, University of Georgia, Hudson Valley Community College, Culinary Institute of America) Maybe, as some have suggested, it could be named after a Hudson luminary, or historic figure, or big donor, but the point is, it isn’t necessary and unnecessarily complicates the … well, branding.
The backlash was not Facebook and/or Hudson snark. It was a shared recognition of the loss of soul.
Hudson and the towns that surround it comprise a community that has loved and supported an institution that began as a seemingly quixotic attempt to save a dangerous, dying, beautiful old building and create something alive with culture. Changing its name is a misguided attempt to sell its soul for something that looks bigger and better, but is neither.
What’s in a name? Twenty-five years of recent history, decades of 19th and early 20th century history, iconoclasm, idiosyncrasy, charm, quirk, elegance, and a meaningful relationship to place.
No, it is not an opera house, but it is Hudson Opera House, and the occasional confusion is easily and quickly dispelled. It didn’t need rebranding. It isn’t a brand. It’s an institution.
Many of those who spoke out urged an online petition, and some of us were about to launch one when we got the news yesterday. So now we know that Gary, Tambra Dillon, his co-director and Susan Hendrickson and her board of directors, are not only listening, but responsive, and we can only hope they’re listening still.
With immense gratitude and the utmost respect for the loving and painstaking work that has been done to give new life to both the institution and the building, we ask the Board and the staff to take a breath and a leap, and restore a lovely and beloved name to a beloved place.