Flipping the neighborhood, but keeping its guts


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A vision of getting away from the city, without setting foot in a car

By Rusty Tagliareni

Perhaps nowhere in the Hudson Valley is spring’s spirit of rebirth running as rampant as it is right now in the corridor between Sloatsburg and Tuxedo, NY. The epicenter of this renaissance might be the row of unassuming houses along Route 17, which are in the midst of being rehabbed. In them can be found the seeds of a grand plan from the entrepreneurial mind of Michael Bruno.

Bruno made his fortune as founder of the website 1stdibs.com, which, inspired by his experiences browsing the flea markets of Paris, allows users to bid on items from a highly curated collection of “the most beautiful things on earth.” He has since used that capital to fund several other endeavors, including the latest and dearest of his projects: the Tuxedo Hudson Company.

Bruno’s first true experience in the Hudson Valley came about when, in 2012, he began his search for a new home closer to his work. He lived in Manhattan, and being none too fond of the subway, found himself spending upwards of half an hour to make the drive across town to his office. A close friend convinced him to make a day trip to see the beautiful homes in a gated community of Tuxedo Park, NY. He took up the offer and immediately fell in love. He purchased his $3 million lakefront manor just days after seeing it. Not exactly closer to his office, but undeniably a more pleasant commute. Nowadays, though, he conducts his business from Tuxedo Park.

As we drive around the gated lake community Bruno now calls home, he points out historic homes, their architects, and notable previous residents. The highlight of our tour is a literal hilltop castle once known as Loomis Laboratory, which during World War II housed a secret government think-tank composed of our nation’s greatest minds, Albert Einstein included. It is widely believed that the initial concept of the atom bomb was conceived within those stone walls. Today the building serves a much less secretive purpose as, among other things, the base of operations for Bruno’s newest mobile app, Housepad.

We leave the community behind us and head out onto Route 17. All along this throughway Bruno has purchased properties, some $15 million in total. His Tuxedo Hudson Company aims to turn this corridor along Route 17 into the “gateway to the Hudson Valley.”

The first phase of his plan, Bruno explains as we drive, is currently taking place in Sloatsburg, which lies just south of Tuxedo. That’s where we’re heading.

In the meantime, though, there are sites to see en route through Tuxedo, that comprise phase two of the plan. The first building we is an old storefront across from the train station. The Tuxedo Hudson Company now owns the large structure, and plans to convert it into an upscale local market. Bruno believes that a key strength of the Hudson Valley, beyond the picturesque settings, is the locally sourced organic food, and this market is to become the epicenter of all things edible in the Hudson Valley. A bit up the road our SUV pulls off the shoulder and into a muddy patch on the side of the road. “See that barn through the woods there?” he asks, pointing past me out the passenger window at a crooked frame of brown wood atop a stacked stone foundation.

Generations of disuse have found the woods encroaching up to its walls. It was the kind of building that many don’t even notice through the trees, and those who do may well consider a blight on the landscape. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he asked. Honestly, it was.

Pointing further down the four-lane state highway, he explained how another old home and the adjacent commercial building were going to be turned into a 7,000 square-foot art gallery. On the corner of the same property stands a ragged mustard-yellow house. It looks to be at least a century old, with its last paint job occurring around the time disco was popular. I inquired to its future, as it clearly stood too close to the proposed art gallery, likely in the optimal location of a parking lot. I expected to hear it was to be razed, its crooked porch and badly peeling facade put out of misery after decades of neglect.

“We are going to move that house,” he said. “I’m going to have it moved across the street and placed on blocks until we decide what to do with it. I don’t have the heart to tear it down.” We drive on to Sloatsburg.

We arrive at a row of houses, covered in ladders, exposed plywood, and some dozen construction workers laying into them. Bruno now owns these, as he does most every property behind them, up to the Sloatsburg train station on the next street. This is phase one.

We get out and walk. These houses are each being converted into rentals – multi-bedroom facilities with shared common rooms including the dining room, kitchen, and living room – for weekend getaways or extended stays. Bruno aims to start renting them in June.

Change on this scale can meet with skepticism from the locals who liked their drinking hole the way it was, but it’s hard to find a naysayer to what’s going on here. “I think it’s great,” said Dan Castricone, an insurance salesman who owns The Castricone Agency in Tuxedo. “Our problem here in Tuxedo is that our main street is a four-lane state highway, and you know until we get some help in Albany to change that, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to revitalize downtown Tuxedo and Sloatsburg,” he said – referring to the truck driver’s habit of avoiding the Thruway toll by cutting through Tuxedo.

“But I like a lot of what he’s doing: he’s bringing the Ramapo River, which is a huge resource for tourism into play. He’s bringing together fine dining, antiquing, and culture, all of the things a town like Tuxedo should have,” he said. “The real estate market is doing better. I only leased my store downtown in Tuxedo because of the progress that’s being made around me. You want to get in early and I can see this is going to be a vibrant business district.”

We enter up a makeshift ramp into the last house on the row, which is the closest to completion. In the gutted floor space, among new timbers and exposed insulation, stands the original staircase, worn with age, but all the more intriguing for it. “We try to keep any of the details of the buildings that we can,” said Bruno. In doing so he hopes that, though modernized, they may retain their character.

Behind the houses, the foundation of what must have been a very sizable barn lives on as a rose garden with a reflecting pool at the center. The outbuilding is to become an organic food stand. Outside the northern wall of the foundation stands an old two-floor cube-shaped building, currently in mid-renovation. Come summer this will house the coffee shop, and eventually behind it will stand a new restaurant. “If I were to build something, I would never use that footprint,” said Bruno, pointing toward the splintered form. “But I want to keep what we have.”

We pass the future pool, the smaller-scale accommodations for those who do not wish to rent an entire house, the bike shop. In essence, the Tuxedo Hudson Company is constructing a village within greater Sloatsburg, a literal stone’s throw from the train station. With this stop, and the Tuxedo station up the line, both easily accessed from Penn Station, Bruno envisions people getting away from the city and never needing to hop in a car or catch a cab.

The village is only a two-mile bike ride, on back roads, to Harriman State Park, with its 52,000 acres of forest and beaches, seven lakes and hundreds of miles of trails.

After my whirlwind tour ended and we returned to Bruno’s office, I drove myself back to the row of houses under construction, to photograph them for this story. I had just finished, and was walking back across the busy work site to my Jeep when a worker stopped me and asked what I was filming for. I explained that I was conducting a piece on Michael Bruno, his redevelopment of the buildings in the area, and his vision for the future. On a personal note I also mentioned how much I liked seeing the old staircase saved in the house at the end of the row.

“It’s much easier to tear it down and build something new,” the worker replied. He paused, and looked up at the exposed wood peak of the old house, adjusting the brim of his hat, “It’s nice to see the old things like this saved.”









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