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The adaptive reuse of an historic waterfront property that was nearly destroyed by fire in 2018, and the start of construction on a community greenhouse project seven years in the making were celebrated together with groundbreaking ceremony on Monday, May 16.
Wildcliff, an 1855 Gothic Revival style cottage adjacent to Hudson Park, was devastated by a fire in late 2018 that left behind little except the foundation and solid stone exterior walls. An advisory committee formed in 2019 tasked with exploring options for the building’s future recommended an adaptive reuse that would salvage the structure’s iconic stone gables, add modern amenities and create a new open-air event pavilion. The eleven-member advisory committee included City Council Member Albert Tarantino (chair), City Historian Barbara Davis, Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse Committee President Millie Radonjic-Ilich, Parks & Recreation Commissioner Bill Zimmermann, Department of Development Senior Project Manager Suzanne Reider, neighbor Anthony Paolercio, and community members James Flemming, Michael Minchin, Sara Cave, Catherine Wilkins and Andrea Rothberg.
"We are pleased to celebrate the rebirth of this magnificent property. When construction is complete, it will become a destination event location with a marvelous connection to Hudson Park. From tragedy, this project yields a valuable, adaptive reuse design that enriches a vast array of community benefits for many years of enjoyment,” said Bill Zimmermann, retired Parks and Recreation Commissioner and Special Projects Consultant.
“The Wildcliff and the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse committees- each working towards their respective goals- came up with the great idea of combining the two projects on the same site, and I am thrilled that this concept came together and is being brought to fruition,” said Council Member Albert Tarantino. “We are able to give a valuable historic property a new life, avoiding demolition; and combine it with a wonderful resource. Together they make an amazing product and phenomenal destination for the City of New Rochelle, and the people of New Rochelle.”
Joining the Wildcliff property is the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse, creating a synergy between the two spaces. With two greenhouse wings, offices, a lobby and storage, the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse will be a sustainable and vibrant center with activities and programming for the entire New Rochelle community.
Formed in Spring 2015 under the leadership of Milijana “Millie” Radonjic-Ilich, the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse has a committee of over 50 members dedicated to creating a community resource where beauty abounds, and people of all ages learn about horticulture, propagation, and nutrition. Originally, the group set out to restore the 100+ year old greenhouse at Hudson Park, researching historic greenhouses, touring sites, and interviewing restoration companies. Environmental studies revealed great challenges and exorbitant costs, so the project’s scope changed course. In the spirit of the historic greenhouses, the group pivoted to create a new structure using modern materials in a similar footprint within the Wildcliff parcel of Hudson Park, alongside the parking lot and near the band shell.
To support this mission, committee members have raised funds, planned, designed, incorporated, created events and taught gardening projects to children: the HPCG programming subcommittee has been teaching students at Trinity Elementary for five years, with class sequences including a seed project, amaryllis, trees and life cycle of corn. HPCG also created raised beds at Trinity for gardening projects.
Milijana Radonjic-Ilich, President of HPCG, said “We are creating our Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse buildings, and then they create us. Likewise, we construct our circle of friends and our communities and then they construct us.”
Karen Hessel, Secretary of HPCG said “It has been a long journey to get to this point and I am so glad to see our vision begin to be realized with the construction of our greenhouse.”
The Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse received a $250K New York state grant through State Assembly Members Steve Otis and Amy Paulin, a Westchester Board of Legislators grant through legislator Jim Maisano for programming, New Rochelle Council grants from Al Tarantino, Liz Fried, and Ivar Hyden. Additional support came through Appleyard grants and the Sandpiper Fund, Anonymous, plus numerous other donations large and small.
Wildcliff was built in 1855, designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the most prominent and influential architects working in the United States in the decades before the Civil War. The Gothic Revival style cottage was gifted to the City of New Rochelle by the Julius Prince family in 1940. After being utilized for City offices, the building housed a variety of not-for-profit groups and functions, including Wildcliff Natural Science Center, East Coast Performing Arts and Wildcliff Center for the Arts, then went dormant. The exterior of the building was restored with funds from the sale of adjacent property. It was listed on the National Register of Historical Places in 2002 and is a locally designated site. It is constructed of a variety of stones, most quarried in Westchester County.
Our plan is that Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse year-round programming will include: • Horticulture classes for all ages • Garden lecture series • Hosting School groups • Activities for Children with special needs • Intergenerational activities – such as grandparent/grandchild event • Indoor and outdoor events: Pumpkin Patch, Mother’s Day planting • Holiday plant shows, such as garden train exhibit and Easter plant exhibit • Small events - Children’s birthday parties, Senior citizen events
This initiative will enhance the development of Hudson Park, New Rochelle and Long Island Sound’s coastline for the enjoyment and benefit of New Rochelle’s children and community. This will provide a tremendous resource to the community and will inspire future improvements throughout Hudson Park. Greenhouse visitors will learn about horticulture, propagation, nutrition, and they will experience beauty.
For more information, including renderings and plans, visit the Hudson Park Children’s Greenhouse website at hpcgreenhouse.org.