Olana’s 50th – Celebrating the past, envisioning the future

by Melanie Hasbrook

Sean E. Sawyer, Ph.D.
Washburn & Susan Oberwager President, The Olana Partnership

Governor Rockefeller Signing the Lane-Newcombe Bill, 27 June 1966. Left to right: Assemblyman Clarence Lane, Senator Lloyd Newcomb, Governor Rockefeller and Alexander Aldrich, President of Olana Preservation. Courtesy of the Rockefeller Archive Center.

A week from tonight The Olana Partnership will hold our annual Frederic Church Award Gala in New York City. This event is absolutely crucial to our work at Olana – providing over a third of our operating income and sustaining Olana’s curatorial and educational infrastructure. This year’s Gala is also the culmination of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the saving of Olana – that pivotal, triumphant moment in 1966 when a remarkable coalition of public and private individuals, led by the young art historian David Huntington and the aspiring politician Sam Aldrich, succeeded against great odds in preserving America’s most important and intact artist-designed environment. Please consider joining us next Thursday evening or making a special contribution in honor of those heroic individuals from all walks of life who saved Olana.

This year’s Gala will honor visionaries of Olana’s past and future. We will present the Frederic Church Award to three of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller’s grandsons in recognition of his crucial role in saving Olana and his broader cultural legacy as a champion of the arts and education. Looking forward to Olana’s next 50 years, we will honor Burn and Susan Oberwager, who are forward thinking supporters of Olana. Raised in Hudson, Burn grew up with an innate appreciation of Olana and the Hudson River School. He joined our Board of Trustees in 2000, and from 2006 to 2009 he served as Chairman. During his tenure he oversaw major capital improvements across the site, and he and Susan led in the creation of an endowment for my position. Right alongside the figures of the 1960s, Burn and Susan are “Olana Visionaries,” envisioning a bold, dynamic future for one of America’s most significant places.

Photo by Jami Beere

We are marking Olana State Historic Site’s 50th anniversary this year and next with a wide range of public programs and special events. This June 27, 50 years to the day that Gov. Rockefeller signed the legislation saving Olana here on the front steps, over 200 people gathered at that spot for a commemoration, including Sam Aldrich and Trudy Huntington, David’s widow, along with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandson.

Working closely with The Olana Partnership, WMHT has produced a new documentary focused on the saving of Olana, “Frederic Church’s Olana: An American Treasure,” which was broadcast this spring and summer and is now available online.  Prof. David Schuyler, a member of our National Advisory Committee, published a detailed account of the preservation campaign, “Saving Olana,” in The Hudson River Valley Review.

Photo by Beth Schneck Photography, bschneckphoto.com

The Olana Partnership’s 50th anniversary projects also include the introduction of regular public tours of Olana’s 250-acre historic landscape and integral viewshed, a fundamental expansion of the visitor experience.  So far in this first season over 750 visitors have participated in historic landscape tours, and we plan on expanding the program in 2017 as well as redoubling our efforts in coordination with New York State Parks to improve the overall visitor experience.

Educational and public programs are another key area of The Olana Partnership’s work. Over the past two years, we have expanded participation in our educational and public programs by 54% and our school field trip participation has grown by an amazing 350%. In 2016 our public programs will serve over 3,500 individuals, and we will host over 1,800 local school children for immersive, hands-on educational experiences at Olana. In 2017 our goals are to expand these numbers to 4,000 individuals participating in public programs and 2,200 children participating in field trips.

Photo by Beth Schneck Photography, bschneckphoto.com

Our 50th anniversary celebrations continue next year as we mark the opening of Olana State Historic Site to the public in June 1967. Today Olana is a flagship of the New York State Parks system and one of the most visited historic sites in the state, with over 170,000 visitors in 2015. As such, Olana is a major economic engine for the region, as of 2008 generating $8 million annually in visitor spending and supporting 297 jobs.  I believe we can double these numbers over the next 5 years.  Please join us today and be a part of Olana’s next 50 years.

Please contact Sean Sawyer at ssawyer@olana.org / 518.828.1872 to learn more about how you can be part of Olana’s future.