Lost Rondout: A Story of Urban Renewal (2017)

Stephen Blauweiss and Lynn Woods’ documentary considers a 1960s urban renewal project that had the opposite effect on its intended target.

Rondout was a working-class community in Kingston, N.Y., a small city in the Hudson Valley region. The community was home to 19th century brick buildings that provided housing and retail outlets, and the racially mixed neighborhood enjoyed an uncommon degree of camaraderie between blacks and whites. Unfortunately, federally funded urban renewal planners believed that the Rondout needed massive changes. Nearly 500 buildings were demolished and thousands of people were displaced in the name or urban progress.

But new development did not come immediately, leaving vast voids that remained unfilled for years. Even worse, many of the area’s black residents found themselves barred from access to new housing in the area.

The film offers a surplus number of artistically stunning images from photographer Gene Dauner that captured the area before the wrecking ball came in, and interviews with old-time residents offer a nostalgic consideration of a pleasant, close-knit community that was torn apart in the name of progress. The film also details the belated appreciation of the once-scorned local 19th century architecture and the efforts to preserve the old structures that escaped demolition.

This fascinating look at how the best of socioeconomic intentions backfired is a sterling reminder of the old warning to leave well enough alone.