News from the Frontline

It’s been an interesting two weeks. More along the lines of ‘it gets worse before it gets better’ than a sense of progress. We got down and dirty with a lot of water problems. The buildings are now in better shape than they were before, but it took some doing, and it took hard work from a great team. Last week over 38 people were working on the property.

Water in Bearsville is dangerous stuff. There is a lot of it. The roofs have all been leaking for a long time, and the internal water pipes were not in good shape. They went through the last winter with no heating on in the buildings. Most of the radiators and kitchen pipes burst with the spring thaw.

That day at the end of August when I bought this place, 8 gallons of water a minute were escaping somewhere… but where? We worked it out and sealed most of the pipes pretty quickly. But now, 15 weeks from that day, instead of water escaping from broken pipes, or water coming in from leaky roofs, we are suffering from water below.

The Sawkill is a striking, attractive creek that runs along the edge of the Center – down the edge of route 212, under the bridge and then alongside the Bear Café, the Little Bear, and the Theater. It’s fed by the run-off and the water table from Overlook mountain. There is a lot of run off and a huge, engorged movement of water underground, which hits the buildings from the north, and seeps in any which way it can.

So, over the last two weeks we’ve been dealing with a lot of water. We brought in the Mold Remediators to deal with virtually every building, every basement. And in the process, we discovered a lot.

First off was the rotting pipes in the bathrooms of the Theater. We started by peeling off a couple of tiles, where it looked like there was a damp problem. I was hoping it was just a spot of condensation. But what we found, as we peeled away more and more – a complete demolition job – was a pile of hidden pipes that must have been leaking for years, enough to rot all the floor joists and the wall timbers. The only solution was to remove the tiles, the sheetrock, the floor, the joists, the walls, and rebuild from scratch. Which we are now doing.

Then onto the floor of the Theater auditorium. We decided to investigate just one slightly swollen piece of hardboard on the floor – and had to do the same as the bathrooms. Peel it back, more and more, until everything was exposed. This time the rot was a result of water that ran off the bluestone patio, under the barn side doors, and into the joists. More rot, more mold. And more than we expected. We ended up taking up the floor and the joists in one third of the floor area and are rebuilding it from the bottom up. In come the mold remediation guys! In they come, all hazmat suits, sealing tape, and dehumidifiers. It’s a science, as well as a whole new language we have had to learn. They are very thorough. It’s going to be OK…

Next stop – the basement of the Bear Café. Here the mold remediation guys told us that before they could start, we had to empty everything out, and then deconstruct the walk-in fridges and freezers that the restaurant used for storage.

So off came the doors, out came the cooling units, out came the insulation panels.

And in came a swollen, distended, moving pile of dirt. Part of the basement wall, which should have been constructed with iron bars and concrete – was missing. The dirt is so wet 5 feet below ground, that it moves like a river. Sodden soil poured into one room that had been a walk-in freezer. So, back to basics we go again – this time with engineers holding our hands. We are re-building the walls from the inside out, holding up the floors the right way, rebuilding the basement rooms so that the Bear Café can be workable again.

Also, in the basement, Tony the electrician, scratches his head and goes back to his knitting… untangling 50 years-worth of random cables and pipes and bar-supply lines. He is putting in new electrical panels, tracing it all back to source and making it good. We are now kind of comfortable with how bad it looks When I first saw the spaghetti of cables in the basement ceiling, it was like an abstract painting, all knotted and tangled rusty lines going every which way. And scary. Soon it will be neat and tidy and 100% workable and safe.

Anyway, we’ve dealt with the water above (replaced the roof), the water below (we are trenching around the building and sealing the walls), the leaking pipes (c/o last year’s cold winter) and now the underground piece of Overlook Mountain that is trying to make its home where our walk-in used to be. I tell myself it will all be OK eventually. We’ve learnt a lot about hydraulics and mold this last week. More than I wanted to. But then again I bought this place ‘As Is’ and that’s what I got – this last week was the ‘As’ bit.

Where does this leave us? We are also remediating the basement in Utopia, under Todd Rundgren’s old Sound Stage, where he stored the stage gear and props from his tours. We’re drying it out, and opening up the rampway down into the basement. In amongst the old cinder block and humongous steel I-beams, I’m seeing a beautiful big space and a lot of possibilities… time for a bit of a fantasy, wondering what Albert would have done with it.

Then there is the 140 year-old Peterson House. The funny old glass atrium over the bar was literally falling in, suffering from rotting timbers, broken glass and decayed flashing. So, we had to take it down, there was no other option. In doing so we discovered that almost all of the flat roof above that beautiful bar was 110% sodden with water. The ceiling had been leaking for a few years. It was a symptom of a bigger problem. The joists, hidden underneath the ceiling, were rotten. The hardboard, which was underneath the insulation, which was underneath the rubberized roof – were all waterlogged and in danger of falling in. Which goes to show – roofs around here need to be replaced, repaired, re-covered, every few years. The weather shows no mercy. So, on Friday last week, it all came down. We are rebuilding it from scratch.

We have a great team here. They did the whole demo job without one single injury, and without a single window breaking – including the historic stained glass and ancient bubble glass that surrounds the door separating the bar into the front room.

And now it is Sunday! A chance to take a breath and plan the week to come. In the next seven days we will be working on the heating sources, on channelling water away from the buildings, and on the new Theater sound system. I believe that it’s got to get better from here on…

Yes, we are now battling the cold and the impending snow and rain. Some jobs can no longer be done because of the temperature. I’d planned to have the Peterson painted one of Milton Glaser’s gorgeous golden shades, with his orange and red accents as the trim. But it will have to wait until we get a good run of temps over 50 degrees – which could be a few months away. But we are forging ahead, and I am loving this project. These beautiful old buildings are literally like seven phoenixes rising from the (soggy) ashes of the past. Bearsville is going to be fantastic. We just need time…

from Lizzie Vann

Join the Conversation


  1. Wow… that’s a lot of unexpected work. Cheering for you from the sidelines and will be there for the opening celebrations! Thanks for caring for this beloved space.

  2. So grateful you are saving these structures, AND going to extra step to inform the community. Clearly a hard road.

  3. Compelling reading!! As I was reading your descriptions of the decay and damage, I couldn’t help but think about all the time I had spent making music in those lovely spaces, unaware that both the floor under me and the roof over my head could give possibly way at any time!

    What a thing you are doing! Thank goodness for you!!!

    And thank you for taking the time to keep us so well informed!

  4. Lizzie thank you so much for all of your hard work! So grateful you are there and can’t wait to have dinner at The Bear. We miss it!

  5. Goddess bless you Lizzie! Very few would do what it takes to rebuild this space! Your love and care will result in the rebirth of this historic place!❤️❤️

  6. Lizzie, you are a goddess! Reading this I get the feeling you will never come back down here again! I simply cannot wait to come up and celebrate you and your hard work.

  7. Wow! What an incredible thing you’re doing. Thanks for your fine and caring work and for sharing the process. Can’t wait to see and celebrate the great rebirth.

  8. So wonderful! So sorry it is more work and money than anticipated. But, so grateful for your heart and dedication! Love for Bearsville!

  9. you are preserving a monument to american and western music. remediating years of neglect shows the depth of your commitment and ensures a solid and sustainable foundation for the future. i hope bearsville gives you an award for everything you’re doing, and that throngs of people pour through the new structures to generate the income needed to keep it alive and maintained. you are without parallel! beams of lights must be shining from albert’s memorial in the back

  10. Thank God for you Lizzie Vann for really caring. You are doing a Wonderful job! 🙏🙏🙏☮️

  11. Wow dealing with a lot of unexpected things. Hopefully everything will be sorted out. Thanks for the undertaking. That town desperately needs a new live music venue, not to slight the ones that are there.

  12. Still hoping you’d like to rescue Todd’s “Maurice” paws from Saugerties before they get covered up in snow again! And maybe even find a spot for the “Big Guy” himself!
    Thank you for taking on this labor of love, and thanks to the people who talked me out of trying to do it! =) <3

  13. Wow. Based on a lot of things that I had heard, I’m not shocked to hear how extensive the neglect and disrepair was. But I am so happy that you’re plodding ahead, and I know you have the appreciation and gratitude of many people!

  14. Lizzie Vann,
    What wows me the most is your positive spirit during this whole rebuild. Can’t wait to see the fruits of your labor and celebrate!!!

  15. Someone coming to the rescue at Bearsville was long overdue…someone caring, thorough and centered enough to deal with all the complex neglects of the past. Thanks Lizzie for taking on this monumental task and all of Woodstock is looking forward to the grand opening of the renovated “Bearsville Center”…and all its social and cultural significance.

  16. Bless you for saving this historic Woodstock gathering space where so many great productions, performances and meals have been shared. Thank you for resurrecting Albert Grossman’s vision. We all look forward to wonderful times ahead you are making possible.

  17. The love being put back into The Bearsville Theater warms my heart! Can’t wait to play💫

  18. Wow, my hat is off to you. Thank goodness you are doing this; I so admire your fortitude and positivity. Thank you for everything you are undertaking!

  19. I am not only speaking for my husband and myself ( we love music SO MUCH) but – if I may- for the town NOW and the town of the future. You are describing a nightmare scenario for demolition and construction and there is love in every word. How can we thank you enough for saving the living, breathing mold-ridden, neglected but still beating heart of Woodstock? Very very grateful to you for your vision and strength. Mariella Bisson

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