Do Good Enclosures Make Good Neighbors? Not in Opus 40.


SAUGERTIES, NY – Here is one of the wonders of the Hudson Valley, a 6.5-acre bluestone maze carved out of a quarry, an artistic tour de force by a self-taught sculptor who spent more than half his life building it with thousands of rocks, infinity Patience and no cement.

Composition 40, whose name itself evokes the tenacity of its creator Harvey Fight, is a monument to the upper bounds of hard work and dedication that took at most 37 years to build.

But now, some say, this soul-raising triumph has been tarnished by commoners: a chain-link fence nearly 400 feet long that wraps around one of its sides spoils its beauty. and is the product of a prolonged smoldering dispute.

“One guy built this whole thing – it’s unbelievable,” said Town Building Inspector Alva L. Weeks Jr. “It’s sad, this fence. Why couldn’t you do something?”

Participants in the controversy include Fit Family, the nonprofit that operates Opus 40, and its surrounding neighbors. While the controversy is full of unfounded theories and unsolicited accusations, it boils down to a fight about the house that Feight built that was associated with his masterpiece.

The home is still owned by Tad Richards, Fight’s 81-year-old stepson, and his wife, Pat, and is operated by their 20-year-old grandson, who has rent it online, allowed guests to camp nearby and use it as a site for gatherings.

Neighbors have complained about the incidents and about Airbnb guests who they say make noise until the wee hours of the morning. The small non-profit organization running the Site thinks those activities pose a security risk and legal liability.

Enter the fence that the nonprofit erected in May to separate Fight’s talent, which they have, from Fight’s house, which they don’t.

“The fence is over the top—tasteless,” said Gerald Paler, 73, of Sogarties, a longtime friend of the Richards family. “Surely a better way to resolve disputes is to do something like this.”

Jonathan Baker, chairman of the board of directors of Opus 40 Inc., said “security is an absolute – it’s non-negotiable” and that the fence, though unsightly, is necessary until a comprehensive solution can be forged.

“Harvey Fett spent nearly 40 years building this sculpture, and this temporary fence will be nothing short of a blip in that history,” Baker said.

It’s hard to imagine how Fight, which worked in the silence of its minefields, created something that A North American has been compared to Stonehenge, will react to the tumult that now surrounds it.

Angry neighbors have filed noise petitions and repeatedly complained town board meetings About activities at home. Family members have assembled a document labeled “OpusGate” to chronicle what they see as their abuse at the hands of various parties. His supporters have formed a facebook group and started change.org petition who asks for the removal of the fence.

According to police records, in a recent flare-up, Steven Dunning, a neighbor, called police after 3 a.m. to report loud music and a party at the Fight House. Roughly 12 hours later Richards’ grandson, Eric Manocha, called the police to report Dunning – whose wife works at Opus 40 – for trespassing on the property and yelling at the man who lived in the house.

“I’m at the end of my rope,” Dunning Recently in a city meeting told the officials.

The mine that became the site of Opus 40 was purchased by Fight in 1938, while he was a teacher at the nearby Bard College. He completed the construction of the house a year later, when Fight, the first drama instructor, had already switched to teaching sculpture.

After a trip to Honduras in 1939 to help restore the Mayan ruins, Feit began teaching himself how to fit the stones together without mortar or cement. Every summer, relieved of his teaching responsibilities, he worked on his massive rock formation. In 1963, Fight added a finishing touch: a nine-ton boulder he would use as the centerpiece, a 15-foot monolith that shot triumphantly into the air. The Opus 40, as some have noted, was closed with an exclamation point.

Fight died in 1976 while working on Opus 40. (While riding the Power lawn mower, he fell into the mine from a pit on the property, as printed in his obituary. the new York Times.) He had said that the project would take him 40 years to complete and when he died at the age of 72, in about 37 years, it was fully equipped with ramps, ladders, pools, moat and underground passages , which were all hand-carved. The stone that was placed with remarkable accuracy.

“He left some unfinished fields; But Opus 40 is as complete as it ever was,” wrote Tad Richards in the book, “Opus 40: The First 20 Years.” “It was the product of Fight’s relentless vision, and could only be prevented by his death. “

The artist’s wife, Barbara Fight, is a member of the non-profit Opus 40, Inc. so that she could complete her masterwork and ran it for a year before her death in 1987. Her son, Tad, lived in the home on the property and headed the nonprofit for years after his mother passed away.

He relinquished control of the organization in 2018 after Alan Siegel, the former head of Thompson Family Foundation, expressed interest in helping the nonprofit to finance and integrate the Fight House with the sculpture site, which was now owned by the nonprofit. (The organization led by Richards could not buy fit houses on its own without violating rules on nonprofits.)

Siegel inspired the organization to grow from a family-run enterprise to a professional non-profit, and so a new independent board was established. But in March 2019 seagull died unexpectedly before buying a house. Without Siegel’s leadership, the foundation he headed said it could no longer lead fundraising efforts.

Tad Richards said, “Things started going downhill from here.”

The list of complaints from all sides is continuously increasing. Executives at the nonprofit say they were saddened to clean up the filthy bookkeeping system left behind by the family when they took over the organization. Later, he noticed, he said that wooden benches, sculptures and excavation tools were missing from Opus 40, and in a letter, the nonprofit called on Richards and his grandson to take them and take them to a local antiques shop. accused of selling. The nonprofit replaced the locks on the mine’s museum doors.

Richards said he was struggling financially and only sold items that belonged to him. He has complained that the nonprofit does not properly care for the grounds and, as Tad Richards put it, “let the hedges go wild.”

Now there’s a lawsuit that complicates matters, filed by a local businessman who once struck a deal to buy the home jointly with Richards’ grandsons for $580,000, according to court documents. As part of the deal, the businessman, David Heinzel, bought a house in nearby Kingston for the Richards to live in, and Heinzel and Manocha run Fight House together as a short-term rental property, according to court papers. Was. .

But the sale of Fit House never happened. In the civil suit, Richards and his grandson are accused of “roping” Heinzel in a reckless plan to financially protect the family, stating that Richards is now living rent-free at the Kingston house that Heinzel had built. Had bought.

Tad Richards said in an interview that he was left “high and dry” when Heinzel withdrew from buying the Fight House.

Manocha said that his grandparents had always intended to “solve these issues” and buy Kingston House after Fight House was sold.

In May, the situation began to escalate when the nonprofit officially announced in a letter to Richards to use the family driveway as part of the park’s entrance, and occasionally work with the family. The organization was severing ties with the house after years of paying to do so. on various programmes. It also said it would serve to create a new entrance for the sculpture and was erecting a fence.

non profitable where is There should be an “appropriate and binding security, programming and management plan for a fit house” before the fence comes down. Baker, the chairman of the nonprofit’s board, sent an email to Tad Richards in July with several more specific “common sense considerations to structure an agreement” such as a ban on camping, loud noises after 10 p.m. and more than 12 p.m. People events. He stressed that a settlement could be reached “in the afternoon” if interested parties used a fraction of the time they spent posting on social media on the task of putting together a safety plan.

One solution would be for the nonprofit to buy a home, an idea that has been floating around for years, but one that would require raising money for a down payment. Organization officials say they would like to. Manocha said that because the nonprofit has “made it impossible” to turn the property into a business, “our mind has shifted to the sale.”

Baker said in late July that he plans to meet with Tad Richards to negotiate a possible deal soon. And on Friday, Opus 40, representatives from the Richards family and the city met to review the framework for a settlement set by Baker.

Everyone agrees that the sculpture is in dire need of repair and that if they can overcome their differences, the focus can return to preserving Harvey Feit’s artistic masterpiece and personal legacy.

On a recent afternoon, Tad Richards allowed himself a moment of optimism and reflection as he stood next to the house he grew up in and looked at a work of art that helped define his life. is of. “It means a lot more than I can tell,” he said.

Sheilagh McNeil contributed to the research.



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