West Side Story
The budding new art district on Saratoga’s West Side runs little more than a block (on Beekman Street between Congress and Ash) and consists of just six arts-based businesses and a handful of renovated houses. Yet there’s no denying its outsized charm. You could walk it in five minutes, but you’ll want to take much longer.
First to open, in spring 2003, was the Beekman Art Gallery at No. 70. Its owners, opera singers Mary and Lee Chen, keep a gleaming grand piano among the gallery’s framed paintings of mountains, racehorses, sailboats, and flowers. Just up the block, Knit 2 Together glows with cubbies of brightly colored yarns and offers classes in knitting and crochet. Next door is Beekman Artisans, with top-shelf jewelry, fabric art, and accessories handmade by a twenty-artisan co-op of national repute. (Among them are art-district cofounders Michelle and Michael LaLonde, whose handbags would dazzle readers of Vogue; one dainty number is made of red Italian lambskin embossed in a wavy op-art pattern.)
Across the street, the Crimson Gallery recently opened in tiny No. 73, which was Adinolfi’s barbershop for eighty years. Its bright oils, prints, and posters are the work of artist-owners Frankie Flores and Lisa Cirelli-Flores, who also run a frame shop in the barber’s old residence next door. “If you enjoy your art, you’ll sell lots of it,” says Cirelli-Flores, whose pastels apply primitive cheer and Van Gogh vigor to portraits of musicians, black-and-white cows, and the couple’s two boxer dogs. Down the street, past a fence guarded by a goofy found-object sculpture, the Beekman Artists’ Co-op has a gallery in its 1836 front parlor and also rents studios whose ancient floors and ceilings decidedly slope.
Since the early 1800s the neighborhood has housed successive waves of Irish stonemasons, Italian railroad workers, black maids and porters, and the small merchants who catered to them. By 2000 the area was badly run-down—
but affordable to artists, who replaced derelict fish markets, Italian-ice shops, and dry-goods stores with galleries and studios. They swept up broken bottles and heroin needles, picked up trash, and convinced absentee landlords to sell decrepit buildings to still more artists. A Friends of Beekman Street group sprang up and won grants to rebuild sidewalks and curbs and plant trees and flowers.
Nowadays a reborn Beekman Street takes part in Saratoga’s popular First Thursday arts-opening receptions and holds its own Second Sunday summer street festivals, with free music and artists’ and vendors’ booths. Three new businesses, including a coffeehouse/ceramics studio, will open soon. The artists dream of establishing a not-for-profit umbrella organization and expanding into a small loop of several additional blocks.
On a fine bright day, the district feels like a short, sweet stretch of Martha’s Vineyard, with its big old trees, modest little houses toeing up to the sidewalks, and owner-artists who clearly love the place. “We’re all out here every morning sweeping off our sidewalks,” beams ceramic artist and district cofounder Amejo Amyot. “And I imagine the merchants here back in the 1830s did the same thing.” —BAM