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Fire guts struggling Hyde Park eatery
BY JIM LANGAN • ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 3/22/17
Long-time owner Joseph Wilson was in his office Monday afternoon attending to paperwork when he noticed the aroma of gas. His restaurant, Joseph’s Steakhouse, was closed as it normally is on Mondays. Shortly after Wilson says he heard a large explosion coming from the kitchen area and says he’s glad to be alive.
While fire officials have yet to officially determine the cause of the explosion and fire, a propane tank has been the focus of scrutiny. Within minutes a ferocious fire was roaring through the building as firefighters from surrounding communities raced to the scene.
At one point flames could be seen crackling through the roof as billows of smoke poured into the afternoon sky. The fire eventually went to two alarms before being brought under control around 4 p.m. By then the restaurant had suffered very heavy damage and, according to Wilson, has served its last meal and he has no intention to rebuild The fire also caused extensive damage to two residential apartments above the restaurant and cost a tenant’s dog its life. The tenant was not at home at the time of the fire.
The building the restaurant occupied has a rich history in Hyde Park. Dating back to Eleanor Roosevelt’s construction of a cottage on the Roosevelt family estate she called Val-Kill in 1925, that corner of Hyde Park has come to be forever associated with the former First Lady. Roosevelt and friends Nancy Cook, Marion Dickerman and Caroline O’Day created Val-Kill Industries in 1928. The business was a direct response to the changing demographics of the time and produced high quality replicas of early American furniture. Eleanor Roosevelt often used the site of Joseph’s to entertain friends and customers for tea during this period. In fact, Joseph’s Steakhouse had a tea room inside dedicated to Mrs. Roosevelt.
During FDR’s presidency the Roosevelts used to rent out the rooms above the restaurant to members of the national press corps who often accompanied the president to Hyde Park. That would be called a conflict of interest in today’s political environment.
The rooms were eventually converted into apartments. Val-Kill Industries was eventually disbanded in 1937 and the current building has housed many restaurants and businesses over the years. The National Park Service maintains the actual Val-Kill site adjacent to the restaurant.
Mr. Wilson, a Millbrook resident, has owned the property the restaurant occupies for many years and seen many incarnations. It has been a nightclub, a Thai restaurant and, in 2011, surfaced as Joseph’s Steakhouse.
Most observers will tell you Wilson has struggled mightily to make a go of the steakhouse but it has had considerable difficulty getting traction in Hyde Park. That struggle has been exacerbated by a tough economy, a somewhat difficult location and the overall decline in the business climate in Hyde Park. Wilson has tried everything from comedy nights, dinner theater specials and most recently positioning the menu as Italian. As one local told Hudson Valley News, “They could never figure out exactly what they were and it was too pricey for Hyde Park.”
It’s unclear what becomes of the property going forward but it’s unlikely to attract much attention as a site for another restaurant given its troubled history and Hyde Park’s declining fortunes. But for many older Hyde Park residents, it is yet another piece of Hyde Park history fondly recalled.