Albany Architects: Marcus T. Reynolds

MarcusTReynolds.jpgThe last Albany architect of significance was Marcus T. Reynolds. Working from 1893 through 1930, Reynolds created some of Albany’s greatest landmarks and, sad to say, was the last architect to have a positive impact on the city. (One could argue that for Wallace Harrison, architect of the Empire State Plaza – but that feels like a single piece, something apart from the city, and the effect it had on the fabric of the city was anything but positive. Besides, Harrison was not from Albany.)

Reynolds was born in Great Barrington in 1869; his mother died in 1875, and his father (a Union College classmate and friend of Chester Arthur) then put Marcus and brother Cuyler in the care of their aunt Laura Van Rensselaer, living at 98 Columbia Street in Albany. Marcus was sent to boarding school in Catskill and later attended The Albany Academy and St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire before entering Williams College. He graduated in 1890 and went to the architectural program at Columbia University’s School of Mines, and then returned to Albany to set about finishing the city.

In 1893, Reynolds took on the reconstruction of the Sigma Phi fraternity house, of which he was a member, at Williams College. His Van Rensselaer connections gave him access to parts of the old Van Rensselaer Manor House, which was at that point in disrepair, having been vacated in 1875. He designed for Sigma Phi a new house similar to the Van Rensselaer mansion, and was able to salvage some of the exterior stonework and window trim from the old Albany house. (Interior elements of the manor house are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.) Views of the old Manor House and the Sigma Phi house can be found at this link; sadly, the Sigma Phi house was demolished in 1973. One reason the Van Rensselaers were no longer interested in the old manor site was that it had become part of the lumber district and was overrun with industry, and the decision to tear down the mansion was coincident with the construction of Reynolds’s first Albany commission, the Albany Terminal Storage Warehouse on Tivoli Street, in 1893. William Van Rensselaer owned the company. The building still stands, but had lightning struck its architect in that year, we wouldn’t be remembering him today.

United_Traction_Company_Albany.jpgThe Manor House had been abandoned, but people named Van Rensselaer still needed places to live. Reynolds’s next Albany commission were the Van Rensselaer houses at 385-389 State Street, just across from Washington Park near Willett, and still one of the most distinctive houses in Albany. Then, just to get away from old money for a little while, he worked on the remodeling of the Albany Country Club on Western Avenue in 1898. Then he built what was for a long time almost the northernmost limit of civilization on Broadway, the United Traction Company building at Columbia Street, a lovely landmark that stood alone, cater-corner from Union Station, among desolate parking lots for decades.

 There were other private homes, and the Superintendent’s House at the Albany Rural Cemetery (1899). He built the much-lamented Pruyn Library at North Pearl and Clinton, and the Canon George Carter House (1902, 62 South Swan St.), before returning to the family well, building the Van Rensselaer Apartments at Madison and Lark Street (1904). But at this time he was also building some of the most notable downtown Albany structures that stand to this day.

First among these was The Albany City Savings Building at 100 State Street (1902). He built the first National Savings Bank Building at 70 State Street, now lost. Then came the New York State National Bank at 69 State Street, which preserved one of Philip Hooker’s facades within an early skyscraper, and moved it up the street to boot (1904), and the First Trust Company building (1904, 35 State Street), at the corner of State and Broadway, still sometimes known as the Museum Building for the structure that preceded it, which looked similar (1904, with Reynolds additions in 1908 and in the 1930s). He built The Hampton Hotel (1906, 40 State Street), and the iconic Hook and Ladder No. 4 (1910, Delaware Avenue at Marshall St.).

D&H bldg 1From 1912-1918, he built what is probably his crowning glory, the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building. This was the headquarters of one of the region’s railroads; it never served as a station, although it had a freight warehouse directly to its north. Commonly reported to have been based on the Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium, the D&H Building rivals the State Capitol at the top of the hill in grandeur, and exceeds it in unity. It was built at what was then a very busy intersection, and part of the plot’s design was to include a loop for trolleys in front of the building, in what was then known as The Plaza. The building shut off the waterfront from view; as it was heavily commercial at the time, that wasn’t considered a bad thing. The building was constructed north to south, expanding with the years; the final, southernmost section was built for the Albany Evening Journal, though it can really only be told apart from the railroad headquarters by the small figures celebrating the history of printing.

 The Evening Journal was only there for a few years before it was absorbed by the Times-Union in 1924. The D&H lasted there into the 1960s. A plan for the building to become the headquarters of the expanding State University of New York developed in 1972, but it took until 1978 before SUNY finished renovations and took over the site, along with the neighboring Federal Building.

 After the D&H, Reynolds built two more notable downtown structures, the Municipal Gas Company Building (1916, 126 State Street) and the addition to the Albany City Savings Institution (1924, 100 State Street) that included its signature tower. Further afield, he built the Albany Industrial Building, later home to the Argus Litho (1915, 1031 Broadway), Public School No. 4 (1924, Madison Ave. and Ontario, now gone), Hackett Junior High School (1927, 45 Delaware Ave.), and both the new Albany Academy (1931, Academy Road) and renovations to the old Albany Academy (1930, Academy Park). He also designed the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs and buildings in Catskill, Amsterdam and New York City.

 Reynolds died March 18, 1837. He is, appropriately, buried in Albany Rural Cemetery.

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