In writing about the rise and fall (or fill) of the Albany Basin, a major part of Albany’s waterfront history that is now buried under a tangle of roads and the Corning Preserve, we were a bit stymied in figuring out the role and location of the Albany Yacht Club, the surviving buildings of which were the prominent features of the old pier for decades. In fact, some of those buildings survived until the construction of the “Hudson River Way” amphitheater in what is now called Jennings Landing.
The Albany Yacht Club was originally organized in 1873 in the paint shop of Ira Porter at 12 James Street, and took rooms in a five-story building at the State street bridge, but got pushed out after a few years when “a big salt concern took possession.” That drove them across the river, for what would not be the last time.
In December 1903, the Albany Yacht Club, already well-established for nearly 25 years but having met at various locations including canal boats, had moved from a location on the eastern shore and held its first meeting in its new home on the pier, in a building that had belonged to Cornell Towing (Cornell Steamboat Co.). “Improvements to the building are progressing and it is expected that a new maple floor will be laid before the next meeting.” The Yacht Club, now 60 members strong, had used this building before. The Albany Evening Journal reported:
“That history repeats itself was never better exemplified than in the case of the Albany Yacht Club, that sterling organization which has helped to keep alive the interest in boating for the past decade and which at the end of nearly a quarter of a century finds itself ready to take possession of the building in which the first years of its infancy were passed … A few days since a committee appointed for the purpose closed negotiations with the Cornell Towing Line and the five story building at the western terminus of the State street bridge, owned by the company, has been transferred to the Albany Yacht Club …
The new home of the Yacht Club is directly opposite its old quarters, it being the intention of the cub to retain its old house for storage purposes. The new building will be entirely renovated between now and spring, the members being enthusiastic and looking forward to the time when they can throw open their new home for public inspection. The five floors are large and roomy, but it has been decided that the second floor will be the reception room of the club. This will be fitted up in handsome style … A gymnasium, a large card room for euchre parties and a hall for entertainments and smokers will be among the improvements and every inducement will be offered to swell the membership. The outside of the structure will not be touched until late in the spring, after the Hudson has learned to behave itself.”
In just under eight years, the old building would be inadequate. The September 12, 1911 Albany Evening Journal reported that the last meeting of the club in its present building was held the night before, “and the work of tearing down the building, which had been one of the old warehouses on the pier will begin at once. The club has arranged to secure temporary headquarters pending the completion of its new club house, at 415 Broadway. The new house will be located just south of the present building, and last night it was announced that the foundation has been completed and paid for and that a bond issue of $20,000 to secure the balance of the fund of $30,000 needed to pay for the new building had been floated as a mortgage bond issue with the Albany Trust company as trustee. Nearly all of this issue has been subscribed. John Dyer, jr. who has the contract for the State street pier improvement, will construct the new house.”
Many years later, in 1947, the Albany Yacht Club held a mortgage burning ceremony to celebrate being free of debt, though it was then reported that the cost of the clubhouse had been $35,000, with a mortgage of $25,000. Their time at that location, though, was limited.
In March 1948, the Knickerbocker News reported that the Yacht Club had been proposed as a Naval Reserve training center. “If a training center is located here, [Lt.] Commander Doody said, it is hoped it would be opened this summer and that it would be equipped for training the approximately 600 members of Battalion 313 and other Naval Reservists in the Capital District. This would include, he said, installation of gun mounts, radar and technical equipment and engineering equipment.” At the time, the Navy was using an LST (landing ship – tank) anchored at the food of Madison Avenue as its training locus. None of this seemed to discomfit the Yacht Club, as director John E. Scopes said they had for some time been considering moving to another site on the Albany waterfront. The sale of the club building (the land still belonged to the City of Albany) went through somewhere around 1949, and the club moved to a former warehouse on Quay Street. The exact location is not made clear, though it was listed in the street directory as between the Recreation Pier and the Naval Reserve Center. Those, a Thomas Dolan, and two vacant buildings were the only things listed on Quay Street in 1951.
In 1953, the club bought land on the Rensselaer side of the Hudson, south of the Dunn Memorial Bridge. “The area includes four plot of ground and is between Columbia St. and Second Ave., Rensselaer.” At the time, the club also maintained anchorage in Coeymans, which they said would continue. They hoped to be able to move into a new home by the end of the 1953 boating season, but that didn’t work out, as it was later reported they hoped the building would be complete by fall of 1954. While the newspaper focused on the building’s second floor veranda and extensive use of picture windows, it was not quite as grand as once they had enjoyed.
Thanks to the Albany…The Way It Was Facebook group for its Flickr photo archives.