The New State Museum and Veterans Memorial Building

1925 proposal new State Museum and office building crop

The plans of 1925 that would have created an entire complex of buildings around the State Capitol didn’t move forward at that time, although the long-awaited state office building that was the original reason for the clearing of the buildings from what became West Capitol Park finally came to fruition. The Alfred E. Smith State Office Building opened in 1928, only 14 years after what may not even have been the first motions in that direction. But the Smith building, making West Capitol Park permanent, and creating Lafayette Park didn’t resolve the state’s continuing need for more space, and even before the Smith building was finished there was a renewed push for a new building on State Street, where the Legislative Office Building is today.

At the beginning of 1931, Governor Roosevelt was backing a new state museum building, which would also relieve “clutter” in other offices, to go by the Times-Union’s account:

“The Governor suggested that a space can be provided in the building for storage of old records, which now clutter up most of the state offices. ‘A great deal of space can be thrown open in the State Office building, the Capitol and the Education building,’ he said, ‘by removing old records to the proposed museum building.’ Recent rental of downtown office quarters for state draftsmen called attention to the fact that the new State Office building, expected to take care of the state’s office needs for some years to come, is close to being overcrowded already with some of the bureau just moving in. State officials pointed out, however, that when plans for the new building were drawn it had not been expected that state activities would expand so greatly in such a brief time …

It is planned to construct the building in six stages, so carried out that the structure will be ready for use after the first is completed. When finished it will contain a large auditorium, quarters for the state museum, archives for historic relics and documents and a large room decorated in honor of New York state residents who lost their lives in the World war.”

At some point this came to be known not as the new State Museum building, but as the Memorial Building (or sometimes the Veterans Memorial Building). A couple of years later, nothing much had happened with it, and Mayor John Boyd Thacher 2d urged Governor Lehman to seek appropriation of funds for its construction, both to honor the veterans of the World War and to “aid materially in the relief of unemployment at this time.” The Times-Union said it had advocated for the building for several years, indicating that a State World War Memorial Commission appointed in 1930 had recommended

“the erection of a State building to be located in this city, and to include quarters for the State museum; for the State Bureau of Military Records; rooms for State Archives and Publications and an auditorium of size sufficient to accommodate large gatherings of people. These recommendations have been before the State authorities for over one year. The site favored by the commission is blocks bounded by State street, Hawk street [sic: Chestnut?], South Swan street and South Hawk street. The city, Mayor Thacher declares, is ready to deed the title to Chestnut street, between South Swan and South Hawk streets to the State.”

The argument, as had been made in 1925, was that the State Museum had outgrown its quarters in the State Education Building, and should be given larger quarters for the benefit of the public. “There should be a large bureau for the preservation and exhibits of war relics and records and other objects relating to the participation of New York State in the wars in which this nation has been engaged. There should likewise be fireproof quarters for the safe keeping of priceless records and documents of the State. And the Capital of New York should be provided with an auditorium adequate for the accommodation of large assemblages.”

The Hudson-Mohawk County Council of the Veterans of Foreign Wars got behind the campaign, along with the American Legion, giving the Times-Union credit for its campaign in favor of the building, again noting its benefits not only as a memorial but as a source of employment.

In 1934, the Albany Evening News reported that “Nothing happened until 1934, when the Legislature and Governor Lehman created the World War Memorial Authority with Edward M. Scheiberling as chairman.” That Authority had authority to issue bonds up to $12.5 million for the site and the structure, but tossed out the original building plans. But they couldn’t get the financing going (something about a Great Depression), and so the Authority sought help from Franklin Roosevelt, now less of a governor and more of a president. The plan they presented to the Public Works Authority would have been a five-story structure with a sub-basement garage for public parking, a basement garage for state cars, the new State Museum, a 3000-seat public auditorium, two floors of state offices, a War Memorial, and space for archives storage. They were seeking a $4.5 million grant from the feds. With that, they had a buyer for their bonds, and a commitment from the State superintendent of public works to “rent all future space needs of the state in the proposed structure.” It was expected that President Roosevelt, on his way to Albany, would be announcing the deal. Eventually, the federal Public Works Authority did promise the grant, if the authority could close its financial arrangements. In 1934, a deadline of Dec. 21 was set. And missed.

But that wasn’t the end. A year and a half later, in July 1936. The Authority had another deadline to meet, according to the July 9 Albany Evening News:

“One of the first duties of the World War Memorial Authority when it meets in Albany Monday will be to assure the federal government and PWA authorities, by resolution, that the $12,500,000 structure can be completed by July 1, 1938 … as preparations for the huge development speed up, it appeared today that contracts for much of the work will be under way by Dec. 1 of this year.

How the Authority is considering plans for including added revenue-producing units in the new structure was disclosed yesterday. These contemplate use of the 5,000-seat auditorium for commercial movies, a state garage, a private garage for parking cars on rental basis, and installation of commercial offices in one wing. State archives, war records, storage and offices would occupy much of the balance of the building.”

Next, we’ll tell you what happened. Until then, no spoilers.


  1. Pingback: 7 and 7 on Saturday, June 24, 2017 – Chuck The Writer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *