Category Archives: Albany

Mann and Anker

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Mann and Anker 1898We aren’t very familiar with Mann & Anker (or Mann, Waldman & Co., for that matter), but can only imagine what their store was like in 1898 when Fashion’s Queen held court there and gave her devotees the opportunity to pay her homage.

In 1899, both Mann & Anker, “makers of ladies’ garments,” and Mann & Waldmann, “wholesale dealers in ladies’ suits,” were destroyed by a fire that swept that stretch of South Pearl Street, in which “eight firms doing a prosperous business had their stock totally destroyed.” But they seem to have come back from that and returned to business at the same address; we find references to them at least through 1909. The building still stands across from the Times-Union Center at the corner of Hudson Avenue.

With all this ladies’ garment-making going on, you can well imagine that Lester Mann and F.L. Anker of Albany, New York, also have their names appear on a patent in 1898 – for a painter’s scaffold. Their improvement was that there were hinged sides so the painters couldn’t walk off the edge of an exterior scaffold.

A look inside the offices of the Albany Morning Express

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In its 51 years or so, the Albany Morning Express saw some tremendous changes, which it chronicled in its 50th anniversary coverage. They noted that when they began publication in 1847, the city of Albany contained 45,000 inhabitants, making it the 10th largest city in the United States at the time. There was only a single railroad connecting it with New York City. “The traveler to Boston took passage on the Boston, Albany and Troy road, and a line of railway connected Albany, Troy and Saratoga. Trains for the west left the railway terminus on State street at the top of the hill, from which point the cars descended to Broadway, received their passengers and were drawn back by means of windlass and tackle.” It was a very different city.

“Fifty years ago, all the streets in Albany were paved with cobblestones. For this purpose cobblestones are but little better than watermelons or overripe eggs. At the present time Albany has many miles of granite blocks, brick and concrete pavement. Albany is fast becoming one of the best paved cities in the country. Properly paved streets, added to our beautiful parks drives and boulevard [sic] are fast making Albany a very desirable city to visit and reside in.”

In 1897, the offices of  the Morning Express and the Evening Journal, both owned by political boss William D. Barnes, were in the Journal building at 59 and 61 State Street, and an adjoining building on James Street. Here’s a look at how they were arranged:

“The entrance to the counting room is on State street, to the editorial rooms, the president’s offices and the composing rooms at No. 7 James street; to the office of the weekly edition of the Express, No. 9 James and the mailing and press rooms, No. 5 James.

The business offices occupy the main floor. No paper in the state has a better arranged and more pleasantly fitting up counting room. The large force of clerks requires considerable room and they have it. Every convenience is afforded for transacting business with the public expeditiously. The general manager’s room adjoining, which is furnished with good taste and affords pleasant accommodations for those who have business to transact with the head of the business department, communicates directly with the president’s offices above. The rear of the ground floor is occupied by the mailing and city carriers’ department, No. 5 James street.

The president’s suite of chambers occupy [sic] the second and third floors. They are suitably furnished and decorated and have ready communication with all parts of the building. By means of speaking tubes the president is able to communicate ith the head of each department at his desk.

On the fourth floor is the library, including tiers of racks in which are kept bound volumes of the files of Albany and New York papers for the exclusive use of the establishment, and the proof readers’ department. The bulletin department is on the fourth floor.

The editorial room of the Weekly Express is at No. 9 James street. In the rear are the press and stereotyping rooms of the establishment. On the floors above are the editorial and the composing rooms.”

The Morning Express would be sold off and merged with the Press and Knickerbocker in 1899, but the Evening Journal would continue, eventually moving to its extremely impressive new building on the south end of the Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters building.

While they remained at their offices on State, the newspapers printed large headlines and posted them with the news of the day:

“The large, colored headlines, which appear twice a day on the bulletin boards of the Journal and the Express at the State street entrance, which are eagerly scanned by hundreds of people, who, in the hurry of business hours, have time only to catch bare announcements of important events, are an important and indispensible feature of the daily routine. They have given the local public many ‘beats’ of notable interest. The first announcement of the execution of ‘Bat’ Shea reached not only the Albany public but the papers through the state from the bulletin posted in front of the Journal office, notwithstanding the fact that the correspondents of two great news associations sent out full reports directly from the prison.”

Wire Service, Mergenthaler Typesetters and a Lightning Press

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The Hoe Cylinder Bed Lightning Press

The Hoe Cylinder Bed Lightning Press

The Albany Morning Press lived through a time of a revolution in newspaper production, and quickly took advantage of the changing technologies, using the newly invented wire services, the Mergenthaler linotype typesetter, and Hoe’s latest presses, not to mention vacuum tubes for moving paper around the office.

The telegraph was fairly new to Albany at the time the Albany Morning Express started production in 1847 – the first wire to the west connected to Utica on Jan. 31, 1846. The Associated Press began life later that year as the State Associated Press, with a main office in Albany, where news from Albany and New York was wired to Utica and sent out from that city by express on printed slips. The first daily reports were sent to newspapers on Jan. 1, 1847, and the Express was one of the original subscribers; its editor Jacob C. Cuyler was one of the incorporators.

The first edition was published from the second floor of the building one building south of the southwest corner of Beaver and Green streets, which then was the publishing district. (Be shocked to learn that the space is currently a parking lot.)

“With a great deal of warrantable pride the announcement was made that the paper was printed ‘on a first rate Napier press.’ This was the name of the first generally recognized improved printing press. Up to 1835 there was in general use only hand presses, and the Napier was an innovation which was followed by what was known as the Hoe lightning press patented July 14, 1847. So it will be seen that the Express and rapid printing came into the world at about the same time.”

The Napier press was the first to use grippers to pull the sheets around the cylinder and to deliver them after the impression. Hoe & Co. made the first flat bed and cylinder press in the United States. This was cutting edge technology, but it isn’t surprising, as Albany was really a major publishing center – it is said that Van Benthuysen’s printing operation on Columbia Street used the first steam-driven press in the country.

The Express’s coverage of its 50th anniversary included an in-depth view of its typesetting capabilities in 1897, which are fascinating to those of us who once set type for a living:

“Advertisements received at the counting-room desk and all editorial and news ‘copy’ are placed in cylindrical leather pouches and shot directly to the compositing rooms through tubes connecting with all departments and converging at the foreman’s desk.

The ‘take’ is given out to the operator, who, seated at the keyboard to the type-setting machine, produces newly cast lines of type which are deposited by the machine in the order which they are set and are removed in columns to the press upon which the proof sheet is printed. When corrected the type is placed on large stone beds where by means of wedges called quoins it is made up into pages ready to be lowered to the press rooms. The composition of 10,000 ems for ten hours’ of type-setting by hand is considered a good day’s work. There is the possibility of largely exceeding that by adept and rapid compositors, perhaps, most of whom could do better in spurts. But the average hand composition will not exceed that measure. Each of the five Mergenthaler type-setting machines will turn out more than five thousand ems an hour or between thirty and forty thousand in an ordinary day’s work, such as is required on the Express; that is during the hours beginning at 6:45 p.m. and ending at 2:45 or 3 a.m., with an intermission for lunch.

Every day after the type is used it is thrown into the melting pots and recast for the following day, replenishing the old with new metal as often as necessary. So that both the Journal and the Express are printed from new type every day. The casting of each type is all done when the operator presses down the key corresponding to the letter. The machine occupies comparatively little space, makes very little muss and does not give out the heat and particles of flying dust customary in foundries for casting metal. In fact the several small boxes in the cases used in hand composition, always gathered dust from the room and dirt from the distribution of type which filled the air with more dirt than comes from these machines.

The linotype was not only five times speedier than setting type letter by letter, but casting new characters for every single edition meant that the paper looked clean and free of broken type.

More on the Albany Morning Express

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Continuing the story of the Albany Morning Express, once the city’s premiere newspaper, in circulation, at least. In marking its 50th anniversary in 1897, the paper recounted some interesting points of its own history.

After its founding in 1847 by Alfred Stone and Edward Henly, the paper ran for five years with “varying success” before passing into the hands of Carlton Edwards in 1852. In 1856, the paper was suspended briefly, and then revived by Henry Stone, the brother of Alfred, along with Edward Henly.

Alfred Stone, in the meantime, hadn’t given up the business. He published the Albany Evening Times, along with David M. Barnes and Edward Boyd, with a gent by the name of “Governor” R.M. Griffin serving as editor-in-chief. Stone left the Times and bought the State Register. On Jan. 31, 1853, Henly and Jacob Cuyler issued the first Evening Transcript, from the Hoy building on Green Street. That paper was sold to men named Ells and Rooker; Rooker was later owner of the Press and Knickerbocker. Cuyler went to work on the Statesman, until the paper and its office were bought by Henry and Alfred Stone and Edward Henly, to revive the Express.

“On the morning of May 4, 1857, the Express, under the new management, was issued. Mr. Jacob C. Cuyler, installed as its editor. Fresh, vigorous editorials and columns teeming with news were the characteristics of the re-invigorated newspaper. It was then that the road which has led this paper on to success was taken. Since then the Express has gained in popularity and strength and has proven one of the indispensable institutions of Albany and vicinity…Under the able and enlivening pen of the late Mr. Cuyler, who, strangely enough, at the time when the fruit of his early efforts is bearing the ripening influences of a half century of honest cultivation, has passed away to a home of rest, the Express became a sturdy exponent of social and political purity and of unremitting enterprise.”

At that time, the Express was still a four-page, six-column paper, with a subscription list of 1600, at $4 a year. It went through a procession of owners and business managers, including George W. Hogoboom, Charles Emory Smith (later a minister to Russia), Addison Keyes, L.Z. Remington, N.D. Wendell, Walter F. Hurcomb, and S.N.D. North. The paper was published from the Express building at Green and Beaver streets until 1889. On Jan. 1 of that year, the plant and business “passed into the possession of Mr. William Barnes, jr., who at once organized the Albany Morning Express company, of which he was elected the president. When Mr. Barnes secured control of the Evening Journal and reorganized the business, the Morning Express was moved into the building Nos. 59 and 61 State street. There the two daily papers, the Evening Journal and the Morning Express are now published.”

The Express had been started with the goal of being impartial and independent, but along the way it had become political, even being named as the official state newspaper, a lucrative position.

“The policy of the paper has been for years that of uncompromising loyalty to the Republican party. In the election of 1857 its course was that of an independent paper, giving the several state tickets equal prominence at the head of its columns on the morning of election … The election of Gov. Morgan over Amasa J. Parker in the fall of 1858 was viewed in the light of a great Republican victory by the Express and gave to the editors of that paper the highest satisfaction … During the dark days of the rebellion the Express lifted its voice in no uncertain terms for the maintenance of the Union and the crushing out of secession. In the campaign of 1860 it supported the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln and ever afterwards has exerted its influence in behalf of good government and the supremacy of the nation on land and sea. It supported Grant in both campaigns in which he was a candidate. In 1876 it espoused the presidential aspirations of Roscoe Conkling but when the Republican convention had named Hayes and Wheeler the nominees of the party, the Express gave the party ticket that loyal support to which it was entitled from an avowed Republican paper.”

Under Barnes, it remained staunchly Republican, as that term was understood back then.  In those days, impartiality and balance weren’t necessarily part of a newspaper’s objectives. In 1889, it was in the hands of Albany Academy and Harvard College graduate William Barnes, Jr., son of a prominent lawyer, grandson of Thurlow Weed. The papers became his political pulpit, and he became chairman of the Republican State Committee for several years – he was a model political boss of the times.

Despite all this celebration in 1897, the Express would only last under that name until 1899, when it was sold off to the Press and Knickerbocker.

 

 

The Albany Morning Express

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Albany Morning Express Flag 1897

Since we stumbled onto the topic of the Albany Morning Express and its various successors in interest, all the way down to the lamented Knickerbocker News, we thought we’d dig a little further into what was once Albany’s largest circulation daily. On May 4, 1897, the Express gave a bit of its own history on the occasion of its 51st anniversary [their math, not mine]. “Morning Express To-Day Begins its Second Half-Century of Existence,” it declared, along with promising a brief summary of its history, sketches and pictures of the men who conducted it in the past, a glance at present conditions, and “Retrospective Remarks by the Nestor of Albany’s Newspapermen.”

“Venerable in years, young in vigor and strength, the Express is as ready to battle for right and for freedom as when a half century ago the sword was drawn from the scabbard and the youthful champion entered the lists under the least favorable of circumstances. Successes and reverses have alternately swept across its course and many of the vicissitudes of life have arisen to try the mettle and nerve of this persistent and faithful emissary of the people. But its progress has been steady and unwavering. The Express has been heartily supported by the public and has endeavored to deserve it.”

Gotta love 19th century commercial prose. So how did it get started?

“Two compositors who had worked with such men as Thurlow Weed conceived the plan of starting an independent morning newspaper. They were Alfred Stone and Edward Henly, both of whom probably possessed more practical knowledge and pluck than financial means, with which to begin their enterprise. The third pioneer publisher who subsequently took a conspicuous place as one of the founders of the Express was Mr. Henry D. Stone, also a compositor. There were then published in the city of Albany the Daily Advertiser, founded in 1815, the Argus first published as a daily in 1825, the Evening Journal founded in 1830, and the Atlas projected in 1841.

Mr. Henry D. Stone for a time, about 1834, conducted the Albany Microscope, a Saturday publication which turned its magnifying rays on the follies and foibles of local characters. He afterward conducted a job printing office in which Mr. John D. Parsons, subsequently a member of the Weed, Parsons & Co., was an apprentice.”

Stone and Henly started the American Citizen in 1842 as a morning daily supporting Henry Clay, “which first of all papers bore his name at the head of his columns as the presidential possibility of the ensuing campaign.” After Clay was defeated in the 1844 election, the Citizen, which had been printed from the Cooper building on the southeast corner of State and Green streets, was suspended. They started the Herald in 1845, but it didn’t last long.

On May 4, 1847, Henry Stone’s brother Alfred Stone and Edward Henly (previously of the Statesman) issued the first copy of the Morning Express “from an office on the second floor of the building then standing next south of the building which occupied the southwest corner of Beaver and Green streets.” It was four pages, six columns to the page, a penny a copy, $4 for the year. “It was to be essentially a local paper and the heading bore an engraving of the coat of arms of the city.”

The prospectus they published in the paper that morning said,

“Albany is a large city and it is growing rapidly Its permanent population cannot be less than 45,000 souls. Including the floating and transient population probably not less than 50,000 souls at any time during the period of navigation. It is the great focus of the traveling world, and the center of commercial, manufacturing, political and other interests, which render it one of the most thriving and at the same time one of the most important cities in the Union. These create wants which it is necessary to meet, and one of these present wants is conceived to be a thoroughly impartial and independent daily newspaper, devoted to the good and welfare of the city and prompt in furnishing the readers with a clear and fair transcript from day to day of all the news and other matters of moment and interest. For this and other reasons we are induced to take this step.”

They made a direct appeal to the city’s advertisers as well:

“Advertising pays well. Fortunes have been made by it. Fortunes are yet to be made by it. Now let it be known by these presents, we are prepared to attend the favors of all advertising patrons and trust they will come forward liberally and fill up our advertising columns. We are determined to deserve, and unfalteringly believe we shall obtain, a large circulation for this paper. Advertisers will therefore recognize their own interests by attending to ours in this matter.”

The first issue had 13 columns of advertising, set in nonpareil, “the smallest news type then in general use . . . Small cuts, about the depth of two lines and occupying a small fraction of the width of the column, were generally used to symbolize the nature of the business advertised.” (Cuts are images.) More on those ads, and the Express, to come.

New Use for Old Papers

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Old Papers Morning Express 1892From the Albany Morning Express of Jan. 23, 1892, a house ad for old papers:

Old Papers

(All Sizes)

Suitable for Shelves,

Putting Under Carpets,

Packing Furniture, Etc.

10 Cents per Hundred, At this office.

Probably used for insulation in a lot of old Albany homes, too.

Unclaimed Letters and Merging Papers

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Unclaimed Letters, Albany Morning Express 1892It used to be that undeliverable mail was held by the Post Office, and every week the local postmaster was required to advertise all such unclaimed letters. According to the United States Official Postal Guide for 1896, “The names should be arranged alphabetically and the names of ladies and gentlemen in separate lists . . . The third and fourth- class matter should be advertised in lists with appropriate headings separate from the letters.” And so here we have an advertisement for unclaimed letters published in the Albany Morning Express, Jan. 23, 1892, dutifully separate into men’s and women’s categories. (Privacy was a very different thing in those days.) For those without a fixed address, who had moved around, or who simply had their mail sent to “general delivery” to await pickup at the post office, this was the 19th century equivalent of “You’ve got mail!” (The kids may need to Google that one. Trust us, it was a thing 20 years ago.)

“Postmasters are required to collect one cent postage-due upon all letters advertised, whether by posting or otherwise, which are subsequently delivered.” Mail that remained unclaimed was eventually sent to the Dead Letter Office.

It would appear from this that the Albany Morning Express was the largest circulation daily in a city that then had about seven English-language dailies, two German dailies, and several other weekly publications.  According to Howell, writing in 1886,

Albany Morning Express was started September 13, 1847. In 1854 it was published by Munsell & Co. In 1856 its name was changed to the Daily Statesman. The Express was revived by Stone & Henley, its original proprietors, May 4, 1857 with J.C. Cuyler, editor. In 1860, the publishers were Hunt & Co. Albany Weekly Express, issued August 4, 1881; Sunday edition, March 4, 1883. Albany Express Company: Edward Henley, J. C. Cuyler, Addison A. Keyes and Nathan D. Wendell. Printing-house, southwest corner Green and Beaver streets. A recent change has made Prof. Lewis, editor, and W.F. Hurcombe, publisher.

In its last years, the Express was owned by the Albany Journal, under the control of William Barnes. The Library of Congress says it ceased publication in Dec. 1898, but appears to have merged with the neighboring Daily Press and Knickerbocker to become the Press-Knickerbocker-Express. It appears to have run under that unwieldy title until about 1910, when it was remonikered the Knickerbocker Press. Eventually, that became the Knickerbocker News, which ran with a couple of name changes until 1988.

What to do with Union Station?

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Of course, as soon as Penn Central was allowed/required to abandon Albany’s Union Station, there had to be plans, debates, and schemes about what to do with the venerable, but run-down, facility. Designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, it had opened in 1900 but had seen better days by the time it closed in 1969. A column in the Times-Union early that year lamented the potential loss. “In Albany, where besides City Hall we have Hooker’s old Academy and not much else that rises beyond the second-rate, Union Station must count as important architecture.” Ouch.  The writer went on:

“The easiest solution to the problem of an abandoned depot is to tear it down. But it would be really great to find a use for it. My girl guide thinks that it would make a superb market, an Albanian equivalent to Les Halles of European cities. Or a department store. And she sees Broadway coming to life as a main shopping street. Maybe. It is, anyway, a great deal more appealing to one’s sense of architectural conservation than the usual experience of worse buildings replacing better or their being flattened into highways as will soon happen to those charming conceits of Marcus T. Reynold’s [sic], the Pruyn Library and the little bank at the northwest corner of Broadway and Columbia, together with a number of good, old houses.”

Markets and shopping had been raised as potentials before, even 10 years before when the idea of closing the station was first raised. But downtowns were in serious retrenchment in 1969; stores were moving out, not in. And, of course, an aquarium was proposed. Aquariums are always proposed. Mayor Corning said that the State University was interested in turning the station into a marine biology facility and aquarium, and indeed they appear to have investigated it for a time, looking to the state-built aquarium in Niagara Falls as an example. But no.

In 1969, State Sen. Albert B. Lewis  of Brooklyn suggested that the Cultural Education Center (then just being called the Cultural Center) be housed in the old station, apparently rather than as part of the South Mall. But the idea got “the cold shoulder” from Mayor Corning, who said he saw no relationship between the size of the station and the much larger proposed cultural center. He noted it was about one-tenth the size of the State Education Department and one-fiftieth the size of the cultural center. Sen. Lewis’s motivation was likely savings, as he argued that using the station would save $36 million in construction, at a time when bids had come in $30 million over the estimates. Of course, it went nowhere.

The State of New York (specifically, DOT) actually ended up owning Union Station, part of its purchase of holdings of Penn Central in order to build the Riverfront Arterial now known as Interstate 787. In 1971 (and probably other times, too), the State put the station up for sale, in this case asking $320,000, but there were no takers. The Commissioner of General Services Almerin C. O’Hara said he thought the structure should be demolished. “In my opinion, the state can no longer afford to maintain the building. It would be difficult to rehabilitate. So as far as I’m concerned, if we can get the money, we’re going to demolish it.” Either they never got the money or someone at a higher level nixed that idea, because the station remained, unpurchased and unloved, apparently until its rehabilitation was announced in 1984, and completed in 1986, to house Norstar Bank’s headquarters.

Now Is The Rail Station of Our Discontent

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We outlined how the original thought to move Albany’s railroad station to Rensselaer turned into a part of the overall plan to run the interstate along the river. Since the train station moved, the complaining about it has rarely stopped. Even now that the new facility is considerably better appointed than the old box of a station, there are endless complaints about the location, the poor public transit support, and taxi service that would have to improve significantly to reach horrible.

Well, that was the case right from the start. In January 1969, a writer for the Knickerbocker News started out with:

“Figure on adding $1.25 cab fare, plus tip, to your travel expenses if you’re taking a train to ‘Albany.’ Or, if you’re willing to carry your luggage a block from the door of Penn Central’s new ‘Albany’ passenger station in Rensselaer to the bus stop, you can get to The Plaza in Albany for only a quarter. The extras are the price the passenger pays for the railroad’s decision to shut down the old Union Station on Broadway and move the Albany station over the river.”

She granted that if someone were picking up a passenger, they’d have no problem finding parking (with about 80 spots then available, and 70 more expected). Pine Hills cabs would meet trains at the station, and could be called by direct telephone. “If you prefer, you can use a pay telephone to call another cab company.”

The United Traction Company buses (pre-CDTA) served the new station every 20 minutes, except from 1 am to 5 am, when they were hourly. Yes, our buses used to run overnight. From Albany, you’d catch the Rensselaer-Third Street bus at Hudson Avenue and Broadway – well, there’s something that hasn’t changed. That the bus didn’t really pull into the station also hasn’t changed, so we’re going on 50 years of dumb. The writer noted that the train ticket from Schenectady to Albany, now Rensselaer, cost 83 cents. The cab ride from Rensselaer to State and Pearl would run you $1.25.

But Rensselaer, and Penn Central, and passenger rail in general, did have supporters. One of them was Charles Mann Sr. of Rensselaer, part of a railroading family whose son Ernie literally wrote the book on the Railroads in Rensselaer. In a February 1969 edition of the Knick News, Mr. Mann took exception to a recent article that had focused on the shortcomings of the Penn Central in a recent snowstorm.

“As a long time reader of the Knickerbocker News and as a retired railroader, I will be the first one to admit that the passenger service furnished by the railroads at the present time may be subjected to criticism, but may I ask why the passengers on the train described by Mr. Waters [the writer] went to the railroad for transportation at the time mentioned. Why did they not go by air, bus or by private auto as they have been going for a long time?

The reason they did not go by plane or bus at the time was that there was no air or bus service available on account of severe weather conditions.”

He went on to note that the railroads faced the same weather conditions as airlines and bus lines, but that the railroads functioned more or less on scheduled and arrived at their destinations.

“There were several pictures of stranded travelers at airports, automobiles stranded at locations on the highways across the state going no place due to weather conditions, but there was no severe criticism made about the air lines or bus lines as there was made about the railroads.”

Mr. Mann then, quite rightly, said that the paper seemed to have taken a dislike to the Penn Central since it moved its station, noting that most editions of the paper contained some slam against the station’s location, parking facilities, or the fares to get there.

“As for parking space, where could you find a place to park your car near the Union Station in Albany?” Oh, snap (as the kids say).

“Also, may I remind you that for as many years as I can remember (and I can remember a good many) the people of Rensselaer had to pay the same bus and taxi fares to get to the Albany station.

When conditions favor air and bus line operation no one ever thinks of taking a train for transportation so why should the railroads be forced to maintain 1st class, on schedule service (which they do at a loss) when all other means of transportation has ceased to function … With the present amount of passengers using the railroads you should not expect to have a Grand Central in Rensselaer or Albany.”

Then, and quite rightly, Mr. Mann dropped the mic with this closer:

“it seems to me that the public deserted the railroads before the railroads deserted the public.”

Yep.

New York Central: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

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Union station broadway albany ny early 1900s

The New York Central’s Union Station in Albany, from the Albany…The Way It Was archives on Flickr, at https://flic.kr/p/kDwsk5

Okay, admittedly, our headline from yesterday was a bit of hyperbole. Of course, the Penn Central Railroad didn’t ruin everything, although it didn’t help many things either. But a commenter noted that they were really just finishing the work the New York Central had started, in the face of the fairly catastrophic decline in both freight and passenger rail service. And while it was convenient that New York State wanted to eliminate tracks and the Maiden Lane Bridge in order to build I-787, that only became a factor in the later ‘60s when the plan for the Riverfront Arterial was final. But it’s true, the situation was all set up nearly 10 years before it happened.

In 1959, the New York Central first proposed moving its passenger station to Rensselaer, and the City of Albany of course immediately opposed it. That caused the railroad, led by President Alfred Perlman, to complain that the city and its business interests had failed to respond to the railroad’s proposals for redevelopment of its riverfront property, including the then-59-year-old Union Station. The railroad argued that economic necessity and a program to streamline operations forced the move, that the Rensselaer station would be more convenient for Albany residents, and that “abandonment of many of its Albany properties will give the city an opportunity to spruce up a rundown section.” Perlman said they would lend their industrial development experts (presumably not the ones who had caused the railroad to be so rundown) to advance a broad urban redevelopment project for the area, which would cover land from Union Station to the river, and north toward the Livingston Avenue Bridge. He even hung out the idea of combining it with a “Title 1” project, a federally aided slum clearance and urban renewal project – the feds would pay two-thirds the cost of acquiring and clearing the area in order to sell it to private interests for redevelopment. But he also said there had been three offers to buy the station from “out-of-town interests” considering the building for office and store use. He also said the Maiden Lane bridge could be converted to vehicular traffic to relieve the burden on the Dunn Memorial.

So here are the detailed reasons they gave in the Knickerbocker News:

Top New York Central Railroad officials say they have to move their Albany passenger station to Rensselaer to meet the economic demands of modern railroading and that no lowering of local taxes could persuade them to change their plans.
These reasons for the move – and reasons why they say they could not locate a new station elsewhere – were outlined by the Central’s president, Alfred E. Perlman; vice president, John F. Nash, and eastern district general manager, Robert D. Timpany:
1 – Union Station is “old, obsolete and too big” and expensive for these days of declining passenger business. The train control system in the station area is obsolete.
2 – A change to a “small, functional station in Rensselaer with just a waiting room and ticket office” would save the railroad $1 million a year.
3 – Taxes are a minor part of the picture. The Central pays the city $59,000 a year on Union Station, Mr. Perlman said, while it expects to save $1 million a year on the move to Rensselaer.
4 – A Rensselaer station, with easier access through traffic and more parking space would be “more convenient” to Albany residents.
5 – The cutback in railroad jobs that would result from the move would not be large.

That Rensselaer would work, and no other location would, was said to be because the railroad already had coach yards, diesel and repair facilities there, and “all we need is a small station building.” A plan for a station in Colonie would run up to $5 million. Perlman got in a little dig at the city, too, saying the $59,000 the railroad paid in taxes “makes up the city’s operating deficit of $57,000 on its airport.” Then, stretching his point and credulity, he argued that the Rensselaer station was really only three city blocks away (assuming you paved over the Hudson). He also said that the move would not discourage rail travel but increase it – that part was even plausible, since parking in Albany was a problem even then.

Mayor Corning, in the same edition of the Knick, said, “Stripping this matter to the bare essentials, all that the New York Central has done is say that it wants to move the railroad station from Albany to Rensselaer. The administration of the City of Albany is opposed to this move, and expects to oppose it before appropriate regulatory bodies. Accordingly, the suggestion of the New York Central – and it is only a suggestion – and any other suggestions for this area are, I believe, premature.”

In 1958 there were already plans to run a new highway along the riverfront. It’s worth noting that just a few years later, in 1962, there were plans and even contracts to build what was called the Riverfront Arterial, which would run from Livingston Avenue to the Yacht Club (and someday south to the Dunn Memorial and north to the Troy-Menands Bridge), filling in the Yacht Club basin to provide parking for 1,000 cars. More on that in the future, but let’s note that the 1962 plan did not call for scrapping any railroad tracks.