Author Archives: carljohnson

Elizabeth Hines, Ziegfeld Girl

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While we’re speaking of Albany-born stars (well, we were), we found a brief mention of Elizabeth Hines in a 1927 Times-Union.

ON BRIGHT BROADWAY – Miss Elizabeth Hines, Albany girl, has long been one of the sparks. She represents her native city in musical comedy, appearing as star in Ziegfeld and George White productions.

Elizabeth Hines 1921 Tatler

Elizabeth Hines in the Tatler, June, 1921

In fact, while we find her connected with George M. Cohan and a number of Ziegfeld productions – particularly “Showboat,” the delay of which led her to sue Ziegfeld in 1927 – we find very little on her life or her Albany connection. In 1928, the Times-Union noted that the “Albany printer’s daughter who rose to stardom on Broadway” had been awarded $12,000 over that cancellation; she had sought $100,000. “Naturally, even $12,000 is acceptable to Miss Hines and Ziegfeld is so happy over the comparative smallness of the award that he is to give his eight-year-old daughter a new roadster.” He sounds like a delight.

The Internet Broadway Database says that Hines was born in 1895, and credits her first Broadway production as “Molly O’,” in 1916. She received a lot of notice for her performances in “The O’Brien Girl” (1921), “Little Nellie Kelly” (1922-23), and “Marjorie” in 1924.

She may not have lived in Albany very long. In the 1910 census, when she would have been just 15, it appears that the family was living in Manhattan. Father Thomas Hines was an “operator” (probably of a press) at a newspaper, and brother Walter, then 18, was listed as a theater actor. We would almost doubt the connection, but the same Thomas Hines, and wife Annie Palmer Hines, are interred at Albany Rural Cemetery, so there’s some kind of connection there.

In 1928, the Times-Union ran a picture of Hines on the front page with the brief cutline: “Smoking by Women – Is one of the 23 roads to hell, in opinion of Rev. G.C. Shell of Watertown. Elizabeth Hines is an Albany girl stage star, who recently wed a New York banker. She poses in smoking attitude.” The recent nuptials referred to here were apparently supposed to have been a secret; the Albany Evening Journal reported them Nov. 17, 1927: “Elizabeth Hines, musical comedy star, protege of George M. Cohan, has just been revealed as a secret bride. Since August 18 she has been Mrs. Frank Rigg Warton. Her husband is engaged in banking, and since she is happiest when sticking to her work she intends to return to the stage.” She was apparently well enough known that she was name-checked in a syndicated column by O.O. McIntyre, “New York Day by Day,” in 1927, without any further explanation:

New York – Thoughts while strolling: Those men who stand in Fifth avenue doorways checking off busses. Elizabeth Hines. Flappers talking the Moran and Mack lingo. What’s become of ginger snaps? A drug store with a balcony restaurant.

What does that mean? No telling.

Albany’s Movie Star, Ward Crane

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Ward Crane 1927

“HIS SHADOW – Hovers over star-specked Flickerland, as an up and coming comet. For years in minor roles, Ward Crane, Albany’s own movie star, is now being cast in important parts in leading pictures.” Times-Union, 9/23/27

In the early days of film, one of the first stars was Albany’s Ward Crane.

Born in 1890, Ward Crane was a “young good looking boy … very popular with his classmates at C.B.A. and quite a young man about town. Ward Crane went to New York where the first movie studios were located, later journeyed to Hollywood and in an incredibly short time, became one of the most important leading men in an industry that was only in its infancy … He was the patent leather haired type of movie villain or hero as the script called for and was always sure of a good handclap at his entrance on the screen by those who knew him ‘when.’ After a short but successful career on the screen, he joined the Navy in the World war. He became ill and died at Saranac Lake and is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery, Albany.” That came from an Edgar Van Olinda column in 1937.

His IMDB profile says that he was the son of a railroad engineer, and had a career in government, “serving as confidential stenographer and then secretary to Governor William Sulzer.” Sulzer was impeached, and Crane got a commission in the Navy. Stationed in San Diego, he met movie stars including Allan Dwan, who suggested Crane try the movies. The bio also reports that he had pleurisy and attempted the rest cure in Saranac Lake, but developed pneumonia and died at the age of 37.

The T-U gave him a good send-off when he died, with numerous photographs of his funeral procession and stills from his movie career. “Ward Crane, Albany youth, was buried today with full military rites from St. Patrick’s church while thousands of his movie admirers and Navy comrades paid tribute. The traditional ‘taps’ was sounded at the grave in St. Agnes’ cemetery. Crane had won his way into the motion picture realm by serving Uncle Sam in the Navy during the World war. The funeral today was conducted from the home of his father. Thomas F. Crane, 501 Central avenue, thence to the church with military processional.” (Later in the article, his name is given as John J. Crane.)

Ward Crane passport photo

Crane travelled to Cuba in 1920 to film the Famous Players-Lasky film, Something Different – from Hal Erickson at allmovie.com
https://www.flickr.com/photos/puzzlemaster/5499503960

The T-U gave yet another version of his rise to stardom. A graduate of CBA, he then took a commercial course at Albany Business College and received an appointment in the Capitol. “Former Governor William Sulzer was greatly impressed with Crane and made him his private secretary. He had the opportunity of acting in the same capacity under the late Governor Martin H. Glynn, but left the state service after the impeachment of Governor Sulzer. When war came, he enlisted in the Navy. As an ensign, he was assigned to a naval station “in the vicinity of Los Angeles,” and there became acquainted with “celebrities of the motion picture colony.” He made a good impression, and at the close of the war received offers to be in the movies. “The profession appealed to him and in addition he had the backing of Douglas Fairbanks and others.” He doubled for Norman Kerry in his initial appearance on the screen, and then received a supporting role in “The Luck of Irish.” He later appeared with Marion Davies, Irene Castle, Marie Prevost and others, and he was best man for Buster Keaton at his marriage to Natalie Talmadge. He was also a friend of Jack Dempsey, and hung around Dempsey’s Saratoga Springs training camp in 1927.

He appeared in a classic of the time, “Sherlock, Jr.,” as the villain opposite Buster Keaton. A year later, in 1925, he was Count Ruboff in Lon Chaney’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”

A short film from 1913 appears in his IMDB credits, indicating perhaps an earlier interest or opportunity, but from 1919 to 1928 he appeared in 47 films. Of interest, in a 1920 feature called “The Scoffer,” directed by Allan Dwan, Crane appeared as “The Albany Kid.” What that role may have entailed is not made clear, but a movie that features a mistress named “Alice Porn” has to be worth checking out.

In 1931, this little snippet appeared in the Binghamton Press:

“Irene Castle McLaughlin, former dancing and motion picture star, has not yet forgotten the late Ward Crane, movie actor. While visiting in Albany the other day, Mrs. McLaughlin placed a wreath of flowers on her former dancing partner’s grave.”

Much Ado About Windshield Stickers

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We ran across an odd little article from the Times-Union in 1928 that raised more questions than it answered:

Harnett to Rule on Smith Auto Sticker
A ruling may be made within a few days on the use of Al Smith windshield stickers. Motor Vehicle Commissioner Harnett will return next week from the Democratic convention at Houston and the ruling may be made at the time.
At one time the bureau banned pictures of bathing beauties from cars. Whether this applies to potential presidential nominees is a debatable question.”

In 1928, Governor Alfred E. Smith was working toward winning the Democratic nomination for the Presidency. What these windshield stickers might have looked like we can’t determine, and whether they blocked a driver’s vision we don’t know. We’ve been unable to find Harnett’s decision.

Advertising cutout of Jantzen Knitting Mills' Red Diving Girl.

Advertising cutout of Jantzen Knitting Mills’ Red Diving Girl.

The bathing beauty stickers, however, we did get a lead on. In September 1927, some of the women who were featured on the stickers attempted to visit with Commissioner Charles A. Harnett, who was conveniently out of town. They were the Lottie Mayer Bathing Beauties, who were performing a water ballet at Proctor’s Grand Theater. An ad from a performance that year in Syracuse called Lottie Mayer and her Bathing Beauties “America’s Greatest Spectacle,” and noted that the performance featured “The Jantzen Girl – The Original Diving Girl Poster Model.” From posters to windshield stickers – we can’t figure out if there was more than one woman pictured, but apparently there was indeed a vogue for featuring Jantzen stickers on the windshields of cars. They may have even provided hood ornaments. (So apparently those Playboy decorations and even less decorous mudflaps seen on trucks these days are not a new idea.)

Lottie Mayer’s Bathing Beauties , with Commissioner Harnett (inset)

 

The Library and the Law

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Schenectady Public LibrarySince we recently featured the old Schenectady Public Library, which sat at the corner of Union Street and Seward Place for nearly 66 years, thanks largely to the beneficence of Andrew Carnegie and Union College. A 1930 article in the Schenectady Gazette proclaimed that “Book Thieves Here Are Rare,” and went on to offer that the police were quick to help.

“The library is protected by educational and penal laws. Police justices have always been a great aid to members of the Schenectady library staff in cases of this nature. Book stores have agreed not to purchase volumes without examining them. Perforating stamps giving the name of the library are used. The thief noticing one on the title page usually tears that out. He does not notice, however, that certain pages of each book are also stamped. Pages 50,125 and 175 are favorites in the punching process . . .

The public is honest, however. Librarians are firm believers in that. Out of the half million loans from the city library each year, not more than five books are lost. That ratio is meager compared to the number of dishes broken annually by a housewife.”

Sick burn, library beat writer. The author went on to note that overdue books were, in fact, a problem, and that people could be forgetful. He indicated that western stories and detective mysteries were “preferred by people who are tired and don’t want to think. On the other hand, an unusually large call for the works of Thackeray, Cooper and Dickens is noted.” He also said that the library’s requests for books on useful arts was notably high, and that books on electrical and civil engineering, painting, carpentry, etc, were always in demand.

“Circulation figures at the library have been enormous this year but waiting lists on the new books are not as long . . . During the past week, between 1,000 and 1,500 books have been passed out daily by the assistants on duty. One of the five branch libraries in the city gave out 700 books in one day last week. The branch libraries are located at: Bellevue, Mont Pleasant, Woodlawn, Brandywine avenue at Becker, and, in the Pleasant Valley section, Craig street at Lincoln avenue.

“No person is refused permission to take books, no matter where he or she is from, the librarians stated. If people residing near one of the branches want a book not on hand there, the main library is called and the book delivered.”

Three Stories about William Holding’s Auxetophone

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auxetophone adWhile researching Professor William Holding, who led a very busy orchestra that played on the Day Liner and in the Ten Eyck Hotel’s grill, we ran across a story about the Professor related by old time columnist of old times, Edgar S. Van Olinda. Then we ran across it again. And again. And each time, it was more than a little different from the previous. Van Olinda was a columnist for the Times-Union who seemed to have known everyone and remembered everything, but he didn’t necessarily remember the point of his stories retold over the decades. This is interesting, not only because the level of detail varies with each telling, but there are little important details in each one as well.

In 1942, this is the story he told:

We recall back in those days, before the event of music, Prof. Holding had a large reproducing machine near the band stand, called an Auxetiphone,  [sic] which stepped up the volume of tone by means of compressed air. On this particular evening, some of the boys from the Masonic temple–O, fellows like Bill Gillespie, Ed Easton, Fred White and other members of Masters Lodge, wont to gether together after the degree work for a little session in the Ten Eyck grill. As you may recall, the steward of the Ten Eyck was Ed Sherlock.
Prof. Holding had a lot of fine records and owned orchestrations which he and his men of the ensemble played as an accompaniment to the records. Often the musicians would put on an orchestral record and play along with it from their own scores. During the playing of one of these numbers, Ed Easton, turned to one of his companions and said without batting an eye: “You wouldn’t think Al Rennie would let the orchestra practice while the customers are sitting around, would you?” A disgusted look from Mr. Sherlock. A little later, Mr. Holding put on a record of the greatest tenor of all time. At the end of the selection, dead-pan Easton again remarked: “Gee, I never knew Holding could sing like that!”
That was TOO much for Mr. Sherlock, his face getting redder every minute. “That’s not Prof. Holding singing, you so-and-so. That’s Caruso!” said the disgusted steward as he disgustedly returned to his cubicle off the kitchen. And no one laughed louder than Prof. Holding when told what caused such unseemly mirth following his artistic rendition of the orchestral part.

In 1964, Van Olinda remembered it this way:

Mr, Holding and his ensemble played on the Albany Day Line steamers, between this city and Kingston Point, and then would hot foot it up State Street to Mr. Rockewell’s hotel. For the dinner hour Mr. Holding had an Auxetiphone machine near the bandstand, whose volume was stepped up with compressed air. His repertoire consisted, principally, of the current light operat [sic] medleys, and on request, would play excerpts from grand opera, using a Caruso Red Seal record, and playing the score with his orchestra.
One night, some of the kabitzers were sitting around the room, among them, Steward Ed Sherlock. When Caruso’s magnificent tenor blazed forth in one of his famous arias, one of the lads turned to Mr. Sherlock and said:
“Gee, I didn’t know Bill Holding could sing like that!”
Fixing the gentleman with a stoney stare, Mr. Sherlock replied: “Why, you ignorant churl, that isn’t Bill Holding, That’s the great Caruso.”
And that was the end of a beautiful friendship.

In 1945, he gave his most elaborate rendering of the story, again beginning with a visit from the local Masons of Masters’ lodge No. 5.

One night in particular, some of Masters’ leading lights were seated around one of the many tables, among whom were the late Edward Easton, banker William Lane Gillespie and Ed Sherlock, steward of the Ten Eyck and a member of the lodge. Mr. Sherlock, an Englishman, was of a more or less serious disposition. Mr. William Holding, leader of the orchestra and his versatile musicians were playing request numbers, embracing everything from grand to light opera.
This same auxetiphone [not actually yet mentioned in the column], a stepped-up with compressed air victrola, was in use during the sojourn of the members of Masters lodge’s inner circle. Mr. Holding had a lot of records of famous singers for which he had obtained the orchestrations. It was his pleasure to play one or more of the records, while he conducted the orchestra, furnishing the musical accompaniment which wasn’t too prominent in the old horn recordings, pre-dating the present orthophonic method.
Mr. Holding decided to play one of the very popular Caruso recordings, something like “Una furtive Lagrima,” and was just getting his musical teeth into the score. Caruso’s magnificent voice was filling the quietude of the grill room, when Ed Easton turned to Ed Sherlock and said: “Gee! I never knew that Bill Holding could sing as well as that.”
Fixing the Albany lawyer with a knowing look, Ed Sherlock said, disdainfully: “Why you darned ignoramus that isn’t Holding singing; that is Caruso.” And as the members of the group gave the laugh to Mr. Sherlock, he muttered something about being unable to fathom the American sense of humor.

There may yet be other versions of this story that Van Olinda thought was worth telling over and over again.

If this Auxetophone sounds a bit like a reverse karaoke, it pretty much was. It was specifically promoted for use just as Professor Holding used it, and the Victor Talking Machine Company provided the orchestrations that the musicians were to play: “In order to promote the use of the Auxetophone in conjunction with a small orchestra, Victor published scores that it called Orchestrations. Each of these scores was designed to be used along with a specific Victor record. When properly used, the famous singer featured on the record would be accompanied by live music. This was the next best thing to having the famous singer hold a concert in your home town.” According to the Auxetophone website (one of those things for which we love the internet), they were made from about 1906 to 1915, and sold for the staggering sum of $500. If you want to hear one, you’re in luck; or perhaps not:  “Have you heard the auxetophone? It is to be hoped not.”

 

The Musical Holdings

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We spoke yesterday of Claude Holding, the accomplished musician who then became an accomplished hotelier, building the Wellington Hotel on State Street. His story, and his father’s, tell a tale of times long gone.

William Holding, Claude’s father, was often called Professor Holding and was one of Albany’s most well-known orchestra leaders. He led an outfit called the Albania Orchestra in the 1890s, and later had the orchestra that played on the Albany Day Line and then performed each evening in the grill room of the Ten Eyck Hotel. This all comes from various Around The Town columns by Edgar Van Olinda over the years.

“How did the scions of the families, engaged in the lumber, cattle and stove businesses spend their evenings in the early decades of the century? There were no television, ratio, nor compact cars, and few night spots. Following a play at the Empire or Harmanus Bleecker Hall theatres, the young bloods would assemble in the grill room of the Ten Eyck Hotel, now the Town Room, to quaff a few and listen to the infectious music of William Holding’s salon orchestra.”

In one of the columns in the Times-Union, in 1942, Van Olinda showed a painting that Frank Hutchens made in 1906, which then hung in the Wellington Hotel office of Claude Holding.

“Here is a picture that should bring a lump in the throat of some of the older Albanians, for it shows the beloved music master of the Ten Eyck hotel, Prof. William Holding, leading his fine orchestra in the grill room of the State street inn during the period prior to the first World war.” The painting, unfortunately too poor in the scanning to bother presenting here, shows a group of eight musicians playing. The members of the group were: William Blakeslee, clarinet; Neil Wilde, cornet; Prof. William Holding, violinist-leader; Morris Borodkin, flute; Neils Jacobsen, bass viol; Claude Holding, violin; Gabrielle Califoano, viola; and Arnold Janser, ‘cello. This was not only a working orchestra, but a hard-working orchestra, playing essentially three gigs a day: down the river on the Day Liner, back up the river, and then hike their instruments up State Street hill to the Ten Eyck for the evening show.

“This same group functioned on the Day Line steamers, playing as far as Kingston Point and returning on the up boat from New York and showing the through passengers from the Metropolis what a good orchestra really sounded like . . . During the reign of Strauss, the Waltz King, and at the time Puccini was just beginning to be known as an opera composer, Prof. Holding and his group could be heard every evening, either on the hotel mezzanine or in the State street grill. Requests were welcomed by the professor and graciously played by his men, and there were very few numbers asked that Mr. Holding, senior, did not have at the tips of his agile fingers.”

William Holding was listed as a professor of music in the 1910 census; it appears he was a private instructor. He was 64 and living with wife Lodeska at 98 Chestnut Street then. He had earlier addresses on Morton, Central and Clinton.

Claude Holding, who was said to have joined his father’s orchestra as a violinist before he had turned 12, actually left Albany for New York City for about 10 years, returning in 1902. “Claude Holding has the distinction of having been a member of the Philharmonic orchestra of New York under the baton of Emil Paur, and numbers among his intimate friends of that former period, such outstanding figures in the musical world as Anton Seidl and Victor Herbert. The Albany man owns Seidl’s baton, which, inscribed to him, hangs on the office wall; the maestro’s beret and gown and smoking set; priceless relics of the Golden Age of music. Mr. Holding had a rich experience as violinist in the orchestras of the Empire, Garrick, Madison Square, Knickerbocker, Herald Square theatres; the Manhattan Opera house and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He was also a member of the Richard Arnold String Sextette, one of the finest chamber music organizations of New York at the time it was considered the ranking organization in a highly specialized field of music.

In 1956, Van Olinda wrote, “And some day, if you are interested, drop into the Wellington Hotel lobby, and look at the oil painting of Bill Holding and his Day Line and Ten Eyck Hotel ensemble. No rock ‘n’ roll in that era.”

Claude Holding did quite well for himself. It was noted in 1957 that he had owned an 11-bedroom mansion and boathouse at Still Bay on Lake George. He was also highly regarded: “The late Claude Holding, hotelman, had many fine traits. One day at his Lake George home he wanted to introduce an Albany man to some friends. He had forgotten his name for the moment, so he asked him. In a few days the man received a letter apologizing.”

The Wellington Hotel and Its Musical Owner

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We’ve shown the top postcard before, but thought it would be nice to put together these three postcard views of Albany’s famous Wellington Hotel, the longest survivor of the grand hotel era in the Capital City. It started as a small hostelry on State Street with only 17 rooms, when it was bought in 1911 by a musician who had played in hotels and on steamboats and then decided to try his hand at the hotel business. That was Claude J. Holding, who expanded the Wellington to 200, then to 400 rooms. His July 24, 1949 obituary in the Times-Union said that ‘”he gained wide recognition when he established the first ‘built-in’ garage in this section of the country. The innovation permits hotel guests to enter an elevator immediately upon leaving their cars.”

The expansion of the Wellington was big news in 1914, with the Times-Union saying it would compare favorably with the classiest apartment hotels in New York city. “It will be one of the most modern apartment hotels in the country, lighted throughout with electricity, equipped with electrical elevators and with running hot and cold water in every room. The breakfast and tea room which will be situated on the main floor of the Howard st. part of the building will be elaborately decorated and elegantly furnished and will be one of the daintiest and most attractive places for dinners in Albany and vicinity. The present dining room will be converted into the offices of the hotel. The present reception room will be altered and redecorated. There will be an elevator in the new and old parts of the building. The aim has been to make the hotel strictly fire proof in every detail. In the Howard st. part there will be 103 rooms, and 50 additional rooms will be afforded by the ‘L’ making the total number of rooms in the hotel about 200.”

Claude J. HoldingClaude was the son of a famed orchestra leader named Willis Holding, who was the music master at the Ten Eyck Hotel; Claude started playing with his father’s orchestra before he was 12. He played violin and viola on the steamboats between Albany and Kingston, and studied under Richard Arnold, master of the New York Philharmonic, who made Holding a member of the Arnold Sextet. He was a member of theater and operatic orchestras and “played in the band at performances of Maude Adams when she starred in ‘The Little Minister.’” While he gave up the music profession for hoteling, he did continue to conduct the YMCA orchestra for many years.

Claude was also active as a founder and president of the Albany Society Council, trustee of National Savings Bank, president of the Albany Auto Club, member of the Chamber of Commerce, legislative chairman of the New York State Hotel Association, director of the New York State Chamber of Commerce, director of the American Automobile Association, and member of the Fort Orange Club. He was 74 when he died. One of his sons, Reynolds Holding, took over after that, and eventually sold out to the Carter hotel syndicate,  “a chain outfit from New York,” as columnist Edgar Van Olinda put it.

After endless stops and starts to redevelop the Wellington and its neighboring buildings, the Berkshire Hotel and the Elks Lodge, the Wellington and its annex were finally taken down, leaving only its facade fronting a new development. The site is now taken up by a parking garage for the Renaissance Hotel, which is what they’re calling the DeWitt Clinton these days. The garage survived on Howard Street until very recently, but was finally demolished to make room for the new Capital Center.

Wellington Hotel Street ViewOn the left side of this Street View you can see the reworked facade of the Wellington, not quite the same as in its glory days, but way better than it was for many years.

 

Schenectady Public Library

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Schenectady Public LibraryStill in the Electric City, looking at lovely postcard views – here, the classic building that housed the Schenectady Public Library for nearly 66 years. Happily, legendary Schenectady Gazette reporter and chronicler of local history Larry Hart gave us the history of the Schenectady public library in commemorating the 75th anniversary of the system in 1969, which coincided with the opening of the new library that still stands at 99 Clinton Street. The lovely structure in this postcard, however, was the first permanent building housing a library, at Seward Place and Union Street.

Before that, there had been a free circulating library late in the 19th century operated by the YMCA in the old Van Horne Hall (part of the site of the Schenectady Savings and Loan Association Building on State Street just west of Erie Boulevard, which more recently held a First Niagara). There was also a subscription library operated for many years by George Clare in connection with his newsroom at 143 State Street, Hart reported. In 1894 a committee was formed, a public appeal for funds started, and a library association organized and chartered, which marked the start of the Schenectady library system. They leased rooms on the second floor of what was then the Fuller Building, later (and now) known as the Wedgeway Building, where there was a large reading room and closed stacks. The Lancaster School Library’s books were transferred to the new library and made up much of its collection of 2,468 volumes.

It wasn’t long before there was agitation for a more suitable library, with citizens pressing the City Council for a central library in 1900. The building you see above was completed in 1903 at a cost of $55,000, greatly aided, as so many city libraries were, by the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, which donated $50,000, and by Union College, which offered the land on the northeast corner of its pasture. General Electric donated $15,000, and the City Council appropriated $5,000 annually for light, heat and general maintenance. The grand opening and dedication was held the night of Oct. 6, 1903. It remained a city institution until 1948, when the county took over, establishing the Schenectady County Public Library System. Annual circulation grew from about 50,000 volumes in 1903 to 22 times that by 1955, Hart reported. At that point, the library was clearly overcrowded and obsolete, barely fitting 100,000 volumes, and study of a new library building began in 1960. The next library was sited on an urban renewal site near City Hall in 1967, with groundbreaking following and about two years of construction.

When Larry Hart was writing, there had only been four directors in the 75-year history of the library, and one of them only very briefly. Henry G. Glen served from 1903 until 1940, followed by Harold L. Hamill who served from July 1940 through December 1941. Then came Bernice Hodges, director from 1941 through 1953, and E. Leonore White, who served from 1953 on.

After the library vacated this building, it was returned to Union College, and it now serves as a student residence named Webster House.

The Time Capsule in Schenectady’s City Hall

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Schenectady City HallThis is a postcard view of Schenectady’s City Hall, the classic Federalist hall designed by McKim, Mead & White and constructed 1931-1933. MMW won a competition among seven firms, three from Schenectady. Some elements of the design were actually prescribed by the city, which apparently wanted something that would complement the Post Office and would echo the legacy of Albany’s most prominent architectural figure, Philip Hooker: “Harvard brick and Vermont marble are proposed as the building materials for the external walls, and Vermont slate for the roof. The design has been developed in the manner of Philip Hooker, whose work represents such an important part of the early architectural heritage of this locality.” So the Gazette wrote on May 10, 1930, when the cornerstone was laid.

There’s a copper box behind the cornerstone, 10 inches wide, 14 inches long, and 8 inches deep. A committee of city officials and a number of clergymen was charged with deciding what would go in that box, and to judge by this report from the Gazette on April 24, 1930, they decided that everything should.

“The committee wishes to place in the copper box, which will be hermetically sealed, as many interesting souvenirs of the present day as the box will contain. A great many of the documents and articles proposed have connection with the city hall project. The committee has decided to place in the box the following articles, and more, should the space warrant it: Copies of stories which appeared in the “American City” magazine of August, 1929, and the “Architect” of June, 1929, both dealing with the architectural competition for the design of the new city hall; copies of the two daily newspapers of an issue as near the date of May 10 as the sealing of the box will allow; a general description of the movement for the new building and its final realization; photographs of the city hall plot as it appeared before the old buildings were razed; photographs of the old city hall and city hall annex; photographs of all the plans in the architectural competition; photographs of principal buildings of the city, such as Union College structures, schools, library, Elks’ clubhouse, banks, Hotel Van Curler, principal industries and postoffice [sic] building, as well as views of the great western gateway, Erie boulevard, State street, etc.; as many aeroplane views as may be accessible; a copy of The Atlas.

“A detailed map of the city in 1875 on which the buildings are sketched to detail; copy of the official common council manual which describes the city government, its history and present personnel; a copy of the 1930 municipal budget; historic sketches of the American Locomotive, General Electric and Mica Insulator Company plants; a book entitled “Schenectady and Great Western Gateway, Past and Present,” published by the chamber of commerce at the time of the bridge’s opening and which contains articles written by Dr. James H. Stoller, professor emeritus of geology of Union College; DeLancey W. Watkins, then president of the Schenectady County Historical Society; Postmaster Edwin G. Conde; Willis T. Hanson, jr., Dr. Charles Alexander Richmond, former president of Union College; George W. Featherstonhaugh, Frederick L. Bronner, former Mayor [T. Low] Barhydt, John W. Hammond and Myron F. Westover; the 1929 report of the chamber of commerce.

“A booklet published by the chamber of commerce entitled “A General Survey of Schenectady” and containing economic and industrial data; a 1,000-foot photophone reel, a production of the General Electric Company which details the steps in the movement for the new city hall, including such scenes as Mayor Fagal’s signing the ordinance providing for the construction of the new building, the board of estimate and apportionment at the session during which it approved the ordinance, with remarks by all the members; the board of aldermen leaving the old city hall after its last meeting in that building, and the police leaving the building preparatory to occupying their new headquarters, Smith and Clinton streets; and possibly the full contents of the copper box which was enclosed in the cornerstone of the old city hall.

“In choosing the articles to be enclosed in the cornerstone, the committee is being guided by the thought of what will be of the most interest to those who may open the box a century or more hence.”

It hasn’t been quite a century. Generally, time capsules don’t do too well, but there have been exceptions (like one in Boston that survived a century in beautiful condition), and I’d sure love to see that photophone reel.

State Street, just a few years later.

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Schenectady State Street from BridgeLast time, we looked up Schenectady’s State Street from the railroad bridge, probably sometime in the late ’30s or ’40s. This time, nearly the same view, sometime in the 1950s. Jay Jewelers is still on the corner on the left, but its loverly perpendicular sign over the street is gone. Here we can also see The Imperial.

If you look just past the Woolworth’s on the left, you can see a curved arrow sign. It points to a restaurant, the Home Foods Cafeteria, which was downstairs from the street and of whose very existence I doubted. My mother swore it was there, but it took a long time to find any evidence of it.

The trolley tracks down the center of the street are gone, as are the little traffic dividers, and buses predominate. . On the other side of the street, on the corner Hough Hotel building, we can see the sign for the store that most people associate with that building: the Planters Peanuts store. Beyond that, you can see the tall sign for Peggy’s Restaurant, and then Proctor’s Theater. The Richman’s sign is gone here. What are the white flags on the lamppost in dead center?