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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?

State Street, Schenectady

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State Street SchenectadyLet’s leave Albany for a while and look at the Electric City. Another view from the Tichnor Collection at Digitalcommonwealth.org, this time of Schenectady’s State Street, looking east from the railroad overpass, with Broadway/North Center Street crossing. This was likely late 1930s or early 1940s (car dating nerds, help us out). Immediately to the left, Jay Jewelry, which later moved west of the overpass. Just the other side of North Center Street was the F.W. Woolworth. The stores beyond that are a little hard to make out, but the taller one on the block was the Wallace Co. department store. If you squint, way up the left side of the street, you can see a sign for the Plaza Theater, which opened in 1931 and was demolished in 1964, a pretty short run for a house that some considered grander than Proctor’s.

On the right side, the corner building was the Hotel Hough, which appears at this time to have housed Rudolph Jewelers on the ground floor. The Hough survived (as a building) until relatively recently, and was demolished to make room for BowTie Cinemas.  The tall tower just beyond it was the home of Clark Witbeck hardware, which sold routine hardware but also was involved in railroad supplies. (Mr. Witbeck’s tomb in Vale Cemetery is an Egyptianate wonder.) Some of the smaller businesses are hard to pick out beyond that, but the Proctor’s theater sign is prominent. Past that, another sign, for Richman Brothers, a men’s and boy’s wear store.

Up the middle of the street, trolley tracks — though it looks like buses are running along them. There are islands in State Street, diverting traffic around the trackisings, in a layout that is surprisingly similar to how it looks today.

In rare good news, the vast majority of the buildings in this picture still stand today, though there have been some changes. The Woolworth’s looks dramatically different, as do the buildings just to the east of it,  and as we said, the Hough is gone, but the rest of this scene doesn’t look so different today. Click on the pic to see it large!

Lincoln Park Pool

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Lincoln Park Swimming PoolA grand view of Albany’s Lincoln Park swimming pool. As the city grew, the old public baths proved insufficient to meet the need, and in the 1920s there were some short-term stabs at providing swimming facilities, including the Rocky Ledge wading pool and what appears to have been a swimming tank in Lincoln Park. By 1930, this rather grander pool was completed, and it has remained in operation ever since. From the Albany Group Archive, another view, from its opening year:
Lincoln Park Swimming Pool  July 4 1931  albany ny 1930s

The Delaware and Hudson Building (and Evening Journal)

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D&H building at night
On the one hand, this is such a common Albany view that we hardly think about it. On the other hand, who gets tired of looking at the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building, the headquarters of what was once one of Albany’s great railroads? And on the third hand, it’s the D&H Building at night, with the trolley loop in front of it, The Plaza, ringed in trees and lights. This was architect Marcus T. Reynolds’s crowning achievement, completed in sections starting in 1914-15 and finally done in 1918. The structure to the right is actually the Albany Evening Journal building, built for the newspaper founded by Thurlow Weed in 1830 but which would only last until 1925. The photograph is a little fanciful in its lack of trolley tracks, or trolleys. Everyone who remembers that they shipped off to war from this building is, unfortunately, wrong – although there was a freight terminal just north of it behind Dean Street, this was never a railroad station, just a rather grand office building.

The building the D&H occupied prior to this one still stands on North Pearl Street.

Another undated card from the Tichnor Collection at Digitalcommonwealth.org.

 

The Court of Appeals

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Still mining the Tichnor Collection from digitalcommonwealth.org, with this lovely postcard view of the New York State Court of Appeals building on Eagle Street, just north of City Hall, across Pine Street. For those not familiar, this is the highest court in New York State’s court system (those imbued with common sense are usually surprised to find that state Supreme Courts are the lowest level of state court — but are supreme over local courts). This stretch of Eagle Street is just a touch off the main routes, and some people are surprised to find this and the county courthouse (just visible to the left) tucked away in a quiet setting across from Academy Park.

Originally, this was built as the State Hall. State courts then were housed in the Capitol (the old one). Besides the much smaller old Capitol, the State also had offices in the Old State Hall at the corner of Lodge and State. Lack of space to a push for a new ace and concern about fire destroying records led to the push for construction of this new State Hall, and local architect Henry Rector was commissioned to design this building, which opened in 1842. (Time has been unkind to Rector’s work, with the only other surviving example being a row of houses on Westerlo Street in the Pastures.) It originally housed the state chancellor, Register of Chancery, the clerk of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, as well as the attorney general, the auditor, Erie Canal appraisers and commissioners, the comptroller, and the state engineer and surveyor-general. The Court of Appeals remained in the Capitol, and stayed there when the new one was built as well. However, a need for better court space led to a renovation and the Court of Appeals moved in in 1917. A second, much more extensive renovation, was completed in 1959, including a replacement dome and rebuilt foundation. Another round of renovations took place beginning in 2001, again replacing structural elements of the dome, but this time also adding on to the building.

In Waite’s “Albany Architecture,” Anthony Opalka writes that the marble for the building was quarried by inmates at Sing Sing Prison, down the Hudson River at Ossining.