How did Albany celebrate the nation’s centennial in 1876? With firemen’s shirts, white cotton military gloves, and blue flannel regatta shirts. With three-foot long flags. With centennial illuminators – perfectly safe to use, and beautiful in effect.
In the centennial year of the United States, there was some celebrating in Albany. By the time July 3rd, 1876, rolled around, the Albany Evening Times had this to say about the great celebration to come:
The arrangements for the grandest celebration that has ever taken place in Albany are about complete. It now only remains to put into execution the plans which have been maturing for the last two months, and our citizens will witness a display such as will be worth going miles to see. The decorations alone will amply repay the trouble of a long and tedious journey. Already they are cropping out, and by the time our paper goes to press the city will have assumed something of its holiday appearance. Around in back yards trucks are being carefully decorated; up at Hope chapel the Hollanders are working as busy as bees, at their unique and interesting tableaux; the firemen are putting the last polish upon their machines; the soldiers are brushing their uniforms; the Irishmen are taking down their beautiful regalia; the boys are counting over their hoards of fire crackers, and everybody is in a cheerful state of expectancy. And now
A FEW PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS.
Look out for fires.
Remember the advice of Albany’s philosopher, and “Go slow.”
The day will be a long one, as no one will sleep after twelve o’clock to-night.
Take a walk along the route of march, just before the procession, and look at the decorations.
Make a pilgrimage to the various historical buildings, in which our city is so rich.
It will not be absolutely necessary to get drunk to prove your patriotism this evening or to morrow.
Don’t get out of patience with Young America just now. He will not have a like chance to bother you for 100 years.
It is a great pity that the procession cannot go by every house in Albany, but it couldn’t be so arranged.
The capitol will be open for ladies and gentlemen accompanying them, at half-past eleven.
Look at the flag in front of Rev. Dr. Clark’s house at No. 65 North Pearl street and know that it has gone round the world, has floated over a Buddhist temple in Japan, and from the tycoon’s castle.
Don’t forget the unveiling of the tablet at the corner of Hudson Avenue and Broadway at seven o’clock.
The exercises at the capitol will take place at half-past twelve o’clock.
That was the general overview. There were also details about all the religious celebrations which were taking place at All Saints Cathedral, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s, Emmanuel Baptist, the First Reformed Church, Temple Anshe Emeth and Congregation Beth-El. And then the Times laid out the orders of police Chief Maley:
No guns, pistols or cannon may be fired except in the business part of the city; and none whatever along the route of march during the passage of the procession; the streets must be kept clear of all vehicles and obstructions in advance of the procession, and State street, from Eagle to Broadway, must be kept entirely free from vehicles during the morning. In the evening no firing of guns or pistols will be allowed upon or in the neighborhood of State street. The use of powder-crackers and other fireworks will be permitted, but officers are strictly enjoined to arrest all persons found discharging pistols, fire-crackers, torpedoes or other fireworks or fire arms, in the crowd assembled to view the procession or fireworks, or when such fire-works, fire-arms or torpedoes are discharged by persons standing or walking in any street frequented by pedestrians or vehicles. Officers will also arrest all persons found using cartridges containing balls or bullets, or discharging small cannon in the streets frequented by vehicles, or during the passage of the procession in any street.
The plans of 1925 that would have created an entire complex of buildings around the State Capitol didn’t move forward at that time, although the long-awaited state office building that was the original reason for the clearing of the buildings from what became West Capitol Park finally came to fruition. The Alfred E. Smith State Office Building opened in 1928, only 14 years after what may not even have been the first motions in that direction. But the Smith building, making West Capitol Park permanent, and creating Lafayette Park didn’t resolve the state’s continuing need for more space, and even before the Smith building was finished there was a renewed push for a new building on State Street, where the Legislative Office Building is today.
At the beginning of 1931, Governor Roosevelt was backing a new state museum building, which would also relieve “clutter” in other offices, to go by the Times-Union’s account:
“The Governor suggested that a space can be provided in the building for storage of old records, which now clutter up most of the state offices. ‘A great deal of space can be thrown open in the State Office building, the Capitol and the Education building,’ he said, ‘by removing old records to the proposed museum building.’ Recent rental of downtown office quarters for state draftsmen called attention to the fact that the new State Office building, expected to take care of the state’s office needs for some years to come, is close to being overcrowded already with some of the bureau just moving in. State officials pointed out, however, that when plans for the new building were drawn it had not been expected that state activities would expand so greatly in such a brief time …
It is planned to construct the building in six stages, so carried out that the structure will be ready for use after the first is completed. When finished it will contain a large auditorium, quarters for the state museum, archives for historic relics and documents and a large room decorated in honor of New York state residents who lost their lives in the World war.”
At some point this came to be known not as the new State Museum building, but as the Memorial Building (or sometimes the Veterans Memorial Building). A couple of years later, nothing much had happened with it, and Mayor John Boyd Thacher 2d urged Governor Lehman to seek appropriation of funds for its construction, both to honor the veterans of the World War and to “aid materially in the relief of unemployment at this time.” The Times-Union said it had advocated for the building for several years, indicating that a State World War Memorial Commission appointed in 1930 had recommended
“the erection of a State building to be located in this city, and to include quarters for the State museum; for the State Bureau of Military Records; rooms for State Archives and Publications and an auditorium of size sufficient to accommodate large gatherings of people. These recommendations have been before the State authorities for over one year. The site favored by the commission is blocks bounded by State street, Hawk street [sic: Chestnut?], South Swan street and South Hawk street. The city, Mayor Thacher declares, is ready to deed the title to Chestnut street, between South Swan and South Hawk streets to the State.”
The argument, as had been made in 1925, was that the State Museum had outgrown its quarters in the State Education Building, and should be given larger quarters for the benefit of the public. “There should be a large bureau for the preservation and exhibits of war relics and records and other objects relating to the participation of New York State in the wars in which this nation has been engaged. There should likewise be fireproof quarters for the safe keeping of priceless records and documents of the State. And the Capital of New York should be provided with an auditorium adequate for the accommodation of large assemblages.”
The Hudson-Mohawk County Council of the Veterans of Foreign Wars got behind the campaign, along with the American Legion, giving the Times-Union credit for its campaign in favor of the building, again noting its benefits not only as a memorial but as a source of employment.
In 1934, the Albany Evening News reported that “Nothing happened until 1934, when the Legislature and Governor Lehman created the World War Memorial Authority with Edward M. Scheiberling as chairman.” That Authority had authority to issue bonds up to $12.5 million for the site and the structure, but tossed out the original building plans. But they couldn’t get the financing going (something about a Great Depression), and so the Authority sought help from Franklin Roosevelt, now less of a governor and more of a president. The plan they presented to the Public Works Authority would have been a five-story structure with a sub-basement garage for public parking, a basement garage for state cars, the new State Museum, a 3000-seat public auditorium, two floors of state offices, a War Memorial, and space for archives storage. They were seeking a $4.5 million grant from the feds. With that, they had a buyer for their bonds, and a commitment from the State superintendent of public works to “rent all future space needs of the state in the proposed structure.” It was expected that President Roosevelt, on his way to Albany, would be announcing the deal. Eventually, the federal Public Works Authority did promise the grant, if the authority could close its financial arrangements. In 1934, a deadline of Dec. 21 was set. And missed.
But that wasn’t the end. A year and a half later, in July 1936. The Authority had another deadline to meet, according to the July 9 Albany Evening News:
“One of the first duties of the World War Memorial Authority when it meets in Albany Monday will be to assure the federal government and PWA authorities, by resolution, that the $12,500,000 structure can be completed by July 1, 1938 … as preparations for the huge development speed up, it appeared today that contracts for much of the work will be under way by Dec. 1 of this year.
How the Authority is considering plans for including added revenue-producing units in the new structure was disclosed yesterday. These contemplate use of the 5,000-seat auditorium for commercial movies, a state garage, a private garage for parking cars on rental basis, and installation of commercial offices in one wing. State archives, war records, storage and offices would occupy much of the balance of the building.”
Next, we’ll tell you what happened. Until then, no spoilers.
Before we were interrupted by the things that life puts in our way, we were focusing on the plans that led to tearing down an entire block of buildings just west of the State Capitol in order that a new state office building could be constructed there. After several years of dithering, plans started to come together in 1919, as the remaining businesses on the block were vacated and demolition begun. (We covered this all here and in the surrounding entries.) But like many things in Albany, plans for a new building, already previously deferred by the war, didn’t march forward expeditiously. As local business leaders started to clamor to turn that space into a park, it would be another few years before a solid plan for new state offices came together.
Then, as now, State departments were spread all over the city, with the state renting more than 200,000 square feet of office space (at an annual charge of about $250,000). Many departments were spread across multiple buildings, “which militates against the close cooperation that would promote efficiency.” Having departments with offices in the Capitol itself interfered with availability for elected officials, “which should be lodged in close proximity to the Governor’s quarters in the interest of coordination and efficiency … The offices in the Capitol formed by encroachment on corridors, stair halls and lobbies ought to be removed, not only because they are unsightly but also because some of them constitute a serious fire hazard.”
The State Museum, housed in the nearly new State Education Building, was already cramped for space, “expressing increasingly for room to expand. The museum exhibits cannot now be displayed to their best advantage because of inadequate floor space. This institution is of vast and growing importance as an educational agency in the State. The museum cannot be satisfactorily or economically accommodated in an administration or business building. Adequate provision must be made for its certain continued growth and expansion.”
Those are the considerations that led to a recommendation for an entire complex of buildings from a special commission, chaired by Mayor William S. Hackett, that called for what the New York Times reported, in 1925, as a“$10,000,000 Plan for State Offices.”
“The expenditure by the State of $10,000,000 for a group of buildings which, with the Capitol at their centre, would dominate the city and crown Capitol Hill with an architectural display worthy of the Empire State, in addition to furnishing needed office facilities for expanding activities and checking the encroachments of business, is recommended to Governor Smith in a report made public today by a special commission which has been considering such a project for a year.
A five-story office building of classical design to match the Educational Building and to cost, with land, $6,500,000, and a structure to house the State Museum, now located in the State Library section of the Department of Education Building, are included in the project which would involve the purchase by the State of an entire residential block to the south of the Capitol building and the better part of two blocks to the north and west. The proposed museum would cost, with the site included, $3,500,000, according to an estimate furnished by the commission.”
All this was to be paid by a bond issue of $100,000,000 for permanent improvements, which would have allowed the Legislature the issue $10 million a year for ten years to come to build office buildings, new penal and charitable institutions, normal schools, bridges and more. That was to include new office bujildings in New York City and Buffalo as well.
“Should the Governor’s desire be realized the State would own practically all the desirable property atop Capitol Hill. The threatened invasion by businesses of this section, already begun with the erection by the New York Telephone Company of a tall office building in close enough proximity to the Capitol to blanket that structure and mar the view of it from the southeast, would, the Governor believes, be checked effectively and for all time. The State Government would have for its home a group of buildings, symmetrically laid out, which would dominate the city and crown Capitol Hill with new dignity and beauty.”
This sounds something like a plan that didn’t come to fruition until more than 40 years later – although it’s unlikely Mayor Hackett could have imagined the scope that later efforts would take on. The commission’s proposal was that the Capitol would be the hug of a group of buildings, with a proposed new Museum Building to the west. By this time, what is now West Capitol Park was solidly regarded as such, so “to provide a site for the Museum Building the eastern end, nearest to the Capitol, of the entire block between Washington Avenue and State Street in Dove Street, which adjoins the site originally proposed for a new office building must be acquired. A site about 200 feet in depth is proposed. This would demand the demolition of residential structures, a modern apartment house and the Fort Orange Club, which ranks foremost in importance among the clubs of Albany.”
There was also thought given to closing Chestnut Street to extend the proposed site. Ultimately, of course, when the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building was finally built, the apartment house, the Fort Frederick Apartments, was moved, inch by inch, across State Street to its current location – with the tenants never having to move out, by the way. And the Fort Orange Club was not taken for State use, because there are some organizations even more powerful than State government.
Another aspect of the plan actually did come true, even though it didn’t contribute to the office plan at all. “The taking over of a small block east of the Educational Building and adjoining the Capitol on the north, or Washington Avenue, side, and converting it into a park is also proposed. It is occupied now by antiquated small structures, used in part for business and in part for residence. The State Street approach to Capitol Hill from the east is also to be widened by cutting back the northeastern corner of State and Eagle Streets by some fifty feet.” That became Lafayette Park.
But the rest of the plan didn’t happen. The Al Smith Building would be another few years off, and the State Museum would remain in the Education Building for another five decades.
After we posted this, Christopher Philippo was good enough to share a much better version of the proposed office building, as well as a plan for the entire Capitol Park complex:
As we mentioned when talking about the plans to build an office building in what is now Albany’s West Capitol Park, there was a little bit of controversy over blocking the view of the Capitol and the State Education Building, which ultimately resulted in the decision to place the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building on the west side of South Swan Street. And it turned up that some of that was lingering anger over the abomination that was the Hudson River Telephone Building – now considered one of the landmarks of the Albany streetscape.
An article from the Schenectady Gazette in 1917 touted a bill that had been introduced to “Bar Buildings Blocking View of the Capitol – State Wants No Structure to Cut off Sight of $30,000,000 Home.”
“The majestic outlines of the state capitol at Albany are to be preserved for the sight of those approaching the capital City, for a bill has been introduced which prohibits the erection of any lofty building within its immediate vicinity.
The state capitol, erected at a cost of over $30,000,000, for years crowned State street hill, a monument to the affairs of state, undisputed in its lofty splendor. From the Hudson river and miles from Albany in every direction it could be seen by those who had either left or who were approaching the Capital City. Then came a change in State street, in the heart of the once most exclusive portion of the city, there was constructed Albany’s first sky scraper: the Hudson River Telephone building. This structure towered twelve stories and cast its shadow over the capitol, which though far more extensive in area, is but six stories high with an unfinished tower.
After the New York Telephone building was completed it was discovered that no longer could the capitol be seen as of yore from a distance with the same distinctness. Like a shaft to industry of the corporation it houses, the telephone building rears heavenward and in some directions almost completely cuts off a view of the capitol.”
Senator Elon R. Brown introduced a bill that would have constituted a “capitol district,” bounded by Eagle, Swan, Washington and State. Within the district no new or altered building could rise more than eighty feet above the grade of the street, excepting steeples, domes, towers or cupolas erected for strictly ornamental purposes. The state, as is customary, would have been exempt from its own law, and could have built a greater tower had it so wished, but at the time it was thought “unlikely the state will build any structure in the future of immense height.”
It was also noted that the state was a major tenant of the telephone building. In fact, in 1919 Governor Al Smith, faced with opposition to putting up a new office building on the block that had just been cleared for exactly that purpose, proposed that the state might forego a new building and simply condemn the telephone building, taking it over entirely for state use. A Times-Union article from Oct. 7, 1919 said that the governor was willing to consider abandoning a new building and giving over the property to the city for a park, if the city would pay $375,000, half of what the state paid for the site.
“He would then favor the state taking over the telephone building by condemnation proceedings, acquiring the two buildings west of it and the property on Hawk street in the rear of the Calvary Baptist church. The governor estimates the price of the telephone building at $1,200,000, the cost of the additional property needed at $150,000, and the cost of the erection to the additions to the building at $600,000. Added to this would be $500,000 inconsequential [sic] damages to the Telephone company from the removal of its wires and trunk lines. The governor believes that if this plan were carried out, it would be cheaper in the end and give the state the immediate use of much needed room in the telephone building.”
Hoxsie sometimes thinks one could fill the rest of the country with the plans that were made for Albany and never completed. Of course, the building takeover never happened; in fact, it would be stunning if the telephone company had had any desire to give up both a brand new, heavily wired building that had only opened in 1915, and all that sweet rent it was making from the state. It would be several years before renewed plans for a state office building came back to the fore.
As we noted (see the previous several entries), a whole bunch of buildings with some very venerable businesses were pushed out of the block of Washington Avenue just west of the Capitol in 1919. In their place was to be a small park and a new state office building. An article in “The American City” in November of that year, by Charles M. Winchester, the president of the Albany Chamber of Commerce, laid out the problems that led to these demolitions:
“Many years ago the available office space in the Capitol was exhausted, and in consequence state departments have been obliged to occupy rented quarters in business buildings and even in former residences on the streets adjacent to the Capitol. As the labor of these departments has increased, they have had to overflow again into whatever space could be found, with the result that there has been loss of efficiency, loss of time to officials and citizens, and a great and ever-mounting expense to the state. These conditions pointed out the great need of a State Office Building, and much discussion over its location naturally ensued among those interested. The Legislature at the session of 1918 finally appropriated $700,000 for the purchase of the block of land west of the Capitol, where the old buildings have been razed.”
But once the site was opened up, citizens of Albany came to a realization:
“Following the removal of the old buildings behind the Capitol, the citizens of Albany and the state at large obtained their first real view of the stately Education Building. It was as if a curtain obscuring a beautiful picture had suddenly been torn aside. Formerly the only view of the Education Building had been from either end, or at most a very limited perspective. But with the removal of the old buildings it literally burst into view, and its hitherto unrecognized beauty caused the sudden awakening of the people to a realization of what they had been missing. It likewise brought a sober second thought that this beauty would in all probability soon be obscured again by a massive State Office Building which would effectually blanket it from the south.”
Soon the Chamber of Commerce, local architects and others were pressing for a park in place of an office building. A Times-Union article from 1919 said, “Strong supporters of the park site plan, instead of a state office building, as is now proposed by the legislature, are representative of all walks of life in Albany. Members of the leading business houses, professional men, including clergymen, doctors and lawyers, as well as the small house owner and rent payer are firm in their endeavor to secure a park that would protect the education building’s beauty and further set off the stateliness of the capitol itself.” The effort was being led by clothier George T. Babbitt, who said, “Only the other day , … one of the minority, as he opponents to the plan are being called, telephoned me and said that Albany as a whole was trying to keep out a $2,000,000 building. I replied that if the state structure were erected on that site, forever shutting off the view of the magnificent Education building, Albany would lose $4,000,000 worth of beauty.” He was not alone – Peter Kiernan (of Rose and Kiernan Insurance), attorney William Fitzsimmons, and Dean Albert C. Larned of the Cathedral of All Saints all shared the view that the land should be kept open. “Not only will this park for which we are fighting prove a suitable setting for the present Capitol and the magnificent Education building,” Kiernan said, “but it will serve as a court around which to erect other state buildings as they are needed. This park would afford Albany as beautiful a site for its official setting as can be seen in any place in America or Europe.” Well, he wasn’t wrong.
Winchester’s article said that the former State Architect Franklin B. Ware had developed a plan by which would have set the Capitol as the center of a group of state buildings. His plan called for a new state office building on the south side of State street, between Hawk and Swan, “to balance and conform in architecture with the stuyle of the Education Building.” It would also have had the area west of the Capitol dedicated as a memorial to those Albany citizens who gave “their service and their lives in the great war,” with a memorial colonnade along the western edge of the park. That plan was said to have considerable support, and Winchester said it was “the decided choice” of the people of Albany. However, he noted there were others who favored the purchase of the new telephone building for state offices. “Nearly all of this building is already occupied by state departments.” The telephone building was apparently controversial, given that “its height obscures the State Building [the capitol] from the south and mars what was once a beautiful landscape setting. ‘Why didn’t Albany people protest in time to prevent this defacement of their State Capitol?’ is the question frequently asked by outsiders.”
Winchester concluded that “the matter has been brought to the attention of Governor Alfred E. Smith as chairman of the Trustees of Public Buildings, and it is hoped that they will see the force of the argument for the retention of the space behind the Capitol as a memorial park and that the new State Office Building will ultimately be erected to the southward to balance and be a fitting counterpart to the beautiful but hitherto unappreciated Education Building.”
That, of course, was not the end of it. While the plan to move the building elsewhere went nowhere, the building itself also didn’t get underway. Two years later, in 1921, there was still the promise/threat of an office building on the site. In April, a newspaper article said that work would begin “on or about May 1.”
“The site of the state office building is bounded by State street, Swan street, Washington avenue and Capitol place, and after the buildings on this site had been razed and the ground cleared an agitation was started to have the plot converted into a public park. This idea received widespread support from local officials and civic organizations, but when the war conditions made the cost of building materials so high the idea of constructing the state office building was temporarily dropped. The park project passed out with the establishment of a commission of representatives of the city of Albany and of the state which was to insure cooperation between the state and the erection of state buildings. Evidently this commission gave its approval to the construction of the office building and rejected the park idea. It is the intention to erect an office building in which will be housed all the state departments now distributed throughout the city. Thousands of dollars are being paid out annually in rentals for this property leased by the state and the office building will make possible a great economy in the present cost of state government.”
Despite an impending appropriation, the building still didn’t happen. The vacated land was fashioned into a park in some way, though we don’t know how developed it was.
In 1926, the question of the park was apparently still not settled. A Times-Union editorial from Feb. 1 says the block bounded by State, South Swan, Chestnut and South Hawk was still favored. The T-U argued that the block to the west of the Capitol (bounded by Washington, South Swan, State and Capitol Place) should be excluded from consideration. “This site is sometimes suggested, but this subject was fully threshed out several years ago and the fact that it would be undesirable for the erection of a state office building was conclusively demonstrated. To locate the office building there would create a group of buildings that would be an architectural monstrosity. A structure on that site would spoil the perspective of both the Capitol and State Education Building. The park that has been created should ever remain an open space in order that the State buildings shall have a proper environment. The location of the new building on the block south of State Street will create a group of buildings located in harmony of sites and the existing park between them will give the necessary perspective to them all.”
But that was the year that Governor Al Smith finally got through a proposal for a new office building, still intended to “resemble in style and architecture the state education building. He also would see the state acquire the block bounded by Park place, Washington avenue, Hawk and Elk streets as a site for a new executive mansion.” There was a shortage of office space in Albany, and rents were going up. This time, the building was for real, although it went in an art deco direction, rather than resembling the State Education building. It was completed in 1928. We don’t know if the idea of a new executive mansion was ever broached again.
Here’s the full view of much of the block of Washington Avenue that existed just west of the Capitol, running from now-lost Capitol Place to South Swan Street. Last week we covered a lot of the venerable businesses that were being pushed out of the block in the beginning of 1919, but we didn’t get into the reason. All these old buildings and businesses had to go in order to make room for a grand new state office building that was planned at the time.
By this time, all the buildings on the opposite side of Washington Avenue were long gone, replaced by the grand new State Education Building, which had been dedicated in October 1912. When it was determined that the business of the State no longer fit neatly within the confines of the Capitol (and in fact, it never did – other buildings around Albany were always in use for some department or another), plans for a new office building were discussed, and a location immediately adjacent to the Capitol was thought most auspicious.
In 1914, two appraisers appointed by the trustees of public buildings advised “the immediate purchase of the city blocks bounded by Washington avenue, South Swan and State streets and Capitol place.” Earlier that year the Legislature had authorized appraisal of property west of the capitol, and subsequently amended it to include the two blocks north of the Capitol and east of the new education building (now Lafayette Park).
“It is said to be the general plan to create a park west of the capitol and to erect a large office building to conform to the architectural lines of the new education building. The state is now paying out thousands of dollars a year for office rent, a large number of the departments being scattered over the city. The original law is said to also contemplate the erection of an office building in Buffalo and one in New York, the whole appropriation to aggregate something like $4,000,000. State Architect Pilcher is now engaged on the plans for the contemplated building.”
In 1918, the Legislature appropriated $700,000 for the purchase of the block of land west of the Capitol; in 1919, an additional $450,000 to begin construction of the new building was appropriated.
So, not only the buildings we’ve been talking about on Washington had to go, but so did everything between South Swan and Capitol Place, and the buildings that were across Washington along Hawk, stretching to Elk. But things moved with their normal pace in New York, and so it was 1918 before the buildings were ordered vacated, and 1919 before it was real. The following article from April 12, 1919, which we’ve pulled highlights from before, gives a sense of the disorganization as reality set in. Forgive some uncertainty in dates, as the original is not very clear, and also forgive the length discussion of liveries in Albany at the end.
Many Old Business Landmarks Will Be Eradicated
Tenants of Property on Blocks to be Taken for New State Office Building Must Vacate May 1
Several Are Still Undecided
Desirable New Place of Business Hard to Find – Hotel Borthwick, “The Cottage” and Old Harris Livery Stable Among the Famous Old Places Doomed.
It’s a case of “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way” with some of the present tenants of offices and shops in the old block on Washington avenue and Congress street between Capitol place and South Swan street which is to be demolished to make room for the proposed new state office building. The tenants are packing up their belongings preparatory to moving day, but some of them have not found any place to move to and May 1 is now only about 13 days off. Work on razing the old block will be started May 1 and unless the tenants want their property demolished with the block they will have to hurry up.
The state department of health, for instance, which has used the premise at 90 Washington avenue, on the corner of South Swan street, as a storage place for its motion picture apparatus, slides, exhibits, etc., has not found anywhere to locate. While the department has been tenanting the place, the [?] has been utilized for interesting exhibitions of health work, but it is doubtful if these exhibitions will be continued after the department transfers its storehouse to other quarters.
Store There for 60 Years.
The building at 86-88 Washington avenue has been occupied as a general grocery store for about 60 years, first under the name of Slingerland and Son, and for the last 25 or 30 years under the name of J.B. and D.C. Slingerland. Where the store is going next is a matter that has not been determined by its proprietors.
Edwin Nellegar, upholsterer, who was formerly with the W.M. Whitney company but has been in business on his own account for the last 23 years, during which time he has been in the vicinity of the old block, has not decided where he wil move his business. Mr. Nellegar has occupied his present quarters for several years.
J.H. Miller, proprietor of the Borthwick Hotel, has not made his plans. Mr. Miller has had the hotel for only about 10 years, but the building has been used as a hotel for fully 75 years. Alfred Schimpf, electrician and locksmith, who has had his place of business at 72 Washington avenue for 11 years, will move May 1 to 230 Washington avenue. Giuseppe Icolari, barber, who also occupies a part of the building at 72 Washington avenue, is having a hard time to obtain a suitable place for a barber shop at a reasonable price, he declares. Mr. Icolari bought the business two years ago from H.B. Norris, who had conducted a barber shop there for several years and whose father and grandfather conducted the business there before him. Three generations of the Norris family used the same quarters, the business having been started about 60 years ago by the grandfather of H.B. Norris, who came over from England.
The Capitol City News company, which has been in business at 70 Washington avenue for 20 years, doesn’t know where it’s going. Frank F. Schimpf, plumber, will move May 1 to 120 Washington avenue, making the change after 30 years of business at 68 Washington avenue. Another occupant of the premises is Jeu Sing, a Chinese laundryman, who had the foresight and kindness to display a big sign, “On May 1 will move to 13 North Hawk street,” over his door so that the reporter who was interviewing these merchants would not have to battle with the Chinese language to procure the desired information. From the man next door the reporter gleaned the fact that there has been a Chinese laundry at No. 68 for the last 30 years, but that Jeu Sing was a newcomer.
Good Bye to “The Cottage”
At the corner of Capitol place and Congress street is the old green, wooden building that was once a famous hotel. It is now a saloon and is occupied by M.A. Sheedy, who has owned the property for about 15 years. This queer old buiding, known as “The Cottage,” with its old-fashioned square chimney and its odd-colored windows, was owned by William J. Breslin, who opened it as a hotel in [1888?]. Mr. Breslin conducted a hotel there for 23 years and accumulated considerable wealth. The place was known by all statesmen throughout the state, the hotel being in close proximity to the capitol. Could the now dingy looking back rooms speak they could tell stories of many a political deal pulled offer there.
Another hotel occupies the corner at Washington avenue and Capitol place, this being known as Patterson’s hotel. The proprietor, J.F. Patterson, said he had made plans for the future. He has had the business about five years.
The same old block also contains, on the corner of South Swan and Congress streets, a well known livery stable, now no longer in use. The window panes are smashed and the interior is gray with cobwebs. Since the old days when the big stable was the home of stylish turnouts, the motor car and luxurious limousine have come into being and swept away the once fashionable Dobbin with docked tail and shiny harness and the black carriage glistening with its new coat of paint. The old stable still stands, – a relic of the old days when the honk of Fords and screaming siren on the Twin-six Packards were not heard.
The Old Livery Stable
Charles J. Reynolds, for 30 years associated with the Harris family who conducted the livery stable on the corner, and now assistant director of the Bureau of Weights and Measures, is authority for the history of the old stable, and, incidentally, details about other livery stables in Albany, only two of which exist to-day. The stable on the corner was purchased in 1892 by Captain Frank S. Harris who is now with the 51st Pioneer infantry in the Army of Occupation on the Rhine. The livery business was moved there from Maiden lane, where three generations of the Harris family had done business. The business was established by George Harris and was carried on by George Harris, jr., and later by his son Frank for [25?] years, and their stable on Maiden lane was one of the oldest liveries in the city and one of the largest between Buffalo and New York.
Then the automobile came and Fred Harris, after removing to the corner of Swan and Congress streets, saw clearly that the livery business was doomed, so in 1914 he sold out to George Dunnell, who conducted the business there until 1917. Since that time the old stable has been vacant. Before Captain Frank Harris bought the stable it had been used as a livery by Augustus Brewster, who entered business there before 1892.
Mr. Reynolds said the building has been used as a livery for fully [68?] years. He stated that only two out of 11 liveries in Albany are still doing business, these being the one owned by Charles Gunn on North Lake avenue and that of Henry F. Tammany on North pearl street. The others were: George Russell’s livery on State street, [near?] Willett street; John Ebel on Hudson avenue; A.W. Burch, North Pearl street; T. Wilson & Son, North Pearl street; William Wakefield’s livery on Hudson avenue, near Hawk street, which has since been turned into a garage; Charles Tietz’s on Madison Avenue; Matthew De Freest, Hamilton street, near Union; Phil Shaffer, Central avenue, and John Peterson, Sherman street.
When we talked about the former Hotel Borthwick the other day, we skipped over talking about another venerable business that occupied the ground floor of the more westward building, past the opening to the courtyard and, in this view, directly behind the horse. That was Bouton and Vine, wholesale grocers, at 76 Washington Ave.
When this picture was taken, which we believe was in the spring of 1919, the business was owned by George Bouton, who lived at 305 Hamilton. It appears that as this block of buildings was about to come to an end, so did George Bouton, who apparently was big in cigars as well. A journal called “Tobacco” featured the passing of both Bouton and the type of grocery business that also dealt in tobacco, in an article on Capital District happenings from January, 1919 that is, unfortunately, written in a folksy imagined conversation between two fictional characters named Stubb and Ash.
“This name ‘Barnet’ makes me think of George Bouton,” interposed Jim Stuff, recalling the recent death of the senior partner of the old Albany grocery firm of Bouton & Vine. “Because George Bouton was somewhat interested in cigars and tobacco products himself. He jobbed quite a lot of tobacco supplies at one time. His place, on Washington avenue, just above the Capitol, was a shrine for the country trade. They bought a lot of stuff of George because they had every confidence in his old-fashioned Yankee integrity.”
“Few of the old-time wholesale grocer-cigar houses remain,” affirmed Sam Ash, thinking of the various Capitol District composite jobbers who once occupied and shared the territory with the original cigar and tobacco wholesalers. “Why, outside of Jonathan Levy in Schenectady, I guess the local concerns have all dropped out of the tobacco game, ain’t they?”
Oy. Anyway, the business began as a partnership of Percival N. Bouton and S. Vine. George was listed as a clerk there in 1871. Chester Bouton, who lived with George and Percival, was in the flour business down at 317 Broadway with DeWitt Phillips. Percival , born 1844, died after George, in 1920, at which time his obituary said he had been connected with Bouton and Vine, “wholesale grocers at 49 Hudson ave., for 56 years,” which would mean it began in 1864. It would appear that was where they moved after vacating 76 Washington. Percival’s home at the time of his death was 54 Chestnut Street.
George was born about 1846 in Rensselaerville. In 1871 he was listed as a clerk at 76 Washington Avenue (and living at 159 Hamilton). He was an active board member of the YMCA, and was noted as having given the first dollar toward the “new” building in 1892. He last lived at 305 Hamilton, and died of myocarditis on January 9, 1919, at the age of 73.
After the deaths of brothers George and Percival, Bouton and Vine did continue on for some time at 49 Hudson; the 1923 directory lists the business as “Bouton & Vine (Samuel & Campbell).” A later directory seems to indicate that the business was continued by Samuel I. Campbell, but by 1933 it appears to be gone.
To the immediate right of the Bouton & Vine storefront, at 78 Washington, had been the Hill Bros. fish market, run by Walter Hill. He had been in the fish business for decades, though we’re not sure when he settled in at 78 Washington. Walter was from England; in 1880 he was boarding on Howard Street in the home of a fruit dealer. The brother in “Hill Bros.” appears to have been William. In 1897 they were at 37 Washington Ave, but at least by 1907 they were in this storefront. After this closure, we don’t find either William or Walter.
Continuing our look at a photo from 1919 of a whole bunch of buildings that aren’t there anymore on Washington Avenue, just west of the Capitol, we come to the storefronts of Charles C. Campbell and Christopher Gardner (we covered Edwin Nellegar yesterday).
Charles C. Campbell was a stove dealer for decades, at least as far back as 1880, when he was 30 years old. He, wife Emma and daughter Iza lived on Lark Street then, but at some point appear to have lived in the same building as his store, 82 Washington. By the time business was closing up here, he had moved to 37 Morris, and he took his business up to 311 Central Avenue. The sign in the vacant window says “Removed.”
In 1942, columnist Edgar Van Olinda in the Times-Union related the words of amateur historian John T. Bender, who recalled that Campbell was “a creator with individuality. Stoves were his trade and he used one in front of his place as substitute for the cigar Indian, the barber’s pole and the drugstore’s big, colored bottles. He installed his own lighting system, gas pipes running the length of his store, filled with kerosene which fed wicks connected with lamps fastened to the pipes.”
To the right was the pork store of Christopher Gardner, although by the time this picture was taken Gardner himself was no longer there. It had been run by at least two generations. In 1861, John H. Gardner & Son (Christopher) were listed in the directory as pork packers at 84 Washington (“also liquors, wines, &c.”). By 1874 Christopher was on his own Gardner’s business was listed as a “meatstall” in 1903; his home was at 188 Lancaster. He died in 1912 of cirrhosis of the liver. After that, the meat market was owned by George R. Underhill, who seems not to have worried about taking down the C. Gardner sign. (Perhaps he was a fan of Winnie the Pooh.) George was about 58 by this time, and with wife Carrie lived at 23 Western Avenue. He moved his market to 50 Central Ave.
We’re really curious about the tall thin window at the far wide of Campbell’s building. It wasn’t at all unusual for commercial buildings at the time to have a big window on the second floor for hoisting large items to the upper storey — but this window, if anything, is narrower than the others.
We want to be this guy, hanging out on the stoop of the pork store.