Saturday, December 26, 2009

It's fun to stay at the....


Yes, I'll admit it, The Village People are one of my guilty pleasures. Their July concert was the most fun I've had at Alive @ Five in a long time.

And I'll admit that I only recently realized this gorgeous building on Pearl Street was the original location of Albany's Y.M.C.A.. I've passed it many, many times, but always knew of it as the now-defunct Steuben Club and now the home of the new Pearl Street Pub.

The building was built in the 1880s and designed by the architectural firm of Fuller & Wheeler. The turret on the southeast corner was topped with a conical roof, now lost. The side entrance on Steuben Place is especially handsome with its imposing Romanesque sandstone arch.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Angels On High

The Angel Gabriel atop the 175 ft. spire of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church is one of the most recognizable features of the downtown Albany skyline.

Not only is the Angel quite a lovely site from any angle, it's also a working weather-vane.

St. Mary's is one of the area's oldest churches having been founded in 1797, but its history goes back to a 17th-century Dutch barn that previously occupied the lot at the corner of present day Lodge and Chapel Streets. When St. Isaac Jogues escaped from his first captivity among the Mohawks, it was at that barn (Jogues, a French Jesuit missionary, was killed by Mohawks a few years later).

This beautiful building is not the original St. Mary's, but the third. The first was built in 1797 and its original cornerstone is preserved in the current sacristy. The second church was built in 1808 by Albany's leading architect Philip Hooker and its original corner stone is preserved in the current sacristy. When that building and the Marquis de Lafayette attended Mass there during his visit to Albany. The current building was erected under the supervision of Father Clarence Walworth.

History of St. Mary's

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bicentennial plaques

In 1886, as a part of Albany's bicentennial celebrations, almost fifty small plaques were installed at sites of historic significance around the city.

Unfortunately, over the years, many of those plaques have vanished. Some may have been stolen, others simply lost when moved to make way for new buildings or repairs.

This one, affixed to the Old Post Office at the corner of Broadway and State Street is one of the surviving plaques and one of my favorites because any reference to a burial ground or cemetery will get my attention.

One missing plaque that I would love to locate is the plaque that was placed at Arch and South Pearl Streets to mark the location of the underground Beaverkill. I've made two trips to the intersection, hoping to find it, but I assume it was moved and misplaced when the streets were repaved.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Winter In The Beaverkill Ravine

For the past several months, I've been blogging about the gully in Lincoln Park and the underground Beaverkill which can be glimpsed through a grating within the gully. I'm not quite sure why this spot fascinates me so, but it simply does.

So, of course, when I passed the gully on the way to Walgreens recently, I just had to venture inside and see how it looks in the winter. I didn't go too far into the ravine this time, only because I wasn't wearing boots and the snow looked rather damp towards the middle. But I could still hear the rushing of water from the Beaverkill tumbling through the culverts under that mundane-looking metal grate...and, as always, there was a subtle haunting feeling to the place.

Click below for my posts about the Beaverkill...I will be writing more soon. And, despite the cold, Sunday's peek inside probably won't be the last this winter.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Cheer

I tend to be fairly tradition in my Christmas tastes, but I have to admit that the annual Santa Speedo Sprint has quickly become one of my favorite holiday events.

Held on Lark Street (of course), the Sprint is a charity event and just crazy fun with costumes ranging from hilarious pun intended...racy.

Check out their official site.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Going Nowhere

I've passed by this little alley with its drab brick arch and increasingly rickety wooden staircase almost every day of my life. And, while I've always been one of those "Oooh, I wonder where that leads" types, I've never had to wonder about this small passage.

It goes absolutely nowhere. The stairs ends with nothing...just an opening in mid-air. Wisely, the owners of the property blocked that opening with some wooden bars because it would only be a matter of time before some adventurous kid or fuddled drunk seeking shelter tumbled through.

The stairs are a part of the brick building to the left, a handsome 1880s school now converted to apartments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A One-Dimensional Neighborhood

When I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, I recall a bit of a mania for painting murals on the sides of buildings and otherwise unadorned walls. Most of the murals are vague memories for me, with the exception of the one closest to my house. I remember white silhouettes of dancers in mid-leap set against bars of blue on the south wall of Justin's Restaurant at the corner of Madison Avenue and Lark Street.

Most of the murals from my childhood are long gone. The one picture above, if I recall correctly, came somewhat later. It decorates a wall in the parking lot of the McDonald's on lower Central Avenue and, well, it's not in the best of shape. The paint is still bright, but peeling in places...and graffiti has made its appearance on a number of the panels.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A surprise on Lancaster Street

I spotted this small, but very distinctive manhole-like cover on Lancaster Street between Lark Street and Washington Park just this weekend.

It was those round cabochons of purple glass that caught my eye. Rather fancy for an apparently utilitarian metal lid in a sidewalk, though it matches rather nicely with the matched row of brownstones lining Lancaster Street. Of course, some of the glasses are one place, there's just a dark hole. A few yards away, there is another cover with a similar metal design that did not include the glass.

The edge of the cover reads Jacob Mark Worth Street NY. And there is a patent date...1873.

A quick bit of research over my morning coffee turned up a little information on this company. These are called "illuminated covers" or "vault lights" and they were intended to bring light into basements and other below-ground chambers with little or no other light sources. The rounds of purple glass are actually prisms which direct the light into the undergrounds spaces.

Vault lights were first patented in 1845 and were later used to bring light to early subway platforms. They are much more common - and there are much larger specimens from a variety of makers - scattered around lower Manhattan. There are examples of Jacob Mark vault lights on Hudson Street and Duane Street in Manhattan. Knowing me, I'll probably go out of my way to find them on my next trip down to the City.

But, for now, I'm rather curious why a small vault light was installed on a quiet street in Albany...and just what was originally illuminated by those amethyst-colored prisms.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Ten Broeck Mansion

I'm quite ashamed to admit that, despite a lifelong love of local history, I've never actually visited the Ten Broeck Mansion (or the Schuyler Mansion across town...or Cherry Hill). Maybe it's because, when I was growing up, no one brought be there due to the tough reputation of the neighborhoods surrounding each of these historic homes. Maybe I just never got around to going.

Whatever the reason, I mean to make up for lost time next year. Consider it one of my New Years visit all three of the above sites.

The photo above shows the Ten Broeck Mansion on the high ground above the street of the same name. The house was built in the late 1790s when the land was actually part of the Township of Watervliet and leased from the Patron, Stephen Van Rensselaer. Originally called Prospect because of its excellent views of the Hudson River just north of Albany, it was later called Arbour Hill...a name that extends to the surrounding neighborhoods to this day.

Click here to visit the Ten Broeck Mansion's site.

(And be sure to check out the wonderful photos of the interior and gardens)

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I've already blogged about this building, an old truck garage at Warren Street between Lincoln Park and Arch Street. For a utilitarian structure, it has a sort of grim elegance...and I love the star-shape of the wall supports on either side. I've seen decorative wall supports before, usually on very old houses. But these are the first stars I've seen and they're a charming touch on a very simple building.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Retro Lunch

This sign on James Street just off State Street keeps catching my eye, though I'm usually distracted by the nearby Bank of America with its elegant Philip Hooker facade and the gorgeous former Mechanics & Farmers Bank building on either side of the intersection.

I've found very little information on this restaurant. The spot has been vacant since 2002, though I'm not sure whether the last lunch shop operating there was the original K.W. Savory or just continued with the catchy name. Apparently, the place at one time could claim to be Albany's first salad bar...and homemade ice cream is always tempting enough!

But the stylish retro sign is the real attraction now. I think I like it because, for me, it calls to mind a time when my great-aunt worked downtown at such businesses as Albany Associates and Reuben H. Donnelly Corporation.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Early in this blog, I mentioned that I'm really fond of the details one finds on older buildings, even simple utilitarian structures often surprise me with them.

This strip of tile is one of two pairs flanking two narrow windows on either side of an entrance to a building at Maiden Lane and James Street.

The decorations caught my eye this afternoon because they combine blue with two of my favorite colors, green and purple and, while I'm not much of a make-up wearer, I suddenly have the urge to visit the local Sephora!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gone The Way of The Buggy Whip

This shabby brick building on Spruce Street just of Sheridan Avenue is certainly a relic of a different era. The painted sign on the east facade announces the availability of horses for sale or exchange. It recalls a time when horses and the vehicles they drew were still the primary way to travel or move goods around the city and when parts of this area above Sheridan Hollow were used for stables for the elegant houses on Elk Street and Washington Avenue above.

A couple of wealthy 19th-century families even pastured cows for fresh milk here.

The horse business in Albany has gone the way of the proverbial buggy whip, of course, but there are visible remnants of it here and there. In some downtown neighborhoods, carriage houses have been renovated into modern dwellings, but still retains original features such as the beams used to hoist hay bales into lofts.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An invitation

Let me just take a quick break from taking and posting photos to invite you to stop by a new blog I've created - Albany (NY) History.

The introductory post there should explain it all, but essentially, the response to the more historic items on this blog has been strong and I'd like to be able expand on that. So, I'm creating this new blog as both a companion to this and a stand-alone focusing on history.

Please join me there...and suggestions are more than welcome!


End of Season

Well, this is it...the end of autumn. Not officially, of course. Winter is still a few weeks away. And we've been spoiled by some very nice warm days this November. But now it's getting colder and a little gloomier.

This is one of the pools forming part of the World War II Memorial located between the New York State Museum and the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception. The pools have been drained for the winter. The pipes which, in warmer weather, create turbulent waters symbolizing the chaos of war, are bare and exposed. And these leaves have settled neatly in one corner.

This photo was taken yesterday afternoon. This morning, I saw the first snowflakes. Just the lightest dusting, but as I said on Facebook...snow is snow.