Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Furry gray buds on a tree along Madison Avenue in the aftermath of the blizzard.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snowy Day

Trees, shadows, and snow next to the New York State Museum on a very cold afternoon.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Wonderland

As I said on Facebook earlier this morning, you just know it's a bad storm when they use such highly technical terms as "wallop" on the local news. A post-Christmas blizzard has hit Albany - and the Northeast in general - with a lot of wind and a lot of snow. So, I'm going to bundle up and go out to play.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

McKinney Iron Works

My eyes really lit up when I spotted this garishly painted, but otherwise mundane storefront along Lexington Avenue, just south of Central Avenue. It was the second of two buildings I had come across in just over a week that featured original cast iron architectural detail and the manufacturer's name - J. McKinney & Son, Iron Works, Albany N.Y..

James McKinney's iron works was a leading producer of columns, facades, stairs, railing, and other building elements in cast or wrought iron. Located in a massive brick building which still stands along Broadway, the company was found in 1857 and was also known as the Albany Architectural Iron Works.

Other cast iron examples I've posted so far:

On James Street
Sun On Beaver Street
Decay By The Tracks
Madison Relic

There's more to come, including another McKinney work with a personal connection.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Dressed For The Holidays

A young woman dressed as the infamous Leg Lamp from A Christmas Story. One of the more creative costumes at my favorite holiday event, the annual Santa Speedo Sprint on Lark Street.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Painted Dogs

A trio of whimsical dogs painted along a wall at E-Comm Square on Broadway, just south of Plaza Row.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Exchange Street

A small Bicentennial tablet on the wall of the Old Post Office on Broadway at the foot of State Street. There's not much of the original street left, only a short walkway between the Old Post Office and the Federal Courthouse. At one time, though, Mark Lane led to wharves on the Hudson River.

For more on the history of the Bicentennial Tablets, please see my new post at the Albany (NY) History blog.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Words of Widsom

Written in black marker on a bench in Ten Eyck Plaza near North Pearl and State Streets.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pumpkin muffins and buttermilk biscuits...just waiting for the turkey to be set on the table!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Vault Lights

Last year, I was excited to discovered vault lights in sidewalk along Lancaster Street. Since then, I've been looking to find more of them. Over the weekend, I finally noticed this pair of old cellar doors on Washington Avenue. As with the smaller vault lights, glass prisms are embedded in these metal panels to illuminate whatever dark basement lies below.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Groovy State Symbols

When I was little, I spent a lot of time exploring the then very new Empire State Plaza, inside and out. But it wasn't until I was in my teens that I realized what the point of these rainbow-hued panels near the Plaza's north end represented. Previously, I'd just never noticed the little symbols amid the waves of color...the State flower (rose), the State animal (beaver), the State bird (bluebird), and the State tree (maple).

The almost psychedelic colors have faded a great deal and the symbols are becoming harder to see. And the panels, which are directly behind the Legislative Office Building, look rather dated now. Very 70s, but still rather groovy in their own way.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Out of Season

Confused, perhaps, by weather that fluctuates between blissfully mild and just plain cold, yellow flowers struggle to bloom on a blustery day near the old Alfred E. Smith Building.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Vintage Sign

A fading tin sign on a weathered old carriage house in a cul-de-sac off of Dove Street. The sign announces the availability of General Electric tubes, along with repair services. I wonder if the tubes inside my old Philco radio came from here....

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Urban Scarecrow

This odd little figure caught my eye...or rather, slightly startled me...while walking over Dove Street a few days ago. I didn't have my camera with me, but I just had to come back for a photo.

Made of children's clothing stuffed with leaves, it sits on a doorstep not far from the house where gangster Legs Diamond was shot to death.

I doubt the little fellow would be very effective against the hundreds of crows that have been invading the neighborhood each evening. It's wearing a Giants hoodie; perhaps it's meant to frighten away fans of opposing teams instead.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sinister Grafitti

During the summer of 1998, the arrest of antiques thief and serial killer Gary Evans was big news. His escape from a moving police car and death leap from the Troy Menands Bridge was even bigger news.

The Albany Rural Cemetery figured in the sinister story of Evans and his many crimes. He famously stole a massive marble bench from one grave and hid the guns used to commit some of his murders in along the secluded streams (one of which is, rather appropriately named Moordenaerskill or Murderer's Creek).

A year or two after Evans' arrest and suicide, I came across his name scratched into the back of a 1936 monument not too far from one of the streams. This summer, I found it again.

For more on Gary Evans, take a look at his story on Wikipedia.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans Day

A fife-and-drum band marches down Washington Avenue during the annual parade to honor Albany's veterans.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It snowed yesterday. No, it wasn't the earliest or worst snowstorm I can recall. It was just a day of large, heavy wet flakes that turned into thick slush. And, by today, this was all that was left.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Contrasting Monuments

An elegant white marble columbarium forms the backdrop to a much small monument in Albany Rural Cemetery.

Designed by Marcus Reynolds, the columbarium was patterned after the ancient Roman tombs that lined the Via Appia. The interior features beautiful blue tiles which give its domed ceiling a bright sky-like feel.

The smaller monument in the foreground has eroded badly over the years. The carved face is almost featureless and the inscription is illegible. The main portion of the monument has shifted and seems balanced very precariously on its base.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Three downtown buildings viewed from the Empire State Plaza. From left to right, the Legislative Office Building, the Old State Education Building, and the New York State Capitol.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fire On State Street

The headline that really caught my attention yesterday morning was the one about the fire on State Street. I immediately recognized the building as a part of the old Wellington Row; it's located immediately to the left of the former Wellington Hotel itself.

I remember that a Chinese restaurant occupied the ground floor of the building until at least the mid-1990s. I don't think I ever ate there, but recall passing the window with its faux-rock display very often.

I knew the building appeared to be historic...or, at the very least...quite old. But with its much simpler style, it was overshadowed by the other buildings in the Row like the ornate Elks Club a few doors up and the intriguing Chatham on its left.

A bit of quick research told me that the burned building was built in 1832 and is called the John Taylor Cooper House. It's also one of the oldest buildings on State Street, along with a pair of earlier buildings directly across the street. Born in 1798, Cooper was a wealthy and well-connected attorney.

I took a walk downtown at noon yesterday to see how much damage had been done to the building (which was already gutted by contractors as part of the stabilization of Wellington Row). Fire trucks were just leaving and clean-up crews just arriving when I took the photo above.

Of course, I also wanted to check and see if the stone faces on the adjacent Chatham had been damaged by the fire or hoses. Fortunately, they're just fine because I really like those mysterious faces. Especially the one on the right.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

End of The Season

The leaves are changing color fast and the nights are turning quite chilly. And the lunch trunks are vanishing from Washington Avenue. During the warmer months, they're a noon entire row of them along the West Capitol Park with savory smells and long lines. But it's November now and these three trucks are the last of the season.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Miss Albany Diner

I'm very fond of the Miss Albany Diner, though I don't get there as often as I'd like.

It's a quirky old school prefab "Silk City" diner that was shipped from the Ward & Dickinson Dining Car Company in Paterson, New Jersey to Albany in 1941, complete with counters and stools ready for hungry customers. Erected on the former site of a small lunch cart, it was first called Lil's, then Elaine's, the Firehouse, and the Streetcar.

The diner was finally renamed Miss Albany after being restored and used as a filming location for the 1986 movie Ironweed.

(There was a previous chain of Miss Albany diners in the 1920s. I've found the ghost sign for one on the rear of the building that forms the point where Washington and Central Avenues converge opposite Townsend Park.)

To this day, it remains filled from one end to the other with original details and Art Deco charm. There's a cow's head on the roof, too...and I remember where it came from!

As for the favorite is their really good grilled ham-and-cheese. I like it with an iced coffee on the side.

I took this photo of Miss Albany about six weeks ago and hadn't decided what to do with it. Until today. According to a post on the diner's Facebook page, Miss Albany's owner passed away this morning. I never met Clifford Brown in person, but I always admired him for respecting his diner's history and keeping that intact over the year. My condolences to his family and everyone at the iconic little diner on Broadway.

According to Mr. Brown's wishes, the diner will be "open for business as usual."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween

In honor of one of my favorite holidays, I've shared some ghostly stories at my other blog:

A Handful of Hauntings @ Albany (NY) History

The photo above is a casket-like monument (completely with sculpted floral arrangements) in the Albany Rural Cemetery.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Juniper bushes near the intersection of Madison Avenue and Eagle Streets...I've always loved the subtle silvery gray-blue color of the berries. These low shrubs are located across from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception...and close to the location of Albany's last public execution by hanging!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fallen Tree

Monuments in the shape of trees aren't uncommon in the Albany Rural Cemetery. The cut trunk represents the end of a life and the lack of branches often means there were no direct descendants. Carved ivy, a symbol of fidelity and faith, is often seen winding around the stone trunk.

This sandstone monument to Anna Armsby, which has sadly tipped over, is one of the more distinctive examples. Not only does it feature the usual symbols mentioned above, it also featured a hole cut into its flat top where real vines were to grow.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Old Market House

There is a set of plaques on the medians along State Street between Eagle and Lodge Streets. Each one gives a brief history of sites along this block, including the location of Fort Frederick and St. Peter's Episcopal Church. This one identifies the location of an early Market House, a wooden pavilion that provided stalls for produce vendors on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lake House Sirens

Pairs of terra cotta sirens and graceful shells add elegance to the interior of the Washington Park Lake House.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Broken Fences

A number of plots in the Albany Rural Cemetery are surrounded by fences as ornamental as the monuments themselves. This badly deteriorated cast iron fence encloses a family plot on the crest of a hill not far from the Cemetery's main entrance. The railing includes the popular mourning motif of inverted - but not extinguished - torches. Similar torches are found on monuments throughout the Cemetery. This family plot also includes a marble portrait medallion by Erastus Dow Palmer and the grave of Colonel Lewis Benedict, killed at the Battle of Pleasant Hill in 1864.

Monday, October 11, 2010

After The Party

A couple of strings of green, white, and red paper lanterns hang near the Lake House in Washington Park...left over from Saturday's Italian-American Festival.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Madison Relic

This is the smaller of two graceful cast iron columns accenting a derelict Queen Anne-style mansion on Madison Avenue just west of Washington Park.

This ca. 1889 building must have been absolutely beautiful in its youth and, despite several decades of almost complete neglect, it's still a gorgeous building...or, at least, a gorgeous shell. Believed to be the work of Albert Fuller, its interior is quite gutted. Windows are boarded, the roof is rotting, floors look to dangerous for even a ghost to waft across. Mantles and other interior elements were long ago stripped.

I've had dreams now and then that I've bought the place (it is for sale again) and am about to renovate it. But restoring this too-long abandoned house would take a small fortune that I certainly don't have! Still, it's nice to dream...and this isn't the only place I dream of!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Detailed Door Knob

It's not hard to find artistic gems in the Albany Rural Cemetery, as I know I've mentioned before. But some of them are small surprises. A tiny, graceful statue along an overgrown path, a poetic inscription on a worn headstone. This doorknob is one of those little discoveries. Featuring a classic head that would be well-suited to an antique cameo, it's an elegant touch on an otherwise austere and weathered old mausoleum on a hill not far from the Cemetery's main entrance.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Old Maiden Lane

Tucked high on the wall of a building at the corner of James Street is a small old street sign for Maiden Lane. The sign - which is about the size of a brick and appears to be cut from white stone - is one of two I've found so far. There is a similar sign mounted on the wall of a house at the corner of Clinton Avenue and Ten Broeck Street.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Butterfly Surprise

According to my calendar, it isn't officially autumn until I've had my first Pumpkin Spice Latte (and matching muffin) of the season. It's my personal rite of fall. But with the recent unseasonably warm days followed by a couple of days of drenching rain and high winds, I didn't indulge in that little ritual until this morning. It was clear and cold and breezy. Perfect Pumpkin Spice weather.

I took a break from putting the final touches on a book I've been working on for at least ten years and headed off to Starbucks with a friend.

On the way home, I was surprised to see a very large and very vivid Monarch butterfly alight on a bush along the edge of Washington Park. The second gorgeous butterfly I've seen so close this summer, it stayed on the flowers long enough for me to take a half dozen pictures. But, with the breezy and my less than steady aim, only this one...the last one...turned out well.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Stained Glass Angel

Albany Rural Cemetery is full of artistic gems, from architecturally impressive vaults to delicate statues hidden off the beaten path. A number of its mausoleums feature beautiful stained glass windows (including at least one exquisite piece by Tiffany). This angel with a rich amber and crimson color scheme and a vivid stylized sun ornaments the Lathrop-Lawton vault not far from the Schuyler and Corning family plots.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Old Rail Bridge

The old Livingston Avenue Bridge as viewed from Corning Preserve. The original bridge here was constructed in 1866 with the first train (called the Augustus Schell) crossing on February 18. The current bridge shown here was rebuilt in 1901, though I've heard that some of the stone supports from the original bridge were reused.

The main section of the bridge swings open on a massive pivot to allow tall boats to pass through.

Looking up at the underside of the bridge, it's easy to see the effects of a century of use and corrosion. But it's estimated that the cost to replace the bridge - which still actively carries both freight and passenger trains across the Hudson River - is well in excess of $50 million.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

On James Street

I find this old building on James Street (just behind Tricentennial Park and a few doors away from a little coffee shop cleverly named Mug Shots Cafe) to be quite intriguing with its boarded-up windows and doors framing the remains of a cast iron facade that includes a pair of slender Egyptian-inspired columns.

Edited:  A more recent look reveals the architect's name.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pemberton Corner

Laid into the sidewalk at the corner of North Pearl and Columbia Streets, this plaque (a reproduction of a now lost Bicentennial tablet from 1886) is spotted with old gum, stepped on constantly, and often littered with cigarette butts.

It marks the location of a house built in 1710 by Colonel Jacob Lansing. Located just north of the stockade enclosing colonial Albany, it served for many years as a trading post for local Native Americans. By 1818, it had become a store maintained by one Eben Pemberton, hence the corner's name.

Photos of corner from the early 1880s show the Lansing House as a steep-gabled structure typical of early Albany. Signs painted directly on its walls advertise Pemberton's as a marketplace for provisions, family stores, and groceries. The original interior was described as having no two rooms on the same level (one had to step up or down when going from one chamber to the next) and fireplaces jambs decorated with painted porcelain Biblical scenes.

The Old Lansing House was torn down in 1886, ironically during the same year in which the City commemorated its Bicentennial and marked the spot with a plaque.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Rock of Horeb

Up close in this picture, it almost looks like a natural waterfall. But this little cascade is part of the Moses monument, one of the most recognizable features of Washington Park...and a popular wading spot for dogs and kids.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lacey Iron

Close-up of the iron railing enclosing the front steps of the historic Dutch Church on North Pearl Street.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Lathrop Angel

Half-hidden behind larger, more imposing Lathrop family monuments along the edge of the Moordenaerskill ravine in Albany Rural Cemetery, this graceful angel seems to be contemplating her own broken wings. Every so often, someone tucks a flower or two in her hands.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Harry Simmons

This building along North Pearl Street bears the name HARRY SIMMONS. The company billed itself in an 1898 ad as an "Old Established and Largest Auction House In The State" and offered "appraisals of personal effects and Merchandise of every description." The company was previously located on State Street before relocating to this building near Lodge Street around 1913.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Funky Tiles

This colorful wall of tiles is part of the massive building on North Pearl Street between Columbia and Van Tromp Streets. The structure houses both a large parking garage and the Capitol Repertory Theatre.

The space occupied by the theatre now was, a couple of decades ago, home to a small grocery story. While I've been to Cap Rep many times, I can only recall one visit to the old Grand Cash Market...and I think it was for a can of tuna.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chubby Cherubs

A pair of plump cherubs (with what seemed to be stylized fish tails) flank an elaborate monogram above the main entrance to McGeary's, a popular bar near the corner of North Pearl Street and Clinton Avenues.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Graceful Railings

Loops and swirls make for a very elegant railing along Broadway north of Clinton Avenue. Unfortunately, the other railing is missing and this one is beginning to rust.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Eternal Sleep

This crumbling, but very distinctive monument in the Albany Rural Cemetery marks the grave of New York State Supreme Court Judge, Elisha Hurlbut (and namesake of Hurlbut Street).

Located close to the ornamental pond labeled as Cypress Water on old maps of the Cemetery, it's said that the monument is a replica of Hurlbut's own bed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sunny Side Up!

These flowers along the western edge of Washington Park Lake bear a definite resemblance to fried eggs. All that's missing is some buttered toast and ham.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Starry White

A starry white flower outside an office building caught my eye as I walked down State Street near the Capitol.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Floral Details

Beautiful floral detail on the old Mechanics & Farmers Bank at the corner of State and James Streets. A graceful bird appears on one on the leaves, poised to pluck some berries. The former Mechanics & Farmers building, one of the loveliest structures on State Street, was designed in the 1870s by Russell Sturgis. A native of Baltimore, Sturgis was one of the founders of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and a noted author and editor on the subject of architecture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Decay By The Tracks

Lately, I've become a bit fascinated by cast iron facades on older buildings. So, when I visited Silver Fox Salvage and the venerable Miss Albany Diner (both of which places I highly recommend) over the weekend, I also went a bit out of my way to photograph this vacant building.

This decaying structure is a raised block which overlooks Broadway near an mposing trestle that carries trains towards the former Central Warehouse and the Livingston Avenue Bridge. A gazetteer of local businesses from the 1870s lists this address as a grain dealer.

It's been vacant for as long as I can remember and has a very grim, spooky air about it. The slim cast iron columns with their elegant Corinthian capitals only add to the sense of ruin.

And, in a morbid postscript, last year, the body of a murdered man was dumped in this sad old relic of North Albany.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Forlorn Lights

A string of forgotten Christmas lights hanging on a fence around an empty lot somewhere near Erie Boulevard and Colonie Street.