The White Towers of Albany

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White Tower was an iconic restaurant chain started in the late 1920s in the Mid-West. (And yes, a total rip off of White Castle, but very successful.)

This was back in the day when there were almost no chain restaurants (Ho-Jos didn’t begin until the 1930s.) There were the Harvey Houses in the West and Mid-west and Schrafft’s – mostly in NYC, and the southern chain, the Toddle House. (A Toddle House moved into Albany in 1938 to Washington Ave., just above Lark St.)

Timing is everything. In the midst of Great Depression, the White Tower diners (because that is what they were) thrived. A hamburger and a cup of Joe would set you back a dime. They were clean, white and well–lit with an amazing iconic Art Deco look. The White Towers were the antithesis of the greasy (some sometimes filthy) spoon. They were modern – all gleaming Formica and chrome. You watched your food being made.. (no secrets there). Waitresses and counter girls wore all white uniforms (very nurse like – totally hygienic).

People who had never set foot in a diner in their life flocked to the White Tower. You could take your kids.

The era of the Hamburger had arrived.

Washington Ave.
2The first White Tower in Albany was located on north side of Washington Ave., between South Swan and Dove. Land was originally leased from the Catholic Diocese. The Dominican Monastery on the site was demolished. (The building was originally the historic home of the Gansevoorts and the Lansings, dating back to the late 1700s, and oft visited by Herman Melville while he was in Albany. )
The White Tower bought the site in 1952.

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4Clinton Square
Albany’s second White Tower moved into Clinton Square, across from the Palace Theater in 1935.

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Menands
5The third and last White Tower near Albany area was built on Broadway between 1935 and 1937 opposite the behemoth Montgomery Ward superstore (now Riverview Center).

New York State Digital Library

Hamburger prices stayed at 5 cents until 1941, and coffee cost a nickel until 1950.

For decades most White Towers offered free meals on Christmas Day.

At its peak in the 1950s the White Tower chain has 230 locations, mostly in the northeast. But suburbia quickly killed the White Tower (along with management that couldn’t change fast enough).

Fate of the Albany White Towers

The White Tower in Clinton Square was demolished in 1969 for the 787 ramps.

If memory serves, by 1971 the location opposite Wards was no more

14But the Washington Ave. White Tower survives. And that’s a fascinating story. In early 1962 it was first moved about 40 feet to make way for a new Mechanics Exchange Bank. Yup.. the whole shebang, including foundation.. was moved less than 15 yards.

But 9 months later the entire building was on the move again.. up the street to a new location at 12 Central Ave. And there it remained as a functioning restaurant until the early 1970s. The move put the White Tower directly across the street from its competition, a Toddle House diner on Washington Ave.just above Lark St.

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457de96b909cb2102fddb0082ddbe5a0--iroquois-ware(The Toddle House moved to 816 Central in 1969 and became a “Steak ‘n Egg”, owned by the same corporation by 1974; it remained in business until the early 1980s.)

The White Tower building was vacant until 1986 when Charlene and Dave Shortsleeve purchased the building in turned it into the QE2 club and performance venue. Charlene sold out in the late 1990s.

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Enter the Fuze Box, still going strong.

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

4 thoughts on “The White Towers of Albany”

  1. Hello,
    I was searching for any info or photos on my father’s store, Jim Maher Sporting Goods, which had been located at 214 Washington Avenue (south side of the street, just west of Lark; it’s a parking lot now) from 1949 to 1968. His business was in a building shared by a diner (my recollection was the diner was The Toddle House) and my recollection and also was that the White Tower was on the same south side of Washington, closer to Lark, but your article and photos show my memory to be off. A camera store was also between Lark and 214. In December 1968 a fire in the adjoining diner caused the building to be condemned and demolished, and my father moved his business about 1/4 mile uptown to 86 Central Avenue, where he stayed until his 1982 retirement.
    The Washington Avenue building was very old, perhaps from as far back as the late 1800’s. My father rented his portion of the building, and I recall rent was paid to a woman named Mrs. Dedrick, or perhaps Deadrick. Among other fishing and camping supplies, my father sold rifles, shotguns and ammunition, and the were three to four times I can remember middle of the night phone calls to our home in Delmar from the Albany Police Department reporting his burglar alarm going off. The break-ins were from the back of the building, which was an overgrown, trash-filled lot, as I remember.
    The 1967 Washington Avenue photo shows The Marilyn Shop. This business was owned or managed (I’m not positive which) by Ruth and Arch Talbot, friends of my parents.
    I’d be very interested in seeing any photos you may have of his business, at either location.
    Larry Maher

    Like

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