By the early 1900s the foot of State St., where it met the Hudson River, was “a tangle of mean streets and wretched buildings”. (Or, to use one of my favorite quotes from Tom Waits, “the corner of bedlam and squalor”.) And it wasn’t the only area of the city that could use some TLC. The gleaming Capitol and the new Education Building just made the shabby parts of the city look shabbier.
So then Mayor James McEwan and the Chamber of Commerce asked Arnold Brunner, a leading architect of the period, to come up with ideas for civic improvement. The results were collected in the 1914 book, “Studies for Albany”.
Although Brunner knew there was a continuing desire to secure a view of the Hudson River, he acknowledged that clearing the area would only provide a view of the railroad yard, commercial docks and wharves. He recommended obliterating this view with a plaza that would screen the industrial scenario.
Marcus Reynolds, Albany’s pre-eminent architect, became involved. According to Wiki, Reynolds proposed a triangular park at the end of State Street with an a large L-shaped pier that would go north for three city blocks that would also support another park with a bandshell and docks for yachts and boats.* That design would have cost $1 million and was opposed by neighborhood groups as too expensive; concerns were also expressed about the problems of railroad traffic.
Then the Delaware and Hudson (D&H) Railroad proposed to construct new offices in the location at the base of State St. (The D&H offices on the corner of North Pearl St. and Steuben, constructed in the early 1890s, were already getting crowded – the building is still on that corner.) The city had amassed land and it would be made available to the D&H, with a park accessible to the public in the front.
Ultimately Reynolds designed a building inspired by the medieval Cloth Hall (a market and warehouse for the Cloth Guild) in Ypres Belgium.
But by the time it was completed it was already too small hold all the D&H staff. There it sat in 1915; about half of what we know today, but long enough to take photos and turn them into lovely tinted postcards (which is how today we know what it looked like then).
Another wing was connected for the D&H and finally a second tower was added to house the offices of the “Albany Evening Journal” newspaper owned by Bill Barnes, who was also the city’s Republican Machine Boss. The building was completed in 1918.
Over the years there were a number of other tenants including the “Albany Times Union”, and federal and state government offices. By 1970 the building was in significant decline. Then Chancellor of the State University, Ernest Boyer, announced in 1972 the University would purchase the building from the D&H and make it, and the old Federal Building on the corner of Broadway, the HQ of the State University. It was dedicated in 1978.
* The Albany Yacht Club had already constructed a new building at the base of Maiden Lane, so the city added a Municipal/Recreation Pier. Both survived into the mid-1950s.