Hampton Hotel Roof Garden

Roof garden restaurants began to be a thing in the 1880s. They were a way of beating summer heat, and creating small oasis in a crowded city.
The roof garden atop the Hampton Hotel on State St. just above Broadway was constructed in the early 1900s.
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There was music and dancing at the Hampton Hotel roof garden. You would have a spectacular view, Hudson River breezes, and there is a description of hundreds of tiny electric lights at night that made it seem like a fairyland.
It was designed to attract the middle and upper classes of Albany, and well-heeled hotel guests.
But I can imagine a young clerk or factory worker saving up to take his girl, maybe she was a store clerk, for a special night. She would be dressed in her best- maybe he gave her a small flower corsage. It might have been a romantic, magical night. A once in a life time experience, never to be forgotten.
Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

The Ten Eyck Hotel – the Grande Dame of State Street

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The original Ten Eyck Hotel, which would come to dominate the skyline of downtown Albany for much of the 20th century, was built in 1899 at corner of State St. and Chapel St.

In the 1890s there were 3 major hotels in Albany. The Kenmore, the Delavan and Stanwix Hall. The Delavan on Broadway (where Lincoln stayed in 1861 on his pre-inaugural journey to Washington D.C.) was destroyed by fire in 1894. Stanwix Hall, on Broadway and Maiden Lane, was looking a tad shabby. It had been built in the 1830s by the uncles of Herman Melville, and while once a grand show place, was showing its age. The Kenmore on N. Pearl, established by Adam Blake (son of a former slave) was doing a thriving business under the new ownership of the Rockwell family.

But the Rockwells saw an opening in the market after the Delavan fire. Frederick, the Rockwell son, created a corporation that included James Ten Eyck, from one of Albany’s oldest and wealthiest families.They purchased the old Corning homestead on State St. and set to building the most modern and luxe hotel in heart of downtown Albany. Based on his experience with the Kenmore Frederick knew what guests wanted. Most importantly, it was guaranteed “fire proof” – the destruction of the Delavan – a hotel known around the country, had created enormous fear. (There had been deaths and many seriously injured guests and employees.)

2The “fireproof” Ten Eyck was an immediate success. It was 9 stories and designed to cater to the whims of even the most jaded traveler. The rooms and suites were airy and well-appointed. Want a room for your maid? No problem. Porcelain baths gleamed and towels were plush. There was a large ballroom and many meeting rooms to accommodate the conventions that flocked to the hotel. The lobby was spacious and comfortable, with a barbershop, hair salon, florist, telegraph office, and access to telephones. Scores of bell hops swarmed – ready to run any errand or fulfill the smallest of requests. Carriages transported travelers to and from the train station and Steamboat Square at no charge. The dining room and food was legendary – with specially made china and engraved silver plate with the Ten Eyck logo.

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4Other large hotels were built on State St. over the next 10 years; the Hampton and the Wellington. They enjoyed success, but the Ten Eyck out shown them all. By 1914 it needed to expand, and the owners bought and demolished the Tweddle Building just below the Hotel, at the corner of State and Pearl. Within 3 years a new Ten Eyck Hotel building arose that, at 17 stories, dominated downtown for decades (the older, smaller building became known as the “Annex”). The Ten Eyck had become the sort of “modern” hotel we recognize today (except for the mini-bar). It had a new owner – the United Hotels Company that owned a string of upscale hotels across the country.

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In the late 1920’s the Ten Eyck finally had some real competition with the construction of the DeWitt Clinton Hotel up the street at State and Eagle – opposite the Capitol. (Today it’s been renovated and is the Renaissance – owned by Marriott.) The two competed for the next 45 years, but it was the Ten Eyck that ruled downtown, surviving the Depression and thriving in World War II.

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The Ten Eyck continued to be the destination of choice in Albany for presidents and the rich and famous. Because of its proximity to the Capitol Theater, just around the corner on Chapel St., guests included everyone from the venerable actors Cornelia Otis Skinner and Lionel Barrymore to George M. Cohan to Molly Picon, the Queen of Yiddish Theater. The Ten Eyck was mobbed by Stagedoor Johnnies when Flo Ziegfeld brought the beautiful bevy of girls in his Follies to Albany.

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11.1In the 1950s it became a Sheraton hotel, was renovated and had bit of renewal. Still, the grand dame struggled to compete in the 1960s. The main restaurant, the Grill Room, was given a wacky amoeba shaped bar (so mid-century) and another bar became the “Dolliwog Lounge” (waitresses were the equivalent of Albany’s Playboy bunnies.) But then Sheraton Corp. bought the newly constructed Inn Towne Motel on Broadway. (The building is still there as a Holiday Inn Express – the swimming pool on the roof is long gone.)

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All the hotels in downtown were suffering from competition from new motels on the outskirts of the City and the suburbs – the Americana on Wolf Rd. (now the Desmond), the Thruway Motel on Washington Ave. (demolished for a medical building) and several Howard Johnson Motels (the remains of one on Southern Blvd. still exists). The area adjacent to downtown had been gutted for Empire State Plaza construction, but that was insignificant compared to a dying downtown – commercial and retail development had moved to the suburbs, as was the case in many Northeastern cities. Steamboat travel ended 20 years before and no one traveled by train. (Albany’s Union Station would soon be closed.)

In a last gasp the hotel was purchased by a company from Binghamton and run by the Schine Corp. It was during this era in the late 1960s I stayed in the Ten Eyck for a NYS high school convention. It was shabby, but with room service; swanky to a 16 year old used to summer vacation motor court cabins. I snuck into the cocktail lounge; it seemed so “Mad Men” with a dash of 007-sophisticated and cosmopolitan. The men all looked like Don Draper or Roger Sterling – the women like Betty Draper and Joan Holloway. They were drinking Gimlets, Martinis and Manhattans in a world that would shortly become Woodstock, Boone’s Farm and tie dye.

Nothing could save the hotel. It closed that year in 1968 and remained a rotting hulk for several years until it was demolished, along with Albany Savings Bank (an Albany architectural gem). That block is now home to the some of the bleakest examples of 1970s architecture.. a Citizen’s Bank , the Ten Eyck Plaza Office Building and what it now a Hilton Hotel, about were the original Ten Eyck building would had been (more or less).

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There is one last vestige of the venerable Ten Eyck (other than few pieces of random china or flatware that surface on eBay from time to time) and it’s not in Albany. If you should ever find yourself in Staunton Virginia, stop in the Depot Grille restaurant and you can see the massive 40’ bar from the Ten Eyck Hotel. (Don’t ask us how it ended up in Staunton, we haven’t a clue – but if you know, please tell us.)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

The Keeler Restaurants of Albany

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This is the Keeler’s that many of us still remember fondly, providing fine dining on State Street for 85 years. In 1884, brothers William and John Keeler opened this 56 State Street location at the southwest corner of State and Green Streets. Beloved by generations of Albanians, it was also popular with government officials: regular guests included Governor Alfred E. Smith and state senator (and later New York City mayor) James J. Walker. In O Albany!, William Kennedy provides a star-spangled list of occasional visitors, including Lillian Russell, John Philip Sousa, Mary Garden, Grover Cleveland and Thomas Edison. 

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The restaurant stayed in the Keeler family until 1955, then went through several owners, and closed without warning in November 1969. It ended its 85 years at that location ignominiously as Keeler’s Steak & Goblet, featuring “All the draft beer you can drink and all the salad you can eat.”

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz12800326_963471140367815_7320563870993922550_nAs famous as it was, the State Street location was not the only Keeler’s in downtown Albany. It was not even the first Keeler’s restaurant. That honor goes to the oyster bar opened by the brothers at 83-87 Green Street in 1864. And in the first third of the 20th century, there were four different Keeler’s locations in downtown Albany:
** Keeler’s Restaurant, 56 State Street

** Keeler’s Hotel and Restaurant, .480-492 Broadway and 76-78 Maiden Lane, southwest corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane. At a May 1912 dinner there, the guests of honor were “Buffalo Bill Cody” and two Lakota Indians who starred in his show, Iron Tail and Lone Bear. Iron Tail is remembered as one of the three models for the so-called Indian Head Nickel.

** Keeler’s Hotel Annex, 507-509 Broadway, east side, a few doors South of Maiden Lane

** Keeler’s Restaurant 582-584 Broadway (across from Union Station)

Copyright 2021  Julie O’Connor

An Albany Family Story; a Rise to Fortune from Slave to Hotel Mogul.

2Adam Blake Sr. was born about 1773 in an area south of Albany (possibly New York City) and brought to Albany as a slave by a local merchant Jacob Lansing as a young boy to serve the Van Rensselaer estate. (In the NYS 1790 census, there are 15 slaves listed on the estate.) As an adult, Blake was manager of the household staff at Van Rensselaer Manor, home of the Stephen Van Rensselaer III (the “Last Patroon”). In 1803 he married Sarah Richards in the Dutch Reformed Church (now known as the First Reformed Church) on North Pearl St. (Notably, this was the same church attended by Alexander Hamilton while he was in Albany and there is no doubt their paths crossed.)

The relationship between Van Rensselaer and Blake appears to have been more than slave and master. Blake was a trusted confident, yet Van Rensselaer didn’t free Blake until about 1811 or later, despite the fact that Blake had married a young woman, Sarah Richards, probably another Van Rensselaer slave in 1803. In later years Van Rensselaer confessed deeply regretting his failure to free Blake at an earlier date, but made no explanation.) Nonetheless, when Van Rensselaer died, Adam Blake led his funeral procession.

After becoming a free person of color Blake continued in the employ of Van Rensselaer although his obituary refers to connections with Governor DeWitt Clinton. Blake enjoyed a position of esteem throughout the Albany community, among both White and Afro-Americans citizens; he was, by all accounts, a very elegant (he was called the “Beau Brummel of Albany”, intelligent and charming man.

3He and his family lived in the 100 block of Third St. between Lark and S. Swan, on land that was previously part of Patroon holdings (probably given to him by Van Rensselaer) and owned several adjacent lots (107, 109 and 111). Blake was a major figure in the Afro-American community in Albany, involved in the first African school in Albany in the early 1800s. He was immersed in abolitionist activities; he was one of the notable speakers during the 1827 Albany celebration of the abolition of slavery in New York State and was a key figure in the National Colored Peoples Convention held in Albany in 1840.

Blake’s son, Adam Jr. was adopted – we know nothing of his birth parents or antecedents. He was raised at the Van Rensselaer Manor, where he received his early schooling by the side of the Van Rensselaer children. He would become one of the most successful businessmen and entrepreneurs in the 1800s in Albany of either race. While in his 20’s he worked his way up to the position of head waiter at the famous Delavan House on Broadway. Blake rapidly built his reputation as a restaurant proprietor with the opening of his own restaurant on Beaver and Green Streets in 1851. Over the next 14 years he opened two more establishments, first on James St. and the next on State St., each one more upscale. His restaurants were favorite haunts of the young swells, NYS legislators, and diverse governmentos of all stripes. He catered private parties, assemblies, balls and picnics. Young Blake appears to have been a naturally genial, gracious and discreet host. We have a vision of a man who could cater an elegant reception for Albany’s society women or organize a back room dinner for politicians with equal ease – the “prince of caterers”.

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6In 1865 Blake secured the lease for the Congress Hall Hotel, adjacent to the Old Capitol on the corner of Park St and Washington Ave. This was a fabled landmark (Lafayette stayed the night during his 1824 Albany visit), but fallen on hard times. . He acquired 3 adjacent buildings (Gregory’s Row) combined them with the Hotel, and spent a large sum furnishing it in a sumptuous fashion, The Hall was a lucrative concession – its location was favored by legislators and other politicians for lodgings, meals, receptions and meetings.

In 1878 the Hall needed to be demolished for the new Capitol building; Blake received $190,000 compensation from New York State. He used the money to open a large hotel on N. Pearl St. that remains today. The hotel was built for Blake by the son of the late Dr. James McNaughton (former president of the Albany Medical Society) on land they owned; it was named the Kenmore after the small village in Scotland in which McNaughton was born. The hotel was designed by the Ogden and Wright, leading Albany architects, and no expense was spared

7Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, while the Kenmore was under construction, Blake took over the management of the Averill Park Hotel across the river for the summer of 1879.

 

 

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McNaughton’s willingness to build the Kenmore for Blake to his specifications speaks volumes about the general estimation of his business acumen and confidence in potential for its success. While he benefited greatly from his father’s connections and those of the Patroon, he clearly had natural and innate ability.

9The Kenmore Hotel opened in 1880. It was Adam Blake’s dream- a marvel of modern technology and comfort; it was called “the most elegant structure on the finest street in Albany”. It was wildly successful, not only for its convenience, but for its level of service. It included hot and cold running water (and new-fangled water closets), an elevator, telephones and, of course a fine and palatial dining room.

 

 

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Throughout his life Adam Jr. moved easily among both the Afro –American and white communities, and was as widely respected as his father had been. He apprenticed a number of young Afro-American men who went on to manage major hotels throughout the New York State, including the Clarendon Hotel in Saratoga Springs; Leonard Jerome and family were guests (daughter Jenny would marry Lord Randolph Churchill and give birth to Winston.) While James Matthews (the first Afro=American judge elected in the U.S.) was in Albany Law school, Blake employed him as a bookkeeper in the Congress Hotel. He used his community standing to advance Afro-American causes whenever possible. In the early 1870s he hosted and promoted an appearance by the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choral group that toured to raise funds for one of the first Afro-American college in Tennessee. Several years later he worked diligently in the fight to desegregate Albany’s public schools.

He was known as a generous man “who never turned away a stranger or neighbor in need”. In 1881 beautiful stained glass memorial window was dedicated in the Israel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Hamilton St (the oldest Afro-American church in Albany, established in 1828). Adam Jr.’s activities in the Abolitionist movement are not documented as are his father’s, but the Blake family houses on Third St. we’re situated directly behind that of Stephen Myers on Livingston Ave., leading figure in Albany’s Underground Railroad, and at one point Blake lived at 198 Lumber St. (now Livingston), 2 doors away from the Myers’ house at 194 Lumber. It is improbable to think that neither father nor son was not involved in the Railroad. Upon the dedication of the church window, Dr. William Johnson delivered a speech commemorating Blake, in which he said:

“He loved liberty and abhorred slavery. He believed in the equality of all, in the manhood of all and in the common brotherhood of all. He was identified with Frederick Douglass, Stephen Myers, Drs., Smith and Pennington and their compatriots, in untiring efforts tending to the overthrow of slavery…. he took active part in state and national councils of the oppressed and served in honorable official capacity in the Equal Rights League of the state….”

Unfortunately, Blake died an untimely death in 1881 at the age of 51. He didn’t really get to revel in his success. At the time of his death his private fortune was estimated in excess of $100,000, an astonishing sum for anyone, let alone the son of a slave. For the next seven years the Hotel was managed by his widow, Catherine, who was equally good at business, accumulating real estate all over the Albany, including 2 row houses on Spring St. near Lark St. that stand today When the lease on the Kenmore Hotel expired in 1887, Catherine left the hotel business, selling the furnishing and the Hotel’s goodwill for a tidy sum to the new owners. While the Blakes were involved with the Kenmore, they lived on Columbia St., but when Mrs. Blake gave up the Kenmore, she moved to First St to an elegant townhouse (that also remains today), between S. Hawk St. and S. Swan St., taking her place among the other wealthy families of Albany, just above the Ten Broeck Triangle.

Thanks to Paula Lemire https://www.facebook.com/ARCbeyondthegraves/ and her contributions to the research on the lives of both Adam Sr. and Jr.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor