What was there? Madison and So. Swan – Oh how Albany has changed!

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1. Madison Ave. Second Reformed Church, built 1881- destroyed by fire 1931* Prior to that, vacant land, when Madison Ave.was known as Lydius St.

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2. The first Central Market (Price Chopper) supermarket in the city of Albany. Built 1941. Demolished c 1963 for Empire State Plaza

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3. Empire State Plaza 1970 Agency Building #1

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* One of the oldest artifacts in Albany, a weather vane that dates back to 1656 on the First Dutch Church, survived the fire and is now atop First Church on N. Pearl St.

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Recalling the Grocery Stores of Albany’s Past

The trick of time is that it passes slowly, and changes are incremental, so you can hardly notice it happening. The world of today looks mostly like the world of yesterday to us, and yet there have been a thousand little changes over the years that separate those worlds. When things change all at once, it seems a revolution, but when they change little by little, it just seems the passing of time.

Grocery stores are one example. Sure, 50 years ago, they were selling milk and meats, frozen foods and Cap’n Crunch, just as they are today. And yet everything about them has changed.

Grocery stores in the Capital District used to be numerous, to say the least. The 1870 directory for Albany alone listed 17 wholesale grocers. Retail grocers counted in the hundreds, at a time when Albany’s population was just about 70,000. In 1920, when Albany had 113,000 residents, there were 20 wholesalers and an even greater number of retailers, in every corner of the city.

Every neighborhood had several groceries in those days, and shopping for food was often a daily enterprise. The vast majority of these were small storefronts, usually the lower levels of residential buildings – you can often see reminders of them today, in places that long survived as neighborhood stores, as odd bump-outs on the fronts of brownstones, as enlarged entries and windows at the basement level.

Even when I was growing up in an older suburb in the ’60s and ’70s, they were still numerous. My first real job was working in one of them, one of the last of the high-quality butcher shops in the region, which was also a neighborhood grocery store.

Somewhere around the 1930s the supermarket concept was developed – a neighborhood store, but with more, and run by a central chain. There were A&P stores, and Grand Unions and Mohicans. For a while, there was a chain associated with the area’s seminal radio station, WGY Food Stores. But even as late as 1958, the chains barely had a hold. There was one A&P in Albany, one Albany Public Market, one Grand Union, four Empires, two Central Markets (later to become Price Chopper). Trading Post was the biggest chain in the city, with 5 locations.

The rest of the city’s shopping was done at small neighborhood stores with names like Gimondo, Femia, Sharkey Demaco, Rosenberg, and Tanski. Even the so-called supermarkets were very much part of their neighborhoods in those days, often repurposing previous buildings — such as the Central Markets location on Madison and Swan, which was built on the rather generous stone foundation of the Madison Avenue Second Reformed Church that had burned in 1930.

But with the move of population to the suburbs, the chains started to grow. Competition and demographics, and the willingness of Americans to drive absolutely everywhere rather than walk anywhere, contributed to bigger and bigger centrally-located, chain-owned stores, and the death of these tiny independents.

And the experience of shopping in them changed, too

The stores themselves aren’t the only thing about groceries that have changed. Almost everything else has, too, but in ways that are almost invisible. Everyone probably realizes that plastic grocery bags didn’t even used to exist, and that soda and milk came exclusively in glass bottles, and was all bottled nearby. Burlap has practically disappeared from anything but craft stores, but 40 years ago, potatoes, onions and oranges all came in burlap sacks. Meat was nearly always cut to order, and wrapped in brown butcher paper, tied with string, rather than laid out on a foam tray and stacked in coolers. Even something as simple as a box of cereal isn’t the same as it was four decades ago. The box itself is infinitely thinner for both environmental and economic reasons. The bag that actually holds the cereal used to be a satisfyingly thick, crinkly wax paper that would sort of stay closed; now it’s a thin plastic film that never will. Very little food came in any kind of plastic container at all.

Prices were not on little paper stickers (if those still exist) or posted on the shelves – they were stamped onto the ends of cans and boxes with heavy blue ink using a price stamper – the stockboy (that’s what we were) would spin the numbers on the stamper to the correct price, press it against the ink pad, and then punch the stamper against the top of the can or box. (This is now so archaic that it’s hard to even Google search for it.) When the prices needed to be changed (and in the days of inflation in the 1970s, that was often), the stockboy would clean the price off the can with a rag and nail polish remover so the new (higher) price could be stamped on.

(In the store I worked in, by the way, the markup from wholesale was 40%, much higher than the chains. That might seem outrageous, but that was money that paid local workers, sponsored the store’s Little League team, and built wealth in the community, rather than sending it off to a corporate headquarters in a remote land.)

When you carried your groceries up to the register, there were no scanners. The check-out clerk had to enter each item’s price into the cash register. Unmarked items weren’t usually a problem – the clerk knew the price of most things. Your receipt had prices but only categories that would describe the items, such as “Gr” for grocery, “Pr” for produce, etc.

The most subtle change in grocery stores, as in most stores, is the ambient music. Whereas now you can expect the odd experience of hearing The Clash sing “Lost in the Supermarket” while you are, in fact, lost in the supermarket, real music in retail spaces didn’t happen until the 1980s. For decades before that, there was something called Muzak, and its ilk: light, syrupy string arrangements of almost-identifiable melodies intended to give no offense and to set no pulse to racing. As a customer, it was just there. As an employee, it could make you insane. In the days before the Walkman was invented, I learned to play entire albums in my own head, note for note, so as to drown out the cloying melodies of the Muzak.

Today, the Albany area is, depending on how you count, down to three or four grocery chains with multiple locations (not counting Walmart or Target). Only one of them, Price Chopper, is local. Very few of them are within any of the city limits, catering almost entirely to the suburbanites.

But with the trend toward more and more downtown living, some form of the neighborhood store will have to re-emerge. Personally, I just hope it brings back burlap.

By Carl Johnson from All Over Albany.com

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A History of Albany’s Pine Hills

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(Drafted in 1977, Author Unknown)

2,2Until the turn of this century, the Pine Hills district of Albany (an area bounded by Manning Boulevard, Lake, Woodlawn and Washington Avenues) was a sparsely settled region. Fifty years earlier the chief development and activity in the area centered on “The Point”; the intersection of Madison and Western Avenues, and the Great Western Turnpike. It was at “the Point” in 1831 that this country’s first scheduled passenger train boarded for the Albany-Schenectady run.

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After 1841, when the depot was moved to downtown Albany, “The Point” became less important The Great Western Turnpike (now Western Avenue), a plank-covered toll road chartered in 1799 and connecting Albany and New York City with the West, was also a significant transportation route. This road carried many travelers, including cattlemen of western New York State, who drove their animals to the port facilities of Hudson River for shipment downstate. To accommodate the turnpike and locomotive traffic, the Rising Sun and Sloan’s Hotel, among others, were built along these lines. Overall, a rural landscape with a scattering of building characterized the area.

4.4By 1871, only 1 shop and 8 wooden dwellings stood along entire south side of Washington Avenue between Quail and Allen Streets, while Madison Avenue was a little more densely settled; 33 buildings and 1 church along the same distance. Most of these buildings were located on the large farms that predominated regionally. The major institution in the area was a school for orphaned boys founded by Christian Brothers in 1853 on the side of the present-day LaSalle School.

Soon after the American Civil War, construction of Washington Park was undertaken. The reasons given for building the park included the beliefs that “cleanliness, fresh air, the presence of vegetation are essential to health; … that a beautiful park in any city is a great moral power and does more than any criminal courts or policeman to repress crime.” According to one city official it was done because “a park would greatly benefit our city and contribute to the enjoyment and comfort of our citizens while it would be evidence that our city is embedded with some of the spirit of progress that is necessary for it in order to become a rival of other municipalities and offer inducements encouraging instead of repelling emigration.” By February of 1871, the appointed Washington Park Commissioners realized a need for the “bringing of the north, south and center of the city, into easy and intimate approach to the park grounds when completed.”

From among several studies commissioned for this purpose, they ultimately adopted a plan for a boulevard, which was to encircle much of the city. For various reasons, the only portion of this drive to be completed was the section of Manning Boulevard located within Pine Hills. (This roadway was originally called Northern Boulevard; it was later renamed for Daniel Manning, a former park commissioner and Secretary of the Treasury under President Grover Cleveland.)

Construction of the Northern Boulevard began on January 1, 1876. The Mayor and Chief of Police submitted the names of “men needy and in positive want” who would otherwise have been “a charge of the city poor fund, with no labor performed to show for it” to the Park Commissioners from these lists they hired work crews. The man were paid a “living wage” of $1.50 per day and entire crews were frequently changed “to insure a more general distribution of the work and a more equable distribution of the funds.” Such changes often caused the suspension of all roadwork for several days. Despite these delays, a mile-long section of the thoroughfare was completed in 1878. The width varied from 66 to 150 feet; the street was bordered by trees, paved sidewalks and bridle paths.

At about the same time and in response to the long-standing complaints and petitions of the property owners about the condition of the plank road, the commissioners decided to transform Western Avenue into a grand approach to the park. The 40 feet wide turnpike was paved with granite block; water, gas and sewer mains were installed; and Norway maples were planted at intervals of forty feet. The Park Commissioners retained responsibility for street cleaning and tree-trimming; to aid them, laws were passed prohibiting the hitching of horses to trees and the driving of animals along the road or sidewalks.19

Although these road improvements attracted pleasure drivers and horse racers, they did not spur any immediate population growth in Pine Hills. An ordinance of 1878 prohibiting land owners on Western Avenue from permitting “any cattle, sheep, pigs, geese, hens or ducks … to run at-large upon the same (Western Avenue),” was indicative of the rural character of the area. The major portion of Albany’s population remained settled below Eagle Street.

6As a result of the development of Washington Park and expanded transportation lines, new construction after 1875 centered on the park and continually moved westward. In 1875, the horse car line, Albany’s “rapid transit system” (similar to a trolley but drawn by animals), was extended up Madison Avenue between Lark and Quail Streets. Eleven years later the line reached Partridge Street, indicating some demand for service in the area. However, the trip was so long and difficult because of the rough terrain, that it required over an hour of time and several changes of horses.

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13 845 madison 1900 steve riderBy 1886, the horsecar line passed by the newly developed “Brady Row” and “Paigeville”, rows of wooden structures located on Madison and Western Avenues (near Ontario Street) which housed the working-class families of the West Albany railroad shops.

 

 

1.2A more fashionable residential area above Partridge Street began to develop in the 1880’s. One example of the changes then taking place was the growth of the area bounded by Partridge Street, Western, Madison and Main Avenues. This land was once called “Twickenham”, the farm of Andrew E. Brown, a well-known citizen of Albany. Each spring Brown moved his family of ten children from their home at #2 Clinton Place to their “country” residence. Brown commuted to his downtown office through the summer. In the 1880’s following Andrew Brown’s death, his heir subdivided Twickenham and sold the smaller lots.

Rapid development took place; eight new residences were constructed along Madison Avenue (#943-979) between 1884 and 1889. These homes were freestanding and rather good examples of the Queen Anne- style then in vogue. They were built by families such as the Goodes, Hagamans and Keelers, prominent in Albany business circles. These people were attracted to the rural quality of the Pine Hills where it was still possible to meet with neighbors at Keeler’s Lake for hockey, ice skating and tobogganing on the nearby hills.

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1.1About 1889, two lawyers, Gaylord Logan and Lewis Pratt, attempted a rather farsighted development scheme. Borrowing $100,000 from a local bank, they purchased the McIntyre and Hawkins farms, roughly the area bounded by Allen and Cortland Streets, Washington Avenue and Manning Boulevard. They subdivided the land into generous lots of 50′ x 200′ each; mapped out streets; planted trees; paved roads with Trinidad asphalt; laid flagstone sidewalks; installed tile drains, water and gas mains.

The transportation to the area was improved in 1890 was the trolley lines were electricity to Partridge Street. By 1891, the Albany Land Improvement Company (Pratt & Logan) were ready to auction “villa lots at Pine Hills” for $840 each. Pratt and Logan were the first to designate this area as Pine Hills, named for several groves of pine trees on the hilltops of Western Avenue. The extensive promotional material for the area stressed its street improvements, healthful surroundings, available rapid transit, the villa residences, and its covenants “which will forever prevent the use of the property for business purposes or the sale of intoxicating liquors.” With these restrictions, Pratt and Logan were the forerunners of the concept of zoning in Albany. Unfortunately for the lawyers, the country slid into a depression in 1893. Demand for land and new homes dropped, the bank foreclosed on the mortgage, leaving the two entrepreneurs’ property-less. The bank later sold the land at prices much lower than the actual value.

9 steamer 10Despite the personal failure of the two promoters, the Pine Hills future as a fashionable semi-suburban area had been established. “Detached villas” built from the plentiful wood supply of the Adirondacks continued to go up, now at an accelerated pace. By 1900, there were 31 wooden and 3 brick structures on the south side of Madison Avenue between Partridge and Allen Streets: 16 wooden, 4 stone and 2 brick buildings on the north side. Similarly, on Western Avenue the total number of structures between Partridge and Allen Streets had jumped from 6 in 1890 to 27 in 1900. Other improvements in the growing neighborhood included the construction of Engine House #10 at the “The Point” in 1891 and School #4 at Madison Avenue and Ontario the following years.

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The less prosperous sections of Pine Hills had also grown: Brady Row consisted of 21 wooden row houses in 1890; Paigeville had 17 wooden and 2 brick dwellings.

3The predominantly Catholic families who inhabited these areas founded St. Vincent’s Church (now Albany’s largest Catholic Parish) in 1887. The congregation met in a wooden structure on the southwest corner of Madison Avenue and Partridge Street, which had been purchased from a Baptist group.

12.3In 1897, St Andrew’s Episcopal Church was erected at the south corner of Main and Western over objections by some members that the site was too remote.

By the end of the century a fair-sized community populated the Pine Hills. In 1900, concerned citizens gathered to form the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association; their aim was to improve the area and foster a community spirit. “Improvements” included the solution to problems such as “the dumping of dead horses to lie unburied just west of (Manning) Boulevard.” A serious “problem” was the encroachment upon the areas by institutions considered undesirable by the majority of Pine Hills’ residents.

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10 3 In 1902 the Aurania Club was founded in direct response to the proposed buildings of the Hospital of the Incurables in the area. The club vigorously raised the necessary funds, purchased the disputed site from the hospital and built a clubhouse on the property. This response was similar to that take against an attempt to construct a school for the deaf and dumb at North Pine Avenue and Lancaster Streets in the 1890’s. At that time, the citizenry had successfully opposed the idea, citing the school as commercial in character. The Pine Hills residents evidently meant to adhere to the restrictions on the use of the area originally proposed by Pratt and Logan.

16     However, commercial enterprises were not kept out entirely. In 1902, Matthew Tiernan, began operating the Pine Hills Pharmacy at #1116 Madison Avenue. Within a few years, Johnston and Linsley’s Grocery was established. Public facilities were expanded in 1906 with the construction of School #16 on North Allen Street and the extension of the trolley car line to Manning Boulevard.

15By 1910, many of the sand hills that had formerly been used for winter sports activities had been terraced into lawns of residences along Allen, Morris and Yates Streets in addition to Main and South Pine Avenues. Madison Avenue was rather densely built-up on both sides of the street between Quail and Allen Streets. Western Avenue contained 56 structures and 1 church on its south side and 59 buildings plus the boy’s asylum on the north side (Quail to Allen Streets). Washington Avenue, however, remained rather sparsely settled with only 26 structures on both sides of the street and the over the same distance. Here, cemeteries and large tracts of vacant land prevailed.

 

 

done 4The war years slowed the growth of the Pine Hills although St. Vincent’s elementary school was founded in 1917. The post-war boom years were the great stimulus to expansion. In 1921, Vincentian High School was established. Four years later, a new speculator to the area, William Kattrein of the Watervliet Tool Company, purchased the farmland near Marion Avenue. Kattrein proceeded to build and sells homes on the development.

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4 1920sIn the same year, buses replaced many of the trolley lines in the area, although the trolley west of Allen Street remained in operation until 1946. The two decades from 1910 to 1930 had seen continued construction and growth along Madison and Western Avenues. Washington had experienced a building boom; over 100 structures lined it in 1930, where only 26 had stood in 1910.

9 moran hall st. roseA new element entering the area was the College of St. Rose. Founded in 1920 as a “small, independent, liberal arts college: for women, the school began with only 19 students and one building, #979 Madison Avenue. However, the school steadily expanded. A history of the college states that:

“…. The accumulation of extensive property was gradual. Sometimes it was acquired through necessity which meant an expenditure in excess of its worth … Other pieces were acquired when neighbors (not always congenial) sought location elsewhere; then there was the rare occasion when a real buy in the real estate presented itself. Not always were the administrators of Saint Rose able to acquire this property and many purchases were sponsored by the Provincial House of the Sisters of St. Joseph at Troy, N.Y.”

The college also began to undertake entirely new building programs; in 1923-24, St. Joseph’s Hall (# 983 Madison Avenue) was constructed as a classroom-laboratory facility. In later years, other classroom and dormitory buildings would be constructed, occasionally at the expense of older buildings existing on the property.

Today, ten of thousands of automobile pass by the “The Point” each day. Commercial establishments are common, even predominant, along some sections of Madison Avenue. Many of the former “villas” have been converted to multi-family dwellings housing over 15,000 persons, including 5,000 families in the area. Although they have lost the battle of retaining an exclusive, fashionable suburb, the Aurania Club and the Pine Hills Neighborhood Association remain active. Furthermore, the College of St. Rose, now coeducational, appears to be flourishing, having recently undertaken several major building projects. Unfortunately, the influx of students (from various local colleges) seeking off-campus housing is causing some of the Pine Hills’ residents to look for homes elsewhere. The Pine Hills has few pine trees left and is no longer remote. The suburb has become part of the city and now faces all the challenges attendant upon urban life.

Late 1920s -1940s

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1950s -1970s

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