Robinson’s Corner – State and Broadway in Albany

Since the 1833 there’s always been a “round” building at the corner of State and Broadway (once known as Robinson’s Corner”). In 1831 the Albany Museum Building was constructed.   Because of its design it quickly became known at the “Marble Pillar” building as well (the term was used interchangeably with the “Museum Building”). It was the grandest of its kind in Albany; not a residence like the Schuyler Mansion and not a public building.   It was indicative of the new wealth coming to Albany as a result of the Erie Canal.  By 1830 Albany was on the way to what we now think of as a modern city (not just a sleepy little Dutch burg) and men of vision were willing to invest capital in the city’s future.

2The building housed a quasi–museum (not exactly the way we know of museums today) including a theatre and exhibition hall.  It did double and triple duty.  There were apartments and a restaurant, alleged to have been the finest in Albany of the time, called the “Marble Pillar”. It was often referred to as a “resort” and advertisements of the time attempt to lure visitors from all around the area. Between the “Museum” and the restaurant, it was probably the first tourist destination in the area.

Once the Canal opened in 1825, Niagara Falls (the first real tourism destination in America) became a sight-seeing mecca; you had to go to Albany to get on the Canal.  It was the stage coach depot to all points.  What better place for visitors to stop than the Marble Pillar resort? *

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In 1848 the building was enlarged and its multi-purpose use continued, including a restaurant.   When P.T. Barnum introduced Tom Thumb to Albany it was in the Marble Pillar building.

4A fire in 1861 required major restoration of the building, and it became a home for a dizzying array of businesses over the next 40 years,   including insurance companies, brokerage firms, banks, grocers, and carpet sellers. Even Western Union found a home. When Western Union moved in the late 1890s, the site became ripe for re-development.

 

 

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In 1902 the Albany Trust Co. bank purchased the site and constructed the building you see today.  It was designed by Marcus Reynolds.  Albany’s pre-eminent and prolific architect of the early 20th century.  He designed the D & H Building (now houses   State University Administrative offices), the Delaware Ave. fire house, the Superintendent’s Lodge at the Rural Cemetery, Hackett Middle School, and Albany Academy among others.

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The Trust Company building is on the National Historic Register.

 

 

*By 1830 visiting Niagara Falls had become a thing.   A wonderful book, called “The Frugal Housewife”, by Lydia Maria Child  (who was living in Boston when she wrote it)  counsels women against engaging in such extravagance.  (The book was so popular it was re-published 33 times in 25 years.)

 

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Only Albany would have a “Spite Building”

From Carl Johnson’s  blog post “Looking up State Street”  July 6, 2017 in Hoxsie.org

We’re not sure of the date of this postcard, probably somewhere in the 1930s, but what’s interesting is how little has changed. The Plaza in the immediate foreground no longer extends State Street around the area where buses and trolleys congregated, and the Hotel Ten Eyck, the tall building halfway up the hill on the right, has been replaced by the Hilton Hotel tower. The tall tower behind the low buildings on Broadway is still there.  Of course, a couple of other newer skyscrapers would now block the view up the hill a bit from here, but the major figures are still there. On the right, what was called the Federal Building and the Post Office (which it was before it moved into the adjacent building on Broadway) still stands, freshly cleaned we’re told, and is part of the SUNY headquarters, which also took over the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Building from which this view was made. Just beyond that, on the other side of Broadway, with the curved front and dome is the First Trust Company Building, showing the design of Marcus Reynolds from about 1904.

On the left, a row of commercial buildings that still stands today. The corner building is best known as the long-time home of Coulson’s newsroom. The two buildings to the left were locations for a paint business called Stoneman’s – the big oval sign proclaims “Country Gentleman Paints.” They started as a sailmaker and ship’s chandler named Matthew G. Stoneman in 1848. They also went by the name “Painteria.” To the far left, across the small opening of Beaver Street stands the Argus Building, once home to Albany’s Argus newspaper and general printer/publisher. Up the hill, on the left side of State Street you can see the lovely top of the Municipal Gas Company building. And, of course, straight up State Street, the Capitol, beyond which is the Alfred E. Smith State Office Building (which helps date this as post-1930).

Paul Nance provided us with some interesting history on the tall block of ugly on the left side of the card, The Beaver (so named for its location on Beaver Street, one can hope). He said, “Another significant change since the 1930s is the absence of 9 Beaver, the 13-floor brick hulk on the left side of the image. The so-called Spite Building had no access to the top three floors (“elevator plan to be submitted later,” according to the architectural plans), since their only purpose was to block the view from the Hampton Hotel’s rooftop garden. Notice the light showing through the top floors: the opening were windowless, providing a home for pigeons. The building was finally demolished in 1969.”