Albany in the Early 1900s; How it Changed

Cities are always re-inventing themselves. Where possible development spreads out, or if not, existing buildings are demolished, new ones rise in their place, or old ones can be re-cycled. Sometimes it happens slowly over time, and sometimes it seems to occur all at once.

With a few exceptions I always thought it mostly happened slowly in Albany. But then I found a partial diary/memoir of my Gram Kate, born in 1901 in Arbor Hill. And as I read it became apparent to me just how much downtown Albany changed in a brief decade – from 1910 to 1920. There was a building explosion – Albany was permanently altered in what must have been a blink of an eye.

In 1909 she stood on the Capitol steps with about 2,500 Albany school children as participant in Hudson Fulton Celebration (celebrating 300 years of New York history). The view in 1909 from the steps when she was 8 changed dramatically by the time she was 19 in 1920. There were other downtown changes, as well.

And curiously a number of those were driven by advances in technology (which we rarely think about).

  • The Albany High School on the corner of Columbia and Eagle was demolished and a new County Courthouse completed by 1915
  • On State St., just opposite the Capitol, the New York Telephone Building towered over all by 1915.
  • There was no statue of General Sheridan in front of the Capitol until it was dedicated in 1916.
  • As she walked down State St. if she looked to her right, she would have seen the new YWCA building on Steuben and Chapel.
  • On the left, on the corner of State and South Pearl, the old Globe Hotel was replaced by the the new Arkay building.By 1916 there were already traffic jams and double parking on State St. The city fathers were wondering if the new “traffic signals” would be cheaper than patrol men directing traffic.
  • If you walked over North Pearl the changes would have been the number of movie theatres. The stores on the corner of Monroe (it was parallel to Orange St.)were demolished for the new Strand movie theatre.
  • The Presbyterian Church opposite Clinton Square (next to what is now McGeary’s) became the Clinton Square theater.
  • Hang a right down Clinton Ave, walking toward Broadway, and she would have found the new Grand movie theater ( where Federal Bldg. is today).
  • When she reached Broadway and took a right walking towards State St., the biggest changes could be seen. Off the the left there was the new Yacht Club and the municipal recreation pier, just behind Union Station.
  • And then there was the Mac Daddy of all development – the D & H Building. In a matter of 4 years about 5 blocks stretching east, down to the River were demolished, and the D& H rose in 2 parts. When completed in 1918 it would dominate the Riverfront, and present a magnificent view from the Capitol steps.
  • Moving south on Broadway there would be the new Hudson Navigation docks and sheds at Steamboat Square, completed in 1918.
  • On her way home, walking up Washington Ave, before crossing the Hawk St. viaduct, Kate could see the re-construction of the Capitol, where it had been damaged in the 1911 fire.
  • Just beyond the Capitol, north to Swan St., everything had been demolished to Swan St, and a new West Capitol Park constructed.
  • Across the way, gleaming granite in the sun, stood the Education Building, dedicated in 1912.

And when she crossed the Viaduct, and made her way over North Swan, she would see the new Arbor Hill Movie theater , where she would get a really good part-time job playing the organ for the silent flicks on weeknights when she was 16. (Although she would be riddled with guilt because it was mainly because the boys were off to War, and wonder how much the fact her father’s barbershop was next door to theater had to do with it.

Julie O’Connor

When Albany Had a Yacht Club

 

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1The Albany Yacht Club was founded in 1873. Its first locations were in Albany near the base of State St. By 1880, it moved to the Rensselaer side of the river, opposite the steamboat landing, but that building was destroyed by fire in 1905.The Club made due in an old building on the Albany side of the River until 1909 when it decided to build a modern and relatively palatial 2 story Clubhouse. The new building, finished in 1910, was located on one end of a pier, leased from the City, across from Maiden Lane. Shortly thereafter the City constructed a municipal “Recreation Pier” on the other end, with a bridge running from Maiden Lane to the pier.

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3The Yacht Club membership grew with advent of the motor launch. The annual Albany – NYC race and regattas drew thousands of spectators. The events became an integral part of City life.

 

 

 

 

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In 1942 the Yacht Club Building took on a new life and the upper floors were leased to the USO for its Albany headquarters during World War II. The building’s proximity to Union Station, packed with trains full of servicemen day and night, was the main reason for selection of the site. When the War ended, the Club returned despite the wear and tear during the War years. But there was still one more life for the building. In 1949, the building was acquired by the federal government, commissioned as the local Naval Reserve Center, and a 3 inch gun was mounted on the pier outside the Clubhouse.

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The Clubhouse had survived 40 years, but the inability of the City to allocate the necessary resources to maintain the concrete piers during the Depression and War years, coupled with decades of winter ice and the river’s spring risings, took their toll. A large portion of the pier crumbled into the river in 1946; another hunk broke off in 1952. Although there were discussions about repairs, there were also discussions about a highway to run parallel to the river.

 

The Yacht Club met in temporary quarters until 1954 when a new Clubhouse was constructed in Rensselaer. Construction was begun on a new Naval Reserve Center on the corner of N. Main and Washington Ave in 1955. The City took possession of the Yacht Club building. Subsequently, the Clubhouse, the bridge from Maiden Lane to the pier and the pier, along with the old Day Line steamship sheds north of the pier, were demolished and the Yacht Club basin filled in to widen Quay St., and create a municipal parking lot.

The End of the Albany Basin

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Somewhere around 1949, the Albany Yacht Club buildings were sold for use as a Naval Reserve Center, and the club started its move across the river to Rensselaer, with a temporary stop in the old Day Line facilities. By the mid-1940s the ice in the Hudson had taken its toll on the  Club pier and the municipal pier.

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3 (2)In 1954, the old basin would finally be filled in as work began on the riverfront arterial highway – I-787. On Nov. 9, 1954, workers started “with the preliminary task of tearing down the old Hudson River Day Line shed, an Albany landmark since the late 19th Century. Between now and next November, when the job is scheduled for completion, the contractor will fill in the old Albany Yacht Club basin for a 1,000-car municipal parking lot and build a ¾ mile stretch of four-lane concrete roadway from a point near the old Day Line landing north to the Livingston Ave. railroad bridge.”

As with all things Albany, the inconvenience for parking was a concern:

“The demolition and construction work will be a source of woe for scores of riverfront parkers, who will have to find somewhere else to leave their cars. Some of the cars that had been left near the Day Line shed today had to be moved by police for safety when the wreckers attacked the ancient ironwork with acetylene torches.”

The construction would involve razing buildings and building a stone dike in the river to straighten the shoreline from “the Quay st. bulge at Steamboat Sq. to the old Yacht Club pier, now occupied by the U.S. Navy as a Naval Reserve training center. The section between the present shoreline and the dike will be filled with stone and graded for parking space. At the same time the contractor will extend three city sewers, whose outfalls will have to be moved toward the middle of the river before grading for the roadway can begin.”

Those included the Columbia St. sewer, “which carries much of Albany’s rainstorm runoff from the downtown section,” and the Quackenbush sewer, near the north end of the project.

From a January 20, 2017 blog post  by  Carl Johnson  in Hoxsie.org  

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