Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A mis/adventure in downtown Albany

Over the weekend, I noticed that the partial demolition of Wellington Row, a group of historic buildings located at 132-140 State Street in downtown Albany, was well underway. On Monday evening, I decided to head downtown and take a few photographs documenting the status of the work done to date.

Wellington Row: the former Albany Elks Lodge (built 1911-1913) at 138 State Street and the former Berkshire Hotel (built ca. 1890) at 140 State Street, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010. "La Promenade," the sculpture in front of the Berkshire, is one of 16 works by Seward Johnson that comprise the city's 2010 Sculpture in the Streets exhibition.

Wellington Row is a stone's throw away from the New York State Capitol and one building away from one of the city's busiest intersections, and for years it has symbolized downtown Albany's late 19th- and early 20th-century elegance and its postwar hard times.

Wellington Row: the John Taylor Cooper House (built ca. 1825) at 134 State Street and the Wellington Hotel (built ca. 1910) at 136 State Street, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010. To the far left, you can see 132 State Street (built ca. 1850?), the former home of Christian Brothers Academy, which is now located in the suburb of Colonie.

Until recently, Wellington Row was owned by a foreign firm determined to allow the buildings to fall apart so that it could demolish them and build a convention center on the site. Sadly, city officials were (in my opinion) unwilling to do anything about the situation until the buildings themselves were beyond salvaging; although they repeatedly denied the owner permission to tear down the buildings, they took legal action against the owner only after a large piece of the cornice of the Wellington Hotel building fell to the sidewalk in 2004.

Detail, facade of the former Berkshire Hotel, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010.

The current owner is apparently committed -- construction seems to have stalled -- to demolishing the buildings but preserving and incorporating their facades into a new structure. At present, all that remains of the Berkshire Hotel is its facade, which has been braced to prevent its collapse. Assuming that this project continues, all five buildings that comprise Wellington Row will eventually look like the Berkshire Hotel.

Former Elks Lodge, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010. In its heyday, this building was doubtless quite elegant. Albany's current Elks Lodge is located in the city's Pine Hills neighborhood.

A few minutes after I took the above picture, the batteries in my camera died. I opened my car, fished fresh batteries out of my camera case and swapped them for the dead ones, closed the car door . . . and realized instantly that I had locked my keys inside my car.

After standing around nonplussed for a couple of minutes, I decided to walk home. Albany is a small city, I live reasonably close to its downtown, and I drove to Wellington Row only because I wanted make the most of the remaining daylight. Moreover, the weather was splendid and I knew that my friend and neighbor Ron, who has keys to my house and my car, would be at home.

Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010. The inverted pyramid at the south end of the plaza is the Cultural Education Center, which houses the State Archives, State Museum, and State Library.

I got to spend time in parts of the city that I rarely get to see on foot or in the evening. I began by walking up State Street past the State Capitol (parts of which are currently sheathed in scaffolding) and into the midst of the Empire State Plaza, which houses many New York State government agency offices.

The plaza is home to numerous works of modern art, and one of my favorites is George Rickey's kinetic sculpture, Two Lines Oblique (1968-1971). I had my camera with me, and I took advantage of the relative quiet (you will see a lone jogger pass through) to take a short video of the sculpture in motion. The footage is a little jumpy -- my tripod was locked in my car -- and half of the lights in the State Libary were on for some reason, but the wind kept the sculpture moving quite nicely.

Lincoln Park Pool and Pool House, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010.

After leaving the plaza, I walked through Lincoln Park, which is home to a mammoth swimming pool built by the Works Progress Administration in the late 1930s. I've walked by the pool countless times, but never on a late summer evening. I'm glad that I did: it was perfectly still and luminous in the fading light.

Lincoln Park Pool and Pool House, Albany, New York, 6 September 2010.

The south side of Lincoln Park offers some spectacular views of the Empire State Plaza, and I was hoping to take some pictures of the plaza upon reaching it. Unfortunately, night had fallen by the time I reached the south side of the park and I couldn't get a decent shot without my tripod, so I made my way to my friend Ron's place. He kindly handed over my spare keys and then drove me to my car, thus ending an evening's unplanned adventure.

I hope you enjoyed seeing these photographs and video as much as I enjoyed taking them. During the next few months, I'll be making an effort to photograph various sections of the city of Albany, so there may be a few more Albany-centric posts in the relatively near future.

1 comment:

Roz said...

Enjoyed your story…and walk home. My Grandmother lived at the Wellington in the 60's and was just looking around the internet for photos.