The Washington Avenue Armory, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Lark Street in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Detroit Publishing Company Collection.
The scene in 2019:
This building was completed in 1890 as the armory for the Tenth Battalion of the state militia. It originally consisted of an administrative area here in the front section of the building, with meeting rooms for the various companies within the battalion, and a large drill hall directly behind it. The armory was located in the midst of an urban environment, surrounded by rowhouses and commercial buildings and only a few blocks west of the capitol, and it served as both a place for military training and as a social club for the unit’s members.
The entire building was constructed of brick, with brownstone trim from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. It was designed by prominent architect Isaac G. Perry, and it features a Romanesque design that gives the armory the appearance of a medieval castle. This style of architecture was common for public buildings of the late 19th century, and particularly for state armories in New York and elsewhere. For these armories, the architecture was not merely decorative; the building’s massive, imposing appearance conveyed a sense of governmental authority and strength, and it could be used as a fortification in the event of civil unrest.
During the late 19th century, concerns about civil unrest were largely based on a number of violent labor disputes that occurred around the country starting in the 1870s and 1880s. This would continue for the next few decades, including at least one deadly strike that occurred here in Albany in 1901. That year, the city’s trolley motormen went on strike, and the United Traction Company replaced them with non-union operators. In response, the strikers and their supporters vandalized a trolley, cut the overhead trolley wires, and sent at least one of the replacement motormen to the hospital.
The Tenth Battalion was assembled here at the armory before dispersing by company to protect the company’s powerhouse and two trolley barns during the night of May 15. The next morning, they were supplemented by the arrival of the 23rd Regiment from Brooklyn. This unit had prior experience in dealing with strikes, and they also had the advantage of not having any local connections to the strikers. However, perhaps because of that, these outside soldiers caused further violence when several opened fire on a crowd, killing two bystanders who were not involved in the strike.
In addition to its military use, though, the armory was also used for a variety of civilian purposes, including as a venue for sporting events, dances, concerts, lectures, and expositions. One early event was a wrestling match featuring the reigning world heavyweight champion, Joe Stecher, who easily defeated Mort Henderson, the “Masked Marvel.” Later in 1920, Albany residents could pay 50 to 75 cents to “watch” the World Series here, which was reproduced on a board based on live play-by-play telegraph reports.
Over the years, perhaps the armory’s best-known use has been as a basketball arena. It was the home court of the city’s first professional basketball team, the Albany Senators, which began playing here in the 1919-1920 season as part of the New York State League. Basketball was still a relatively new sport at the time, and there were no nationwide professional leagues, but the New York State League was one of many regional leagues, with teams such as the Schenectady Dorpians, the Utica Utes, and the Gloversville Glovemakers.
The Senators played particularly well in their first year, and they finished the season as co-champions along with the Troy Knights of Columbus. During that year, the team’s starting lineup included Marty Friedman and Barney Sedran, both of whom were later elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Both were short by modern basketball standards, and Sedran is, at 5’4”, the shortest player in the Hall of Fame. Another notable teammate of theirs here in Albany was Harry Riconda, who was the Senators’ leading scorer for the 1919-1920 season. He was also a professional baseball player, and he played parts of six seasons as a Major League Baseball third baseman between 1923 and 1930.
More recently, the armory has been used by Albany Patroons, a minor league basketball team that began playing here in 1982. The team moved into the new Knickerbocker Arena—now the Times Union Center—in 1990, and three years later they moved to Hartford. However, a new Patroons team was formed in 2005, and returned to the armory for its home games. This team folded after the 2009 season, but it was replaced by a third iteration of the Patroons in 2018. The new team continues to use the armory, more than a century after the original Albany Senators played here.
Throughout this time, the armory remained in use by the National Guard until 1989. Since then, in addition to basketball games, it also hosts a number of other events, particularly concerts, and it has a seating capacity that ranges from 3,600 for basketball games to 4,300 for concerts. On the exterior, very little has changed in the building’s appearance since the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. It stands as an important landmark along Washington Avenue, and in 1995 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
14 thoughts on “Washington Avenue Armory, Albany, New York”
Fantastic article, thanks for the history lesson!
My personal experience probably won’t make the history books but maybe there are readers who also had a similar or same experience. We would visit my grandmother, who had a boarding house on Lark St.. I remember a very special day when, sometime in the early 50’s, my sister and I were treated to the Howdy Doody show that was being staged at the Armory.
Most of the occasion has been forgotten except for a gift of a Howdy Doody marionette. He became my buddy for a short while until the strings attached to his hands and feet became tangled. The memory of the special day is again revived
Love your story would love to hear more!
I live in atl but from alb my alot of good games I use to go too
that was great! Another lesson for me.
I remember going to the Armory to see Muhammad Ali speak. My brothers, friends and I stayed after he spoke. He laughed, played and chased us kids acting like a monster. I got to grab his hugh tree trunk arm and hung on like a ride. It was the best day ever!
Today the city church owns the armory so go in and thank them for keeping it open they have church every Sunday and they always invite people they are also on Facebook former church person who used to go there Jenn mahonski
They also were in the former key bank across the street from the armory where it also opened their doors once before the pandemic
I remember attending a Lovin’ Spoonful Concert here when I was a student at SUNY at Albany in the mid 60s.
Did a lot of National Guard ‘time’ there and in subsequent years went to the annual Tri-City Flywheelers Custom Car Shows there!
Now it is scheduled to be a NYS Vaccination Center.
Also did time in the 27th Signal Company, NYARNG and the car shows, but also attended Siena basketball games there and the Harlem Globetrotters. Great memories
Here’s another complaint about my hometown. The Armory should have been converted to the main library. It wasn’t, supposedly because of money. I believe it will have to be tore down, in the not to distant future. If they keep it up there won’t be any history left in Old Albany.
I don’t think the armory layout is well suited for a library, so it doesn’t surprise me that they didn’t convert it into one given the cost it would have taken to do so. I doubt it would be torn down anytime soon. Most likely it would get converted into apartments like a lot of other historic buildings around Albany.
Grew up on Elk St directly behind the Armory (mid-‘50’s – ‘69). Fond memories! Used a “church key” (bottle opener) to sneak into events from back door for free: telethons, home/car shows, basketball games, concerts, etc. / Used to sleigh ride it’s Eastside alleyway down to Elk where I once met TV’s Old Skipper who was in-uniform complete with cap & fake gray beard. He asked me if this was the way to the Telethon (it’s as if Moses was spoke to me – I was in shock to see the Old Skipper in living color) – I stuttered “Yes” as he walked past me! / Another time, climbing the brownstone as if it was a cliff, me and a friend came across Peter, Paul, & Mary rehearsing in a side room in an afternoon prior to their concert. We exchanged greetings as they continued to let us watch from the barred window we had climbed up to. They shut the window & closed the blinds in short order as my friend was a bit of a wisecracker and said something displeasing. / Many more fond memories & stories about that locale growing up (incl meeting Rockefeller at the Capitol’s Executive Chambers) – the Capitol, Museums, State Ofc Bldg, & Armory were our playgrounds!