Washington Avenue Armory, Albany, New York

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.

City Hall, Albany, New York

City Hall on Eagle Street in Albany, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image from Albany Chronicles (1906).

The scene around 1900, with a new City Hall. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

City Hall in 2019:

Albany is one of the oldest cities in the United States, and over the years its municipal government has occupied several different buildings, starting with the Stadt Huys in the 17th century. Dutch for city hall, this name—and building— survived long after the English took control of the former Dutch colony. A new Stadt Huys was built in 1740, and it remained in use until the early 19th century. It also temporarily functioned as the state capitol, from 1797 until Albany’s first purpose-built capitol was completed in 1809.

The city government followed the state government to the new building, and for several decades it served as both the state capitol and as city hall. However, its small size soon became inadequate for the two governments, and in 1832 the city built a new City Hall nearby, on the east side of Eagle Street roughly diagonal to the capitol. The building, which is shown in the first photo here, was designed by prominent local architect Philip Hooker. The exterior was built of white marble, and it featured a Greek Revival design, with Ionic columns supporting the pediment above the front entrance and a dome at the top of the building. It was one of Hooker’s last commissions, and was completed just four years before his death. Over the course of his long career he designed a number of important buildings in Albany, including the First Church, the 1809 capitol, and the Albany Academy, which stands across the street from here.

This City Hall remained in use for nearly a half century, but it was ultimately destroyed in a fire on February 10, 1880. The city subsequently hired famed architect Henry H. Richardson to build a new City Hall here on the same spot. Richardson was, at the time, also involved in the construction of the new state capitol building. He was one of several architects who worked on the capitol over the span of 31 years, and its final design reflected this mix of styles. However, his design for City Hall was entirely his own, and it stands as an excellent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style that he pioneered.

Thanks to Richardson’s influence, Romanesque architecture was popular for public buildings during the 1880s, and City Hall includes many of the style’s typical features. These include narrow windows, rounded arches above the windows and entryway, asymmetrical facades with a tower in the corner, and a rusticated exterior with contrasting light and dark-colored stones. The majority of City Hall’s exterior is granite from Milford, Massachusetts, and the trim is brownstone from East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, which was one of Richardson’s preferred building materials. Overall, the most distinctive feature of city hall is the 202-foot tower, which rises above the southwest corner of the building. Although Romanesque in its appearance, some architectural historians have viewed the tower as an early hint of modern architecture, with its emphasis on vertical lines.

The new building was completed in 1883, and it is shown in the second photo a few decades later, around the turn of the 20th century. The photo was taken from the grounds of the recently-finished state capitol, presumably from one of the walkways, since the sign in the foreground warns pedestrians to keep off the grass. On the far left side of the photo is State Hall, a state office building that was built in 1842. It is also visible in the first photo, and its Greek Revival design echoes that of the old City Hall. On the far right side of the photo, opposite Maiden Lane (now Corning Place), is a four-story brick commercial block that was likely built around the 1860s or 1870s.

Today, more than a century after the second photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. City Hall is still standing with few exterior alterations, and it is still in use by the city government. From this angle, perhaps the only noticeable difference is near the top of the tower, where clock faces were added around the 1920s. The neighboring buildings on either side of the photo are also still standing today, although State Hall was extensively renovated in the early 20th century and is now occupied by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. Because of their historical and architectural significance, both this building and City Hall were added to the National Register of Historic Places, in 1971 and 1972 respectively.

New York State Capitol, Albany, New York (2)

The New York State Capitol, seen from the grounds on the east side of the building, around 1895-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, the New York State Capitol was built over the course of 32 years in the late 19th century. Its construction involved many delays, four different architects, numerous design changes, and substantial cost overruns, but by the time it was completed in 1899 it was one of the grandest state capitol buildings in the country. The first photo was taken around this time, showing the main entrance on the eastern side of the building, with its massive exterior staircase leading up to the portico.

A little more than a decade after its completion, the capitol had a fire that caused extensive damage to the western side of the building. The governor’s Executive Chambers, which are located here on the eastern side, were unaffected by the fire, and the two legislative chambers only suffered water damage. However, the State Library, with hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable books and manuscripts, was lost in the fire, and the library’s night watchman also died in the disaster.

Overall, aside from the fire the only significant changes to the capitol have been interior renovations over the years. The building is now joined by the massive Empire State Plaza immediately to the south of it, but the exterior of the capitol itself still looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken. Today, the only real difference in this scene—other than the trees—is the statue of General Philip Sheridan, a New York native who served with distinction during the Civil War. This statue was designed by prominent sculptors John Quincy Adams Ward and Daniel Chester French, and it was installed in 1916 in the center of the park here on the east side of the capitol.

New York State Capitol, Albany, New York

The New York State Capitol, seen from Eagle Street on the east side of the building, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The capitol in 2019:

For a state capital, the city of Albany is relatively small, with a current population of just under 100,000. This modest size is even more apparent when contrasted with New York City, which is nearly a hundred times larger than Albany. However, while the city itself might be small, New York more than makes up for it with one of the most impressive state capitol buildings in the country, which stands here on a hill just to the west of downtown Albany.

Albany became the capital of New York in 1797, and for much of the 19th century the state government was housed in a capitol building that stood on the far left side of this scene, directly in front of what is now the southeastern corner of the current capitol. This building was completed in 1809, and it remained in use even as its much larger replacement rose behind it in the late 1860s and 1870s. The state legislature finally moved into the yet-unfinished capitol in 1879, and the old one was demolished in 1883, although the new one would not be completed until 1899, after many years of construction delays and cost overruns.

Work on the new capitol had begun in 1867, and its initial design was the work of Thomas Fuller, a Canadian architect who had previously been involved in designing the buildings on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. His plans called for a Renaissance Revival exterior, although the construction work had only progressed as far as the ground floor by 1875, when he was dismissed from the project. The state then hired architects Leopold Eidlitz and Henry H. Richardson, who designed the next two floors before they too were dismissed in 1883 by then-Governor Grover Cleveland. Both Eidlitz and Richardson were pioneers of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture, and their involvement is visible in the exterior design of these two floors, which are significantly different from the ground floor.

Architect Isaac G. Perry then oversaw the final stage of construction, although Eidlitz and Richardson continued to be involved in the design process, and the upper floors have many of the same Romanesque features as the second and third ones. The capitol was also intended to have a Romanesque-style tower in the center, although this was ultimately never completed, in part because of concerns that the ground beneath the building would be unable to support its weight. However, financial issues likely played a role in this decision as well. By the time the building was declared completed in 1899, its original estimated construction costs had ballooned to a staggering $25 million, equivalent to over $750 million today. Finishing the tower would have meant spending even more money, not to mention prolonging a project that was already nearly a third of a century in the making.

The first photo was taken shortly after the capitol was completed, showing the large exterior staircase on the eastern facade of the building. It has a total of 77 steps and extends outward 166 feet from the front of the building. Built in the 1890s, it was one of the last major exterior features added to the capitol, and it was designed by Isaac Perry. He had also intended to build a large gable above the entrance, similar to the one on the west side of the building. However, structural concerns about the added weight forced him to abandon this plan, and he instead built a balcony over the entrance.

Unfortunately, the building’s troubles did not end with its completion. In the early morning hours of March 29, 1911, a fire started in the Assembly Library on the third floor. It soon spread to the nearby State Library, where hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable books and manuscripts provided more fuel for the blaze. By the time the fire was brought under control, the library was a total loss, and the fire caused extensive damage to the upper floors on the western side of the building, including the collapse of the tower at the southwestern corner. The fire also claimed the life of the State Library’s night watchman, 78-year-old Civil War veteran Samuel Abbott, whose charred body was found under the debris two days later.

The eastern side of the building, shown here in these photos, was unaffected by the fire. This included the governor’s Executive Chamber, located on the second floor in the southeast corner, on the left side of this scene. The flames did not reach the legislative chambers, which are located on either side of the building in the center of the east-west axis, but both rooms suffered water damage, and the legislators temporarily met across the street in City Hall while the capitol was repaired. In the end, the fire caused over $2 million in damage to the building, not to mention the priceless contents of the State Library, and none of these losses were insured by the state. The exact cause of the fire was never determined, but the most likely culprit was faulty electrical wiring, which had been installed in the early years of electric lighting.

Overall, though, despite the early troubles of the capitol building, it has stood here as a major landmark for well over a century. During this time, it has seen the rise of many notable politicians, particularly governors, who have gone on to achieve national prominence. Three of the governors who served here in this building subsequently became president: Grover Cleveland (1883-1885), Theodore Roosevelt (1899-1900), and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1929-1932). Of these, both Cleveland and Franklin Roosevelt were sitting governors when they were elected to the presidency, and Theodore Roosevelt was the governor when he was elected vice president in 1900.

Other prominent governors have included Charles Evans Hughes (1907-1910), who later became Secretary of State and Chief Justice of the United States; Al Smith (1919-1920, 1923-1928), the 1928 Democratic presidential candidate; and Thomas E. Dewey (1943-1954), who ran for president as the Republican candidate in both 1944 and 1948. The 1944 presidential election was particularly interesting in that it pitted the sitting New York governor against a former governor, Franklin Roosevelt. More recently, Nelson Rockefeller (1959-1973) served as vice president under Gerald Ford, after his 14-year tenure here as governor. Another vice president, Levi P. Morton, was also governor (1895-1896), although he was not elected to this office until after his term as vice president.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much has changed in the area surrounding the capitol, particularly to the south on the left side of the scene. During the Rockefeller administration, all of the buildings in the blocks to the south of the capitol were demolished as part of a large urban renewal project in order to create the Empire State Plaza, a sprawling complex of state office buildings. Although not visible in this particular view, the Modernist and Brutalist-style buildings of the plaza provide a sharp contrast to the elaborate 19th century architecture of the adjacent capitol building.

As for the capitol itself, it has undergone interior renovations over the years, but on the exterior it remains essentially the same as it did at the turn of the 20th century. It has been a source of controversy over the years, both for its expense and for its visual appearance as an odd hybrid of Renaissance and Romanesque architectural styles. However, it remains in use as the capitol of one of the largest states in the country, and it is probably the most recognizable historic landmark in the city of Albany.

Thomas Crane Public Library, Quincy, Mass

The Thomas Crane Public Library on Washington Street in Quincy, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The library in 2019:

The Thomas Crane Public Library was established in 1880 by Albert Crane as a memorial to his late father, Thomas Crane. Born in 1803, Thomas grew up in Quincy and began working here as a stonecutter in the granite quarries. He later moved to New York, where he had a successful business career selling Quincy granite in the rapidly-growing city. However, he did not forget Quincy, often spending his summers here, and after his death in 1875 his son decided that a public library would be an appropriate way of honoring his memory.

The building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, one of the nation’s preeminent architects of the 19th century. Richardson pioneered a style known as Richardsonian Romanesque, which typically featured rounded arches, tall narrow windows, and rough exterior walls with contrasting light and dark stone. The vast majority of Richardson’s works were public buildings, including a number of churches and railroad stations, and he also designed several libraries. Despite its relatively small size, this library is generally regarded as one of his finest works, with architectural historian and Richardson biographer Henry-Russell Hitchcock declaring it to be “without question the best library Richardson ever built.”

The library was completed in 1882, with the formal dedication on May 30. Albert Crane and other members of his family attended the event, and he ceremonially handed over the keys of the building to Charles Francis Adams Jr., the grandson and great grandson of Quincy’s two famous presidents. Adams then gave the keynote address, in which he recounted the life of Thomas Crane, with a particular emphasis on his humble origins and his strong personal character and morals.

The building’s architecture was well received, and the Boston Journal published a glowing review of its design as part of its coverage of the dedication ceremony:

It is built in what may be termed free Romanesque style of architecture, and is in the form of a parallelogram, 84 by 41 feet in dimensions. The outer material is of Easton pink-tinted granite trimmed with Longmeadow brown stone. The interior above the basement is occupied by one lofty story and a low studded attic. The southern portion is devoted to a reading room. There are in the large hall 16 alcoves with a capacity of 40,000 volumes, and a small room is specially devoted to books and manuscripts pertaining to local history. The effect of the interior is pleasing. There are seven large windows beautifully decorated in stained glass by La Farge. In the east window of the reading room are the suggestive words; “And his leaves shall not wither.” The principal light is a remarkable piece of work, the design of which is by La Farge, and represents in vivid hues an old philosopher holding a roll in his hand. The finish of the interior is of Southern pine, beautifully decorated. The cost of the structure was $40,000, and the expense of grading and embellishing the grounds will probably reach $10,000 or $15,000 additional.

Despite the large capacity of the original library building, though, it was soon in need of expansion. The first addition came in 1908, with a wing in the rear of the library. Richardson had died more than 20 years earlier, but one of his former employees, William Martin Aiken, designed the addition, which matched the appearance of the original building. A second, more substantial expansion came in 1939, with the construction of a new building immediately to the southeast, connected to the older building by an L-enclosed walkway that is partially visible on the far right side of the present-day scene. As with Aiken’s wing, the architecture of this addition copied Richardson’s style. Then, the last expansion occurred in 2001, with a substantial addition to the east of the 1939 wing that doubled the size of the library.

Today, despite these many additions, the original 1882 Richardson portion of the library has remained essentially unchanged from this view. Its surroundings have changed, and the tower of the 1927 Bethany Congregational Church now looms above the building in the distance, but the old library has survived as an important work by one of the greatest architects in American history. Because of its architectural significance, the library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and 15 years later it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, the highest level of federal recognition for a historic property.

Austin Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Austin Hall at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, around 1890-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Austin Hall was completed in 1884 as the home of the Harvard Law School, and it was built thanks to a gift from Edward Austin, a Boston businessman who donated $135,000 in memory of his late brother Samuel. The building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, one of the most influential American architects in history, and it features his distinctive Romanesque Revival style. Richardson had previously designed Sever Hall on the Harvard campus, and his other commissions in the area included Boston’s Trinity Church.

As was typical for Richardson’s works, it has a polychromatic exterior, with the dark Longmeadow brownstone contrasting with the lighter-colored Ohio sandstone. The main entrance is marked by three rounded arches, and to the right of them is a short turret with an interior staircase. Just below the roofline is an inscription from Exodus 18:20, which reads “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk and the work that they must do.”

Upon completion, the interior of the building consisted of two smaller lecture rooms on the first floor, with one in each of the two wings to the left and right, along with a large lecture room in the rear of the building. The rest of the first floor consisted of a central hall, several offices for professors, and a room that was designated as the students’ room. Most of the second floor was occupied by the library, but there was also a dean’s room and a professors’ room.

The first photo was taken about a decade or two after the building opened, and not much has changed in its exterior appearance since then, although the foreground is very different, with a parking lot in place of the trees and dirt walkways. Harvard Law School has since expanded far beyond just this one building, but Austin Hall remains in use by the school today. On the interior, it has been renovated over the years, and it now houses classrooms, offices, and the Ames Courtroom, where law students hold moot courts. This courtroom is on the second floor, where the library reading room was originally located. Overall, though, the building retains much of its historic appearance, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.