The Albany Academy, Albany, New York

The Albany Academy, near the corner of Eagle and Elk Streets in Albany, around 1907. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

The Albany Academy was established in 1813 as a school for boys, and in 1817 the school moved into its first purpose-built facility, which is shown here in these two photos. The building stands just to the northeast of the New York State Capitol, in between Washington Avenue and Elk Street on the west side of Eagle Street. It is perhaps the city’s finest surviving example of Federal-style architecture, and it was designed by prominent architect Philip Hooker, whose other nearby works included the original capitol building and the old city hall.

This building was home to the academy for over a century, and during this time it saw a number of notable students. One of the earliest was Joseph Henry, who entered the school in 1819. He later returned as a science teacher in 1826, and over the next few years he performed groundbreaking experiments in electromagnetism here at the school. Probably his most important discovery here was electrical inductance, which occurred around the same time as—but independent from—Michael Faraday’s similar discoveries in Britain. This property of electrical conductors was later used by Samuel Morse in his invention of the telegraph, and today the SI unit for measuring inductance is named the henry in his honor.

Aside from Henry, The Albany Academy had many other students who went on to have successful careers, particularly in the fields of government and law. Nine future congressmen attended the school while it was located here, as did prominent federal judge Learned Hand, Supreme Court justice Rufus Wheeler Peckham, and longtime Albany mayor Erastus Corning 2nd, whose 41 years in office is a record among mayors of major American cities. Other prominent students included authors Herman Melville, William Rose Benét, and Stephen Vincent Benét, along with future World War II general and Medal of Honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who attended the school while his father was serving as governor of New York.

The school remained here in this building well into the 20th century, and it was still in use when the first photo was taken around 1907. However, within a few decades the school had outgrown the old building here in downtown Albany, and in 1931 it relocated to a new campus on the outskirts of the city. The school is still located there today, although in 2007 it merged with the Albany Academy for Girls to form The Albany Academies.

In the meantime, this building was sold to the City School District of Albany, which renovated the interior and converted it into district offices. Today, the school district still occupies the building, which has remained largely unchanged since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. It is one of Philip Hooker’s few surviving works, and in 1971 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

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.

Kenmore Hotel, Albany, New York

The Kenmore Hotel, at the corner of North Pearl and Columbia Streets in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

The Kenmore Hotel, shown here in these two photos, is one of the most impressive 19th century commercial buildings in Albany. It was built in 1878, with an ornate brick High Victorian Gothic-style exterior that was designed by local architect Edward Ogden and it was owned by Adam Blake, a prosperous African American hotelier.

Blake was born in 1830, and he was subsequently adopted by—and named for—Adam Blake Sr., a former slave who was a leader within the local African American community. He went on to have a successful career in the restaurant and hotel industries, eventually becoming the owner of the Congress Hall hotel. This hotel was ultimately demolished to make way for the new state capitol building, but Blake received $190,000 for it—equivalent to over $5 million today—and he used the money to build the Kenmore Hotel here on North Pearl Street.

The hotel featured the latest in modern conveniences, with an 1880 advertisement declaring that it had an “Elevator, along with all modern appliances for Elegance and Comfort” and “Hot and Cold Water, Steam Heaters, and Telephone, connecting with office, in each room.” The latter was a particularly remarkable innovation, as Alexander Graham Bell had developed the first telephone in 1876, and within just four years every room in this hotel was equipped with one.

Blake ultimately did not get to enjoy his new hotel for very long, though, because he died in 1881 at the age of 51. However, he left behind a substantial estate of over $100,000, or more than $2.6 million today, and his widow Catherine carried on the hotel business for several more years before selling it in 1887.

During this time, the hotel was a popular gathering place for state politicians, who worked just up the hill from here at the state capitol. These included 25-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, who was at the time an assemblyman from New York City. In 1883, he made the hotel his base of operations during his bid to become speaker of the State Assembly. He ended up losing in the Republican caucus to Titus Sheard, although in the long run this defeat did not seem to have hurt his political career.

Around the turn of the 20th century, Robert P. Murphy acquired the hotel, renovated it, and rebranded it as the New Kenmore. The first photo was taken around this time, and the building displays a vertical “New Kenmore” sign on the right side. The photo also shows some of the other nearby commercial buildings on North Pearl Street, which were built around the same time as the Kenmore. These include the YMCA Building, visible in the distance with the gabled roof and rounded turret at the corner of Steuben Street. It was built in 1886, and in 1892 it was the site of one of the first basketball games. The sport had been invented only a month earlier at the YMCA Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts, and this game in Albany was the first to be played outside of Springfield.

Robert Murphy sold the hotel in 1906 and opened a new hotel in New York, but he returned to Albany in 1916 and ran the Kenmore until his death in 1921. His sons Harry, Robert, and Augustus then carried on the business for many years, and it was during this time that the hotel became well known as the site of the Rain-Bo Room nightclub. The club featured live performances by prominent entertainers of the Roaring Twenties and beyond, including Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra, and one of its regular guests was the famous mobster Jack “Legs” Diamond.

The Rain-Bo Room closed in 1947, and in 1986 the building was converted into offices. The building is now undergoing another renovation, as shown in the 2019 photo. Upon completion, the building will feature 93 apartments, along with retail space on the ground floor, and there is also a proposal to reopen the Rain-Bo Room. Overall, despite the changes in use over the years, the Kenmore has remained very well-preserved, with few significant changes since the first photo was taken. The neighboring buildings further to the left are also still standing, and they are now part of the Downtown Albany Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.

Keeler’s Hotel, Albany, New York

Keeler’s Hotel, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Maiden Lane in Albany, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Keeler’s Hotel was one of the leading hotels in Albany in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It stood on the west side of Broadway, just south of Maiden Lane, and for most of its existence it was run by William H. Keeler. Born in Albany in 1841, Keeler opened Keeler’s Oyster House on Green Street when he was in his early 20s, and it soon became one of the most popular restaurants in the area. Then, in 1871 he sold the restaurant to his brother John, and he went on to have a successful career in local politics, including serving as a city alderman, street commissioner, and as sheriff of Albany County.

After his time as sheriff, William Keeler returned to his previous career and opened a restaurant at 26 Maiden Lane. This storefront was still a restaurant when the first photo was taken around 1908, and it is visible in the distance on the far right side of the photo, just underneath where the second-story fire escape dips a few feet. However, by this point Keeler had significantly expanded beyond the restaurant. In 1890, he went into the hotel business by constructing this five-story building next to his restaurant, which became Keeler’s Hotel.

The hotel was popular both for travelers and for long-term boarders, although only men were allowed here as hotel guests. Women were permitted to eat at the restaurant, but only via a separate entrance on the Maiden Lane side of the building. Many of the guests here at the hotel were state legislators and other government officials who worked up the hill at the state capitol. Future governor and presidential candidate Al Smith was a regular, as were a number of Tammany-affiliated Democrats, including one of its leaders, Timothy D. “Big Tim” Sullivan, who boarded here in the early 20th century.

William Keeler died in 1918, and as it turned out his hotel did not outlive him by very long. Just over a year later, the building burned in an early-morning fire on June 17, 1919. The fire was detected around 3:00 am, and within two hours the entire building was destroyed in what newspapers described as “one of the most spectacular [fires] in the city’s history.” The hotel’s 226 guests were all able to get out of the building, thanks in part to the abundance of fire escapes as shown in the first photo. Newspaper accounts also give credit to the hotel’s telephone operator Anna Briggam, who remained at the switchboard as long as she could, in order to call the rooms and awaken sleeping guests. However, one firefighter was killed in the blaze, after a wall collapsed on top of him.

The site of the hotel was subsequently redeveloped as the Arcade Building, which was completed in 1928 and is still standing here today. With five stories, the new building is similar in size to its predecessor, but its sleek Art Deco design is very different from the cluttered exterior appearance of Keeler’s Hotel. It originally housed stores on the ground floor and office space on the upper floors, but in 2015 it was converted into luxury apartments.

Union Station, Albany, New York

The platforms on the east side of Union Station in Albany, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Taken nearly 120 years apart, these two photos capture one of the ways in which transportation changed in the United States over the course of the 20th century. The first photo shows a large, recently-completed downtown railroad station, with several trains waiting on the tracks and a group of people on one of the platforms. However, in the present-day scene the railroad station has been converted into offices, while the tracks and platforms are completely gone, replaced with a parking garage. Another even larger parking garage stands in the distance on the right side, and further to the right, just out of view, is an interstate highway.

Albany’s Union Station was completed in 1900, and it was primarily used by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. However, it was also used by the Delaware and Hudson Railway and the New York Central-controlled West Shore Railroad, and it was the western terminus of the Boston and Albany Railroad, which the New York Central had begin leasing earlier in 1900. The station building featured a granite, Beaux-Arts exterior, and it was designed by the prominent Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. This firm was particularly well-known for their railroad stations, and they designed a number of them for the Boston and Albany, including Union Station in Springfield and South Station in Boston.

The station was built at the corner of Columbia Street and Broadway, with the main entrance on the western side, facing Broadway. However, this view shows the other side of the station, looking north from the southern end of the platforms. Here, three large island platforms were situated between the tracks, and passengers could access them via two underground tunnels. The train on the left side of the first photo is a New York Central passenger train, with 4-4-0 locomotive number 1135 in the lead. Another unidentified locomotive stands on the far right side of the photo, and further in the distance just to the left of that train is a group of men—possibly railroad employees—leaning against and sitting on a row of baggage carts. These trains were just two of the 96 daily trains that served Union Station when it first opened at the turn of the 20th century. Of these, there were 42 New York Central trains, 31 Delaware and Hudson, 13 West Shore, and 10 Boston and Albany.

Passenger rail travel continued to increase nationwide throughout the first half of the 20th century, eventually peaking during World War II. This was also the busiest time for passenger trains in Albany, with 121 daily trains here at Union Station. However, the postwar period saw a sharp decline in ridership, a problem exacerbated by the development of the Interstate Highway System starting in the 1950s. By the 1960s, many of the railroad companies that had dominated the nation’s economy a half century earlier were now teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. As a result, the New York Central merged with its longtime rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in 1968, forming the Penn Central Railroad.

For nearly a decade prior to the merger, the New York Central had been looking to rid itself of Albany’s Union Station, which was under-utilized and expensive to maintain. The station was also near the path of the planned Interstate 787, which would cut through part of the station’s passenger yard. Soon after the formation of Penn Central, the newly-formed railroad opened a new, much smaller passenger station directly across the river from here in Rensselaer, and the old Albany station was unceremoniously closed on December 29, 1968.

A few months later, the New York Times published an “obituary” of the station, titled “In Melancholy Memory of Albany’s Union Depot.” The article lamented the closure of the grand station, recalling its long history during the heyday of passenger trains and contrasting its architecture with that of the new station, which was described as a “one-story crackerbox of concrete blocks.” At the time, the fate of the old station was still undetermined, but the article mentioned several different proposals, which ranged from converting it into a museum to demolishing it and building a high-rise luxury apartment building and marina on the site.

Ultimately, neither of these proposals materialized, and the building was instead converted into offices in the 1980s. It was originally the home of Norstar Bancorp, and it was initially named Norstar Plaza, although it was subsequently renamed Peter D. Kiernan Plaza after the death of the bank’s president. The bank then went through a series of mergers, and over the next two decades the building was home to Fleet Financial Group, FleetBoston Financial, and then Bank of America. The building was used by Bank of America until 2009, and it now serves as offices for several other companies.

Overall, the present-day scene is drastically different from the view in the early 20th century. The most dramatic change is the parking garage in place of the station tracks and platforms, but other changes have included the tall building just beyond the station on the other side of Columbia Street. However, the station itself has not seen many exterior changes since the first photo was taken, even though much of it is hidden by trees from this angle. Today it stands as an excellent work of Beaux-Arts architecture, and it also serves to highlight the benefits of historic preservation and adaptive reuse.