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.

Union Station, Albany, New York (3)

The main entrance to Union Station on Broadway in Albany, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This view of Union Station is similar to the one in the previous post, but provides more of a close-up view of the central part of the building, with the main entrance in the foreground. As explained in that post and an earlier one, the station opened in 1900, and it served passengers of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, the Delaware and Hudson Railway, the West Shore Railroad, and the Boston and Albany Railroad. The latter two railroads were owned by the New York Central, so overall the railroad was responsible for two-thirds of the daily trains here. This is emphasized by the fact that the New York Central’s name is engraved here on the facade in the first photo, directly above the central arch.

The station was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, with a Beaux-Arts style that was popular for public buildings of the era. The three arches here at the main entrance are the most distinctive architectural elements of the building, and in some ways they foreshadow the similar arches used more than a decade later when the New York Central built Grand Central Terminal more than a decade later.

Above the arches are a number of carvings, including a clock in the center atop the building, which is incorporated into the New York state seal. To the left of the clock is a figure representing Liberty, and to the left is Justice. An eagle is perched atop a globe above the clock, and underneath the clock is the inscription “Excelsior,” the state motto of New York. Other prominent carvings include large globes atop the corners, each of which is supported by four lions.

The first photo was taken soon after the station opened, and it shows an interesting mix of people outside the station. There are no cars visible on the street, but there are two horse-drawn vehicles, with an expensive-looking coach in the foreground on the right, and a more modest carriage further in the distance on the left side of the scene. Several people appear to have been watching the photographer, including a man with a top hat just beyond the coach, a man beneath the right arch with a briefcase and bowler hat, and three young newsboys who are standing in the street. Others seem indifferent to the camera, including at least three women walking along the sidewalk in front of the station, and another man in a bowler hat who is smoking a pipe and casually leaning against a column.

Union Station continued to be used by the railroads well into the mid-20th century, but by the 1950s ridership was in a steady decline, here in Albany and around the country. The station ultimately closed in 1968, ending passenger rail service into downtown Albany. To replace it, the railroad built a new, much smaller station across the river in Rensselaer.

The old station here in Albany was in limbo throughout the 1970s, and it was the subject of several different proposals, including demolition. However, it was ultimately restored as an office building in the late 1980s by Norstar Bancorp, whose name still appears on the facade in the spot where the New York Central’s name was once located. After a series of bank mergers, the building eventually became offices for Bank of America until 2009, and it is now occupied by several different tenants. Despite these changes in use, though, the exterior remains well-preserved, and the only significant difference here in this scene is the loss of the iron canopy above the entrance.

Union Station, Albany, New York (2)

Union Station in Albany, seen from the southwest corner at Broadway and Steuben Streets, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in more detail in a previous post, Albany’s Union Station opened in 1900 here on Broadway, in the northern part of downtown Albany. It was primarily used by the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad, along with two of its subsidiaries: the West Shore Railroad and the Boston and Albany Railroad. Together, these three railroads comprised more than two-thirds of the rail traffic here when the station opened, with 42 New York Central, 13 West Shore, and 10 Boston and Albany trains departing daily. The remaining traffic was from the Delaware and Hudson Railway, which was headquartered in Albany and had 31 daily departures here.

The first photo was taken soon after the station was completed, showing its ornate granite Beaux-Arts exterior. It was designed by the Boston-based architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, which was responsible for many of the stations along the route of the Boston and Albany. During the heyday of passenger rail travel, the railroad stations of large cities often featured grand architecture. Such stations would provide a good first impression to visitors of a particular city, along with demonstrating the importance and prosperity of the city and its railroad lines. This would have been especially important here in Albany, given its role as the capital city of what was, at the time, the largest state in the country.

Here on the west side of the station, where most passengers would have entered and exited the building, the exterior features three arches, giving it an appearance similar Grand Central Terminal, which was built more than a decade later. Above these arches are a number of elaborate carvings. Of these, the most prominent is the state seal of New York, which was carved over the course of three months by about 15 workers. It stands above the middle arch, and it consists of a clock that is flanked on either side by allegorical representations of Liberty and Justice. Beneath the clock is the state motto, Excelsior, and above it is an eagle perched on a globe. To the left and right of the seal, atop the corners of the central part of the station, are stone globes, each supported by four lions. Although not visible here, two identical globes are located on the other side of the building.

This station was a busy place throughout the first half of the 20th century, with rail travel peaking during World War II when up to 121 daily trains departed from here. However, railroads around the country saw a steep decline in ridership soon after the war, when highways and airlines became the preferred ways to travel by the 1950s. Even the New York Central, once one of the most lucrative companies in the country, was facing possible bankruptcy. This financial situation was not helped by the fact that it had to maintain large, aging stations such as this one in Albany, despite very limited numbers of passengers.

In 1968, the New York Central merged with its former rival, the Pennsylvania Railroad, creating the Penn Central Railroad. Around the same time, the railroad began constructing a new, much smaller station across the Hudson River in Rensselaer, and the old station here in Albany closed on December 29, 1968. The tracks to the station were then removed and, as a sign of the changing ways that Americans traveled, Interstate 787 was built through the former rail yard behind the station.

The station itself was the subject of different redevelopment proposals, some of which would have involved demolishing the old building. Instead, it was ultimately preserved and converted into offices in the 1980s. For many years it was occupied by banks, beginning with Norstar Bancorp. The company’s name is still carved in the facade above the central arch, but the bank went through a series of mergers in the 1990s and early 2000s, eventually becoming part of Bank of America. The former station was occupied by Bank of America until 2009, and the building is now used as offices for a variety of other companies.

Old Post Office, Albany, New York

Looking north on Broadway from the corner of State Street in Albany, with the post office building in the foreground on the right, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Albany’s old post office building, which is shown here in the foreground of both photos, stands at the northeast corner of Broadway and State Street, only a few hundred yards west of the Hudson River. The building opened in 1883, and it housed the post office along with several other federal offices. It has changed use since then, but it survives as an important architectural landmark here in downtown Albany.

Prior to the construction of this building, there was no federal building in Albany, so the post office and other federal agencies operated out of rented spaces. Congress finally authorized the construction of a federal building in 1872, but work on the building did not actually begin for another seven years because of funding delays. The design also changed during this time. The original plans called for a High Victorian Gothic design, but James G. Hill, the Supervising Architect of the Treasury, subsequently redesigned it to feature Renaissance Revival architecture.

The building’s cornerstone was laid in 1879, and it was ready for occupancy by December 1883, when the internal revenue office moved in. The post office opened here on the ground floor of the building in January 1884, and the other federal agencies moved in later in the year. These included the United States Customs Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, and the United States Signal Service. The latter agency, whose duties involved weather observations and forecasts, occupied the third floor and the large tower at the corner of the building. In addition, the building featured a courtroom that was used by both the United States Circuit Court and the District Court.

The first photo was taken just after the turn of the century, about 20 years after the building was completed. There are no automobiles in this photo, although within just a few years they would become ubiquitous here on the streets. In the meantime, though, all of the vehicles in this scene are horse-drawn wagons, with the exception of the electric trolley in the lower left corner. There are a number of pedestrians on the wide sidewalk in front of the post office, including a man using crutches, and above them the street is crisscrossed by a web of electrical, telephone, and trolley wires.

This building continued to serve its original purpose until 1934, when a new federal courthouse, post office, and custom house opened immediately to the north of here on Broadway. Visible on the left side of the present-day photo, this newer building features an Art Deco exterior that was designed by the local firm of Gander, Gander & Gander. The post office moved out of that building in 1995, but it continues to be used as a federal district courthouse for the Northern District of New York, in addition to housing offices for federal law enforcement agencies.

As for the older post office here in the foreground, it remained in use as a federal office building until 1972. Then, in 1977 it was sold to the State University of New York, which had recently acquired the adjacent Delaware & Hudson Railroad Company Building. The two buildings are now connected, and they now form the SUNY Plaza, which serves as the headquarters of the SUNY system. Both buildings were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and then in 2020 the newer federal courthouse—now named the James T. Foley Courthouse—was also added to the National Register. In addition, all three buildings are contributing properties in the extensive Downtown Albany Historic District, which was established in 1980.

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.

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Albany, NY

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, at the corner of State and Lodge Streets in Albany, around 1908. Image from Views of Albany (1908).

The church in 2019:

This church is one of Albany’s most important architectural landmarks. It was designed by prominent architect Richard Upjohn, who specialized in Gothic Revival-style churches, and it was consecrated in 1860. However, the parish itself is much older, dating back to 1708, when Anglican services were first held in Albany. The first church building was constructed in 1715, at what is now the corner of State and Chapel Streets, and it was used throughout the rest of the 18th century, aside from a temporary closure during the American Revolution.

Then, in 1803 the church moved into a new building here at the corner of State and Lodge Streets. Its architect, Philip Hooker, was responsible for many of Albany’s important public buildings of the era, including the First Church in Albany on North Pearl Street. That church is still standing more than two centuries later, but his work here at St. Peter’s Church did not have the same longevity. The building, barely 50 years old, was declared structurally unsound in 1857, and the church temporarily held its services in the Geological Hall until a new church could be built.

The old church was demolished in early 1859, and work soon followed on the new building here on the same site. It was completed about a year and a half later, and formally consecrated on October 4, 1860. The ceremony was attended by a variety of prominent Episcopal clergymen in the area, including Bishop Horatio Potter of the Diocese of New York. Albany was familiar territory for Potter, who had previously served as rector here at St. Peter’s Church from 1833 to 1854, before he was elevated to bishop. He would go on to serve as bishop of the diocese for more than 30 years, until his death in 1887.

The only part of the church that was not completed in 1860 was the tower. It would not be finished for another 16 years, and in the meantime it rose to a height of just 56 feet, with a temporary roof atop it. The rest of the building measured 136 feet in length, 68 feet in width, and 64 feet in height. The exterior consisted of Schenectady bluestone, with New Jersey sandstone for the trim. The design was inspired by French Gothic architecture, and although it is generally credited to Richard Upjohn, his son Richard M. Upjohn was also involved in the project. The younger Upjohn would go on to have a successful career in his own right, and he was responsible for designing the rest of the 180-foot tower that was added to the church in 1876.

The first photo was taken shortly after the turn of the 20th century, and by this point the church was joined by a number of other newer buildings. Immediately to the left is the Tudor-style Potts Memorial Rectory, which was completed in 1896 and named in honor of Jesse and Eunice Potts, whose children donated the money for its construction. Beyond the church on the far right side of the scene is the Albany Masonic Temple. It was also built in 1896, although the land itself has been owned by the Masons since 1766, making it the oldest continuously-owned Masonic property in the country. The other late 19th century building in the scene is Albany City Hall, which was completed in 1883 and stands in the distance on the left side. It is one of the few buildings in Albany that rival St. Peter’s Church in architectural importance, having been designed by famed architect Henry H. Richardson.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much has changed along State Street in Albany, as seen in the photos of an earlier post showing the view from a few blocks east of the church. However, the buildings in the first photo here have remained remarkably well-preserved during this time, and all four are still standing, with few significant exterior alterations. The church itself is still an active Episcopal parish, and in 1980 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark for its architectural significance. The other nearby buildings have likewise received federal recognition; both the parish house and the Masonic Temple are now part of the Downtown Albany Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and City Hall is individually listed on the National Register.