Friday, July 20, 2007

Albany's Welllington Row - Updates

Wellington Row Developer Building Support

Plan lauded for "remarkable level of preservation" of historic architecture during key meeting in Albany

From Times Union

By Chris Churchill, July 20, 2007

ALBANY -- Preservationists and city officials are cheering the latest plan for the redevelopment of Wellington Row, the forlorn but historically significant string of buildings near the state Capitol.

The new proposal from Columbia Development Cos. -- the Albany firm wanting to build a 14-story office tower on the site -- meets the demands of historic preservationists by mostly retaining four of Wellington Row's five buildings while keeping all of the buildings' facades.

Under the $60 million plan, the buildings on either side of the former Wellington Hotel would be rehabilitated, with retail at ground level and apartments on upper floors.

The Wellington itself would be demolished, but Columbia would rebuild its facade on a new structure that would serve as an entryway to the mammoth, 400,000-square-foot office building.

"Given the circumstances, it's a remarkable level of preservation that Columbia has taken on," said architect William Brandow, a Historic Albany Foundation board member.

Wellington Row has long been an irritant to city officials and downtown boosters, who have watched the prominent site decline into a boarded-up eyesore at the heart of the city center. It has been hard, after all, to argue that downtown is succeeding with a key State Street site in such disrepair.

Columbia raised hopes when it bought the site for $925,000 last November from London-based Sebba Rockaway Ltd. But preservationists quickly objected to a Columbia plan to demolish most of the row and build an office tower immediately behind the historic facades.

Preservationists said the plan reduced the building fronts to window dressing, and they lobbied Columbia to reconsider.

The firm did so, and this week brought its revisions to the city's Historic Resources Commission, which reviews projects in historically significant areas.

"The purpose of the meeting was to make sure we're on the right track," said Columbia's Mike Arcangel, who is overseeing the Wellington Row project. "And it seems to be. It seems we've passed a litmus test."

The proposal has many hurdles to clear. It still needs a host of approvals from the city, and some preservationists are quietly questioning the size of the proposed office building, saying it may overwhelm Wellington Row and other area buildings.

"There's going to be a lot of details to review," said city planner Richard Nicholson. "We're at the big concept stage, which I would say was well received."

City officials are particularly pleased Columbia has added apartments to the project, a move that could further a long-stated goal of having more people living in the city center.

"What's nice about this is that is has all the elements," said Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. "You're going to have residential as well as retail and office."

Jennings called Wellington Row critical to downtown redevelopment. "There's no reason for us to have buildings that look like that and have them 100 yards away from a beautiful state Capitol," he said.

While four of the site's buildings will not be demolished, it is unclear how much of their interiors will be saved. Some have decayed beyond repair -- that's especially true of the former Berkshire Hotel at 140 State St. -- while others have elements that may not fit into Columbia's redevelopment plans.

Susan Holland, executive director of the Historic Albany Foundation, said the former Elks Lodge, at 138 State St., has a magnificent ballroom. But that space likely will be lost under Columbia's plan, she said.

Rebuilding the Wellington Hotel facade on a new building is the most unusual component of the Columbia proposal, and preservationists said they were awaiting details of how that segment of the project would proceed.

Arcangel said Columbia would carefully remove the facade, catalog and store its pieces, then rebuild it. Yet it wouldn't be a replica: The "new" facade would be several feet higher, as Columbia wants to increase the building's interior ceiling heights.

Such plans have raised hackles in other cities. In Chicago, for example, preservations objected to a plan that reconstructed the facade of the historic McGraw-Hill Building on a new hotel.

Some have called the increasingly common practice a "facade-ectomy."

But in Albany, preservationists say they acknowledge the state of decay Wellington Row has fallen into, and say they are pleased the developer has agreed to save much of what is significant about the site.

"Given the obstacles," Brandow said, "it's a good preservation project."

Albany's Wellington Row plan detailed

From Times Union

By Ryan Hutchins, July 18, 2007

ALBANY - Representatives of Columbia Development Cos. detailed the Wellington Row project tonight night before the city of Albany's Historic Resource Commission.

The plan includes a new 14-story building of about 409,000 square feet fronted by the facades of four existing buildings.

In the center, the Wellington Hotel would be replaced by an eight-story building that would resemble the historic hotel, with pieces of the original building incorporated into the new facade.

As well as the facades, about 40 to 50 feet of the buildings behind the facade would be kept standing. Some of the space might be rehabilitated for residential or special retail use.
Columbia Development Cos. bought the properties for $925,000 from London-based Sebba Rockaway Ltd. The original plan was to demolish the entire row.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

City of Troy's Inaugural Chowderfest

Clam chowder anyone? Mayor Harry J. Tutunjian joined with local restaurateurs, including Chef Larry Schepici from Tosca Grille to announce the inaugural Troy Chowderfest, set to take place on August 18th, on River Street, Troy.

"In the last few years, we have had some wonderful restaurants open in the City of Troy, and they go along great with the fabulous eateries that are already here," Tutunjian said. "Chef Larry had this idea to start a Chowderfest, and believes it will be a great time and be very successful. It will serve as a wonderful option for people looking to not go to Saratoga."

Prospect Park Family Concert Series

The Friends of Prospect Park is proud to announce its second Family Concert Series. The concert, which are free and open to the public, are held in Troy's Prospect Park. Performances include:
  • Tuesday, July 31, at 7:00 p.m. - The Zucchini Brothers - A favorite among local children, this band attracted over 200 people to Prospect Park last summer. Originally from Saratoga Springs, but now living in a clubhouse in ZucchiniLand, the Zucchini Brothers are well renowned for their work in schools, theaters and festivals throughout the country.
  • Tuesday, August 7, at 7:00 p.m. - The Empire State Youth Percussion Orchestra - The most advanced area high school and middle school percussion players will delight the audience with vibes, electric bass, drum set, and an electric piano. The Hamilton Hill Arts Center Steel Drum Band - The group hails from Schenectady's Hamilton Hill Arts Center. A part of the center's innovative music program, they are the only youth-based steel pan group in this area.
  • Tuesday, August 14, 7:00 p.m. - Andy "The Music Man" Morse - His program is high energy and interactive and he delights young audiences with his lively blend of sing-a-longs, dancing, play-acting and storytelling. A percussive rhythmic guitarist, mandolin player and songwriter, Andy creates an environment in which children feel comfortable and encouraged to participate. His concert in Prospect Park last summer drew 125 people and dozens of dancing children.
  • Tuesday, August 21, at 6:30 (Note early start time) - Either/Orchestra - A ten-piece band from Boston, the jazz ensemble (two trumpets, trombone, three saxophones, piano, acoustic bass, drums, and congas) combines the agility and freedom of a jazz combo, the raw power and subtle coloring of a jazz orchestra and the deep grooves of Afro-Latin music. The concert is co-sponsored by The Sanctuary for Independent Media, a local community arts organization committed to promoting independent artists.
Prospect Park is located on Congress Street (Route 2) in Troy. For more information about the concert series or the Friends of Prospect Park, call 266-1433. All of the concerts are held rain or shine.

If you do head to the concerts, bring a picnic and blanket, or stop for dinner beforehand at one of Troy's great nearby restaurants, including Anselmo's (95 Ferry Street), Minissale's Wine Bar (14th Street), Muza Diner (15th Street), or Fisher's Pizza (Congress Street). Of course, there are many more -- check the sidebar at right for a few more ideas, or stop by the RiverSpark Visitor Center for a business directory with map, and other suggestions from the helpful staff. And if you want to learn a bit more about the historic Mt. Ida neighborhood that surrounds Prospect Park, visit the Historic Mt. Ida web site our BCon students developed this spring (FYI - The site's content is currently being moved from RPI servers to a new internet home, but should be available soon).

Historic Osgood neighborhood showcased - "A Touch of Heaven in the city of Troy"

Kudos and many thanks to our energetic and tireless neighbor, Claire Davis, the "force of nature" behind yesterday's tour of Troy's Osgood neighborhood. For those who may not know, Claire is also the force behind Troy in Bloom, which organizes an army of volunteers every Memorial Day weekend to plant flowers throughout downtown Troy, and is an active volunteer with many other causes. THANKS, CLAIRE, for all you do to make Troy a better place!

From Troy Record

By Robert Cristo; photograph by Tom Killips.

TROY - While spending a sunny Saturday afternoon enjoying a tour through South Troy, partakers were also exposed to the pride residents are taking in what is now considered an up and coming neighborhood.

Throughout the House, Garden and Church Tour organized by resident Claire Davis, participants not only got an opportunity to view architectural treasures of the Osgood Neighborhood but also witnessed a bevy of residents sprucing up their homes and gardens.

"Instead of moving back to New York City or San Francisco, I'm more interested now in living here and being part of an up-and-coming community that's working to save their beautiful architectural history rather than tearing it down," said Carin Upstill, a transplant who now calls Third Street her home.

During the tour of 16 local sites, which included Davis' renovated Roman-style home on Third Street, the Osgood Firehouse and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church, groups were impressed to see that so many homeowners were out painting their facades, doing home repairs and tidying up around their properties.

One of those property owners, Richard Hennessey, pointed out that economic development interest in South Troy has picked up, evidenced by the sheer number of properties that have been purchased recently.

"There's no doubt in my mind that South Troy is coming back big," said Hennessey, while painting the façade of his Ida Street home. "I see a tremendous amount of development in terms of old homes getting cleaned up.

"I first noticed it about three years ago with the whole Little Italy thing. ... Sometimes it takes only one spark of enthusiasm to create a domino effect," he added.

One of those sparks many local residents point to is Davis, who they dubbed "a force of nature" with boundless energy in advocating for the re-birth of South Troy.

Since moving into her once dilapidated yellow and white trimmed home topped with a V-shaped façade and Roman style columns in 1991, she has transformed it back to its original luster, both inside and out.

"When I bought it, everything had to be redone from the basement up - the foundation and to the roof - but I saw the potential," said Davis. "It had the right look and feel - good bones - but it needed a little tender loving care."

Davis said she organized the tour to showcase the potential of the neighborhood in hopes that more people will continue to invest in a community she considers a jewel. Those who took the tour said they couldn't agree more with Davis' assessment.

"The tour gave me the opportunity to go inside these grand homes I've only got the chance to see from the outside when I walk around the neighborhood," said Upstill, who once lived near Central Park in Manhattan.

"This is were I want to live now. ... It's one of the few areas in the capital region I love just strolling around in, looking at the historic architecture and seeing people hanging out on their stoops. ... Being from New York City that's something I missed," she added.

In addition to Davis's restored 19th Century home, the tour featured many unique features of the neighborhood. "Everyone knows about things like beautiful Tiffany stained glass windows at St. Joseph's Church, but they often don't know about the artifacts and paintings at the St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church," said Davis. "That and so many other things make this area a touch of heaven in the city of Troy."

"To me it has a history that just speaks to says take care of me and make me beautiful for the next generation and beyond to appreciate,' said Davis.

Besides her own home, Davis hoped people who went on the tour also took time to appreciate the homes, gardens, churches, restaurants and fire-houses that make up what is known as the Osgood Neighborhood.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Internship Opportunities - Howard Hall Farm

The following internships are available at the Howard Hall Farm Restoration Project:

All of the internships take place on the site of a 220-year-old Federal style home in Athens NY, which serves as a classroom and laboratory. The site offers a unique environment for hands-on learning and offers specific restoration challenges that are distinctive to this region.

(Students will learn and practice techniques passed down
for centuries using historic lime mortar as in days of yore)
Duration: one week
Accepting 3 Interns

Interns will engage in hands-on repointing and stone rebuilding work using traditional methods of approach for masonry restoration. They will learn directly from Reggie Young, the founder of our historic restoration/green technology project, who studied brick and stone pointing with John Speweik of the U.S. Heritage Group of Chicago. No experience is necessary. This internship is designed to give participants a taste of this ancient process and is ideally suited for anyone interested in getting their hands dirty and learning a bit about the history of these ancient techniques.

When applicable, HHF will work with your school to make sure you can receive class credit for your studies here.

Duration: one week
Accepting 3 Interns

Students will learn the benefits and processes involved in using historic lime plaster instead of more modern techniques. By using these ancient, environmentally friendly materials, structures are actually given "room to breathe", and can last much longer than buildings treated with more contemporary methods. Students will be trained by our plaster expert, Sean (also trained in the line of John Speweik's internationally renowned processes) to learn the multifaceted uses of this visually luscious material. No experience is necessary. This internship is designed to give participants a taste of this ancient process and is ideally suited for anyone interested in getting their hands dirty and learning a bit about the history of these ancient techniques.

When applicable, HHF will work with your school to make sure you can receive class credit for your studies here.

For more information, or to apply for an internship, call 518-945-1253
or email:

Just send your name and a sentence or two letting HHF know which internship interests you, and why, and your contact information.

To learn more about HHF, visit:
or find them on Myspace

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Architecture & Preservation in the News

Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut officially opened to the public on June 21. Tickets are pretty much sold out for the forseeable future, but here are a few articles to whet your appetite for this unique site:
A few other recent articles of interest include:
  • The 'Great Love' Of a Collector Of Old Mansions (by Kathryn Matthews, New York Times, July 6, 2007) - about Richard Jenrette and his collection of fantastically restored historic houses, including Edgewater in Barrytown, New York; includes photographs and a multimedia slide show.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Founder's House Is a Self-Help Landmark (by Lisa A. Foderaro, New York Times, July 6, 2007) - about Stepping Stones, the Westchester County home of Bill and Lois Wilson, founders of Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and was recently added to New York State's Women's Heritage Trail. Tours are available by appointment, seven days a week. FYI - Stepping Stones is currently seeking an archivist to "continue the work of cataloguing the Wilson's possessions, including the most significant items, now in storage, like the first copy of the Big Book to roll off the press.
  • Restoring the Past to Improve the Future (by Fred A. Bernstein, New York Times, July 1, 2007) - About the rehabilitation of the historic Attucks Theater in Norfolk, Virginia (constructed in 1919, but unused since the 1950s) by the Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which has successfuly used New Market Tax Credits to restore the theater and revitalize the surrounding neighborhood.

Troy Doings: Midweek Farmers Market, RCHS Members Night, Movies, and Music

Troy's Weekday Farmers Market

Those who have been missing Troy's Wednesday Farmers Market -- located for years along the south side of the Uncle Sam Atrium (Broadway between Third and Fourth) -- will be pleased to know the market has been relocated to Riverfront Park. Although it is much smaller than the Saturday market, there will be 4-5 vendors with produce and other goods. The market will be open from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. every Wednesday through October. Be sure to check it out. FYI - for other farmers market days, times, and locations, check the listings in Metroland or the Times Union (online)...I think Watervliet has one in Hudson Shores park on Tuesday and one is located near Hudson Valley Community College on Thursdays.

Rensselaer County Historical Society Members' Night

The Rensselaer County Historical Society will be hosting its next Members' Night on Thursday, July 19th from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. at the Carr Building, 57 Second Street, Troy. Members (and their guests/"aspiring" members) are invited to enjoy fine wine, cheese, and informal but informative discussion of the late 1830s Howard-Hart Curtain Quarter Coach, a rare American made vehicle purchased in New York City by William and Rebecca Howard, parents of Betsey Howard Hart. With velvet seats, elaborate decorative trim and hardware, original lanterns and coat of arms on the doors, the Howard-Hart Coach is a stunning example of a high-style town coach. Only four of these coaches are known to survive and you will hear about the rediscovery and acquisition of this important piece of Troy history from Douglas G. Bucher, RCHS Board member and preservation architect and Stacy Pomeroy Draper, RCHS Curator.

The acquisition of the Howard-Hart Coach has provided RCHS with a wonderful opportunity to be able to use the vehicle to interpret both an aspect of family life at the Hart-Cluett House and discuss a wide range of themes related to Rensselaer County history, but it has also presented the organization with a complex preservation challenge. A detailed look at the Carriage House and the role it played in daily life will round out the evening. Refreshments will be served in the Courtyard of the Hart-Cluett House, weather permitting.

Members' Night is but one of the new members' benefits we plan for 2007 to increase the enjoyment of being part of RCHS. We hope to see you there, and we encourage you to bring a friend.

Little Italy's Cinema Under the Stars

Little Italy reports that this summer's first Cinema Under the Stars event was a success. Over 50 people (with their chairs in tow) enjoyed watching a young Anthony Quinn and Richard Basehart in Fellini's award winning movie "La Strada." Join Little Italy for the next movie, on Friday July 27th, 8:45 p.m., at the MarketPlace, Hill Street between Liberty and Washington, for Vittorio De Sica's "The Bicycle Thief." In case of rain the event will be held in the Gasholder House on Jefferson and Fifth.

FYI - This event is part of Troy Night Out, held on the last Friday of each month. Plan to spend the evening in Troy, browsing in shops and galleries, dining, listening to music, and watching a movie!

Troy Cinema & Visual Arts Group

The Troy Cinema & Visual Arts Group, which is a grass-roots group working to bring a movie venue back to downtown Troy, will be presenting "The Assassin," produced by local actor and producer, Kevin Craig West on Wednesday, July 18th at 7 p.m. in the Arts Center. For more information, check

Riverfront Park Concert Series

Collar City Live presents their summer concert series in River Front Park. Here is their schedule (in past years, folks have been known to picnic around the pavilion in the park).
  • Sun., July 8, 6PM - Georgie Wonders Big Band
  • Sun., July 15, 6PM - Nightingale
  • Sun., July 22, 6PM - Sonny & Perley “Brazilian Romance”
  • Sun., July 29, 6PM - Taineri – Latin night
  • Sun., Aug. 5, 6PM - The Lustre Kings - Rockabilly
  • Sun., Aug. 12, 6PM - Blind Mice
  • Sun., Aug. 19, 6PM - The Ron Cremisio Band
  • Sun., Aug. 26, 2PM - Take Me To The River Blues Fest (Featuring Danny Kalb)
And for the kids:
  • Wed., July 11, noon - Peter, Paul & George Family Dance
  • Wed., July 18, noon - Sensemaya for kids
  • Wed., July 25, noon - Tom Winslow
  • Wed., Aug. 1, noon - Ivy Vine Players
  • Wed., Aug. 8, noon - Cranberry the Clown
  • Wed., Aug. 15, noon - Tales ‘n& Tunes
  • Wed., Aug. 22, noon - Hamilton Hill Steel Drum Band
Other Music Outdoors

Powers Park Concert Series 2007 (Lansingburgh, 7 p.m.):
  • July 7 - Country Night: North 40 Band
  • July 14 - Billy Joel Tribute: Stormfront
  • July 21 - Neil Diamond Tribute - Al Bruno
  • July 28 - Classic Rock/Funk: Wylder
  • Aug 4 - More Classic Rock/Funk: Vehicle
  • Aug 11 - Spectacular 50s Night - The Greyhounds
  • Aug 18 - Classic Rock/Funk: Groov e syndicate
Rumor also has it that concerts will be held in Prospect Park, but I do not have details.

Osgood House/Garden Tour

And, last but not least, the Osgood Neighborhood of South Troy will be presenting its annual house and garden tour on July 14th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and the tour starts at 324 Third Street.

Of course, there's far more going on than I can include here, so check local newspapers, the city's web site (, and the Washington Park Association and Little Italy newsletters.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Discover Historic Waterford, New York!

One of my favorite places in New York State's Capital District is the village of Waterford. Situated at the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers and Erie and Champlain Canals, this historic village is still relatively unknown, even to Capital District natives. As far as I'm concerned, and perhaps selfishly so, that's just as well -- it is a charming, pedestrian-oriented village, with a great visitor center, historical museum, waterfront promenade, boat launch, docks, and waterfront parks, as well as pleasant, walkable residential neighborhoods and a small commercial district.

Both the Town and Village of Waterford have spent the last fifteen years working hard to complete improvements and their hard work is finally beginning to pay off. Recent improvements have included completion of the waterfront visitors center and parking area; the waterfront promenade, boat launch, and docks; pocket parks along the waterfront; beautification of the Hudson River parks on the north and south sides of Broad Street; new commercial development including McGrievey's Pub, residential and facade improvements; and streetscape improvements.

Upcoming downtown and waterfront events include:
  • June 30th-July 2nd - Steamboat Meet (including great fireworks)
  • July & August, Sunday afternoons, 2:30-4:30 p.m., Concerts in the Park
  • July 21st - Classic Car Show
  • August 7th - National Night Out
  • August 10th - Concert Under the Stars
  • August 10th-12th - Canal Splash
  • September 7th-9th - Tug Boat Roundup
  • September 22nd-23rd - Great Village Sellout (garage sales)
  • October 13th - Heritage Day
  • October 2oth - Pumpkinfest
Waterford is a great place to spend the day. You can visit the sites mentioned above; walk along the Hudson and Mohawk River waterfronts (as well as along the Erie and Champlain Canals); visit the Waterford Historical Museum & Cultural Center; picnic; shop at the village's antique stores; grab a meal at McGrievey's, Broad Street Cafe, Joe & Don's, Kielty's or Mr. Subb; walk or bicycle along the Champlain Canal; and walk, bicycle or drive along the Erie Canal's flight of five locks (to name a few things). Bike trails and bridges connect Waterford to Troy (Lansingburgh), Cohoes, including Peebles Island State Park.

For more information, call 518-233-9123 or visit the Town of Waterford's web site (

Waterford, NY: Canal and River Town’s History Explored

Canals and rivers have shaped Waterfordians’ experience throughout the community’s history. The Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center is sponsoring a walking tour of the Village of Waterford that will explore the history and architecture that was influenced in so many ways by the rivers and canals that surround the community. The tour will be lead by long-time Waterford resident and heritage area specialist, Lucy Breyer.

The Museum is sponsoring the walk in conjunction with the Waterford Steamboat Meet on June 30th. The walk is free of charge and participants are asked to meet at the south end of Third Street in the Village of Waterford (along the waterfront) at 9a.m. The tour will start shortly after 9am and will take about one hour.

The Waterford Historical Museum and Cultural Center is located in the 1830 Hugh White Homestead on Museum Lane in the Town of Waterford. The Museum offers various programs and exhibits year round. For more information about the Museum and its programs please contact the Museum at 238-0809 or check our website

Job: PLNYS - Regional Director of Technical and Grant Programs


The Preservation League is seeking an experienced preservation professional who will serve as the League's primary field services staff person for Eastern New York, New York City and Long Island. This is a senior position at the League that requires a trained preservation professional with extensive knowledge of historic preservation theory and practice. The Regional Director will work directly with local communities, organizations, individuals and elected officials on all aspects of historic preservation and community development. The Director will also manage established League grant and assistance programs in their territory. This position reports to the Preservation League's President and works in tandem with the Regional Director of Technical and Grant Programs for Western and Central New York. This is a full-time position located in Albany, New York and requires regular travel within the territory.

  • A degree in historic preservation or a closely related field; graduate degree preferred.
  • Minimum 5 years of professional experience in the historic preservation field.

  • Provide technical preservation assistance to individuals, organizations and municipalities seeking creative solutions to preservation challenges.
  • Advise and assist local and regional preservation organizations and citizen groups on strategies to increase their effectiveness.
  • Identify statewide and regional preservation challenges and develop tools, programs, and workshops, to address them.
  • Administer key League programs including the Preserve New York Grant Program, the Seven to Save Endangered Properties Program and the Preservation Colleagues Program that provides training to preservation groups.

  • Ability to work constructively as part of a team.
  • Exceptional interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Confident public speaking skills.
  • A solid understanding of historic preservation principles and practices.
  • Strong computer skills.


The Preservation League of New York State is the
private, not-for-profit, statewide advocate dedicated to the
protection of New York's diverse and rich heritage of historic
buildings, districts, and landscapes. Founded in 1974, the League
gives voice to New York's historic resources. We partner with public
and private organizations, agencies, and individuals in communities
throughout the Empire State who are working to ensure the future of
their historic resources. The League advances effective public
policies, provides expert legal and technical assistance, targets
grants to local communities, builds the capacity of local preservation
groups, and focuses public attention on threatened properties.


Send cover letter, resume, and the names of three
references by Monday, July 9th to:
Regional Director Search
Preservation League of NYS
44 Central Avenue
Albany, NY 12206
Tel: 518-462-5658 ext 13,

Friday, June 08, 2007

Calling Trader Joe's...

Trader Joe's in Troy? Not Yet
Developer courts grocery for growing downtown area, but upscale chain is not interested so far

From The Times Union

By Chris Churchill

TROY -- A Trader Joe's in downtown Troy? Developer Jeffrey Pfeil would like to see it, and so would some other people.

Pfeil has been unable to convince the upscale grocery chain that the Capital Region is a suitable market. But he is still trying to lure a small grocer to the Troy building he is redeveloping at Third and State streets.

That five-story structure, formerly home to Stanley's Department Store, will have apartments on the top floors and 7,500 square feet of retail space at ground level. Dubbed The Conservatory, the first residents will begin moving in this month. Retail space could be ready for occupancy within three months.

And a grocery could answer a frequent complaint among central Troy residents frustrated by a lack of easy food options.

It also could provide competition for a food co-op planned for Congress Street not far from Pfeil's building.

Pfeil, though, said he believes his building's grocery could complement a co-op. And at least one Troy resident involved in the co-op effort would welcome a commercial grocery -- especially if it is Trader Joe's.

"Everyone in Troy would love to have a Trader Joe's," said Kevin Blodgett. "So many people from here have called them."

California-based Trader Joe's is expanding rapidly on the East Coast. It has locations in metropolitan New York and Boston, as well as in Connecticut and western Massachusetts.

A Trader Joe's spokesperson declined to comment.

The business data site says the grocer is best known for its private-label health foods, organic produce and nutritional supplements. A typical store is 10,000 square feet.

"We talk to them regularly," Pfeil said. "But they haven't seen this market as one they're targeting yet."

The company apparently has few qualms about locating in New York's Manhattan or Westchester County, where incomes and population density can help ensure the profits. But Pfeil said he thinks the reluctance to come to upstate is due partly to New York's liquor laws, which would prevent the company from selling wine, including the popular Charles Shaw brand. Best known as "Two-Buck Chuck," the inexpensive wine is sold exclusively in Trader Joe's stores.

Pfeil's Troy location lacks parking, which might also give grocery owners pause. But he points out that urban grocery stores thrive in other parts of the country.

Pfeil, a principal in J.W. Pfeil & Co. Inc. in Saratoga Springs, is a real estate developer and leasing agent. He brought national retailers such as Eddie Bauer and Banana Republic to downtown Saratoga Springs, despite their initial reluctance.
Pfeil thinks they'll eventually come to downtown Troy, too, and doesn't exclude the possibility they'll occupy one of the spaces in his building.

"They'll do it someday," he said. "It's just a matter of when."

Loft Development in Another Troy Industrial Building

From Troy Record
By Danielle Sanzone; photograph by Mike McMahon.

TROY - The former Mooradians' furniture store on River Street, a 117-year-old Italianate-style building, will soon be home to 48 loft-style residential units ranging in price from $200,000 to $550,000, officials announced at a formal gathering Thursday evening.

The upscale abodes, which will be called "the mooradian lofts," should be completed by the end of next year, said Pietro Costa, one of the partners with the New Amsterdam Development Corp., which is transforming the historic building into modern lofts.

"There is no other housing like this in the capital region," Costa, a native of the Netherlands, said. "We feel there will be a large market for this type of housing with professionals, employees at the local colleges, baby-boomers and empty-nesters. Anyone who wants to experience living in a downtown atmosphere will appreciate the mooradian lofts. We are bringing chic, urban living back to this area."

While the development has received the appropriate permits and zoning approvals from the city, developers are still waiting for the final approval from the state attorney general before they can accept offers to purchase the lofts which range from 1,100 square feet to 1,600 square feet, officials said.

Following Thursday's event, however, the building's owners will begin to accept tentative reservations for people interested in purchasing the units. TL Metzger & Associates has been chosen by the developers as the exclusive broker from this project.

At Thursday's event, locals were able to tour through a couple floors of the building and see a model unit of what the loft residences could look like.

"It is very humbling seeing this vision turned into a reality," said Mayor Harry Tutunjian. "It will be great having this type of loft living available in our city."

The developers are still taking comments and suggestions from prospective buyers, but the current loft designs include units with two bathrooms, a kitchen, a loft storage area, and an open space with movable walls. The flexible walls are meant to appeal to all types of people - those with children can make another room with the walls, while single professionals can store the walls away and live in a true loft residence, said Pietro.

"We are a pioneer in loft-style housing in the city of Troy. There are no riverside residences like this in the Capital District," Costa said, referring to the Powers Park Lofts also located in the city but without a river view.

The eight-story brick building, which will include six stories of housing units, will also house a café and marketplace on the first floor with a terrace overlooking the Hudson River. The retail area will include a farmer's market-type space for local vendors and artists to sell their wares, officials said.

"As a woman who grew up in Troy, it is amazing to see this come to fruition since I know it will help revitalize the surrounding area," said Dorothy Ganz, one of the people touring the building. "It is great to see this old building turned into something new instead of torn down like so many other historic buildings in the city. I would definitely live here - it would be great to not worry about the upkeep of a house and to be able to do my shopping in the same building that I lived."

In addition to Thursday's event to showcase the new housing units, an open house is also scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.

Flag Day Parade and Gelato!!

I've been on the road again and apologize for not posting; with school out and summer nearly upon us, I will probably be posting less frequently anyway.

Having said that, I wanted to remind everyone that it is almost time for my favorite event of the year, Troy's annual Flag Day Parade (photograph here from City of Troy's Flag Day Parade web page). Troy's most enduring event, the Troy Flag Day Parade is now in its 40th continuous year and is the largest parade in the nation in honor of the American flag. The 2007 edition of the Troy Flag Day Parade takes place Sunday, June 10th with a line up of exciting attractions. The Parade steps off at 1:00pm Sunday, June 10th with many new attractions added to the line-up. It follows a two mile route along 4th Street beginning in South Troy at 4th & Main Street and ending at 4th & Federal Street. Following the parade, a festa with great food and music will be held at the Italian Community Center.

The parade is maintained only by public donations and corporate sponsorship; hence, community support is critical to keeping this wonderful tradition flourishing. Contributors see their dollars at work every time the parade passes by. Donations are tax deductible to the extent permitted by law and may be mailed to the Troy Flag Day Parade Committee, P.O. Box 56 Troy, NY 12181. Make checks payable to Troy Flag Day Fund Drive.

It is always a great, and very well attended event. Those living on Fourth Street should remember to move their cars, as the street cleaners will come through in the early a.m. Then the street venders will start patrolling the street selling their wares and making noise to call attention to themselves, while parade viewers will stake out viewing spots and seating arrangements early in the day.

Also, I just made another visit to L&S Garden Supply on Pawling Avenue this afternoon. L&S is a great place to stop by if your farmers' market produce runs out mid-week--or anytime. In addition to a great supply of bedding plants (flowers and herbs), Steve continues to have good produce (currently including asparagus, raspberries, strawberries and tomatoes among other things) and has recently added GELATO and espresso to his offerings. Having sampled a combo half chocolate half coffee gelato, I can attest that it is delicious and perfect on a day like today. Flavors include chocolate, coffee, caramel, strachiatella, and tiramisu; dairy free flavors are mango, lemon, strawberry and raspberry, if I remember correctly. So please stop by and tell Steve I sent you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Update on Albany's Wellington Row

From The Times Union

By Paul Grondahl, photograph by Michael P. Farrell.

ALBANY -- For 10 years, architect William Brandow has walked to work past the five forlorn buildings known as Wellington Row.

Brandow -- a savior of old buildings by temperament -- looked beyond moldering columns, pigeon droppings and moss growing on lintels. He focused instead on two centuries of exceptional architectural history embedded in the derelict structures that command the crest of State Street hill in the shadow of the Capitol.

"These buildings show the evolution of Albany's most important street," Brandow said. "Wellington Row is where the wealthiest citizens of Albany lived in the early 1800s and it's where the street first made the shift from residential to commercial."

Here is where John Taylor Cooper, from the famed Coopers of Cooperstown, settled in a sumptuous town house at 134 State St. In 1832, he hired the noted architect, James Dakin, to remodel the 1820s house into a stunning Greek Revival residence befitting Cooper's social status.

Next door, the first two floors of the old Christian Brothers Academy bear remnants of a Federal-style town house built during the 19th century.

Similarly, at 140 State St., the defunct Berkshire Hotel includes a superstructure built around a Federal town house.

Over the years, instead of tearing down the residences, new commercial buildings were simply constructed above and around them, leaving the low-slung and ornate edifices embedded in the high-rises.

At 138 State St., the Renaissance Revival flourishes of the early 20th century Elks Lodge were created by the New York City architectural firm of M.L. and H.C. Emory.
"There's not a city in the world that wouldn't love to have those two buildings (138 and 140 State) next to each other, whether it be Paris or New York City," Brandow said.

In 2000, the Preservation League of New York State placed Wellington Row on its list of the most critical buildings across the state to be saved.

Last November, Wellington Row was bought for $925,000 by Columbia Development Cos. from London-based Sebba Rockaway Ltd. (which had paid $1.75 million in 1987).
Now, hopes are high among preservationists that the historic character of the buildings can be saved.

Columbia has proposed building a $60 million, 14-story office tower with street-level shops and condominiums. The Albany developer has said it wants to preserve the exterior facades of the Wellington Hotel and two other buildings.

Discussions are under way regarding specifics of the project between the developer, city officials and representatives of Historic Albany Foundation. Details of those negotiations are not being released, and Columbia officials were not available to discuss their plans.

"Keeping just the facade is one of my least favorite choices and the buildings would be much more stable keeping three walls as opposed to one," said Susan Holland, executive director of Historic Albany. "I'm an eternal optimist. I believe the city and the developers are very sensitive and will come up with a great project we can all support."

Brandow's boss, architect Jack Waite -- who has won historic preservation honors for his firm's work at Tweed Courthouse, Baltimore Cathedral, George Washington's home in Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello and other historic structures -- feels a sense of urgency about Wellington Row's fate.

"We can't afford to lose those buildings. There's no reason they can't be saved," Waite said. "Wellington Row forms a very important part of the downtown Albany streetscape on one of the great streets in America in terms of intact architecture."

The site has been both a blessing and a curse for the city as far back as 1980, when the buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1986, the Wellington closed, bringing an end to a downtown fixture that had been home to generations of out-of-town visitors, University at Albany students and future governors Mario Cuomo and George Pataki.

When Sebba Rockaway bought the Wellington and two other buildings, it announced plans to tear them down and to build a new office tower. The London developer and the city squared off and their battle raged for years, while the vacant, boarded-up structures continued to slide into severe disrepair due to the elements and neglect.

Mayor Jerry Jennings' 1994 Capitalize Albany plan, which featured a revitalized Wellington Row as the centerpiece of a tree-lined expanse of stores and outdoor cafes, receded further and further into the background.

With Columbia's new ownership, coupled with a $2.5 million state grant to assist stabilization of the cluster of buildings, a clearer picture of Wellington Row's future should emerge soon, said Michael Yevoli, Albany's commissioner of development and planning.

"The developer is analyzing the structural and economic feasibility of as much preservation as possible," Yevoli said. "Preserving and re-using the buildings back into the fabric of the street would be a win-win for everybody."

Architectural historian Walter Wheeler, who has for years studied Wellington Row out of personal curiosity, wants as much of the buildings as possible to be preserved.

"They're fine buildings with nice proportions, good scale, excellent materials and wonderful use of shadow and light," Wheeler said.

"To settle only for the facades is rather defeatist," he said. "I think we can do better than what you see in parts of Boston, where they preserved little four-story ciphers as facades fronting 40-story buildings. Those facades are token symbols that are basically meaningless."

Monday, May 28, 2007

Forthcoming: A History of the Pentagon

Yesterday's Washington Post included a fascinating excerpt from the forthcoming Random House book, The Pentagon: A History, by Steve Vogel. I have included the first section of the lengthy excerpt here; to read the rest, follow the link at the bottom of this post.

How the Pentagon Got Its Shape

On a warm and rainy Thursday evening in July 1941, inside a War Department office in Washington, a small group of Army officers hastily assembled for a meeting and listened in disbelief to the secret plan outlined by their commander.

The general spoke in the velvety Southern accent of his native Arkansas. He was not in uniform -- Army policy kept officers in civilian clothes so as to disguise from Congress the burgeoning military population in Washington -- but he cut an immaculate figure, with his trim build, combed-back, graying hair and neatly groomed mustache. Over the past eight months, the officers of the Army's Construction Division had grown accustomed to bold and quick action from their chief. At age 49, Brig. Gen. Brehon Burke Somer-vell had earned a reputation as a smooth but ruthless operator. "Dynamite in a Tiffany box" was how an associate later described him. Now Somervell turned his eyes -- "the keenest, shrewdest, most piercing eyes one is likely to meet," in the words of one observer -- toward his chief of design, Lt. Col. Hugh "Pat" J. Casey.

The War Department needed a new headquarters, Somervell said. The building he wanted to create was too big to fit in Washington and would have to go across the Potomac River in Arlington. It would be far larger than all the great structures of the city, including the U.S. Capitol. Somervell wanted a headquarters big enough to hold 40,000 people, with parking for 10,000 cars. It would contain 4 million square feet of office space -- almost twice as much as the Empire State Building. Yet it must be no more than four stories high -- a tall building would obstruct views of Washington and require too much steel, urgently needed for battleships and weapons.

The War Department would occupy the new headquarters within half a year, Somervell instructed. "We want 500,000 square feet ready in six months, and the whole thing ready in a year," the general said. Somervell ended the meeting with orders to have the basic design plans for the building by Monday morning.

Washington was consumed by war anxiety. Three weeks earlier, Adolf Hitler, already in control of much of Europe, had launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. President Franklin D. Roose-velt, alarmed by Nazi gains, had declared a national emergency on May 27. The War Department in Washington was growing at an explosive rate, its 24,000 workers spread in 17 buildings, including apartment buildings, private homes and several rented garages. Gen. George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff, needed a quick solution and turned to Somervell to construct temporary buildings for the headquarters. At a congressional hearing July 17, Rep. Clifton A. Woodrum, a powerful Virginia congressman, signaled interest in finding an "overall solution" to the War Department's problem. Somervell took that as a signal for a permanent fix, and the Pentagon, as it would become known, was launched that evening.

The first problem was where to put it -- "incidentally, the largest office building in the world," Casey later noted dryly. Energetic and experienced, Casey was one of the Army's most brilliant engineers, and he quickly saw big problems with the location Somervell had chosen. Washington-Hoover Airport, at the foot of the 14th Street Bridge in Arlington, had just been replaced with a modern airfield, National Airport, about a mile downriver. Somervell -- eager to win the Virginian's blessing for the project -- had seized upon the old airport site, but the low-lying land, which was subject to flooding, worried Casey.

When Casey asked Somervell whether other sites near the airport might be used, the general did not rule it out. Scanning a map, Casey's practiced eye quickly zeroed in on a 67-acre tract about a half-mile upriver from Washington-Hoover. It was Arlington Farm, just east of Arlington National Cemetery. Like the adjacent cemetery, the land had been part of the grand estate of Robert E. Lee that had been confiscated by Union troops in the spring of 1861 for the defense of Washington. In 1900, Congress transferred 400 acres of the Arlington estate to the Department of Agriculture to use as an experimental farm. In September 1940, Roosevelt approved the return of Arlington Farm to the War Department for use by infantry and cavalry troops at neighboring Fort Myer. Perched on a hill above the Potomac, just below the Lee mansion and overlooking Memorial Bridge, Arlington Farm was one of the most prominent sites in the Washington area.

Late on Friday afternoon, July 18, George Edwin Bergstrom got to work. A formal man with a brusque manner, his dark hair whitening at the temples, Bergstrom was an accomplished and experienced architect, now in charge of the largest project of his long career. He gathered with his assistants at the division headquarters.

Bergstrom led the deliberations. The restrictions were confounding, given the space they needed. The easiest solution, constructing a tall building, was out. They would have to spread out horizontally. But how? A square building that size -- with the enormous interior distances to be covered -- was too unwieldy, as was a rectangle. The Arlington Farm tract had a peculiar asymmetrical pentagon shape bound on five sides by roads or other divisions. Finally, guided by the odd shape of the plot, they designed an irregular pentagon. A sketch by Socrates Thomas Stathes, a young War Department draftsman, showed a square with a corner cut off, more or less matching the tract's shape. It was really two buildings, a five-sided ring surrounding a smaller one of the same shape.

All through the weekend, the architects refined the design. The interior of the outer ring was lined with 49 barracks-like wings, sticking in like the teeth of a comb. The smaller ring had 34 exterior wings, all pointing toward the outer ring. The wings were 50 feet wide and 160 feet long, separated from each other by 30-foot-wide open-air "light courts." Corridors connected the two rings on the ground and third floors. Only the most senior officials would have private offices. Allowing 100 square feet per worker, the building could hold 40,000 employees.

There were many problems with the irregular design. The pattern was awkward, and the routes between wings of the two buildings were circuitous. Lacking symmetry, with rows of wings sticking out, the building was frankly quite ugly. Yet, given the site, the pentagonal design had one overriding virtue, Stathes remembered more than 60 years later: "It fit."

The whole idea seemed nonsensical to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. The War Department had just opened a new building the previous month in Foggy Bottom, but it had quickly proven inadequate and too small. How could the War Department propose to build a new headquarters so soon?

Read the full article and find additional information.

Renaissance Fest and Medieval Concert at Historic Oakwood Cemetery

Speaking of historic Oakwood Cemetery, I forgot to mention the upcoming Renaissance Fest and Medieval Concert that will be held on Saturday, June 16th.

The cemetery's Oakwood Avenue entrance will be transformed in time as the grounds play host to a Renaissance Fair...The day will begin with a Renaissance Fest from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. With the historic Gardner Earl Memorial Chapel as a backdrop, enjoy jousting matches between knights in shinging armor, games reconfigured to the 17th century, period costumes and craft, art and food vendors.

This is a first-time fair at Oakwood as well as a fun-filled and educational fundraiser for the continuing restoration of the chapel. Cost is $8/adult, $5/child under 12, and free for children under 5. Children 12 and under must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. This event will be cancelled by heavy rain only.

Following the Renaissance Fair, find a seat inside the Gardner Earl Memorial Chapel for a concert by Adirondack Baroque Consort at 4 p.m. Sitting between Tiffany windows and beautiful mosaics, listen as the musicians describe individual features of the instruments they play. Children 8 years and older are welcomed. Cost is $10 for adults and $6 for 8-18 year olds. Because seating is limited, attendees must call 1-800-556-6273 to register.

Also of note, Oakwood will be conducting a national architectural competition for an internationally-significant memorial at Uncle Sam's gravesite. It "will tell the story of Samuel Wilson's life, and the evolution of the "Uncle Sam" symbol...For additional information (introduction, objectives, fees and application, schedule, design requirements, jury and awards, map and photographs, visit Oakwood's web site.

For additional entertainment options on June 16th, the City of Troy's 4th Annual River Street Festival will also be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Musical acts will include They Might Be Giants, Tally Hall, Stars of Track & Field, Mint and Last November.

Blog readers interested in cemetery history and preservation may also wish to read Rows of New Markers, and Untold Sacrifice by Civil War Soldiers, an article and multimedia presentation by Glenn Collins in today's New York Times. The article describes the remarkable efforts of more than a hundred volunteers in Brooklyn, New York's historic Green-Wood Cemetery to locate graves, research soldiers' lives, and preserve the gravesites. Green-Wood Cemetery is a National Historic Landmark.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Oakwood Cemetery and Troy's New "Veggie Mobile"

Everyone should know by now that I love Troy and try to promote it whenever I can, but imagine my surprise (and pleasure) to discover Troy featured prominently in not one, but TWO articles in yesterday's New York Times.

Major kudos and props to our friend and tireless promoter of historic Oakwood Cemetery, Theresa Page, President of the Troy Cemetery Association, and Amy Klein, Executive Director of Capital District Community Gardens. They are among the many people who are working hard to improve the City of Troy and keep things moving forward.

Here are the articles:

In Need of Income, Cemeteries Are Seeking Breathing Clientele

By Patricia Leigh Brown; photography by R.J. Mickelson.

[NB: Online version includes a "Graveyard Travels" slide show obviously not included in the print version]

PHILADELPHIA — The dinner was first-class, with butlers serving hors d’oeuvres and the strains of “Blue Danube” tastefully muffling the festive din. This nine-course re-creation of the last supper aboard an ill-fated ocean liner was the culmination of Titanic Day at Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of a growing number of historic cemeteries to rebrand themselves as destination necropolises for weekend tourists.

Historic cemeteries, desperate for money to pay for badly needed restorations, are reaching out to the public in ever more unusual ways, with dog parades, bird-watching lectures, Sunday jazz concerts, brunches with star chefs, Halloween parties in the crematory and even a nudie calendar. Laurel Hill, the resting place of six Titanic victims, promotes itself as an “underground museum.” The sold-out Titanic dinner, including a tour of mausoleums, joined the “Dead White Republicans” tour (“the city’s power brokers, in all their glory and in all their shame”), the “Birding Among the Buried” tour, and “Sinners, Scandals and Suicides,” including a visit to the grave of “a South Philly gangster who got whacked when he tried to infiltrate the Schuylkill County numbers racket.”

As Americans choose cremation in record numbers, Victorian cemeteries like Laurel Hill and Green-Wood in Brooklyn are repositioning themselves for the afterlife: their own. Repositories of architectural and sculptural treasures, like Tiffany windows and weeping marble maidens atop tombs, the cemeteries face dwindling endowments, years of vandalism and neglect, shrinking space for new arrivals and a society that, until recently, collectively distanced itself from their meandering byways.

Although their individual circumstances vary — Green-Wood in Brooklyn, a newly crowned National Historic Landmark, has space for two more years of in-ground burial, while Laurel Hill is virtually full — what they share is a daunting number of tombs in need of repair. Woodlawn, in the Bronx, the final home of Whitneys, a Woolworth, Jay Gould and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton, has 95,000 grave sites.

Only 9,000 have endowments, said Susan Olsen, the executive director of the Friends of Woodlawn. “You’re a conservator,” Ms. Olsen said. “You can’t have someone up there with a bottle of Windex cleaning a Tiffany window.”

The new cemetery tourism — a subterranean version of the History Channel — is also a means of developing brand loyalty in the wake of what Joseph Dispenza, president of the historic Forest Lawn in Buffalo, calls a “diminishing customer base.”

Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, Calif., a columbarium designed by Julia Morgan, architect of San Simeon, recently started “Jazz at the Chimes” concerts to reach culture enthusiasts who might be potential customers.

Some cemeteries are betting on infotainment. At Heritage Day last weekend at the 200-year-old Congressional Cemetery in Washington, a 70-piece marching band serenaded the grave of John Philip Sousa, and dog owners held a parade for dogs dressed as historical cemetery personages, including a Union soldier.

A decade ago, prostitutes and packs of wild dogs populated the city’s oldest burial ground, which has monuments designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, designer of the Capitol. Then the preservation association began courting dog owners. Today, the 33-acre cemetery serves as a historical dog park where dogs run in Elysian fields, free to commune with the headstones. Owners pay $125 a year for the privilege, plus $40 a dog — bringing in $80,000 so far. In many ways, it is a throwback to the days of old, when then-rural cemeteries like Green-Wood and Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. (1831), rivaled Niagara Falls as romantic tourist destinations. These “gardens of graves” were settings for Sunday picnics and a precursor to Central Park and other great public spaces.

Like many vintage cemeteries, Laurel Hill languished for years in a struggling urban neighborhood, as potential customers drifted to the suburbs. Though the cemetery has a $17 million endowment, most of that is earmarked for specific family tombs and falls woefully short of what is needed for maintenance. “After 170 years, people lose track” of their loved ones, said Ross L. Mitchell, the executive director.

And with only 1 percent of its 78 acres available for new burial, cemetery officials are trying to think of creative ways to mine its distinctive personality. The Titanic tour was the brainchild of J. Joseph Edgette, a professor at nearby Widener University who is tracking the graves of Titanic victims and plans to document all 2,200. “We’re rebranding ourselves as a heritage tourism destination,” Mr. Mitchell said.

For Jason Crabtree, a 33-year-old software writer, and his wife, Melissa, 29, this storied rural resting place, established in 1836, offered “a cross-section of humanity you don’t usually see,” said Mr. Crabtree, explaining the couple’s predilection for weekend cemetery visits.

At a daffodil brunch in April at the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, N.Y., omelet chefs whisked eggs amid Siena marble walls and soaring Tiffany windows, in the Gardner Earl Memorial Chapel and Crematorium. The 1848 cemetery has burial space for the next 200 years and an annual operating deficit of more than $100,000, according to Theresa Page, president of the board of trustees.

Its preservation issues are dire: volunteers have been clearing brush that made about 10,000 graves invisible. The grave site of Samuel Wilson, the man behind “Uncle Sam,” America’s national symbol, has been inaccessible for years, since 125-year-old water pipes burst beneath the roads. The cemetery has asked Congress for $1.7 million for reconstruction.

To raise its profile and money, Oakwood will stage a Renaissance fair this summer, with jousting matches among knights in shining armor. It was inspired by a medieval-style wedding there, for which the groom made his own armor.

“We want them to think, ‘Wow, I think I’d like to spend my eternity here,’ ” Ms. Page said of efforts to lure visitors. “It’s a way of saying, ‘We would love you to stay with us permanently.’ ”

Certain cemeteries, like Père-Lachaise in Paris, Arlington National Cemetery in Washington and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, have always had celebrity cachet. But the past decade has seen a deliberate marketing of cultural status. At the 175-year-old Mount Auburn, it has meant lectures on the warbler migration by the Massachusetts Audubon Society; at Spring Grove in Cincinnati, tourists in electric trams ride past the grave of Salmon P. Chase, the founder of the Internal Revenue Service (they usually boo).

Forest Lawn in Buffalo spent $1.2 million to erect the Blue Sky mausoleum, a spare design by Frank Lloyd Wright, with 24 crypts from $125,000 to $300,000. Each crypt-owner will receive a Steuben glass sculpture of their eternal home-in-waiting. “It’s about exclusivity,” Mr. Dispenza of Forest Lawn said. “It’s about being one of the 24.”

Gary Laderman, a professor of religion at Emory University and the author of “Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in the 20th Century” (Oxford University Press, 2003), says there is “a sense in which, like sex, death sells.” But he also sees cemetery tourism as a chance for civic engagement. The mobility of society and the growth of the death care industry have served to isolate these historically significant places from the mainstream, Mr. Laderman said.

That attitude may be shifting. Laurel Hill, for example, was awarded a $97,000 grant to provide grief counseling for inner-city children grappling with the effects of gun violence.

Of course, some think that cemeteries are sacred spaces, and that Halloween flashlight tours and historical re-enactors jumping out from behind tombs crosses the line in taste.

A 2005 fund-raising calendar for Oakwood Cemetery in Troy — inspired by the movie “Calendar Girls” and featuring socialites who appeared to be naked — was a tad too risqué to repeat, some thought. After objections, Green-Wood scuttled plans to show horror films.

“The cemetery doesn’t have an obligation to entertain,” said Thomas Lynch, a funeral director and writer in Michigan.

Preservationists say desperate times require desperate measures. And “Birding Among the Buried” brings people in, if only for a look.

“The people who built Laurel Hill wanted these monuments to be seen,” said Mr. Mitchell of Laurel Hill. “If we do nothing, isn’t that the ultimate disrespect?”

Troy Journal: Off the Back Of a Truck, And Healthy

By Dennis Gaffney

For the past month, Eric J. Krans has been driving a truck through the heart of this old industrial city, delivering much of what has vanished from the store shelves here over the past half-century — fresh produce, from lettuce, carrots and collard greens to mangoes, plantains and pineapple.

“There’s the peaches everyone was wanting,” said Carolyn Moses, 64, the first person to climb into the box truck one recent afternoon, as she poked around the wooden crates. Then she pulled open a refrigerated case and shouted to no one in particular, “Tomatoes are 79 cents a pound, everyone.”

It is a new service, begun by a nonprofit organization, to promote healthier eating.

What would seem to be a pretty mundane find by most shoppers’ standards is anything but in downtown Troy and other poor urban neighborhoods in New York State where there are no supermarkets.

In Troy, about 10 miles north of Albany, for example, supermarkets are clustered on the outskirts, where the city begins to transform into suburbs.

According to an informal survey in 2005 by the Capital District Community Gardens, a nonprofit agency, not one of the seven urban neighborhoods in Troy and in nearby Schenectady and Albany that the Veggie Mobile serves had a supermarket within four miles.

That is why the organization established the Veggie Mobile, which cruises the streets on a rotating schedule three days a week, selling freshly grown local produce. On one additional day, it offers samples and gives away fresh fruit and vegetables, hoping to get people to expand their food choices.

“We’re trying to give people in inner-city neighborhoods access to affordable fresh produce,” said Amy Klein, executive director of the community gardens.

Ms. Klein said she got the idea for the Veggie Mobile several years ago, after reading about a truck known as the People’s Grocery that served healthy foods in poor neighborhoods in West Oakland, Calif.

“I thought, ‘We can do that with vegetables,’ ” she said, “because we’re all about vegetables here.”

She said the Veggie Mobile was a natural extension of the work done by her organization, which has attracted 3,000 families to grow fruits and vegetables in 46 community gardens in the Albany area.

Impressed by the notion, the State Department of Health provided a $500,000 grant over five years.

As the Veggie Mobile drives through downtown Troy to its first stop, it passes a natural-foods store, a misnomer, in Mr. Krans’s opinion. “They sell dried fruits, nuts and supplements,” he says. “But fresh produce they do not have.” And no supermarket.

Stephen Matthews, an associate professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University who studies food landscapes, says sociologists call such places, whether urban or rural, “food deserts,” where, if there are any food stores, they are corner groceries, where produce is more expensive or nonexistent.

Instead, Dr. Matthews said, residents of poor urban areas are surrounded by fast food restaurants, whose fare he said contributes to obesity and a host of other health problems.

Ms. Klein of the community gardens said: “As a nation, we’re concerned with obesity, heart disease, diabetes. These health issues are tied to healthy eating. And we know our consumption of fruits and vegetables isn’t what it needs to be.”

As the Veggie Mobile pulled up to one of its scheduled stops, John F. Kennedy Towers, a housing development for the elderly, “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra blared from speakers mounted on the front.

Like a grandson, Mr. Krans escorted people up the ramp into the truck and back down again, offering to carry their bags.

In the first week, Ms. Klein said, there were about 50 customers a week, but in just a month the total number has grown to 400 a week, far beyond expectations.

“It’s getting crazier every time we do this,” Mr. Krans said. “Friends tell friends, neighbors tell neighbors.”

Since the initial run, the selection of produce has been expanded in response to customers’ requests.

Last week, basil, pineapple, oranges, strawberries, mangoes and limes complemented the usual array of offerings.

The plan is to sell produce from local farmers when it becomes available next month.

“We want to contribute to the local farm economy,” Ms. Klein said.

Many Kennedy Towers residents remember when bread and milk trucks, as well as vegetable merchants, cruised the streets, 50 and 60 years ago. “This is the best thing that has happened at Kennedy Towers,” said Lea Allen, 63. “Everything is nice and fresh and reasonable.”

The nearest grocery, just across the street, has a sign above the door: “Groceries, Hot Food, Subs, Beer, Candy and Cigarettes.” But it sells no fresh produce.

After an hour at Kennedy Towers, Mr. Krans headed for the second stop of the afternoon, the parking lot of Carroll Hill Elementary School in South Troy, where nearly two-thirds of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.

“A lot of parents here don’t have automobiles to get to a large grocery store or a farmer’s market,” said Casey Parker, the school’s principal.

The first week the Veggie Mobile parked at Carroll Hill, a neighborhood resident, Lori Filuta, predicted that children would be drawn to it as if it were stocked with ice cream.

“The parents work,” Ms. Filuta said. “But you’ll see. The kids will be here buying fruit.”

Soon, two regulars, Nick Mariano and Matthew Murray, both 12, showed up with enough change for a half-dozen oranges, which they wasted no time peeling and eating.

Aimie Thorsey, the director of Hope 7, an after-school program at Carroll Hill, said she came each week with a dozen or so children who brought spare change from home.

“Each of them usually leaves with an apple or a banana,” Ms. Thorsey said. One week, “kiwi was a big hit.”

Nine-year-old Billy recently tried his first mango. “I liked it better than a banana,” he said.

Ms. Klein is pleased. “Any way we can break down barriers to healthier foods,” she said, “aids people on their way to healthier lifestyles.”

Friday, May 25, 2007

Economic Values and Impacts: Natural Resources, the Arts, and Historic Preservation

Two interesting studies came out this week, one documenting the economic value of natural resources and another documenting the economic benefits of the arts.

In From Beaches to Pine Barrens, a Study Puts Values on New Jersey's Natural Assets (by Pam Belluck; photograph by Keith Meyers), the New York Times reports, for example, that the "Pine Barrens...have an environmental value of about $1,476 an acre a year, based on their ability to provide the earth with water, animal habitat and pollination...The report, by economists commissioned by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, tries to put a dollar value on the state's natural resources, from the Jersey Shore to the Kittatinny Mountains, to places like, well, Weehawken. Beaches like Sandy Hook and Sea Girt, with their environmentally essential sand dunes, had the highest value per acre per year, about $42,000..." A highlighted map is included with the online version of the article.

Also, Americans for the Arts recently completed its third economic impact study of the arts, Arts & Economic Prosperity III. The study "reveals that the nonprofit arts industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year, resulting in $29.6 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenues. The nation’s nonprofit arts and culture industry has grown steadily since the first analysis by Americans for the Arts in 1992, expanding at a rate greater than inflation. Between the second study conducted in 2000 and 2005, spending by organizations and their audiences grew 24 percent, from $134 billion to $166.2 billion in total economic activity—$63.1 billion in spending by organizations and an additional $103.1 billion in event-related spending by their audiences. The total economic activity has a significant national impact, generating the following:
  • 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs
  • $104.2 billion in resident household income
  • $7.9 billion in local government tax revenues
  • $9.1 billion in state government tax revenues
  • $12.6 billion in federal government tax revenues
Following the second Americans for the Arts link above, interested readers can download .pdfs of a brochure with study highlights; a summary report with background, scope, and methodology; and the full text of the report (available after June 6th). The study's web page also includes useful tools for "making the case for arts support in your community," including a calculator for estimating the impact of the arts in your community, a downloadable Powerpoint presentation of National Economic Impact findings, a sample opinion-editorial about the study (available June 6th), an ever-expanding toolkit (available June 6th), and much more on the economic impact web page and elsewhere on the organization's web site. Also of interest are Americans for the Arts' new ARTSblog and ARTcast (podcasts). Our New York State readers may also be particularly interested in these highlights from the Museum Association of New York's study Cultural/Heritage Tourism: Opportunity, Impact, Implications.

If you are more interested in the economic impacts of historic preservation, you may wish to review my previous post, Historic Preservation Enhances Quality of Life, Produces Economic Benefits.

And, as always, if you are aware of similar reports and studies, please pass them along and I will try to add links to them.

Troy Night Out: May

Well, the day promises to be warm and sunny...perfect for tonight's Troy Night Out! This event, in its fourth month, has been a lot of fun. At least 42 Troy venues will be staying open late tonight, offering opportunities to "look, touch, taste, hear..." -- and discover -- new things and new people in Troy. For more information, check the full page advertisement in yesterday's Metroland (page 10) or visit the event's web site.

It has been busy here in Troy...last Friday marked the opening of a new exhibition at the Rensselaer County Historical Society celebrating the 100th anniversary of Prospect Park. The exhibit is a collaboration between RCHS and the Friends of Prospect Park, which also held its annual garden tour fundraiser yesterday.

And, of course, tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market continues at its Hudson River location on the south side of Hedley Park Place. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Historic Preservation, the Really Recent Past and Hip Hop

From The New York Times

Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip Hop?

By David Gonzalez; photograph by Tyler Hicks.

Hip-hop was born in the west Bronx. Not the South Bronx, not Harlem and most definitely not Queens. Just ask anybody at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue — an otherwise unremarkable high-rise just north of the Cross Bronx and hard along the Major Deegan.

“This is where it came from,” said Clive Campbell, pointing to the building’s first-floor community room. “This is it. The culture started here and went around the world. But this is where it came from. Not anyplace else.”

O.K., Mr. Campbell is not just anybody — he is the alpha D.J. of hip-hop. As D.J. Kool Herc, he presided over the turntables at parties in that community room in 1973 that spilled into nearby parks before turning into a global assault. Playing snippets of the choicest beats from James Brown, Jimmy Castor, Babe Ruth and anything else that piqued his considerable musical curiosity, he provided the soundtrack savored by loose-limbed b-boys (a term he takes credit for creating, too).

Mr. Campbell thinks the building should be declared a landmark in recognition of its role in American popular culture. Its residents agree, but for more practical reasons. They want to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places so that it might be protected from any change that would affect its character — in this case, a building for poor and working-class families.

Throughout the city, housing advocates said, buildings like 1520 Sedgwick are becoming harder to find as owners opt out of subsidy programs so they can eventually charge higher rents on the open market.

The Sedgwick building is part of the state’s Mitchell-Lama program, in which private landlords who receive tax breaks and subsidized mortgages agree to limit their return on equity and rent to people who meet modest income limits. The contracts allow owners to leave the program and prepay their mortgage loan after 20 years. Rent regulations can protect tenants from increases, but not always.

While Mitchell-Lama buildings in parts of Manhattan, like the Lower East Side, were among the first to leave the program, housing experts say that the trend has spread far beyond, from the Rockaways to the west Bronx.

Tom Waters, a housing policy analyst at the Community Service Society of New York, said there are about 40,000 Mitchell-Lama units in the city, down from 66,000 in 1990. The rate of buildings leaving the program has accelerated since 2001, he said, as landlords find they can do better on the open market.

Labor groups and housing advocates have called for safeguards on moderate-income housing, which they said was essential for the city’s economic health. While the groups have lauded Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg for his commitment to building such housing, they said the State Legislature should address policies that affect the city’s housing market.

“There is no single solution,” said Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council. “Preservation of currently affordable housing is something we need to look at. Working people are going to have no place to go.”

In February, tenants of the Sedgwick Avenue building, which has 100 units, were told that the owners planned to leave the Mitchell-Lama program. The building’s owners did not respond to several requests for comment for this article.

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, said landlords were entitled by contract to opt out after a set period. He said that if there were concerns about keeping the buildings in the program, the government should consider better incentives.

“Contracts should still mean something,” Mr. Spinola said. “Affordable housing is clearly a problem in the city. I do not believe the social concerns for citizens of the city of New York should fall on the backs of one particular owner when it is a citywide problem.”

The problem has been widespread enough to keep Dina Levy of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board looking for new strategies to slow it down. The group, a nonprofit housing advocacy organization, is advising the Sedgwick tenants.

“The market is so out of control in every corner of every borough,” said Ms. Levy, director of organizing and policy for the group. “We have run out of land, so anywhere in the boroughs can be the next hot real estate market. That’s why we’re scrambling to find preservation opportunities to keep them affordable.”

That usually involves seeing if there are mortgage requirements or land covenants that mandate the property be used for moderate-income housing, she said. But when tenants of 1520 Sedgwick came to her group in February, organizers stumbled on an interesting fact when they searched for the address online.

“The first hundred hits said ‘birthplace of hip-hop,’ ” said Dan DeSloover, an organizer for the group. “Kool Herc had lived there. That was a great coincidence to have this building be part of that history.”

The idea to have the building declared a landmark as a way of keeping it affordable for moderate-income families developed slowly, as organizers discussed it with tenants and elected officials’ staff members.

Preservationists doubted it would stop the building’s owners from leaving the subsidy program, since the landmark distinction would apply to the structure and not necessarily its use. And there is another obstacle: to be eligible for the National Register, a building normally has to be at least 50 years old. The Sedgwick building falls short of that by 12 years. Exceptions are made for extraordinary cultural significance.

“It is complicated when you try to preserve some other feature of a building besides its architecture,” said Lisa Kersavage, a preservationist at the Municipal Art Society of New York. “But this is a very important cultural touchstone for New York, and awareness should be raised.”

Cindy Campbell, who promoted the first party where her brother spun the tunes, is intent on doing at least that. She hopes that by highlighting the history of the building, where her family lived for nine years, she might be able to enlist big-name rappers to Mayor Bloomberg in her campaign to help the tenants.

She still recalls the first party — on Aug. 11, 1973, she says — which she dreamed up as a way for her to get some extra money for back-to-school clothes.

“I didn’t want to go to Fordham Road to buy clothes because you’d go to school and see everybody with the same thing on,” she said. “I wanted to go to Delancey Street and get something unusual.”

Her brother wound up giving the neighborhood something unusual, too, inside the packed and sweaty community room. Drawing on his wide-ranging musical tastes, he combined sounds and in time those sounds were combined in new ways as he extended the beats to the delight of the dancers.

“It wasn’t a black thing, it was a we thing,” said Mr. Campbell, now 52. “We played everything. Gary Glitter? We rocked that. We schooled people about music.”

Since leaving 1520 Sedgwick, Mr. Campbell has moved to Long Island and has continued spinning tunes. (On Sunday, he was the D.J. for the city’s first Dance Parade, which traveled from Midtown to Lower Manhattan.)

Some old-timers rushed up to him last week when he and his sister visited the building. They told him — to his dismay — that the community room has been closed for renovations since last year.

“All of it came from here,” he said. “From this building. It should be respected.”

Curtis Brown, who was a teenager living a few blocks away during Kool Herc’s heyday, agreed. Mr. Brown went from being a fan to becoming Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers, an early and influential rap group.

“That place means everything,” he said. “You can look at it objectively and say it could have happened somewhere else. Maybe. But this is where it did happen.”

To him it is already a landmark.

“As far as government and what they consider important, who knows?” he said. “But for something that saturated the world culture, that went from one building to the world, I would want to hold on to the historical significance of that building.”