By Susan Holland, Executive Director
Albany has a rich tapestry of architectural styles, from the earliest Dutch style house built in the early 1700’s to what we now consider “mid-century marvels” –houses from the 1950’s era. Historic Albany Foundation celebrates this architecture as the City of Albany’s only historic preservation organization. Since our beginnings in 1974, we’ve worked to preserve and promote our historic built environment, by advocating to keep historic landmarks and neighborhoods intact, by educating the public, and by being a voice of historic preservation, recycling and reuse in the City of Albany.
The City of Albany would look very different today if it were not for Historic Albany Foundation. Thirty-three years ago, activists, neighbors, and residents fought hard to keep the intact row houses of Robinson Square, slated for demolition after the Empire State Plaza was completed. The mid to late 19th century buildings on Hamilton Street, Hudson Avenue, Jay Street and the other surrounding streets were to be replaced with modern high rises, using federal urban renewal funds. The citizens made the choice to say “no” and an organization was born. In the 1980s the Foundation led the way to the designation of Albany by the State Legislature as one of New York State’s Heritage Area. The Heritage Area has a state approved management plan and a visitors center in Quackenbush Square.
Today’s priorities for Historic Albany are much the same –preserving and reusing St. Joseph’s Church, protecting the historic fabric of the Wellington Row site, ensuring the sustainability of the 17 historic districts in Albany, finding reuses for our Endangered Historic Resources and protecting the c. 1728 Ratliff House, documented to be the oldest building in Albany.
Education of the public is Historic Albany’s other core program. Lectures on compelling preservation topics, hands-on workshops, and tours are given throughout the year. In 2007, Historic Albany opened St. Joseph’s Church to the public to highlight the ongoing restoration and we began our Walkabout Wednesday Tour series. Participants were treated to tours of Albany’s Pastures, Ten Broeck Triangle, Mansion, South End and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. Historic Albany also has special perks for our 650 members: Members Only Tours with recent tours of the Twickenham Neighborhood and the State Capitol, featuring the Great Western Staircase. Plans are underway for exciting tours in 2008 that will be open to all.
The Architectural Parts Warehouse on Lexington Avenue in Albany is another example of Historic Albany’s commitment to preservation, recycling and reuse. Property owners donate their old house parts and give valuable materials to Historic Albany to resell. The “Warehouse” is open to the public four days a week, has knowledgeable volunteers and is always busy with old house aficionados, contractors and homeowners looking for that special part to make their restoration complete. No need to buy anything–we also invite people in for a trip down “memory lane”.
Historic Albany blends fun with fundraising. Events such as BUILT, our annual art show and silent auction; the Moveable Feast; and three house and garden tours (Summer, Fall, and Holiday) show off individual homes while introducing a broader audience to our mission. The staff, Board of Directors and legions of volunteers of all ages help throughout these events and make them a great success.
In this era of ever increasing fuel prices and a burgeoning “green” movement, Historic Albany’s plays a major role in preserving a sustainable urban environment for all. By recycling old buildings for modern day uses and using our present urban footprint that is easily walkable and in turn, lessens sprawl and decreases reliance on the automobile, Historic Albany is inherently intergenerational as it saves the past to use for the future. We preserve historic buildings that Albany’s older residents have come to know and love in order to provide a backdrop for new development that will serve the needs of Albany’s current and future community.
For more information on Historic Albany Foundation including opportunities to volunteer, please visit our website at www.historic-albany.org or call (518) 465-0876.