On April 8, 1940, census enumerator Anthony Leone found 92 men living at the Palombi Hotel on Green Street. White, marginally employed, and predominantly native-born, they ranged in age from 28 to 76. They probably paid a quarter a night for a bed, more for a private or semi-private room.
Transient or semi-transient, these men are difficult to track. Their names don’t show up in the city directory. Most are not listed in the register of voters. Few, if any, friends or loved ones remember them. Complicating matters, the manuscript census for 1950 and 1960 will not be open to researchers until 2020 and 2030, respectively. That leaves local newspapers.
Some Palombi residents did make news—none of it good. The address, 73 Green Street, was associated with all manner of crime—assault, manslaughter, petty theft. One resident was caught trying to shoplift 11 pairs of socks from Kresge’s. Another was accused of stealing cash from a woman’s purse during services at Our Lady of Angels Roman Catholic Church.
The hotel witnessed more than its fair share of death. One hotel employee burned to death in a pile of rubbish. Other men died suddenly of natural causes. At least resident one committed suicide, jumping into the Hudson River from the Dayliner Pier. But perhaps the most famous of these deaths was fictional. In William Kennedy’s Ironweed—early drafts of which are set in 1960s Albany—the character Helen Archer dies in a private room at the thinly veiled Palombo’s Hotel.
73 Green Street was not simply a place to sleep and die. It was also a place to drink. While local clergy deplored the city’s “drunk derelict problem,” intoxicated men and women danced and kissed and fought and fell down at the bar of the Palombi Grill. Occasionally, the State Liquor Authority would suspend the Palombis’ license for “selling liquor to an intoxicated person,” “permitting disorderly conversation and deportment,” or “permitting … intoxicated persons to sleep on the tables.” But after 30, 40, or 60 days, the bar would be back in business as before.
That business could be rough. In 1951, a bar fight sent four people to the hospital, three with knife wounds to the hands and face. The fourth, bartender Nicholas Monaco, suffered a fractured ankle while trying to break up the fight. The instigator was a hotel resident.
In 1963, the arrests and Liquor Authority citations stopped. The Palombi Hotel and Restaurant was demolished to make way for the South Mall Arterial. Its former residents probably took shelter in other cheap hotels, or perhaps abandoned buildings, but both of those alternatives were quickly disappearing.