A “Beautiful, Brilliant, Efficient, and Electrifying” Capital

The South Mall Cornerstone Ceremony, June 21, 1965, commemorated the end of demolitions that cleared 98 acres in Albany and the beginning of construction of the massive State office complex, officially known as the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza. On the northwest edge of the South Mall take area, speakers and VIPs sat on a festooned platform across from the Capitol facing 400-500 invited guests and thousands of onlookers.

Standing at the northwest edge of the now empty take area, Gov. Rockefeller addresses the crowd, June 21, 1965. NYS Archives.
Standing at the northwest edge of the now empty take area, Gov. Rockefeller addresses the crowd, June 21, 1965. NYS Archives.

After a military band played the national anthem, the ceremony opened with prayers led by Bishop Edward J. Maginn and Rev. Norman Thomas. Lt. Governor Malcolm Wilson, as master of ceremonies, welcomed guests to the event. Mayor Erastus Corning and Michael J. Powers, Chair of the Albany County Board of Supervisors, delivered brief remarks. But the stars of this highly choreographed show were the governor and the 3¾-ton granite cornerstone.

The South Mall cornerstone in the South Swan Street Building.
The South Mall cornerstone in the South Swan Street Building.

“This is one of those moments in history that will be long remembered,” Gov. Rockefeller began. “For this is a moment that can be fixed in time as starting the final phase of Albany’s transformation into one of the most brilliant, beautiful, efficient, and electrifying capitals in all the world.”

“Historic but shabby,” the old Albany, according to Rockefeller, “fell short of properly symbolizing the spirit of a great and vital State”—most notably on the occasion of the visit of such notables as the King and Queen of Denmark and Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands. Soon, Rockefeller predicted as he unveiled the cornerstone, there would be a new Albany, “a capital city that will bring new lustre to our great Empire State.”

Lt. Gov. Malcolm Wilson and Gov. Rockefeller fill the document box before placing it in the cornerstone. NYS Archives.
Lt. Gov. Malcolm Wilson and Gov. Rockefeller fill the document box before placing it in the cornerstone. NYS Archives.

The “highlight” of the event, according to Dick Weber of the Knickerbocker News, came after the speeches, when Gov. Rockefeller began filling a metal document box with mementos of old and new Albany—including photographs of lost streetscapes, “a souvenir wrecking bar commemorating the first South Mall demolition,” the reports of the Temporary State Commission on the Capital City, renderings of the new office complex, a copy of the financing agreement between the County and the State. Once the box was filled, it was welded shut and placed, with the governor’s help, in the cornerstone by sheet metal worker Robert Tripp, who had been waiting nearby. Then began the process of closing up the cornerstone. First, mason Frank Snyder handed the governor a special trowel and gave him a quick lesson on how to apply mortar. Made an honorary member of Local 6, Bricklayers, Masons and Plasterers Union, the governor began the job, and Mr. Snyder finished it off. (Ironically, the Associated Press reported, union members had been on strike for the past two weeks, tying up $250 million in contracts.)

Mason for a day, Gov. Rockefeller helps seal the document box in the South Mall cornerstone. Frank Snyder, Happy Rockefeller, Mayor Corning, Lt. Gov Wilson look on. NYS Archives.
Mason for a day, Gov. Rockefeller helps seal the document box in the South Mall cornerstone. Frank Snyder, Happy Rockefeller, Mayor Corning, and Lt. Gov Wilson look on. NYS Archives.

After the ceremony, VIPs were invited to attend a luncheon at the Governor’s Mansion. In an exhibit tent adjacent to the platform, updated drawings and models of the office complex were on display, showing a new Cultural Education Center to replace the proposed Arch of Freedom. The cornerstone would remain where it was—until it could be placed in the northwest corner of the Swan Street Building.

Video of the South Mall cornerstone ceremony, June 21, 1965. NYS Archives.

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