Elise (La Rose) Levine grew up on Jay Street. She lived at 100 Jay, between South Swan and South Hawk, with her parents, three husbands (consecutively), and many dogs. Her block of Jay Street changed dramatically over the decades, but she stayed put, fighting to improve deteriorating conditions as a founder and leader of the Capitol Area Neighborhood Group.
In late 1908 or early 1909, when Elise was 4 years old, her parents purchased 100 Jay Street. Elise’s father, Anthime La Rose, was an architect and an officer in the New York National Guard (retiring as Lt. Colonel). Her mother, Lillian Graves, was a dancer, who trained at her father’s Albany dance academy and performed with her siblings, Ada and Guy. Lillian later ran her own school out of the family’s Jay Street home.
Elise seems to have taken after her mother. Soon after graduation from Albany Academy for Girls in 1920, Elise and Lillian premiered and toured, “The Girl in the Crystal,” a song-and-dance act on the Vaudeville circuit. Governor Al Smith caught the mother-daughter show at Proctor’s Grand in Albany later that year and sent a congratulatory note to Lillian. Soon after the performance Smith witnessed, Lillian sold the act and retired from the stage, having reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown.
At the age of 17, Elise was not yet ready to retire. In 1921, she left Albany to attend drama school in New York City. (Her parents appear to have rented out their Jay Street home in order to accompany their daughter.) While studying for the stage, Elise met and fell in love with an aspiring actor from a wealthy family. They were quickly married, but their marriage was soon annulled. According to a story on the annulment published in Variety, Elise had learned that her husband “was by no means in love with working” and “decided she would be better off” without him.
The La Rose family returned to Albany in 1922 or 1923, and Elise lost no time finding a second husband. This time she married theater manager and playwright Anthony DeWolfe Veiller, but the marriage did not last. Elise moved briefly out of the family home to Morris Street in Albany. However there is no evidence that she followed her husband to Hollywood in 1930, when RKO placed him under contract as a scenario writer.
Elise’s third husband, a Belgian count, lived at 100 Jay Street with Elise and Anthime, by then a widower. This marriage appears to have been happy but also short-lived. The count died of a heart attack in 1939 at the age of 46.
Charles M. Levine, a salesman at Bond Clothes in Schenectady, was Elise’s fourth and final husband. The couple remained on Jay Street even after Anthime’s death. With Charles, Elise bred dachshunds as show dogs and became a leader of the local Kennel Club.
By 1958, the changes underway on her block of Jay Street had become painfully apparent to Mrs. Levine. That year, she helped found the Capitol Area Neighborhood Group, focusing on Jay, Lancaster, and Chestnut streets east of South Swan. Like the neighboring Center Square Association, the purpose of this new organization was to encourage owners to improve the appearance of their properties. Unlike the Center Square Association, which boasted 200 active members in 1960, this association never took off. Mrs. Levine, nevertheless, opined, “If the neighborhood problem gets worse here, then the improvement group up the street from us will find its efforts doomed, because they’re adjacent to us.”
In frustration over the seeming indifference of city officials in 1959, Mrs. Levine sent a report to ACTION (American Council to Improve Our Neighborhoods). By that time, the neighborhood consisted, in her words, “mainly of brick or stone houses and former mansions turned into apartment houses and rooming houses, operated in many cases by absentee landlords.” She wrote, “We feel that considering our geographical relationship to State and civic buildings, that the city fathers should show more concern as regards housing and overcrowding, more attention to sanitation and enforcement of fire laws, better policing of the area, in fact, better civic government than we now see.”
In 1962, Mrs. Levine’s Jay Street home was among the 1,150 structures appropriated by the State to make way for the Empire State Plaza and South Mall Arterial. The neighborhood’s problems were never resolved, and, as Mrs. Levine predicted, they would begin to move up the hill, despite the Center Square Association’s best efforts.