An Alternative Plan for Albany

All over Albany recently invited us to write a brief alternative history of the South Mall. This is the real story behind that fiction.

On March 28, 1962—one day after the State of New York appropriated 98.5 acres in downtown Albany—the City’s planning consultant, Isadore Candeub, denounced the State’s action at a luncheon hosted by the Greater Albany Citizens Planning Committee. According to the TU’s John Maguire, Candeub described the proposed office complex as “a cold monumental governmental enclave” and predicted that the redevelopment area would become “a ghost town, with social unrest and loss of income.” Nevertheless, Candeub asserted that he would be “delighted to cooperate” with the State’s planners to integrate their office complex into his plan.

Archibald Rogers with members of the Citizens Planning Committee, October 23, 1962. Used by permission of the Times Union.

From Candeub’s remarks, a reader or listener might be excused for assuming that he had not been in contact with the State’s planners. But in a May 8, 1962 memo, Archibald Rogers, founder of RTKL and head of The Associated Planners (a partnership of three architectural firms hired by the State to develop a comprehensive plan for the capital city) described a December 21, 1961 meeting with Candeub and his staff, Mayor Erastrus Corning, and Thomas Wheeler, chair of the downtown merchants association, which helped fund the Candeub study.

According to Rogers, the men discussed coordination of the two plans and agreed that Candeub would delay his concept studies for Albany’s central business district until after TAP issued its interim report. Rogers later learned, during a March 30, 1962 phone call with Candeub, that after he left the room, Corning—who chafed at the State’s intervention in his city—directed Candeub “to produce the plan as quickly as possible in order that the Mayor would not be left with a single plan prepared by the State.” At the end of this phone call, the two men agreed, “there seemed to be little point in a meeting to effect coordination between the two plans.”

The proposed redevelopment area, looking south across the ravine toward the Education Building and Capitol. Candeub, Fleissig & Associates.

Instead of the South Mall, Candeub advocated for the redevelopment of Sheridan Hollow, just north of the Education Building, between Elk St. and Clinton Ave. A boulevarded Eagle St. was to form the eastern edge of the new capital complex, which might extend as far west as Lark St. He pitched the advantages of this site, perhaps with the hope of piquing Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s aesthetic interest:

The topography of the area offers an opportunity for dramatic design for the site. Sheridan Hollow is a bowl-shaped, enclosed area of the type successfully used by the Greeks in their agoras and by the Romans in their forums. The site is similar to a large stadium in shape and would tend to focus and orient the pattern of development within the area in a unified, varied and intensely urban manner.

Diagram illustrating the relationship between State buildings and the proposed office complex. Candeub, Fleissig & Associates.

Adopting this plan might have offered dramatic design possibilities, but it would also have ensured that the Capitol and Alfred E. Smith buildings continued to dominate Albany’s skyline. Rather than promote change, the goal of the Candeub plan was to reduce State office complex’s footprint, to preserve the historic Capital Hill Neighborhood (bounded by State and Eagle streets, Lincoln and Washington parks), and to redevelop a “severely blighted” Sheridan Hollow. In the planner’s opinion, “nothing else could be put in [the ravine] except a state development.”

Photograph illustrating “blight” in Sheridan Hollow. Candeub, Fleissig & Associates.

While Candeub was sensitive to preserving both historic architecture and residential neighborhoods, implementing his plan would have displaced more than 1,000 people, closer to 2,800, if the development area reached all the way to Lark St. Demolition would have extended from the north side of Elk St to the south side of Clinton Ave., taking with it some of the city’s most impressive townhouses, including Elk St.’s “Quality Row.” We might be telling some of the same stories about a “North Mall” that we share about the South Mall today.

By the end of summer 1962, the plan for a state office complex in Sheridan Hollow was moot. The City lost its lawsuit against the State, and Mayor Corning announced there would be no appeal. As far as planning, cooperation between the City and State would remain limited and distrustful throughout the 16 years it would take to complete the Empire State Plaza.

Downtown land use plan. Candeub, Fleissig & Associates.

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