The Many Lives of 283 Madison Ave.

A guest post by Kathryn Gallien. Our thanks to Kathryn for sharing her family’s story with us.

Before I even knew it was my ancestors’ home, 283 Madison Avenue was demolished.

Portrait of Henry Gallien. Courtesy Kathryn Gallien.

Back in the 1970s my grandmother told me it had been across the street from where the State Museum now sits. It had been “taken” for the Empire State Plaza, she said, admitting she felt “the neighborhood had deteriorated dreadfully.”

But she also remembered the home in its glory: “It was a lovely home, with a basement kitchen and a dumbwaiter to the butler’s pantry on the first floor, a dining room and living room on that floor … two bedrooms and baths on the second floor, and three bedrooms on the third floor.” There were marble fireplaces in each room, a huge gilt mirror in the living room, and beautiful ceiling cornices throughout.

Having grown up far from wealthy, I have long wanted to know more about the Galliens who lived downtown in such comfort and elegance.

Portrait of Eliza Gallien. Courtesy Kathryn Gallien.

My great-great-grandfather Henry Gallien immigrated from the Isle of Guernsey to the U.S. as a teenager in the 1840s. Deemed too small for masonry work with his uncle, he attended school and also learned to audit his uncle’s books. Beginning as a messenger boy, he was New York State’s deputy comptroller by 1876.

Henry married Eliza George, who had come from England, and they had four sons—three of whom would make their way to the upper echelons of Albany finance and politics—and a daughter who married a promising attorney. The family prospered, had their portraits painted by Thomas Kirby Van Zandt, and moved into the home Henry had built in 1871 at 283 Madison. Henry died in the house in 1884, and despite its being advertised for sale (“Elegant, well-built and commodious three-story and English basement dwelling house”) several times in the years that followed, Eliza lived out her life there, with her son Henry Jr. and his family. It stayed in Gallien hands until 1922, when Henry Jr., wife Jane, and sons Henry and Roger decamped for a house in Pine Hills.

From the classified advertising section of the March 11, 1930 Knickberbocker Press.

The next owners were an Irish-American family of two brothers and four sisters—John, James, Emma, Mary, Agnes, and Gertrude White—who ran the White Employment Agency. The home was “commodious” indeed to house six adults in their 40s and 50s!

John and Emma White died in 1931, Mary three years later. Their surviving siblings moved to Eagle Street sometime after that, perhaps due to mortgage default. Or maybe the house had become too large. It sat vacant for a few years during the Great Depression. In 1943, 283 Madison was sold by the Home Owners Loan Corporation as a four-unit building to roofing contractor Raymond H. Smith in 1943. He and wife Dorothy were still listed as the property’s owners two decades later, when the State of New York tagged it for demolition.

In its last 20 years, 283 Madison was home to many renters. In 1938 a young German couple, Hans and Hedi Rudolph, found their way into a Times-Union newspaper story: his father Fred’s lost wallet had been returned with its cash and a ticket to Germany, where he was eager to return despite Hedi’s poor opinion of Nazi rule. Another resident made news in 1945: caught with one of two cars he had stolen that day, he admitted to having been arrested more times than he could remember, being on parole for grand larceny, and being classified 4-F in the draft because of his long rap sheet.

South Mall appraisal photograph, 283 Madison Ave. (on the left), ca. 1962. Albany Institute.

For the most part, 283 Madison was home to working class people. Edward R. Jocelyn, an Englishman who had made numerous crossings as a ship steward, settled in Albany with his wife, Clarice, and lived in the building many years while working as a waiter. Charles R. Smith was a brakeman and later conductor on the New York Central railroad. Residents Anna W. Keller and Beatrice Upton saw their children, John and Gertrude, marry. (Did the mothers fix them up?)

One of the last residents, Carol Marie Conklin, married Werner William Granderath in July 1963, only to lose him to death a year later. On that sad anniversary, she wrote:

I had to part with a husband

I loved with all my heart,

He won’t come back, I know it’s true

Someday dear Werner, I’ll come to you.

For nearly a century, Henry Gallien’s house sheltered the joys and heartbreaks, successes and failures, and comings and goings of many Albanians. I wish I could tell my grandmother the rest of the story.

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