July 4, 1976

The Empire State Plaza opened to the public, July 1-4, 1976, during an era of fiscal austerity. Then governor, Hugh Carey, was a critic of Nelson Rockefeller’s priorities and excesses, particularly when it came to Albany’s futuristic new capital complex. Nevertheless, Carey and his administration took responsibility for ensuring that the Plaza would become a…

Wally’s Vision, from Clay to Concrete

“It is hard,” said Wallace K. Harrison, the chief architect of the South Mall, quoting Italian engineer Pier Luigi Nervi.  Harrison wasn’t referring to the tons of concrete poured for the structures; instead, he was referring to the numerous design and construction complications faced by the architects and engineers of the South Mall.  He believed…

Every Day an Earthquake

Monday, November 25, 1963, a day of mourning after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, provided a brief respite from the noise and dirt of demolition. “No clouds of dust, no crashing sounds rose from the South Mall demolition area,” Dick Weber observed in the Knickerbocker News. The following day, demolition resumed. And conditions…

Selling the South Mall

On March 30, 1962, the Times Union editorial board urged readers, who harbored “doubts” about the wisdom of the State of New York’s plan to seize and redevelop the South Mall area, to “drive slowly—or walk—up and down these once proud streets. Then decide for yourself.” The implication, of course, was that anyone who viewed…

King Rockefeller’s “Camelot on the Hudson”

In honor of the Legislative Correspondents’ Association annual show tomorrow night, we thought we’d set the scene for an earlier show, the association’s 71st in 1971. The play that year was a Camelot spoof, starring the A.P.’s Charles Dumas as King Laughsalot Rockefeller and Charles Holcomb of Gannett News as T. Merlin Hurd, the king’s…

You’re Fired!

Our thanks to Dean Herrick for his help with this post. Of the more than 90 prime contractors and hundreds of subcontractors at the South Mall site, only one was ever fired by the State of New York: The Foster-Lipkins Corporation, builder of the Corning Tower and the Swan Street Motor Vehicle Building. The contractor’s…

Whose Extravagance?

Acting on a tip a few months ago, we contacted architect Daniel Pratt. At age 22 in 1970, he was a draftsman for the Buffalo architectural firm, James, Meadows & Howard, which designed the Legislative Office Building. Dan’s job was to draw the interior office spaces, even though many interior wall frames were already in…

Return of the Queen

Everyone in Albany knows the story of Princess Beatrix’s 1959 visit to our city. It has become an origin story of sorts, representing the end of an era and the beginning of a “new Albany.” Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller’s decision to clear and redevelop 40 city blocks (98 acres) was reportedly sparked by the ride…

Nixon in Albany, Rocky in Washington?

Our thanks to Scott Christianson for bringing this story to our attention. On September 8, 1968, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller returned to Albany, after a 3-week vacation and a summer spent campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. He ran as a liberal, during an era of urban upheaval, and (for the second time) lost the…

Gerry’s Gamble Pays Off

Our thanks to Gerry and Mary Dwileski for their help with this post. When we reached out to South Mall construction workers last year, we were surprised that the first response came from Mary Dwileski, the wife of a carpenter. Since then, we have conducted oral histories with many men who worked construction at the…