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…

Man-on-the-Street Interviews, March 27, 1962

On March 27, 1962—the day news of the state appropriation became public—Knick News reporters Kurt Wachenheim and Edward Swietnicki walked the streets of Albany’s 98 acres to gauge public opinion. What they found was a mix of “elation, indifference, disappointment, and hope.” As a group, small business owners were particularly upset by the news. The…

What Happened to Albany’s Arch of Freedom?

When plans for the Empire State Plaza were unveiled in April 1963—more than a year after the State of New York appropriated Albany’s 98 acres—one of its most dramatic features was a 336-foot-high arch. The Arch of Freedom was designed to anchor the Plaza’s south end and to connect two low-lying structures for the State…

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…