Nestled behind the State Education Building on Washington Avenue is a -- what is that? Is that a church?
Yes. And that sound you hear is William Doane rolling over in his grave.
The Cathedral of All Saints, Albany's Episcopal cathedral, is on a cramped lot behind its massively columned neighbor. The building is quite beautiful, and it seems odd that such a grandiose structure should be tucked away on a side street. Why didn't they get a bigger lot? We're not that pressed for building space here in Albany. What's the cathedral doing back there?
Well, there's a story behind this. And it's a story of lifelong ambitions and bitter feuds, of superlatives and dreams, played out along Albany's Washington Avenue.
Doane (1832-1913) was Albany's first episcopal bishop. He saw it as his life's vision to build an "American cathedral" -- the definitive U.S. Episcopal cathedral, grand and ornate on a European scale.
Doane chose a young British architect, Robert Wilson Gibson, whose designs drew from those Gothic structures Doane admired, over the venerable H.H. Richardson. Had the cathedral been built as planned, its Gothic towers and eye-popping ornamentation would have helped define Albany's skyline. But from the start, funding troubles slowed the construction.
"Because of the diocese's chronic shortage of funds," William Kennedy wrote in O Albany!, "Doane never acquired the remainder of the block where the cathedral stands, so in a hurry to build was he."
The cathedral was dedicated in 1888 although it was still not finished.
Bishop Doane, who saw the cathedral as the center of a complex of diocesan buildings, worked over time to acquire options to purchase the other lots his plans required.
"The cathedral is not an interest just of this city, or of my own," he wrote, "but that of the NATION, and the most permanent results depend on the success of this enterprise of faith."
But there was another man in Albany with a building in his dreams: Andrew Sloan Draper.
Draper, New York's first commissioner of education, lobbied the legislature for years for permission to create a separate building for the state education department. At last he was given the go-ahead to find a site near the Capitol.
In 1906 Bishop Doane made a trip to Europe. And Draper made his move. He swept in and secured the Washington Avenue lots for his own project. The land Doane had wanted was in the hands of the state by the time the bishop returned to the country.
The book Albany Architecture refers to it as a "coup."
"Draper ignited a ferocious church-state battle by snapping up this site," the book notes, adding that Doane "viewed the entire block as his manifest destiny."
Doane and Draper fought a battle in brick and stone, and it's a battle that Draper won. His building not only blocked Doane's future construction plans, but largely blocked the cathedral even from view. The All Saints' Web site notes:
"Although Doane succeeded in limiting the number of stories in the State Education Building, Draper maximized the floor-to-floor distances. The enmity between the two men can be seen in the height and scale of the State Education Building, which largely screens the Cathedral from Washington Avenue."
The education building was dedicated in 1912. Doane and Draper died within a few weeks of each other the following year.
Maybe the cathedral complex would never have been finished, even if Doane had acquired all the land his dreams required. As it is, it's still a grand and worthy structure. All Saints lists the building as the fifth largest cathedral in the United States.
The state education building is notable in its own right: Its columned front along Washington Avenue forms the longest continuous colonnade in the world.
They're both beautiful buildings. But seen in another way, there's a quiet tension between them.
Earlier on AOA: The short tour of historic Albany stained glass made a stop at All Saints.
rendering via Cathedral of All Saints
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