Name that landmark: Livingston school

livingston school entrance

It once was called "the embodiment of the ideals of beauty and utility."

By Akum Norder

Look toward Albany's Arbor Hill from I-90, and above the trees you may see a tower, the green of old copper. It's the type of cupola that used to top important buildings, and it catches the eye because there's nothing else quite like it nearby. What is that up there, that structure, looking stately and a little lonely on the ridge of a hill?

It was once Albany's showcase school.

Philip Livingston Magnet Academy (when built, it was Philip Livingston Junior High) is a remnant of an era that thought city schools should be landmarks. Up close, it's massive: Two long wings stretch out from the central building, which is topped with the cupola. It has an air about it, as if it was built for a grand and serious purpose. And you know what? It was.

livingston school from distance

Constructed in the early 1930s, the school was named after Albany native Philip Livingston, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A 1936 book on Albany schools called it "Albany's outstanding school building."

"It is the embodiment of the ideals of beauty and utility," wrote Charles Blessing in Albany Schools and Colleges Yesterday and Today. "The designers omitted nothing that might contribute to the comfort, convenience, safety and health of the student body. It is a triumph of science and art made possible by the cooperation of educators, architects, engineers and landscape artists."

Flourishes of language aside, Livingston was, apparently, quite impressive, even decades later.

Its last principal, Thomas Giglio, described the school's library as a two-story open space with a spiral staircase, a balcony and a beautifully painted ceiling. Grand and inspiring, it looked like something "right out of Harry Potter," he said.

The school was built as part of a Depression-era project to train workers in the building trades, Giglio said. Its interior brickwork features a variety of patterns, reflecting where people were taught different masonry techniques.

And the basement, he said, is cavernous: Built as a bomb shelter, it's two to three stories deep.

Because Livingston also had a full kitchen, staff there would cook meals for other district schools. The food would be transported by van to schools that lacked full kitchens, where it would be re-warmed to serve to students.

"It's a beautiful building that really has fallen into quite a bit of disrepair," Giglio said.

Livingston school, stonework detail

The need for renovations and declining enrollment combined to doom the place. As other Albany schools were rehabilitated or replaced, Livingston crumbled. In 1932-'33, its first school year, nearly 1,400 students attended Livingston. In its last year, the school had an enrollment of about 270. It graduated its last group of eighth-graders on June 25, 2009.

For a time, Livingston was considered as a potential home for one of the high school's four themed academies; the location would have focused on nanoscience, engineering, and environmental sciences. Science might have been a natural fit for the property; behind the school stretches the Tivoli Preserve, where middle school teachers used to take their classes for field study. The school board voted down that proposal in 2006.

And now? It's for sale.

The former Livingston school can be yours for $5,200,000. That works out to $21.07 per square foot, and includes about 14 acres of land.

Green Tech High, a charter school, stands next door.

One idea that's been tossed around: Make it a satellite campus of Hudson Valley Community College. A Times Union article reports that Mayor Jennings and HVCC officials have expressed "mutual interest" in the idea.

Giglio is now principal at Albany's Delaware Community School off Delaware Ave. He has a group photo of Livingston's staff on his office wall there and speaks fondly of his time at the middle school, where he started out as a student teacher and a substitute. "I think a lot of people refer to it as a landmark," he said.

These days, when Giglio sees Livingston from the highway, he points it out to his young daughter. "Look, there's Daddy's first school," he tells her.

Did you go to school there, or live in the neighborhood? What's it like inside? We're curious to know more.

Livingston school, flag flying

Find It

Philip Livingston School
315 Northern Blvd
Albany, NY 12206


Livingston was great!! I met some of my best friends there, that I am still friends with today. I went there when they first became the magnet school PLMA(Philip Livingston Magnet Academy). It had a humongous auditorium, a full size indoor pool, full basketball courts, two cafeterias, a baseball field in the back, and an elevator on top of everything that was already mentioned. We used to have great times in gym class on that front field as well. Livingston should be another public high school for the Albany City School District instead of raising taxes every year to build more charter schools. Green Tech High across the street was built after destroying peoples homes they were there previously. All of this when they could have just used Livingston!

My grandmother's house on Livingston Avenue had a clear view of the back of the building. Never went in there, but I always thought it was an amazing building from the outside. I'd love to see HVCC take it over!

I fully support the idea of HVCC taking it over. It would allow for accessible and affordable education to people in the area. And they would have to rely on their own transportation or the inconvenience of taking a bus(es?) out to Troy.

It makes so much sense.

I'm with Oliva, that's a great idea! I love the architecture of these old schools.

"The need for renovations and declining enrollment combined to doom the place."

um, the place was a death trap. Racism and apathy on the part of administrators and local police caused Livingston l to become one of the most dangerous school's in the state, and certainly the worst school in the district.

Students consistently being jumped, robbed, stabbed and harassed might be a more accurate depiction of what led to the decline in registration. The push to revive Livingston as a Magnet school was too little, about two decades too late.

Its a classic Albany story of something beautiful being ruined by politics as usual. If I had the money I would buy it and blow it up.

As a student of Livingston Middle School, the year or two before it became a Magnet Academy, i have to say that school sucked. It was dangerous and the teachers had little to no control over the students.

One thing we had to worry about one month was when the kids in the color coded hallways planned fights based on whether they were in the red or blue hall. Fights were something that went on constantly, and were a source of amusement for most of the students, myself included. One of my best friends growing up got punched in the face by a teacher who was making a huge gesture to knock the giant amount of papers he had off of his desk. This same teacher also would give us "quizzes" which were pretty much him telling us the answers while we wrote them down.

You also left out the part about a dead body being found in Tivoli Lake one day while school was in session.

Beautiful building, Terrible school

would love to see what Sebastien Barre and his cameras would do with this! and I also vote for HVCC taking it on!

This building now stands as a memorial to all who attended and suffered there. For decades Livingston has been a cause of middle-class flight from the city. In order to avoid going to Livingston, families who lived north of Western Ave would either move out of the city or go through elaborate steps to make it look like their child lived on the other side of Western.

It deserves an exorcism of it's middle school demons before anyone purchases it.

I went to school here when from 1967-1970 when it was Philip Livingston Junior High and went from Grade 6 to Grade 9. It was a great school then; when I think back to my school days, this is the place that comes to mind over other schools I attended. I still have 6 issues of the school newspaper that were printed in '67-'68. My 6th grade class was the second group of 6th-graders to go to Livingston, after a school reorganization removed the 6th grade from local elementary schools to consolidate them at Livingston.

Even as a kid, I loved the whole look of the school, and enjoyed making my way down the long corridors going from class to class. Due to a late change in my 6th grade class schedule, I was assigned a study hall twice a week, but because they were no study halls at that time in the schedule, an assistant principal named Mr. Murphy told me to take my study hall in the school library. He worked out the unusual arrangement with the librarian. As a shy bookish kid, this was like Heaven to me. I got to see all the newest books when they arrived, and even helped the librarian restock the returned books. Odd as it may sound today, the librarian would leave to take her lunch break during this period, locking me in the library alone, telling me to just shut the door when I left, if she wasn't back before the next period.

Sad to hear the school went downhill so badly, leaving many with bad memories of the place. Fighting in school or anywhere on school grounds would simply NOT have been tolerated when I went there, with strict assistant principals or even some male shop teachers who would quickly put an end to any such behavior.

Hopefully the building will be put to productive use as it would be a shame to demolish such a unique structure.

Burn it down! I am not impressed by those who discuss it's beauty or architecture. Obviously they were able to escape attendance and went to a private or religious school. Large gangs of urban youth were allowed to terrorize the rest of the students with knifes, fists, and an impressive arsenal of weapons. On a daily basis our teachers locked us in the hallways to be beaten by those gangs because they (teachers) were afraid. Education? Education was nil and our classes were dumbed down for the thug life who were in the majority. I have no fond memories and wish no well for the animals of PLJH. I have no forgiveness. My parents should have demanded a refund on their property taxes! I say again --- burn it, board it up, or knock it down.

Oh my! It is extremely disturbing that majority of these students school experiences were absolute nightmares! I couldn't imagine going through what you went through.

I'm probably the oldest commenting on this article.

I attended this school when it was call, Philip Livingston Jr. High School. That was back in the early 60s. We had disturbances, as well! It was usually some girl/boyfriend drama going on, but nothing like is mentioned in these comments.

I'm currently trying to research for an autobiography and came across this site. It makes me so sad, that this wonderful building has left so many scarred victims.

It certainly might have been great, if Hudson Valley CC did acquire this property, however it appears now it is scheduled to be converted into a Senior Citizens building.

If no one has ever apologized for what you all went through, let me do so now! The State of NY, the Albany Public School District must sincerely offer some type of apology, because no student should ever had to attend any school under these conditions. The psychological impact, I am sure will never go away! I APOLOGIZE!

The principal of the school, was Mr. John Coffey; gosh he was handsome! I remember my vocal teacher well, Mrs. Koshgarian; who was appalled at anyone singing with their mouths wide opened.

I remember some of my most love friends, Beverly who would always sing to us from Porgy and Bess "Summer time and the living is easy..." and Barbara who was "in love" with Eddie. I wrote love letters for her, in my handwriting and then she would copy the letter in her own hand writing.

I also recall my accounting teacher, Ms Johnson (?), who lost her job, I believe because so many children failed the class. She tried so hard and knew what she was doing, but we just didn't get it! I was elected or selected 8th grade judge. I really don't remember. But I never had to judge anyone; my picture was in the newspaper. I am attempting to retrieve that article.

Times have really changed since those days. I pray that NY State and the Albany Public School District make sure the experiences you all have had is never repeated on your children and/or grands.

Never, ever let those terrible school experiences define who you are, in life, and always reach for a higher goal and better outcome; be a leader and not a follower.

Please, please, if Philip Livingston Jr. High School is indeed for Sr. Citizens, please make sure it houses SENIOR CITIZENS, ONLY! I might need a place! I wish you all well!

The school has been turned in to 103 apartments, for the frail/elderly, persons with physical and or development disabilities, and veterans, as well as people who are with those individuals.

My brothers and I went there in the late 50's and early 60's. One of the weird memories was the indoor swimming pool, where as part of gym class we learned how to swim, played water polo and had swim teams. The weird part was the boys swam nude!!. The girls wore shapeless wool one-piece swimsuits.

We also had metal shop, wood shop and dramatics.

Last thing I remember clearly is the day JFK died and we all went home early.

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