The Albany parking lot district

Madeo division st.jpg

E.P. Miller Jewelry store on Division St. in Albany

By Rob Madeo

soapbox badgeI came across a postcard from E.P. Miller Jewelers on Division Street in Albany. In the doorway are three serious looking chaps, one of them, presumably, E.P. himself. They sold watches, clocks, all variety of fine jewelry -- plus you could stop in for a pair of eyeglasses, for Mr. Miller was a licensed optometrist.

E.P. knew that it pays to advertise, and it's easy to find his ads in old copies of the Albany Evening Journal and Altamont Enterprise. Plenty of people used to take the train to work in Albany, so the suburban paper made good sense.

When the card (view larger) was mailed in 1908, Miller's store stood in the heart of what I call Albany's Parking Lot District. This vast, empty landscape of nearly seven acres was once a bustling part of the city.

Now it's a wasteland.

E.P.jpg

This all caught my attention because I sometimes shell out $5 a day to leave my car in the Parking Lot District. When you walk along Division Street you can detect the outlines of some of the buildings that once stood there. Cobblestones peak through the asphalt on Green Street.

lot on division street.jpg

Division and Green.jpg

Some people have big plans for the Parking Lot District. It's the site that's proposed for Albany's convention center, which some say we need the way a fish needs a bicycle. What's wrong with those folks? You don't think people would rather come to Albany for a meeting than New York or Boston?

E.P. Miller was a latecomer to that part of town, which was settled hundreds of years ago. Back in October, the Albany Convention Center Authority held a dog and pony show nearby, where archaeologists searched for artifacts of old Albany. They unearthed some interesting things, as is often the case when you stick a shovel into the ground downtown.

Politicians lined up to explain how important it is to preserve our history. Mayor Jerry Jennings told the Troy Record: "What we're doing here is obviously setting the ball in motion for us to further explore the history of our great city and make sure that we don't lose any of that history when we do develop this site."

I'm not sure how building the convention center over this site will preserve our history, but if burying the artifacts under tons of concrete will protect them, I'm all for it.

There's no use complaining about how this section of the city was gutted -- and compared to what Nelson Rockefeller did to build the Empire State Plaza, it's small potatoes. And after all, I suppose a big empty building is better than the ugly scar on the landscape that sits there now.

Rob can be found at lunchtime in downtown Albany huddled near a wi-fi hotspot.

Comments

More than just a lost business district, this was also partly the location of Albany's public market, where for decades something much grander than any local farmer's market existed, where restaurateurs and housewives alike came for their daily fresh food. It also sometimes served as Albany's Hyde Park, as speakers on the issues of the day, such as women's suffrage, came to harangue the crowds.

"a big empty building is better than the ugly scar on the landscape that sits there now."

incorrect, the big ugly building will never get torn down,, meaning there will never be a chance to do somethign better with the land.

Who's funding this boondoggle anyway? County and state is probable on the hook...what a waste

http://townhall.com/columnists/jeffjacoby/2011/03/23/the_convention-center_follies/page/full/

Read this on Boston's convention center nonsense.

The important information: nationwide, convention center attendance has been dropping for over a decade, while convention center capacity has exploded.

It's a crime for this thing to be built. It's nothing but hubris on the part of politicians, and greed ont eh part of the construction and design firms.

No honest, disinterested person can look at the numbers and say its a good idea. There are convention centers in large metropolitan areas that operate at a loss year in and year out. They have failed to deliver on the economic spillover effect we've been promised time and again... why are we trying to get on the bandwagon that's already plummeting off the cliff?

I think it's high time we start the food market, and haranguing again! Maybe once they build the convention center... hahahahahaha Who am I kidding, we can harangue without a convention center! :) But, that would be a good place for a farmer's market style thing, downtown... on the weekends maybe... hopefully...

It's a better fit for Schenectady- they've got the open space and need the traffic

I can hear it now:

"Hey, good news! We're sending you to a convention for a week. But I also have some bad news..."

Great article, keep up the historical content AOA!

"What we're doing here is obviously setting the ball in motion for us to further explore the history of our great city and make sure that we don't lose any of that history when we do develop this site." Right, Jerry. What we're doing here is obviously continuing to demolish and pave over the great history of our city, and replace it with something completely unsustainable.

I have photos of some of the buildings that used to be (as recently as the late 1980s) where the parking lot district is located today. It still amazes me that these buildings, among the oldest in the city, were razed for parking.

Of course convention center attendance has been dropping, but so has all travel. We'll get back at it. I'm not a fan of the convention center but its too late for the mess that was already created out of the section of town.

Here are the last two remaining buildings on the site:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/robmadeo/5706963194/

A 2008 Times Union story says that the one on the left, 48 Hudson Avenue will be preserved because of its historical significance. Right next door is the former home of the Capital City Rescue Mission.

I am opposed to the wasteful construction of the convention center and the impact it will have on this city, not to mention the immediate neighborhood in which I reside. But, I really resent the reference to the city putting on a "dog and pony show" with area archeologists. The firm hired to survey the area that the parking lot district is located (the future site of the convention center) may have been hired by the convention authority but it is no way pawns for the city's whims to make a spectacle of how great the development of this monstrosity will be for this city. Having had the pleasure of taking a large group of students down to view their work in action, they were genuinely devoted archeologists doing exactly what they were hired to do, carefully document and catalog the findings of what will probably be months if not years and generations of future research. They just happen to be doing it in a very public, very accessible area. I know, I know, I saw their press conference which put them on display, but unfairly considering that no matter what would be built there archeology would have to be done to allow for development (well, in most cases it would). And man the history there was really interesting (in fact the picture you have of one area is where we visited and was the site of army barracks from Fort Orange days if I recall what the gentleman told us)! Archeologists don't just "search for artifacts," they look carefully to record the centuries of history and tell the stories layer by layer. Looters look for artifacts, archeologists look for information.
These men and women are not hired to side with their clients in my understanding, they only act in the interest of laws enacted to protect archeological sites and document their findings. Sadly, not all sites can be saved but thanks to their careful work we can at the very least have an archeological record to reference in future years. That is not necessarily the interest of the city or the county, but then again who cares what their interests are. In all of the uproar about this stupid convention center and its wastefulness I for one would prefer to leave alone the only people involved actually acting in the interest of the true importance of the land under those parking lots -- the archeologists.
So, I'm sorry to gripe but for my students who are all upset that another city construction will disrupt their neighborhood and for me who hates the idea of more unnecessary development right near my house we can at least say it was truly interesting to talk with and watch those archeologists work really hard to bring what's under those parking lots to the surface for us all -- properly and documented despite what is yet to be built.

So boo convention center, but yay archeology!

Jane: Thanks for checking in. I believe you're right in saying that I gave short shrift to the archeologists.

I think my point -- and perhaps it was poorly worded -- was that the city put on a dog and pony show in spite of the archeologists, not with the archeologists.

I've been researching my Miller ancestors. I knew that my grandfather's uncle (Eugene Pope Miller) was a jeweler but I was delighted to see his face as well as his son's (also a jeweler) Burton Miller. Recently I took a trip back to Albany and was sad to see that Division Street is no longer there, just a vast parking lot. If you're ever willing to part with the postcard, I'd love to have it!

My father used to bring me to the farmer's market on Saturdays .Uncle Will brought his chickens down there from his farm in Brunswick.Now it is called Will Rose Lane.The chickens made me nervous.The great thing about going downtown was after the farmers market dad,and i would go to the Jewish delis for the best corned beef sandwiches!

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