The last few months we've been noticed a string of interesting events -- music, food, that kind of stuff -- at 431 Delaware Ave, a former church in Albany.
But it was sort of funny -- every time we talked with someone about the place, it was like "Oh, yeah, I heard about that... Hey, what's up with that place?"
Well, wonder no longer. Here is what's up with that place.
The building at 431 Delaware is owned by Laura Welles and Perry Woodin, a married couple. They've lived there since 2006. Yep, it's their house.
Laura and Perry are like something out of a Richard Florida dream. They have creative jobs -- Perry's a software engineer, Laura runs a company they started that helps art galleries display collections online. They're interested in the arts. They care about sustainability. And they were willing to move someplace where they felt all that would be a good fit.
They came to Albany from Indianapolis (with a grad school stop in New Jersey) in 2001. Perry says they were drawn to the Capital Region because of the beautiful surrounding area, and a political climate more in line with how they want to live. "I just felt really comfortable here," he says. "[In Indianapolis] it was like a six or seven hour drive to really get away from stuff."
They ended up settling in the Delaware Avenue neighborhood because they were looking to follow New Urbanist principles and the walkable neighborhood fit with that goal. "Once we moved here, we fell in love with it. There are a lot of active people here," Laura says. "We could see the beginnings of a transformation. So we decided to invest in the neighborhood."
OK, when most people want to put down roots in a neighborhood, they buy a house. Laura and Perry bought an approximately 100-year-old former Baptist church.
So, why 431 Delaware? Says Perry: "We were looking for something aesthetically pleasing to us. And we were also looking for something that's a little outside the norm. And we really wanted to have a building we could open up to the public. We like this idea of having a public space. I think both of us really got to enjoy that, living in Indianapolis, just the camaraderie of getting together with the neighbors and meeting new people -- not being stuck in a house."
The "public" part of the building is the former congregation space -- an open 2,000 square feet that feels even bigger because of its tall windows and ceiling. They say when they bought the place, the space was covered in "Cookie Monster blue" carpet and the pews were bolted to the floor. They've since pulled up the carpet, moved the pews, and installed a former library circulation desk.
Says Perry: "The first couple of years were amazing. We'd walk in the door every day and it was like, 'Wow, this is great.' ... Unfortunately, after years of walking through the door, now it's just a big room to us. It's normal. Part of the reason we have people in here is to see the expression on their face."
Laura says they were also drawn to the idea of becoming stewards to a historical building. "In Albany, too many well-built historic structures are knocked down. And we wanted to adaptively reuse a historic structure."
Pursuing that reuse has involved quite a bit of work. The building's needed a lot of upkeep. And when they moved in there was no kitchen or shower. "We just sort of roughed it for a few years," Perry says.
They've since built a kitchen and a full bathroom in their living space in the back of the building, what was once office and storage space for the church.
And the building now has a name. They call it "The 7th Ward House." (Because... it's in the 7th ward.)
Right, but back to the events. Laura and Perry are hoping to find someone who would be interested in renting the church space for some sort of public use: a cafe, an art gallery, a performance space, something along those lines.
"I get a real kick out of providing a space for people to gather," Laura says. Adds Perry, smiling: "But, it's all about entertaining ourselves, right? We enjoy having people come in here -- it's like a form of entertainment for us."
He continues: "When we bought the place, there were a lot of people in this neighborhood who had never been in here before. And a few months after we bought the place we had a tag sale and people would walk in and they're like 'I always wondered what this place was like.' You know, this place has been here almost a hundred years and nobody felt like they could just walk in. And that brings us a lot of joy."
Bonus bit about Perry's handle bar 'stache: "When I was a kid my parents kept two Rollie Fingers replica mustaches in the car. He played for Milwaukee at the time [Perry grew up in Wisconsin]. On long car rides, my sister and I would wear them and try to get other motorists to laugh. So... I'm simply trying to recapture my youth with the stache."
The 7th Ward House
431 Delaware Ave
Albany, NY 12209
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.