A view from above, back then

aerial photo albany 1948 before ESP

We were poking around the online collections from the State Library this afternoon looking for something else when we came across this aerial photograph of Albany before the Empire State Plaza was built. It's from 1948. It made us think of the 1910 map overlay of Albany -- then over now -- that B sent along earlier this week, and some of the comments.

Anyway, there are three more photos:
+ From behind the Smith building
+ Looking north from the South End
+ And another, wider shot also from the South End -- in this one you can really see what would become the ESP's footprint (look for the Smith Building and the the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception).

photo: New York State Archives, Aerial photographic prints and negatives of New York State sites, 1941-1957

Comments

Funny, I was just looking at these today too! You can zoom in on the NYSED site and see a lot of detail. Really have to wonder how those neighborhoods would be doing now.

There are a bunch of photos of the construction of the capitol there too, and various Washington Park views, among other gems. Notable: 1911 view of the canal, 1910 riverfront, 1925 "new" riverfront behind D&H building, 1937 aerial photo, 1952 aerial riverfront view, 1906 photo of 231 Lark (neither building is still there, and this whimsical tree surgeon.

And maps. Lots and lots of maps.

The Albany institute of History and Art and New York Public Library have some nice online collections too.

It's true, some people like the Empire State Plaza. Then again, some people tell me the The Olive Garden has great breadsticks.

When I look at old Albany pictures (and I know I'm not alone), I see a city. It's alive. People live there. They work there. They play there.

I think a lot of us want to live in the city in those pictures, rather than the city that we currently have.

We let a billionaire, whose Old Money came from the worlds greatest (or worst) monopoly (Standard Oil) tear a living, breathing city down, brick by brick, to build his own personal shrine. He didn't care that he was displacing 9000 people. He didn't care about the historical value of the buildings, or the fact that it was built like an impenetrable fortress that made it only accessible from a couple hidden staircases. He didn't care about how much it cost. He didn't care that he was wiping hundreds of property tax-paying businesses off the map and that the burden would then be placed on the people living in what was left of the city. He didn't care about you, and he didn't care about me. The pharaohs didn't care about the slaves who were building their pyramids. Albany was Rocky's Giza. Who has time to care about the middle class Albanians when you are trying to be a top tier Rockefeller? After all, his grandfather was the richest man in the world. He had to go all in.

The tragedy is that the people let him.

One side effect of the building of the ESP that a lot of Albanians never realize: Ever notice the extreme hostility people are met with by the common council, neighborhood associations or zoning board if anyone attempts to build or open......well, just about anything? The reason for this can be found in that marble monolith known as the ESP. Subconsciously, we are all still weary of the snake oil salesman who sold us I-787 and the ESP.

Well said, Greg. Another thing you can tell from this photo is that the original neighborhood(s) obviously meshed in a natural way with the topography. That might sound like a trivial or overly technical complaint to most but if you look up close you can clearly see how ESP screws ups the city's urban fabric. The thing is not built at grade, it sits on that ridiculous raised marble pedestal; you have to climb stairs from the street to get into it!

A year or two ago I heard the President of the Congress for New Urbanism give a talk here in Albany. He spoke about ESP for a few minutes and basically told us "Hey, it's not so bad as far as these things go, just take a look at [Brazil's capital] Brasilia" i.e. that place is worse because its built-environment is so much more "modern-looking" than Albany's. Difference being however, Brasilia was a BRAND-NEW CITY in the 1960's when the Brazilians built it; they didn't carve out the heart of say Rio de Janerio or Sao Paulo just to build some office high-rises!

And yes, Rocky had his own legacy in mind first and foremost I'll bet; that Pharaoh analogy of yours is nice.

To clarify my comment on the earlier post, I'm not saying I-787 construction was a great decision. BUT, I will dispute the idea that the riverfront would DEFINITELY be better were I-787 never built. Looking at these photos, one does not see a nice riverfront park and amphitheater. Instead you see a long industrial zone. The Corning Preserve exists because it's cut off from the rest of the city. What's so bad about having a nice riverfront park? Pedestrian and bike access points do need to be added and improved, but still we have a nice riverfront park that anyone downtown can walk to. Would it be so nice if it had streets cutting through it? Troy's riverfront has seen some improvement over the past several years, but does it really offer that much more by not having a highway?

Of course the Plaza is another story...

I LOVE these old photos! I could probably spend hours viewing old pictures and maps. Keep 'em coming.

Seeing photos like this always breaks my heart. My mom's family lived in the Italian neighborhood on South Swan St and south of there. There are family stories of saving parts of their beloved home (mantles, chandeliers, windows) before it was bulldozed for the plaza (today, on the site of that house, stands some pine trees. It's the grassy area between the state museum and South Swan). I can only imagine those neighborhoods and their vibrancy, and the sorrow of finding out someone was coming through to tear it all down.

Thanks for the photo links - interesting to peruse.

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