Watching the creation of the Empire State Plaza

Check it out: "The Making of the Mall," a short documentary produced in the 1960s and 70s about the creation of the Empire State Plaza. The doc includes film of downtown Albany before the ESP, scenes of the area being razed, and shots of the buildings under construction. It really puts the scale of the ESP into context.

From the narration:

The promise of the mall was magnificent. The reality discouraging. Ninety-eight acres of devastation, dust, and debris loomed more like the aftermath of war than urban renewal.
Violent legal and political wrangling had been in evidence from the outset concerning the feasibility and value of this grandiose project. 6800 residents and 350 small businesses had been displaced with no housing planned for their relocation and, it seemed, no concern for their future.

And then later in the doc...

Though the years that went into making the mall were often painful, especially for longtime residents who had seen their homes, their schools, and their churches obliterated to satisfy the ego of one man, today they are proud of what they once called Rocky's Folly. But which has transformed a 300-year-old Dutch town into the most spectacular capital in the country.

We came across the film via Carl, who in turn found it via the Albany... The Way It Was FB group. As Carl notes of the film:

Not entirely sure what year it was from, but it appears to have been the work of Helen C. Welsh, a school librarian, library studies instructor, and serious amateur filmmaker whose other gems, such as the story of the Tulip Festival, we can only hope to uncover.

The film is about 17 minutes long and well worth a look. We've pulled a few screengrabs to give you a sense of what it includes -- they're after the jump.


The old Dunn Memorial Bridge.

making of the mall old neighborhood

The area razed for the ESP. That's the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the background.

Albany skyline during the Corning Tower construction.


Construction of The Egg.

A Fourth of July celebration after completion.


What a horrible waste of human potential and money

I was in one of those buildings the other week for the first time. Depressing.

Tear the place down and plant an arboretum, with a plaque at the entrance that says "Oops" and a picture of that dreadful complex, with a wrecking ball in the foreground. Let the State workers telecommute.

Kingston should thank its stars that the Capitol moved to Albany.

That hideous place is a joke and an object of deserved ridicule.

Only "The Power Broker" Robert Moses could rival Nelson. At least Moses saved some nice beaches.

Thank you for sharing this. The Empire State Plaza construction and associated demolition are a fascinating story. 50 years ago, I would have strenuously objected to and fought against the plaza proposal.

But now that we have it, it is actually pretty remarkable mid-20th-century architecture. Perhaps Albany could have avoided the large-scale urban renewal that cities across the country encountered in the 1960s, but I doubt it. What we got from Rockefeller was an incredible collection of public architecture.

Compare ESP with the dismal Federal Building on Broadway/South Pearl to see what we could have gotten instead of the Wallace Harrison-designed collection of buildings and public spaces that comprise the South Mall.

I believe one can mourn losing the neighborhood that once existed where the Plaza sits now, while also appreciating the Empire State Plaza for what it is and demanding that it continue to respect the intention of its designers.

I like the implied sneer at the row of Victorian houses that had somehow missed the wrecking ball and were an "outdated" anomaly next to the Plaza. Now they're a civic treasure, and the Plaza is a monstrosity that will be half empty by the time all of the Baby Boomers retire.

Being neglected through the '60s and '70s was one of the best things that ever happened to Troy. It's still a human-scale city for the most part.

The film brings back many memories. I lived on upper Morris St. and attended Cathedral Academy through 1967, then attended the new school. Many friends were displaced, and as a child I walked by the construction to attend school and to go to Church. Construction went on through all my schools years, I forgot that part, must have been immune to the construction.

LB, really! The City of Troy a human scale city, perhaps for some of the dirt bags that inhabit the place. It's a dump and a drug dealers paradise in many locations and it's still being neglected today. The best thing the City fathers could do is to tear down blocks of those abandoned and disfunctional buildings. Their unsafe, dilapidated and too costly to repair. Troy needs urban renewal by bull dozer. Parse out the few historical treasures and make rubble of the rest. Build new infrastructure (i.e. water mains, sewer, conduit infrastructure to support underground power distribution and fiber optics and wider roadways). Put together a committee to design what the next city should look like arcitecturally and sell the property to responsible investors/homeowners. The Plaza is a great treasurer for the area, but it too needs lots of work. Unfortunately it's quite costly to maintain, but it is a great symbol for the Capitol of New York State. It's nice to see it gets more use now and would get even more if the State wasn't so greedy with their parking fees.

This is fantastic. My inner history nerd needed this.

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