Center Square-Hudson Park
The Center Square/Hudson Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2007, The Gombach Group.
The Center Square/Hudson Park Historic District is an urban area of considerable architectural distinction which contains representative examples of a variety of nineteenth and early twentieth-century architecture. The predominately residential twenty-seven block district has two neighborhoods: Center Square, located at the north between State and Jay Streets, and Hudson Park, located at the south between Hudson and Park Avenues. These neighborhoods developed at the same time and in a similar fashion. Their major difference is the greater amount of restoration and rehabilitation work that has been undertaken within the Center Square area.
The entire historic district has very distinct boundaries defined by major changes in land use. East of the district on an over ninety acre site is the Empire State Plaza (also called the South Mall). This huge state office complex, designed by Harrison and Abromovitz and erected in the 1960's and 70's, with its monolithic scale and stark white marble walls is a sharp contrast to the district of domestically scaled townhouses providing a variety of textures, patterns, colors, and decorative details. To the south, the district is bounded by the rugged natural terrain of Lincoln Park, a municipal open space. To the west it abuts the Washington Park Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. To the north is Washington Avenue, a broad, heavily traveled street which is no longer predominately residential in character.
The natural topography of the area has not been completely obliterated by the grid street pattern. Due to the hilltop location, the land of the district slopes gently towards the east. A somewhat rolling terrain is provided by an east-west dip in the vicinity of Hudson Avenue and by a drop beginning at Irving Street and continuing outside the district as the ravine in Lincoln Park.
The district of attached or closely spaced buildings is structurally dense. Although there are notable exceptions, particularly on State Street and Madison Avenue, most buildings do not have front yards, instead their facades abut the sidewalks creating a consistent building line. Even when the distances of the buildings from the curb vary, the range of this variation is usually limited and does not prevent the rows of buildings from effectively defining street corridors. Unfortunately there are a few instances where large vacant lots or large inappropriately sited structures disrupt the principal plans of the streetscape.
The district has within its boundaries only one developed public park, the small Dana Memorial Park. However, for an urban neighborhood it does have a surprising amount of open space due to large rear yards and vacant lots. At present many of the vacant lots are disruptive elements since they interrupt the "walls" of the streetscape, and are unmaintained or used for unscreened parking. An open grassy area at the east end of the block bounded by South Swan Street, Hudson Avenue, Dove Street, and Jay Street provides a large urban green spot.
A number of the streets are enhanced by trees, attractive sidewalks, and/or interesting paving. Recently, trees have been planted and brick-and-concrete sidewalks laid along Elm Street and along most streets in the northern half of the district. Along Madison Avenue are a number of handsome older trees. Park Avenue and Myrtle Avenue between Delaware Avenue and Dove Street have brick paving, while Jay Street has granite block paving.
The many different architectural styles and building types of the nineteenth and early twentieth century present in the district give it a special ambience and graphically document the area's evolution, growth, and continuous use. Not only are many styles represented including late Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, High Victorian Gothic Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne, Second Renaissance Revival, Dutch Revival, and Georgian Revival, but for many of these modes the district has both sophisticated, architect-designed examples and vernacular, builder-designed examples. For instance, the brownstone faced Wing-Williams House (1860) at 284 State Street and the picturesque school building (1872) at 417 Madison Avenue are sophisticated designs in the Italianate style, while the eighteen houses of the Martin Luther Row (1871) at 182-216 Elm Street erected by builder George Martin are among the fine speculative rows of Italianate houses in the district.
There are concentrations of buildings of a particular style since the district contains numerous groupings of similar houses erected as part of a speculative row, but no street is lined with buildings of one style. Also, the design quality of buildings varies from one street to another, but usually there is a mixture. Many buildings of superior design quality and workmanship are found along State Street, but vernacular buildings also exist along this street and high-style buildings are found elsewhere in the district.
About eighty percent of the buildings in the district are attached townhouses of two to four stories in height. Generally they are three bays wide and have a stoop leading to an entrance at one side. The townhouses range from large, ornate mansions to small alley dwellings.
Other residential building types found in the district include the small frame cottage, the large free-standing house, the early twentieth-century double-decker, and the early twentieth-century apartment.
Six church edifices and several institutional structures are present. The churches vary in design quality with the Romanesque Revival Wilborn Temple (1887) on Lancaster Street (attributed to Albany architect Adolph Fleischmann) being the most outstanding. Its tower and those of the other churches are focal points of the district. The Dutch Revival building which currently is part of the senior citizen center at 25 Delaware Avenue is one of the interesting institutional buildings. It was formerly a firehouse.
Several large late nineteenth-century industrial structures remain in the district. The red brick buildings on Park Avenue, which formerly housed the Hinckle Brewery, due to their splendid setting facing Lincoln Park and their picturesque massing, are among the finest nineteenth-century factory buildings remaining in Albany.
In the district are numerous private garages. Many of these are converted carriage houses. These small-scale structures are present in considerable numbers along Garden Alley, Spring Street, Jefferson Street, and the north side of Chestnut Street.
Most retail stores in the district are in basements and first stories of rowhouses, but there are several intrusive one-story, twentieth-century commercial buildings. Other building types present in small numbers are gas stations and mid-twentieth century office buildings. Of these only the thirty-four story, concrete Alfred E. Smith State Office Building (erected 1927-30; Jones and Hangaard, Commissioners of Architecture) is architecturally noteworthy.
Many building materials are found, reflecting both the diversity of styles and of quality. The majority of buildings are brick, but bricks vary in color, texture, and size. There is a considerable number of frame structures particularly along Park Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, and Jefferson Street. Unfortunately, many of these frame buildings have lost their original siding and replacement sidings are extremely diverse and often inappropriate for an older building. Several frame buildings have brick facades, but more common in the district are brick buildings with brownstone facades. The stone facades may be smooth ashlar or rock-faced. Several of the churches are gray granite.
Facade arrangements and decorative detailing vary according to style and type of building, resulting in many different patterns, colors, fenestrations, and massings. Streetscapes are enlivened by the varying roof shapes, decorative cornices, bay windows, porches, and other features of the buildings. Roof shapes include gable, mansard, and flat. There are examples of Queen Anne style shaped gables and of Dutch Revival style stepped gables. Some buildings have ornate carved stonework. Many have outstanding iron railings. The district contains rows of buildings with similar mass-produced decorative features and buildings with very individualistic decoration. Since most nineteenth and early twentieth-century eclectic styles were highly decorative, the architecture of the district has much applied and constructural decoration. There are buildings of simple design with little decoration, but taken as a whole the district is rich in architectural decoration.
Conditions of buildings vary greatly within the district ranging from restored and occupied to greatly altered, deteriorated, and vacant. The northern half of the district, where active restoration and rehabilitation activity has been progressing for nearly twenty years, has the larger percentage of rehabilitated structures. However, rehabilitation activity is found throughout and is expanding.
The district has twenty-two buildings which are modern instrusions. Unfortunately, the intrusive buildings (gas stations, one-story grocery store buildings, office buildings) are large structures or occupy corner lots so that their visual impact is considerable. A number of private garages erected in the twentieth century are not considered to be intrusions due to their small size, inconspicuous locations, and impermanent construction. Altered buildings have been considered intrusions only when the alterations are so extensive that it is unlikely that the building could be rehabilitated.
The Center Square/Hudson Park Historic District is a harmonious collection of diverse nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century urban architecture. The district is predominately residential, largely comprised of rowhouses, but there are also six churches, various office and service buildings, and a few industrial buildings. A wide variety of eclectic architectural styles are represented including Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, High Victorian Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Richardsonian Romanesque, Second Renaissance Revival, and Georgian Revival. Some of the buildings in the district are unique designs with an architectural sophistication comparable to that found in Boston's Back Bay and New York City's West Side. Architects whose designs are found in the district include William Hodgens, Marcus I. Reynolds, Albert Fuller, Charles G. Odgen, Ernest Hoffman, Alexander Selkirk, Worthington Palmer, and Earle L. Kempton. However, most buildings in the district represent more conservative approaches to construction, illustrating how the successive eclectic styles were interpreted by ordinary builders.
Although the city of Albany dates from the seventeenth century, the area comprising this district did not develop until Albany's nineteenth-century expansion and prosperity. Scattered examples of late Federal period architecture survive, but most of the approximately 1,200 buildings in the district were erected between 1845 and 1920. Albany was a small city with a population of less than 13,000 in 1820. Following the opening of the Erie Canal in 1925 the city grew rapidly, becoming an important transportation transfer point as well as a major lumber and grain distributing center. By 1840, Albany's population had risen to about 33,000 and it was to attain 62,000 in 1865 and 90,000 in 1880.
The earliest settlement in the district was on its hilltops. State Street and Lydius (now Madison Avenue) were the first to receive scattered structures. A few of these still exist including a two and one-half story frame house at 321 State Street erected in 1837 and the Alfred Conckling House at 353 Madison Avenue (erected in 1827, third story added about 1920).
In the 1840's the city's prosperity allowed the Ruttenkill Creek to be filled from Hawk to Lark Streets and from Madison Avenue to State Street; housing began to be erected along the newly created streets. In contrast to earlier free-standing buildings in the district, rows of speculator-built, attached houses were frequently erected after 1845. After this date even individual houses were generally rowhouses.
Maps of 1857, 1876 and 1891 show that the area developed steadily. The builders or speculators active in the district included businessmen, carpenter-builders, and small investors who financed the construction of their own homes and an adjacent rental property or two. Buildings along a street were not the product of one builder, but were erected, in varying styles and of differing materials by numerous persons over a span of years.
Often one person was responsible for several rows of buildings erected at various times. For instance William Bender, a prosperous merchant, who lived in the district at 285 Lark Street, had 289-297 Lark Street erected in 1857, 288-300 Lark Street in 1876, and 299-301 Lark Street in 1864. James W. Baton, a builder who had been superintendant of construction for the New York State Capitol building and who had been the mason for the construction of Westminister Church (in the district at 262 State Street, built in 1861-1862; William Hodgens, architect), built 163-165 Chestnut Street in 1874-1876, 343-345 State Street in 1876 and 204-220 Lancaster Street in 1889.
The district contains simple dwellings for working class families as well as more elaborate homes for the middle class and wealthy. Also during the nineteenth century it had several breweries, a soap factory, blacksmith shops, lumber dealers, and similar enterprises. Isolated industrial buildings remain.
Proximity to the romantically landscaped Washington Park (created after 1869) immediately to the west of the district and to the new State Capitol building erected between 1869 and 1898 near the northeast corner of the district made State Street a very fashionable place to reside and wealthy Albanians built lavish homes along it in a variety of high-style architectural modes. By 1696 residents of practically every State Street house in the district were included in Albany's Society List.
The area south of Elm Street remained vacant longer than elsewhere in the district. Growth here was probably inhibited by the sloping terrain, by the partial isolation due to the ravine to the south, and by distance from the center of the city and from streetcar lines. By 1866, the Beaver Creek ravine had become a public park but its slow improvement prevented it from being a growth catalyst like the earlier Washington Park.
In the early twentieth century the character of the neighborhood began to change. Several large apartment buildings were erected and gradually many of the single family homes were divided into apartments. The Alfred E. Smith State Office Building was begun in 1926 at the northwest earner of South Swan and State Streets. While the concrete highrise with setbacks is an interesting building in the Art Deco style, other subsequent office buildings erected in the district are undistinguished architecturally and are considered intrusions.
Major Bibliographical References
Albany Illustrated. Albany: Argus Co., no date.
Anderson Notter Associates, Draft for the Hudson Park Neighborhood Study, 1975. Typewritten. In files of the Historic Albany Foundation, Albany, N.Y. (H.A.F.)
T. Robins Brown, "Brief History of the Hudson Park Neighborhood" and "Analysis of Architectural Styles in Hudson Park, 1976. Typewritten. In files of H.A.F.
T. Robins Brown, "Walking Tour of Residential State Street," prepared for Historic Albany Foundation, no date (1974). Typewritten. In files of H.A.F.
Historic Albany Foundation, Inc. Two Historic Neighborhoods: A Guided Walk through Hudson Park and Center Square. Albany; Historic Albany Foundation, July 1976.
Historic Albany. Foundation, Inc. Draft of Walking Tour of Residential State Street, 1976. Typewritten. In files of H.A.F.
Historic Albany Foundation, Inc. and Center Square Association, "A New Look at Old Albany." brochure for house tour June 5, 1976.
G. R. Howell and Tenney, History of the County of Albany, NY. Albany: W.W. Munsell, 1886.
Hopkins, City Atlas of Albany, New York. Philadelphia: Hopkins, 1876. "Map of the City of Albany," 0. Steele, 1837.
"Map of the City of Albany," survey by J.C. Sidney. New York: M. Dripps, 1850.
"Map of the City of Albany ..." surveyed and drawn by E. Jacob. Albany: Spague & Co.,1857.
Lewis J. Miller Building Code, Laws and Ordinances, Albany, NY. Albany: J.B. Lyon, 1903.
Joel Mussell, Annals of Albany, vol. 6, 1855; vol. 10, 1859.
Amasa J. Parker, ed. Landmarks of Albany County, NY. Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., 1897.
H. P. Phelps, The Albany Hand-Book for 1881. Albany: H.F. Phelps, 1880.
Scarlett and Van Wagoner, Fire Map of Albany. New York, vol. 2. Albany: Scarlett & Van Wagoner, 1891.
Arthur J. Weise, The History of the City of Albany, NY. Albany: E. H. Bender, 1884.
Building-Structure Inventory of Center Square conducted by the City of Albany, Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Center Square Association, 1974-76. On file with N.Y.S. Office of Parks and Recreation, Albany, NY.
Building-Structure Inventory of Hudson Park conducted by the Historic Albany Foundation, Inc. assisted by the Junior League of Albany, 1975-76. On file with N.Y.S. Office of Parks and Recreation, Albany, NY .