October 1, 2013
New Yorkers are funny; they always have me laughing, or at least shaking my head.
After landing at the Albany airport on a quiet, sunny Sunday afternoon I let the GPS direct me onto a backwoods route to my hotel. Nearing a rural roadside craft sale, held in a barn, I saw a sign warning to watch for pedestrians. Then I noticed a petite Asian woman on the side of the road ready to cross. Seeing no crosswalk but figuring that New York pedestrian right-of-way laws were very strict, I stopped my car completely and motioned for her to cross. She hesitantly approached the edge of the road, then set her feet and tilted her head at such an angle that she could both look down and sideways at me at the same time. I checked my mirrors; mine was the only car in sight in either direction. I waved my hand again. She tensed ever so slightly at the invitation, but finally declined and just stood there, motionless, looking down, refusing to place one foot on the asphalt. Apparently New Yorkers are not a trusting breed. I conceded the stand-off to her and drove on by.
Welcome to New York.
The next morning in downtown Albany I saw a woman’s transmission fail in the middle of an uphill street. She was trying to climb the hill but each time she shifted into ‘Drive’ and hit the gas the car merely rolled further backwards downhill. Wishing to help, my first instinct was to look around for someone who might have access to a pay phone. (I must have very old instincts. People have cell phones now and can call their own tow trucks.) I noticed a middle-aged woman having a smoke outside the courthouse door and shouted to her, “Could you please call a tow truck?” She gaped at me, pointed at her chest and mouthed indignantly, “ME? You want ME to call?” Apparently I had broken the Sacred Law of the Street. Since the whole scene was comically absurd I drifted away shaking my head and laughing.
Welcome to New York.
The previous bit of pseudo-drama took place outside the new Albany County Judicial Center, across the street from the old county courthouse. The new building is a four-story brick structure with an underground entrance for defendants and such. All sorts of suits stood outside, exiled to the sidewalk for needing to smoke.
The old courthouse next door is more ornate and even has a special entrance for “G.A.R.” members. (The G.A.R. was the “Grand Army of the Republic”, an association of Union Civil War Veterans.)
Albany has a long history. European settlement began with Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage up the river which carries his name, looking for the fabled northwest passage to the Indies. It was at this point that the Hudson River became too narrow for him to continue and forced him to turn back downstream.
That was four hundred years ago. Ages have gone by. Today Albany is a collection of distinct parts each associated with specific periods of time.
The oldest part of Albany is along the Hudson River where I found some Dutch architecture:
The state government buildings comprise the next part of town. Albany became the permanent New York State Capital in 1797. The Capitol building itself was completed in the 1870s and looks like a European palace. The statue in front is of Union Civil War hero (and Albany native) General Philip Sheridan.
The Classical columns on the building across the street from the Capitol make it look like a judicial building, but it’s not. This is the New York State Department of Education.
The building’s classical columns suggest that New York Education occupies the place Justice occupied in classical thought. Considering that these are the offices of the bureaucracy, that’s a very scary thought.
The administrative offices of SUNY (the State University of New York) are in an equally grandiose building at the foot of State Street. It’s too large to fit into one photograph. The Gothic towers are remarkable:
The word “education” is derived from the Latin and means “to raise up from within.” By the two examples above it seems that the State of New York has built a grand central administration whose purpose can only be to “push down from above”, i.e. indoctrinate.
Moving on to the private sector, the next part of Albany is the Pearl Street commercial district. Many of these structures date from the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. Prominent towers and intricately carved red sandstone were the hallmark of this age. The buildings were purposely ostentatious and opulent yet beautiful; they are still beautiful today.
On the building below the corner offices have alcoves jutting over the streets. That’s the Gilded Age’s way of saying, “let me be part of the city and as close as possible to it while still enjoying my comforts.” These days the Pearl Street Pub occupies the ground floor of this old block.
Next is an old residential area above the state Capitol, now occupied mainly by professionals. These are townhouses across from a city park. Many have intricately painted trim. Most have bay windows on the second floor:
These townhouses could be mistaken for the Greenwich Village walk-ups found in Manhattan 150 miles downstream:
Finally, in some mistaken vision of the future, Albany shows you the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza — a group of buildings which include four identical (and identically ugly) concrete towers, a tilted mushroom-type thing, and two stumpy 4-story buildings serving as bookends. The Plaza is integrated with the State Capitol across the street and houses various government agencies of the State of New York:
Here’s the “tilted mushroom” building I mentioned, separated from the concrete towers by a wide pedestrian area. I didn’t bother to look up its real name or purpose. I don’t want to know.
The Plaza was the idea of Governor Nelson Rockefeller (Republican) who was served as New York Governor during the 1960s and U.S. Vice President under Gerald Ford in the mid-1970s. Rockefeller led the patrician wing of the Republican Party whose adherents at that time were known, unsurprisingly, as “Rockefeller Republicans.”
These days Rockefeller Republicans are called “RINOs”. No one likes them. In New York and elsewhere they are responsible for great government edifices just as domineering as those of the Education bureaucracy, which is dominated by the Democratic Party. The Rockefellers intend their efforts to be unique and inspiring, yet like the tilted mushroom they just leave me shaking my head.
A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.