Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Union Station

The Times Union website is reporting that Bank of America will consolidate its Albany offices to the State Street building and move out of Kiernan Plaza (formerly, Union Station) early next year. Every time I think of the building I wish the inside were accessible to the general public in some context consistent with downtown Albany's recent attempts at drawing people in instead of forcing them out. Mayor Jennings was quoted in the article: "My feeling is that it should be a part of our downtown rebirth...It's a beautiful building, inside and out." Also, "It's an opportunity for us to make it part of the city...It was kind of closed up." It is a good sign to hear the mayor apparently has such a sentiment and it would be wonderful if a plan could actually be developed and financed within the next century to ensure the building's life continues and becomes even more relevant.

The few photos I've seen of the interior of the building show that it is architecturally stunning, refined, and continues to reap the benefits of its renovation in 1986. Times change and so does the methodology that goes along with dealing with cities' aging infrastructures. In 1968, when Union Station closed as a transportation hub in favor of Amtrak's new rail station across the Hudson in Rensselaer, the building lay vacant and subject to the demise so much of Albany suffered during the same period: eviction, vacancy, demolition, and, in many cases, vacant lots for years before rehabilitation. Thankfully, this building never reached demolition as people began to wise up to the values of reusing such architectural gems. Norstar bought the property after years of vacancy, vandalism, and general lack of maintenance which made Union Station an eyesore. The building was renovated and rechristened as Peter Kiernan Plaza as Norstar bank moved in for its headquarters. Norstar became Fleet Bank and Bank of America has been there for a few years. As bank headquarters go, I guess security is a reasonably important thing. A couple years ago, on a weekend excursion downtown with my camera, my fiance and I wondered if one could simply walk in and possibly see the lobby or some part of the interior of the building from the entrance in back, by the parking garage, in the old area where passengers boarded the trains to New York, Boston, Chicago, etc. Two guards rather rudely made us leave and looked at us as if we were from outer space for wanting to go inside the building.

This would be a tremendous opportunity for Union Station, a wonderful relic of Broadway's past in Albany, to show off all of what it was built to show off. Reuse as "mixed use" (retail, convention, residential, etc.,) as Mayor Jennings suggested is a great idea, but any idea which would boast the building being a public asset and not another sign of holed-up elite (government or corporate) would further the tradition this building and Norstar began in the early eighties when they went against the grain by simply saving the building. Some quarter of a century later, it is time to show our maturation as a city by giving this building back to its rightful owners, the citizens of Albany, and show it off to those coming through Albany to visit, as they did for so many years when their trains arrived and departed from Union Station.


  1. Where was the rail station in Albany before Union Station? Where did Lincoln arrive in 1861 and where did his funeral train arrive in 1865? I have been searching to no avail...

  2. Until passenger rail service moved out of Albany in the late 60s, the station prior to Union Station still existed right beside it and offered further platforms. It was Union Depot and was officially located on Montgomery Street between Maiden Lane and Steuben Street (east of the current location of the Dormitory Authority building. That original Union Depot was built in 1872.

    In 1861, Lincoln came from the west in route to Washington. He stopped in Albany at the New York Central's at-grade crossing over Broadway (just north of Livingston Ave. - still the current right-of-way but the viaduct was built in 1882.) William Kennedy reports in "O Albany!" that Lincoln had to wait half an hour to detrain because the twenty-fifth regiment was late. In 1865, Lincoln's coffin would have been going the other way - northbound - on the Hudson River Railroad and stopped in East Albany (Rensselaer) to unload the coffin. The Hudson rail crossing in existence at this time was still the Green Island Bridge to the north. The Hudson River Bridge at Albany (Livingston Ave. Bridge) was built in 1866. So, the coffin was unloaded and ferried across to Albany. The train would have continued north and crossed at Green Island, gone south to North Albany, while Lincoln's coffin would stop in the New York State Capitol building for viewing. It would reboard in Albany and the procession would have continued westward on the New York Central line up West Albany Hill (through Tivoli Hollow - current Amtrak/CSX alignment.)

    I recall reading once there was an actual station on Broadway at Livingston until Union Depot was built but I am unaware of any specifics.

  3. Why not reuse it as the main train station for Albany, instead of the new mini-mall that was built across the river. That new building is an insult. New tracks should be laid and Union Station should once again be used for trains. How about that for a revitalization of downtown.