Monthly Archives: April 2009

Spring at last

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Or maybe summer. The furnace was on Friday morning, it was in the low 40s, and then the next day it was in the 80s and almost too hot. But a weekend with three days of cycling can’t be too bad, especially when one of those days was tooling around with my daughter through my hometown haunts, including the first trip to Jumpin’ Jack’s of the season. (Funny that I really wouldn’t think to drive all the way to Jumpin’ Jack’s, a pretty long trip from home, but I end up there on my bike several times a summer.) Got some gardening done, too. Having spent thousands to have a small forest removed from my postage-stamp lot, I lost my mind and planted a tree yesterday. Have always wanted a magnolia and last autumn’s shrubicidal episode left a massive stretch of front yard unvegetated. So now there’s a tender young magnolia relying on the kindness of strangers (or at least a soaker hose) baking in the sun on the corner of the lot, surrounded by a satanic star arrangement of overpriced fescue. And all the other stuff from the other gardens is getting transplanted to make room for vegetables, because there’s just nothing better than fresh food from the garden. It’ll be lovely, I assure you.

Culinary hints

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These days it seems there’s just about no dish that isn’t improved by adding a little onion and mushroom to it. We now go through more onions and mushrooms in a week than we used to in three or four months. In our fifth decade we’re finally figuring out how to cook. Better late than never, I guess.

National Savings Bank

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National Savings Bank

At Howard and South Pearl Streets, the magnificent old National Savings Bank tower (and the much less magnificent corner of a modern parking garage).

This nearly unnoticed beauty that anchors the key intersection of State and Pearl Streets is the work of Marcus T. Reynolds, whose mark on Albany endures in a number of important buildings but who is most noted for the Delaware and Hudson Railroad headquarters, now the central administration building of the State University of New York.

This is shown reflected in the glassy anonymity of the IBM building across Pearl Street.

Would you believe?

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The find of the week at our wonderful library: DVDs of the first season of “Get Smart,” the brilliant Mel Brooks/Buck Henry spy spoof that channeled the angst of the Cold War period into deadpan silliness. It is amazing how well these shows hold up, in script, humor and production values (by the way, I never even knew these shows were in color, having delayed the introduction of color TV into our lives until sometime in the ’90s). As we watched, the girls were howling with laughter at the obvious but unavoidable jokes, the slapstick, the endless things in which phones were hidden, and, of course, the “Cone of Silence.” Also – Barbara Feldon. I mean, seriously.


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It was one of those things that happens sometimes, a random comment that, when thought through, makes me realize how little I know about something. Some local urban explorers have gone through the Central Warehouse, a hulking old cold storage facility and urban eyesore anchoring the north end of the waterfront district at Colonie and Montgomery streets. I had always wanted to see what was inside this old mess and of course had been afraid to find out, but a building that has a rail line directly into it – and not on the ground floor – is inherently interesting to me. Their efforts were noted over at the All Over Albany site, and I suggested, not entirely in jest, that they should put the old Bab-O factory next on their list. This instigated a little bit of back and forth, as the younger generation apparently has no idea what Bab-O is (and reaching for a similar product, I could only come up with just-as-antiquated Ajax, Comet or Old Dutch. I guess they still make Cameo because that’s the brand at my sink). Bab-O was a nationally known brand of kitchen cleanser, an abrasive scrubbing powder. Still not a surprise that folks don’t remember it, as I was recently shocked to learn that you can’t find Spic ‘n’ Span anymore – at least not in the powder form that actually cleaned things. Listen, Swiffers are convenient, but they don’t clean much.

Then I had to ask, how did I know that old hulk was the Bab-O factory? It wasn’t a memory from my youth; I didn’t grow up in Albany, and there was no signage that I could see anywhere (unlike the effusive, and mislocated, Greenbush Tape & Label building next door). Did some digging through the hard drive and found a reference to a plan for a living history site in that section of Albany, which I vaguely remembered as having some industrial history of the building. Unfortunately, the link is broken, and the report gone, as far as I can tell. But I specifically remember that it identified the building as the former Bab-O factory. That alone should have been enough to set off a firestorm of Googling that will unlock the history of the building in about five minutes. But it didn’t. There’s a lot of interesting history associated with Bab-O, but little of it to do with the building on Broadway.

Bab-O was one of many products of B.T. (Benjamin Talbot) Babbitt, a soap manufacturer who established his company in New York City in 1836 (after a previous stint as a engine and pump manufacturer in Little Falls). A quick run through the New York Times archives shows a run of articles involving a major embezzlement from his company around 1877, and a further swindle at the hands of a “lady detective” a short time later.

Because I love nothing more than 19th century industrial boosterism, I have to quote from Bishop’s “A History of American Manufactures, from 1608 to 1860,” p. 615, in the chapter titled “Remarkable Manufactories of New York”:

“The Soap and Candle Makers of New York are among the most enterprising of her manufacturers. Believing, as Leibig asserts, that the quantity of Soap consumed by a nation is no inaccurate measure whereby to estimate its wealth and civilization, the firms of J. C. Hull’s Sons, Colgate, Enoch Morgan’s Sons, Babbitt, Hay, Pyle, Brown, and Fay, are doing their utmost to place America in the first rank of the wealthy and highly civilized nations of the globe. One of these houses (B. T. Babbitt) has a gigantic Soap Kettle 63 feet in circumference and 15 feet deep (said to be the largest in the world), which has a capacity to make 250 tons of curd soap at one time. The cost of the grease alone for a single charge is about $20,000.”

Alas, I know that Babbitt himself died in 1889, that he left his wife and daughter quite well off, and that the company was sold to the Mendleson Corporation in 1918. I know that their New York property, 46-50 West Street and running through to 76 to 82 Washington Street, was made available for “modern skyscrapers” in 1910; the corporate headquarters moved uptown and the factory to, of course, New Jersey. Indications of the Albany factory are scant – an officer who was a president of the Albany chapter of the National Assn. of Cost Accountants in 1927, a Times headline from 1964: “B.T. Babbitt Set to Move Business Unit to Albany.” Not much else. Babbitt himself is buried in scenic Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx. His Albany factory, most likely built long after his death, still stands. Anybody else know anything about it?

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From Broadway

Fourth Avenue view

Speaking of “fail”

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Used and new? Ugghhhh. . .It’s possible I’m going to have to go uptown to meet my man, ’cause I am desperately short of ginger Altoids. I’ve only got a couple of intractable vices, and ginger Altoids is one of them. I’m not planning on living without them, and they’ve gotten harder and harder to find. With Rite-Aid being the only local place that carries them anymore, I’m forced to go online – but on Amazon, I’m faced with the offer of both new and used Altoids. Ugh.

In other addiction news, the coffee grinder is missing a blade. So, one, how did we lose a blade and not notice it? It had to have ended up in the coffee. Did we drink a knife blade, and is it now settled into our intestines, waiting for the moment when we make a fatal yawn or the final hiccup? And, two, is it kinda grinding okay with only the one blade? I swear I’m so suggestible about these things that I think I feel a little piece of metal at the back of my throat. I need a ginger Altoid to clear the taste.

College marketing fail

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Listen, Little Liberal Arts College, if you even want your sales pitch to reach my exceptionally gifted daughter’s field of view, you’d do best to remove the picture of the skateboarding student from the front of your brochure. I mean, if you’re not even going to try to impress us, why not just be honest and put a picture of a bong on the cover? At a projected tuition of around $4 million a year, I’m not looking for a place that’s cool for skateboarding. Fail.

Parental fail

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Since I’m pretty sure I was taught to use a bottle opener as part of my general service as beer-fetcher and opener no later than the age of 6, I confess that it must be a major parental fail on my part that my 12-year-old is struggling with the very concept of getting a bottle cap off of a bottle of sparkling cider. She probably doesn’t even know how to empty and clean ashtrays the morning after a party, either.


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Woke up this morning with the Beach Boys’ understated classic “Wendy” in my head, inexplicably, and a troll in my bed, more explicably. Oh, like people don’t hide trolls in each other’s underwear (and ice cream boxes) in your house.