Monthly Archives: February 2010

Palace Marquee

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Palace theater marquee

Image by carljohnson via Flickr

When they designed the new Palace Theater marquee, they didn’t fool around. In fact, they went back to the source, the old Palace Theater marquee. It was run by various companies through the years, including Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) and Fabian, but the marquee remained the same for a long time.

That 1951 picture accompanied a Life Magazine article on how the movie industry was battling “T-V” by showing things such as live boxing matches. The cutline was “Crowds gather early for telecast at Fabian Palace Theater in Albany, N.Y., which seated 3,000 and turned away 3,000.” The battle between media was intense in those early days, as movies saw a precipitous drop in attendance as television spread throughout the land. “Last week NBC was at work on a plan to make its own movies from television shows and to release them in movie houses.” God help us, nothing has changed. But in the case of the marquee, that’s a good thing. (Because when it was changed, it looked like this.)

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So where was celluloid invented?

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First Plastic Marker DSC_6413

For years I’ve meant to get a picture of this marker, located next to a defunct Friendly’s restaurant not far from our old Albany neighborhood, where Southern Boulevard meets Delaware Avenue. The shopping plaza and the Friendly’s were brand new then, back in 1990, and I even had some vague memories of the big brick factory building that had been on the site just a couple of years before. home to the Albany Hyatt Billiard Ball Co. The marker proudly proclaims one of the least-known historic facts about Albany – that it was here that the first practical plastic, celluloid, was invented and developed into commercial products.

First Plastic
Celluloid – Invented 1868
by John Wesley Hyatt
First Use – Billiard Balls
Albany Billiard Ball Co.
The Plastics Pioneers Assoc.

While it has the appearance of an official Education Department historic marker, this was most likely a privately placed marker, perhaps installed when there was some controversy over the possible redevelopment of the site in the mid-’80s. Thanks to this marker, I’ve always been proud to know the location of the development of celluloid. Except, of course, that it’s wrong.

While the final version of the Albany Hyatt Billiard Ball Company manufactured at this distant location, in the late 1800s this was farmland, part of the town of Bethlehem and served by the Normansville post office. The closest thing to industry was a paper mill on the Normanskill. And the location of the factory isn’t the only cloudy part of this story.

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Mea culpa!

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Sorry to all the folks who took the time to comment and then wondered if I even cared. Your comment is very important to me. No, really it is. Not sure what Movable Type setting I had screwed up. It’s supposed to send me an email when there are comments pending, but I got nothing. Also, if you have trouble commenting, shoot me an email and let me know. It’s supposed to accept pretty much every ID system out there, and will even let you comment with just an email address. I’d turn off moderation, but you cannot believe how many spam comments I’m getting already.

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Corruption at the Capitol, 1910-style

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910 halfton
Tne New International Year Book, “A Compendium of the World’s Progress for the Year 1910,” provides a neat little summary of the complicated dealings of Senator Allds, highlighted yesterday when I wondered about the headlines being displayed by Lewis Wickes Hine’s Schenectady Newsies of 1910. The Allds scandal had it all: bribery, bridge and sugar beet interests, thousands stuffed into envelopes, uncovering of additional corruption, and guilty legislators who had the good grace to die before all this came to light. So, from precisely a century ago, the New International Year Book’s summary of the Trial of Senator Allds:

The death of Senator John Raines in 1909 made it necessary to choose a new leader of the Republican majority in the Senate. This leader, according to custom, is made president pro tempore of the body. In January the Republican caucus selected Senator Jotham P. Allds from Chenango county in the middle of the State. A small group of Republican Senators refused to act with the caucus on the ground of personal objection to Mr. Allds. The caucus selection was, however, duly chosen and installed. Shortly afterwards, a highly sensational statement appeared in the New York Evening Post charging Senator Allds with having received bribes, the statement being based upon accusations made by another Senator, Mr. Conger. The latter was connected with bridge companies . . .

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Schenectady newsies, Albany corruption: 1910

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Lewis Hine Schdy newsies 1910.jpg
It’s Schenectady’s turn. Apparently during his documentation of child labor in 1910, Lewis Wickes Hine visited the Electric City, too. Unfortunately, if he recorded the names of the boys he photographed, their names have been lost. These proud newsies, none of whom looks much older than 10, are hawking the Daily Union and the Evening Star. The Daily Union began in 1894; the Evening Star began in 1886. They would merge in 1911, not long after this picture was taken, as the Union-Star. The Union-Star, published evenings in a building on Clinton Street just behind the Schenectady Savings Bank, survived until 1969, when it moved out of town to Albany, merged with the Knickerbocker News and given a short lease on life.

I’m not sure of the location; it could be a lot of places, though I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s Jay Street. The upper story is taken up by an optical shop (perhaps an optometrist), offering lens grinding, “eyes tested” and “glasses fitted”. They’re also selling automobile goggles, still a necessity in the open top days. The lower story is a barber shop and shoe shine at which all shines were 5 cents. The news of the day included details on the loss of the French steamliner General Chanzy, which exploded off Minorca February 9, 1910, just over one hundred years ago, with a loss of 200 lives.

The headline on the Daily Union, “General Legislative Investigation,” gives both comfort and despair that nothing ever changes. This likely relates to investigations into the strange case of Senators Allds and Conger, who briefly occupied headlines across the state in early 1910. To judge from articles in the Times, Sen. Jotham P. Allds of Norwich had accepted a bribe from Senator Benn Conger of $1000 to kill a bill some nine years earlier, when he had been an Assemblyman. Apparently this emerged when Conger, notable as the president of the Corona Typewriter Company and holder of stock in a bridge company that would have been affected by the bill, was called upon to give his reasons for refusing to support now-Senator Allds for the position of President pro tempore of the Senate in 1910. Sen. Conger expressed the opinion that “that little business between ‘Jo’ and me was merely a flea bite compared to some of the things they pulled off in Albany in those days.” The New York Times would report that Speaker James W. Wadsworth, Jr., said, “The earnest hope was expressed by all that the Senate should so conduct the pending investigation as to free it from any suspicion of attempting to apply whitewash or of being influenced in the slightest degree by political pressure.” See? They don’t even have to change the copy from a century ago. Allds was found highly guilty and resigned to avoid expulsion. Conger resigned as well, so the politicians of the brave new century either had a little more class or some sense of shame once caught in their misdoings. The 21st century has little use, apparently, for such antiquated notions.
I’ll have more newsies soon, and Alco boys, too.

If you want more on Senator Allds, it’s here.

College: shiny and expensive

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Things I’ve learned from our ongoing tours of the finest scientific and technical institutions of the Northeast:

  • Classrooms no longer have wooden seats from before the Great War in which you desperately try to find a comfortable position after an hour’s recitation on the Finnish Resistance, only to find that an entire side of your body has gone to sleep and you are involuntarily groaning as you rearrange limbs.
  • We’ve seen professors eating in the student center. As if they existed outside the classroom. (This may be a trick played on prospective students.)
  • Pools and fitness centers at every campus are more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. (Ours was more like descending into the Grotto of Eternal Dank.)
  • The curriculum is back! Some courses are actually required, Eurocentric or not! (So take that, dead-white-men-hating hippies!)
  • At most schools, arts classes are no longer limited to arts majors. The technical schools even encourage that you use that other side of your brain now and then, and practice rooms are not reserved exclusively for music majors. (In fact, some dorms have rooms for schlep-free practicing).
  • There is coffee everywhere. This is a major and welcome change. In my day, there were two places on the Quad to get coffee, and it wasn’t possible to get through either of them in the 10 minutes between classes.
  • There is also food everywhere. Not sure if that’s good or not, but it’s certainly of a wider variety than we were offered. A bagel was considered exotic back then.
  • Bicycles are everywhere. It warms my heart. (Helmets, not so much, but who needs a helmet in the city, right?)
  • Colleges today actually care if you succeed. They even do things to make it happen. (So take that, student strike hippies!)
  • They not only care if you succeed, they seem to want you to get out and get jobs.
  • At the good schools,  job fairs attract real companies, the kind you hear mentioned on the stock report. At journalism school, our job fair attracted The Weekly Reader and Ranger Rick. And those were the good jobs.
  • Those stores are only selling bongs because of the student interest in materials science that makes heat-resistant glass. I’m so sure. And the hemp advocates are only looking out for the working farmer.
  • Unlike in my day, students are no longer limited to 10 hours of computer time per semester. I think that’s probably a good thing.

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