Thursday, January 12, 2017

22 Blocks in Schenectady

Over the past year, there has been a lot of new research on Albany's "neighborhood that dissapeared." The 98 acre area that was torn down in the early 1960s and replaced by the Empire State Plaza. In a recent blog post (, I learned that Schenectady had it's own lost neighborhood during an urban renewal project in the 1940s and 50s, the 22-block urban renewal project. This project was named for the 22 blocks around City Hall that would potentially be redeveloped to create more off-street parking, new street arrangements, and areas for business and residential use. The reasons for redeveloping this area were similar to the reasons for redeveloping the Empire State Plaza. The area was seen as a slum with tenement housing that wasn't bringing the city enough tax revenue. According to Christopher Patrick Spencer's thesis Shovel Ready: Razing Hopes, History, and a Sense of Place: Rethinking Schenectady's Downtown Strategies, the project evolved over time. The city initially wished to get more tax revenue from downtown, but as time went on the project changed to adhere to state and federal grant programs that required the area to be used for business and restricted use on residential projects. 

The 1948 Comprehensive City Plan included maps of the suggested redevelopment
and existing development of the 22-block. The suggested redevelopment plan
shows a neighborhood that includes 3 story row apartments, an expanded
business district, and a plan for garden apartments. In order to get federal and state funding
the city decided to go with a plan that did not include any residential use in the neighborhood.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Collection.
An article in the May 24, 1946 issue of the Schenectady Gazette refers to a New York State survey on the needs of current residents of the 22-block area. They were looking at what sort of rent residents were paying, which businesses were located in the area, housing and family conditions. The survey was an attempt to see what sort of needs residents would want in a new housing development, but residents in this area did not want to be relocated or for their houses to be destroyed. In a meeting on February 26, 1947, residents of the fourth ward of Schenectady accused the city of lowering the assessed value of property in the 22-block. One resident stated that "We're not interested in the Town of Tomorrow--we're interested in this 22-block, our homes are in it. Our livelihood is in it." Director of traffic and city planning, Arthur Blessing, defended the 22-block plan saying that the plan was necessary in order to centralize Schenectady's business district and relieve traffic congestion.
Photo of the what used to be Johnson St. and Terrace Pl. in the 22-block area in 1956.
City Hall can be seen in the background. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection

Some of the buildings set to be razed in the ten-year urban renewal plan.
From the January 14, 1947 issue of the Schenectady Gazette.
Courtesy of
By 1947, the plan for housing development in the 22-block was scrapped and Mayor Ten Eyck stated that "as soon as conditions permit, the substandard tenements and buildings in the 22-block area will be razed. The land will be sold to private industry with the covenant that the land may not be used for residential purposes." This land was to be left undeveloped for new businesses and industries to build and create taxable revenue for the city. It wasn't documented where all the residents of 22-block ended up, but some of them were relocated to Yates Village and other Municipal Housing Authority projects around the city, some of which was over two miles from their homes in downtown Schenectady.
Construction of Yates Village in 1949 where some of the 22-block residents
would end up relocating to. Courtesy of the
Grems-Doolittle Library's photo collection.

Demolition of a house on Terrace Place in the 22-block in 1957.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection. 

Early Rendition of the Union Station Plaza included in the 22-Block Urban Renewal Plan.
From the January 14, 1947 issue of the Schenectady Gazette. Courtesy of
Early renditions of the 22-block project (shown above included a plaza with a monument, green space, and tunnels underneath for traffic. The rendition bears a resemblance to the Empire State Plaza with City Hall on one side of the plaza, and a new train station on the other. Construction of the plaza never came to fruition and the land remained undeveloped for years. Only one developer came forward with a plan to develop the area in 1959, Lewis Empire-Plaza inc. They promised to put 10 million dollars into the development which included shopping areas, offices, and parking lots. Unfortunately, the company defaulted on its taxes and the City of Schenectady repossessed the land in 1963. There has been some development in the 22-block area since the initial razing of buildings and houses, but nothing like the initial renderings and hopes of those involved with the project. An article in the March 6, 1963 by Art Isabel stated, "Just about everything that could go wrong with an urban renewal and urban development project did in Schenectady."

There is a lot more to this story that can't be covered in a single blog post. For more information check out Christopher Patrick Spencer's thesis which you can find on the Schenectady Digital History Archive.

No comments:

Post a Comment