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Fit for the Bard

Historic Albany Foundation shines a spotlight on Albany’s block of Tudor-style houses—and their uncertain future

by Ann Morrow on June 28, 2013

 

Shakespeare would’ve loved these houses. The Elizabethan playwright with a flair for the fantastical would undoubtedly have recognized their style as from his own time, but also, it’s easy to imagine, he would’ve been charmed by the whimsy of their flourishes, which include lead-strip spider webs in the casement windows, delightfully unsymmetrical brickwork, and limestone cobbles and roughened wood intended to give an appearance of hand-hewn construction. “The Leonard Tudors” as they’re known, are six mid-1930s residences atop a hillock on Holland Avenue in Albany that comprise a little-known streetscape of Elizabethan-era style architecture.

“They are comprehensive in their suggestion of medieval times,” says Kimberly Konrad Alvarez. “I love the crests and shields in the windows, and the fake-iron peep-windows in the doors.”

Alvarez and Opalka in front of one of the Leonard Tudors/photo by Ann Morrow

On Wednesday, June 19, Alvarez led a walking tour of the Tudors for Historic Albany Foundation. A board member of HAF with extensive historic preservation planning experience, Alvarez pointed out the houses’ picturesque high points; from the half-timber panels over stucco (meant to suggest plaster and daub) that is the most recognizable feature of Tudor Revival, to their more unusual features, such as rounded, tower-like entrances and dramatic copper window canopies. The tour followed a lecture by Albany city historian Tony Opalka, who described the long and unconventional life of the houses’ designer and builder, Jesse Leonard. Leonard built over 200 houses in Albany, but the first Tudor on Holland he built for himself. Though Tudor Revival was a popular style in the 1920s and 30s, second only to Colonial Revival, there are relatively few in Albany, and it’s not known what suddenly inspired Leonard, then in his 70s, to build a block of them.

HAF had to turn people away after the tour, which was sold out in advance, and the 30 or so attendees for the lecture-walking tour expressed concern for the houses, which have been on HAF’s endangered list since they became vacant five years ago. The houses are owned by Picotte Companies; that the commercial real-estate company hasn’t put them up for sale fueled speculation that they may be sold as a parcel for development. Among the tour attendees was former Albany Assemblyman Jack McEneny, who helped to answer questions afterward.

As the tour illustrated, the significance of the Leonard Tudors is in the abundance and quality of their Tudor features, from the graduating size of the slate tiles, giving the optical illusion of a thatched roof, to faux-iron strap hinges, right down to the “pegs” of the timbering. The interiors (viewed from outside) have “great hall” style open-floor plans with fieldstone hearth fireplaces, and also, as shown in photos from Opalka’s lecture, Art Deco tile bathrooms.

“You do see Tudor influences around, but these are much more high style,” he explains. “Leonard had a wealth of experience he amassed as a builder, and many interesting pursuits. As a group of residences, they are unique in the city.”

“Leonard knew what he was doing,” says Alvarez. “The large amount of stone, the variety of materials, are reflective of the style, but he took it to another level—it’s really creative. They’re in wonderful condition,” she adds, “These are quality-built residences.” The tour was part of a priority effort by HAF to raise awareness of their significance. As to the Tudors’ uncertain future, Alvarez says, “We’re having a dialogue. HAF wants them protected, one way or another.”