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Preservation Pioneers

Historic Albany Foundation’s Merit Awards Ceremony celebrated 40 years of helping to preserve 400 years of the city’s architectural history

by Ann Morrow on May 22, 2014


In a perfect convergence of event, venue, and organizations, on Friday (May 16), Historic Albany Foundation celebrated its 40th anniversary and Merit Awards ceremony at the Barn & Stage in Arbor Hill. Part of the Academy Lofts project that converted a severely dilapidated 1906 school into 22 loft living spaces for artists, the Barn’s newly opened performance venue in the old gymnasium displays strikingly minimalist design with remarkably efficient utilization of space. The two-floor venue features a wood-plank and metal staircase leading from the airy lobby to an upper gallery and balcony-style reception area, a 148-seat theater, and excellent sight lines from all areas. The Academy Lofts was one of the evening’s award winners for Adaptive Use.

photo by Ann Morrow

In addition to its “ingenuity and modern innovation,” part of the Barn’s recognition was for its revitalizing effect on the North Swan Street-Ten Broeck Triangle historic area, as it rescued the former St. Joseph’s Academy from the brink of demolition while restoring its exterior to the highest preservation standards possible (previously, the structure won a prestigious award from the Preservation League of New York State).

The 10-year conversion of the school, long considered a lost cause for its size and dereliction was also commended as a success story in the affordable-housing movement. The best part of the project, said Barn president Jeffrey Mirel, “is that 22 artists will go to bed here tonight and wake up tomorrow to do their art.” The award was applauded by an audience that included the school’s former principal.

Presented by HAF executive director Susan Holland, the ceremony opened with a presentation by Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who emphasized that “Our past is our pathway to the future,” and described how the 400-year history of Albany “tells the story of America.” Other winners included three row houses on Lexington Avenue, one of the city’s most distressed blocks, restored by the major repairs and devoted efforts of the Robinson family, which earned the Neighborhood Stabilization award. Also among the winners was a Sustainable Cities award for the Madison Theater for its refurbishment of the historic movie hall, a Stewardship award for Historic Cherry Hill for its 50 years of perseverance and dedication, and a Preservation Initiative award for the adaptive reuse of the former Sacred Heart church in Cohoes into an art studio and gallery by the House of Angels Renaissance Project.

The winner of the Elizabeth P. Griffin award for Preservation Leadership was William F. Allen, a past director of HAF and the founder of the Lark Street BID, who was commended—with his second award—for 30 years of professional and personal dedication to preservation efforts in Albany, including his own 19th-century home on Washington Avenue.