Within gutted buildings surrounded by gaping holes, volunteers for Historic Albany Foundation are salvaging architectural elements for future reuse. Often just minutes ahead of the demolition crew, this fluctuating team of about 25 people have been hauling out cast-iron radiators, removing decorative windows, and prying loose hand-milled balusters from the 55 houses currently being demolished as part of Albany Medical Center’s Park South redevelopment project. The rescued objects are displayed for sale in HAF’s Parts Warehouse to make them available for replacement elements for historic-house rehabilitations or to be repurposed for new uses.
Earlier this week, standing amid what is looking more and more like a post-apocalyptic “ghost town,” Parts Warehouse manager Dan Pardee and artist Peter Leue, a former Parts manager, were carting away a vanload of newel posts and porcelain sinks. About 20 buildings have been salvaged so far.
“We’re saving things that can be made available to other people, things that were put in hand-cut, one nail at a time,” said Leue. “It’s that skill and craftsmanship that we are preserving as well.”
The vacated 19th-century houses contain many valuable original elements, such as fanlights, stair rails, antique hardware, and the old-fashioned fin radiators that are among the warehouse’s most in-demand items. Century-old horizontal-panel doors, said Leue, can be used for wainscoting.
As the layers of paint, wallpaper, and especially, street soot, are peeled away, said Leue, people’s lives through the years can be revealed in surprising ways. Pardee described an attic door with a latch “that some little kid, eons ago, was locked in, and they had written in chalk on the inside of it, ‘Eek! Help!’ ”
Some of the houses were “absolutely still usable” and some less so, the men agreed. “It’s really a shame about this building,” said Leue, pointing to 110-year-old Bolton Hall. “It’s solid, very viable. And it has very nice details inside, marble staircase treads, mahogany doors never painted . . . ” However, salvaging helps to mitigate the loss of the neighborhood, he said, and money from sales at the Parts Warehouse provides HAF with its operating budget.
“It’s our largest fundraising device,” said Pardee. Salvaged items from Park South’s eradicated houses “will act as an endowment for a long time to come.”