Back to Metroland's Home Page!
 Columns & Opinions
   The Simple Life
   Myth America
 News & Features
   This Week's Review
   The Dining Guide
 Cinema & Video
   Weekly Reviews
   The Movie Schedule
   Listen Here
   Art Murmur
   Night & Day
   Event Listings
   View Classified Ads
   Place a Classified Ad
   Online Personals
   Place A Print Ad
 About Metroland
   Where We Are
   Who We Are
   What We Do
   Work For Us
   Place An Ad
Photo: Teri Currie

Home Sweet Hacienda
In Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood, there sits a mysterious and enchanting community of Depression-era Winchester houses

By Kate Sipher

I love the Southwest. Can’t get enough of it. And when I relocated to this area from Albuquerque, N.M., what I missed most were green chilies and the peach-pink hue of its landscape—geographically and architecturally.

My first home in that high-desert dream-world was a spunky short-spired stucco number with curved red tiles like those captured in photos of Mediterranean domiciles. Tiles were a main part of the Southwestern-style theme (“Southwestern-style” being the punch line to a joke that would send me and my friends into fits of laughter, as it’s a term utilized to sell the folksy image of the area, even when referring to a flaw—we had a “Southwestern-style” hole in our wall, for example). Tiles were inside, outside, on the chimney, on the floor—and it added to the mythology that the mysterious region holds its inhabitants in a sort of magical trance.

So, when wandering around my mother’s Pine Hills neighborhood after moving back, I nearly cried when I stumbled upon an Albuquerque doppelganger. In this little enclave tucked behind the Madison Theatre (just one screen back then)—composed of a mix of Dutch colonial, colonial and Victorian architecture—sat a whole block filled with my beloved desert dwellings. Those pastel-colored stucco homes with those red-tiled roofs that I had left behind welcomed me.

As I was too poor to buy or rent one, I moved to Arbor Hill and got on with my Northeastern-style life, embedding myself further by buying a brownstone a few years later. I would pass those houses occasionally, and others that huddled in clumps throughout the Albany area, but they were still as mysterious as the arid region they seemed to migrate from.

It was through my circle of friends that I came to learn the history behind those houses, as Dan and Larry Winchester (Dan of knotworking, the DelMars and Looks Great Sportswear; Larry of Coal Palace Kings, Crabapple and Looks Great Sportswear) were descendents of the man who built them. It was their great uncle Dan H. Winchester, and he named them Winchester Gables.

The history behind Dan the elder is full of quirky tales about a child genius. As a tot, I’m told, he was constantly inventing and creating new things, and one story has it that in order to finish a tower he was building in the backyard, he got on the horn and requested samples from various companies. His parents were surprised to learn that the building-supply salesman at their front door was there to see little Danny.

In 1928, Winchester, who was a major part of his family’s printing business (JB Lyons Co.), embarked on his vision to create a community of Spanish-inspired bungalows (an architecture style popular in California, the Southwest and Florida in the ’20s and ’30s). He bought some undeveloped land—Hansen and Woodlawn avenues, bordered by South Main Avenue and Erie Street—laid out 60 sites, and began construction.

He boasts like a proud father in his brochures, which were created to inform the home-buying public about Winchester Gables: “On both sides of Woodlawn and Hansen avenues sixty beautiful bungalows of Spanish architecture with artistic and unique design are being built with patios, minarets, quaint outside chimneys, painted shutters and balconies.” It continues, “There will be no monotone—no monotonous sameness in that aspect. Each bungalow is refreshingly different from its neighbor.”

Buyers could choose brick, stucco or wood shingles as their exterior material, and a smart buyer would choose the sunken living room option, which created a roomy effect when joined with the room’s high arched ceilings. Important to those buying one-story homes, it would seem. (Actually, I know this. The people I spoke to who have lived in a Winchester home mentioned this exact feature.)

Scads of wall space is another boasted feature for each of the six large rooms of the house. For example, under the Dining Room heading: “As in all high class homes this room is accessible both from living room and kitchen. Large pieces of furniture can be placed on either of three walls. Windows throughout the homes are of steel, equipped with screens. Radiation located under windows.”

The bedrooms? “Spacious bedrooms are a feature in Winchester Gables Bungalows. Walls are insulated to insure cool sleeping quarters in the summer and warmth in winter. Wall decorations may be had in Texture, Paper, or Paint.”

Photo: Teri Currie

The list goes on and on. Numerous electric outlets, roomy closets—“all constructed so ingeniously that none of the spaciousness of the rooms is sacrificed”—additional bedrooms for an added cost, modern kitchen equipment.

“Finished in a beautiful color scheme, has a wainscoting four feet high of Keene cement,” the booklet says about the kitchen. “There is a full enameled gas range and spacious built-in cupboards with sink. Room is provided for Electric Refrigeration with electrical connection.”

And, leave it to a guy to come up with this, it seems the basement puts the inferred gleam in Winchester’s eye. “Light, airy and dry [and] of a height that will permit the construction of a billiard room, play room, den or maid’s quarters with bath. . . . A coal bin is conveniently located. Laundry tubs are furnished with a platform.” And the garage is heated.

These weren’t words intended to simply lure bodies into houses. Winchester meant them, and proved it by living in one himself. Three of his four brothers also bought homes on the block. All in all, 27 homes were built, and the remaining undeveloped portions were sold off in the ’40s.

What makes this cluster of houses unique today is that they don’t often exchange hands, which helps keep them unchanged. Many of the homes still have the wrought-iron lighting fixtures, steel casement windows, arched doorways and wood-burning fireplaces, all of which are unusual for homes of this age. Many of the neighborhood’s houses built in other styles have been sectioned up, reworked, and would be unrecognizable to an original owner.

My friend Karen Hudacek bought a Winchester home roughly five years back, and she was only the fourth person to own that home. Many of her neighbors have either lived in their Winchester homes for years or passed them down through the generations, and if they resemble hers at all, they’ve maintained much of their initial luster. The arched windows, the arched doorways, those roofs—they’re all still there, as they were when a pint of Winchesters lived in them.

Hudacek wasn’t even in the market for a single-family home when she bought it. But, when it was listed, she leapt at the opportunity. “They never went on the market,” she says in explanation of her purchase.

I’m not in the market for a single-family home, either, but one day I’ll be financially liquid enough to dwell in one. I wouldn’t even mind a Southwestern-style hole in the wall.

Send A Letter to Our Editor
Back Home Dogs
promo 120x60
120x60 Up to 25% off
Copyright © 2002 Lou Communications, Inc., 4 Central Ave., Albany, NY 12210. All rights reserved.