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Shall we dance? A ballroom and balcony in Troy’s John Scanlon Market Block.

Elegance Revisited

‘Hidden treasure” is a description that’s heard a lot in downtown Troy. On Saturday, when the Rensselaer County Historical Society holds its daylong Preservation Fair, another of the city’s rediscovered architectural wonders will be revealed to the public: the third floor of the Market Block, a historic, six-building complex occupying the corner of River and Third streets. The long-vacant third floor is composed of not one, not two, but three grand ballrooms, each of which would’ve been right at home in an antebellum mansion. The 20-foot-high ceilings are made from pressed tin in a flamboyant mix of patterns. The stems of vanished chandeliers dangle from decorative air vents. Rows of towering windows look out on the sky. The most interesting features are the two surviving orchestra balconies. One of the balconies sports fanciful plaster arches and pillars that seem only to lack the presence of crinoline hoop skirts and stovepipe top hats. The other balcony is shaped like a large opera box with carved-wood panels.

Despite some fire damage, property manager Monica Kurzejeski says the balcony makes her think of Benjamin Franklin and other white-wigged orators. Kurzejeski is supervising the rehabilitation of the Market Block for Troy developer John Hedley, who bought the complex last fall. If she seems to be waxing rather romantic for a real-estate manager, there’s a reason: The structure is not only being refitted for commercial use, it’s also being restored to as much of its former grandeur as possible. “This is new for us,” says Kurzejeski of the painstaking restoration, noting that Hedley’s development of Flanigan Square, and previous to that, Hedley Park Place, were gut-and-reconstruct jobs. The more challenging aim of the Market Block is to bring its capabilities into the 21st century while preserving the buildings’ historic character. New wiring is being installed underneath the hardwood floors while damaged wood panels and rusted tin ceiling tiles are being replaced by customized fabrications.

The ballrooms were abandoned for more than 20 years, yet if all goes as planned, in two years’ time they will again be hosting gala fetes in their original splendor—in fact, the Harmony Ballroom, grandest of the three, is already booked for a debut wedding. Over the decades, the 19th-century buildings have served many colorful purposes: Harmony Hall hosted Civil War recruitment rallies and balls; Kennedy Hall, an 1875 Renaissance Revival, was home to the Troy Commercial College; the 1850s Market Bank building housed a daguerreotype studio. But as the city’s fortunes declined, so too, did the block’s. In the 1970s, the smallest ballroom was reduced to serving as a pool hall. Kurzejeski says that Hedley is working closely with preservationists and in collaboration with RCHS, and that he re-christened the complex the John Scanlon Market Block in honor of the longtime Troy Record columnist. A two-hour tour will be conducted by Thomas Carroll of the Hudson-Mohawk Industrial Gateway as part of the Preservation Fair.

The block’s most visible progress is the six facades, which have been individually painted in authentic colors. Visual continuity will be created by matching canvas awnings on each of the buildings. The disused Third Street entrance will be reconfigured into a grand entranceway; the doorway’s stained-glass banner will be duplicated for the River Street entrance. The sunlit second floor is being converted to office suites designed to meet the demand for upscale, midsize suites. The first floor will remain retail space, as it has been, in one fashion or another, since the block’s earliest days in the 1840s, when the bustling marketplace received goods from Rensselaer County farms and loaded them onto boats bound for New York City, Boston and Philadelphia. When fully restored, the complex is expected to bring new foot traffic to the area, as well as create a vibrant focal point for entering downtown.

“It’s a long process,” says Kurzejeski of planning and implementing the ambitious renovation. “There are so many people and approvals to get through, it’s daunting. But the end result is rewarding.”

—Ann Morrow

RCHS’ second annual This Old House Museum & Preservation Fair features two in-depth tours—of the John Scanlon Market Block and the Hart-Cluett House—in addition to tours of historic private homes, preservationist lectures and workshops, and a documentary screening. Tickets are $20 and cover all of the day’s events. For more information, visit the Web site at www.rchsonline.org, or call 272-7232.

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