By Vikki Moran
Michael A. Cocca, owner of Franklin Plaza and Franklin Plaza in Troy, not only owns this magnificent one-of-a-kind Capital Region home, but upon the purchase, he also inherited some pretty wild history along with the house.
Drawn to the residence because of its history and its central location to his two businesses, Cocca admits that with one walk through the grand entrance way, he knew he was in trouble. He was buying this house, making it his home, and there was no turning back.
Its history dates back to 1913 when Mr. Kennedy of Scottish origins was in Troy as an executive in the Arrow Collar Company. Lore has it that stone masons were employed at the house for two full years to complete its eclectic features. The style is an architectural riddle. It contains some elements of Georgian grace and Colonial elegance with terraces that appear to be of Italian design. In what should be the dining room but now is used as an entertainment room, there is a copper ceiling with Belgium tapestries, all original.
A Palladian window, which has a specific design, includes three sections, with the center arched and larger than the two side panes. The window contains the Kennedy Scottish crest.
The Scottish crest also adorns some of the woodworking and masonry. (Pictured right) The Scottish ties of the original owner also created an enjoyable Saturday morning for Michael shortly after his purchase of the home. Glancing out the Pawling Avenue window, Michael spotted 30 Scotts in kilts and many with beards, walking around the porch. Always, the consummate host, Michael invited them in and discovered that they were the great grandchildren of the original owner. They were in Troy to attend a funeral and just had to see the impressive Troy homestead.
Entertaining is Michael’s advocation and resound passion and he has designed upgrades with this in mind obviously. Picture opposite page is the dining room table set for holiday entertaining (which in the Cocca home continues until the snow melts and signs of winter cease). The table seats 32 people and he admits with a snicker that it is not only filled but often kiddie-type tables are pulled out!
While Michael did not touch 80 percent of the house to retain its heritage, he did redo the kitchen, taking it from humble to a very functional space. (Pictured below)
The history of the grand home also included ownership by Russell Sage College, the Hines Miner Funeral Home for 25 years, and a dean at RPI. Michael restored the house to a single-family home in 2005.
Where did the resident female ghost Katrina originate? Michael laughs—she is friendly and part of the home. She appears to be as comfortable there as Michael!
A history lesson in home styles
By Beth Krueger
“Where are we?’ the out-of-state visitor inquired. “Schenectady or, more precisely, the Stockade.” She was impressed but wondered about the name of this neighborhood and how this fine collection of architectural styles ended up in these several blocks.
A brief history lesson followed – settlement establishment in 1661, the French and Indian massacre of some 60 settlers in 1690 and a devastating fire in 1819 which, ultimately factored in the preservation of the buildings when commercial construction of the business district moved, away from the Stockade and toward the Erie Canal built in 1825.
The Stockade, a settlement tracing back to a fortified 17th century settlement and designated in 1962 as the first historic district in New York State, is bounded by the Mohawk River, College Street on the east and Union Street on the south. With several hundred residences, the neighborhood contains more than 40 pre-Revolutionary homes, as well as structures from the late 18th, 19thth and early 20th centuries. There are some 15 styles in the Stockade, including Anglo-Dutch, Dutch Colonial, Colonial Revival, Stick-Style Eastlake, Federal, English Georgian, Gothic Revival, Gothic Cottage, Italianate/Italianate Revival, Queen Anne and Queen Anne Revival, Romanesque Revival, Anglo Italianate, and Second Empire.
The Stockade Neighborhood Association has created a helpful multi-media walking tour guide available by phone (387.3283) or on line (www.stockade.toursphere.com) that describes the evolution and characteristics of the area and points out styles and features of particular homes. Formed in 1958, the Association is dedicated to protecting, preserving and improving the neighborhood and its residential nature (www.historicstockade.com). Also an excellent source for information and events about the history of Stockade homes is the Schenectady County Historical Society, built as a private home (www.schenectadyhistorical.org).
Let’s stop at some of the homes identified on the Neighborhood Association tour.
The Yates house at 109 Union Street, built approximately 1725 and considered one of the oldest home in the City, is the only Dutch Colonial in the United States with the original façade. Characteristics include a brick exterior applied to wood post and beam and wrought iron in a fleur de-lis shape that secures the brick façade. The gabled house was enlarged in the 19th century on the east side and windows renovated; the doorway now has a Greek Revival entrance with sidelights.
Seen from one view, 121 Front Street is a Georgian style, reflecting proportion and balance and symmetry of windows. Look again and it has Dutch Colonial elements. This red brick hybrid, from the mid 18th century, has a Dutch-style gambrel roof and a wonderful split door with six bull’s eye glass design sections above the door. Inside, the mix continues with a center hall with steep staircase of Dutch design but also a Georgian-style fireplace with paneling and tile surround. There’s even a beehive oven that can be seen from the outside.
The Federal period is reflected in a residence at 43 Washington Avenue built for John Glen in 1750. A number of rooms in this brick structure retain this period’s elements in mantles, doorways and moldings. In 1775, George Washington stopped by for tea while assessing army preparations. The home underwent an expansion in 1791 to become a two-family residence. In the 1830s-40s, the home became a women’s academy.
A Gothic Revival is tucked into the neighborhood as the David Forrest House at 39 Front Street. Features include a steep roof, windows with pointed arches and a centered one-story porch. Built about 1860, this is a 1-1/2-story, gabled home, with ornately decorated cornices, porch overhead and window trim. The residence is a one-of-a-kind architecture in the Stockade, as this style was more often found in outlying areas, rather than this urban location.
The revived Queen Anne style is seen at 215 Union Street, built in 1885 as the home of Edward Ellis, a president of Schenectady Locomotive Company, predecessor of American Locomotive. The massive asymmetrical structure features a steep roof, towers, arches and columns, front-facing gable, and arched windows. While the slate roof has been replaced, copper cresting and the iron finial remain.
A neighbor at 217 Union Street was the brother of Edward Ellis, Charles, who provided funding for the city hospital named for his father John. The 1885 residence is Romanesque, of massive dimensions with a combination of rugged stone combined and smooth brickwork, rounded arches and towers and decorative features inspired by the Middle Ages. Hand-carved floral ornamentation appears at the entryway and windows trim. The property includes the original carriage house.
A Georgian Revival can be found at 32 Washington Avenue, owned originally by Dora Jackson. The architect was William Appleton Potter, who also designed buildings at Princeton University. Organized around a central hall, this symmetrical structure has a central pavilion with side wings and features a palladium window and a pineapple above a broken pediment entrance. Today, the building is home to the Historical Society.
But that use is an exception. Speaking of the many historic gems in the Stockade, a Society bulletin observed, “No attempt has been made to convert these to museums but they remain charming and comfortable homes.”
Home to an abundance of architectural style
Historic Albany Foundation
One of the most striking elements of Albany is its incredible architecture. As one of the earliest settlements in the United States dating from 1624, Albany has developed a diverse and rich collection of buildings, the likes of which even some of the biggest U.S. cities can’t claim. While only two examples of Dutch architecture remain, Albany is overflowing with homes in nearly every style. The city’s expansion and subsequent architectural movements have been informed by local and national trends.
Many Albany residents might not realize that the city’s oldest neighborhood is the Pastures, named for the pasture at the 17th century Fort Orange, which sits between South Pearl Street and Broadway in south Albany. It is like something you would expect to see in Philadelphia near Independence Hall: brick Federal-style rowhouses tightly packed with pedimented dormers and brownstone or marble stoops. The majority of the houses still in existence date to the early 1800s.
As Albany grew, its neighborhoods moved north and south along Broadway and Pearl Street populating Ten Broeck Triangle, the South End/Groesbeckville, and up the hill along Washington Avenue. The Federal style transformed into Greek Revival rowhouses with column-flanked entries and simple fascia cornices. Free-standing temple fronted Greek Revivals were dotted throughout the city. One still exists at 631Clinton Avenue. Greek Revival style was short-lived and rapidly transformed to Italianate, one of the most prominent styles in Albany.
After fire of 1848
By the 1840s, Italianate rowhouses were plentiful. After the Fire of 1848, using wood was no longer legal and builders turned to brick. More decorative cornices with foliage carvings, doors with rounded lights, and taller windows overtook dentiled cornices and small multi-light windows that were previously common. The Italianate style took off through the Arbor Hill, Center Square, Hudson/Park and Mansion neighborhoods. The Greek Revival at Two Ash Grove Place was “Italianated” with a decorative octagonal monitor and doors that were “modernized” into the new style.
An influential style but not prevalent in Albany, Gothic Revival is represented in one of the most unique rows of urban homes in the U.S. on Madison Place, constructed by Cunningham and Orr. David Orr was a carpenter working on the Gothic estate, Kenwood, which was designed and built by the pre-eminent architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1842. The estate was deconstructed in 1866 and Davis-designed elements were reused in the construction of the Kenwood Academy and Convent of the Sacred Heart. His designs live on in the Madison Place rowhouses.
1860s building boom
Albany’s other most prominent style is Queen Anne, which exploded during the 1860s as a part of a building boom. Streets not already dense with homes in Center Square and Hudson/Park were rapidly filled in with Queen Anne rowhouses. State Street, across from the Capitol and Washington Park, is home to the high style houses mostly in this style. Albany’s rowhouses feature characteristics associated with this style—polychrome with patterned brick, stone and pressed terra cotta tiles. Many have brick cornices and false gable peaks on the front. Occasionally single-light but more frequently multi -light windows with decorative patterns were capped with pedimented pressed metal or heavy stone lintels. State Street even boasts some with more exotic pedigree—Moorish arches worked into the entry.
Albany continued to expand west, and two late-19th century movements—City Beautiful (a planning movement heavy with green urban spaces) and an emphasis on public health—gave birth to another building boom. This boom saw the rise of free-standing Queen Anne homes with lawns surrounded by fresh air, out of the gritty city. These Queen Annes featured large porches, towers or turrets, and multiple gables. Brackets under the eaves and projecting bays were a carryover from the rowhouses. West of Washington Park to Manning Boulevard is quite literally littered with these buildings.
Victorian style houses—Stick, Shingle, and most of all, Richardsonian—can also be found throughout Albany, starting near Washington Park and moving along New Scotland and Washington Avenue to Manning Boulevard. Though not plentiful in Albany, they are certainly a high style part of the city’s architectural fabric.
As the 1910s moved in, middle-class homeownership rose in neighborhoods off of western Washington Avenue and New Scotland Avenue, shown in the development of smaller homes in a variety of styles as well as in the two-family home. Single-family bungalows popped up with gable roofs sloping low over deep front porches shading a bank of front windows. These were wood frame homes with wood cladding and brick often mixed together or even stuccoed. Two-family homes along Delaware Avenue and western Washington Avenue have what is colloquially referred to as “temple front.”
Revival styles became popular. Colonial (Dutch, Georgian and Federal) and Spanish Revival can be found very prominently west and south of Manning Boulevard. Tudors can also be found throughout the city, with the best collection of the five Tudors on Holland Avenue, designed by Albany builder Jesse Leonard. Ranches and mid-century modern homes make up the western most and southwestern borders of the city around Buckingham Pond, Whitehall Road, and the Melrose neighborhoods. Don’t forget the famed and almost futuristic Lustron homes with nearly everything made of porcelain enamel panel, built between 1949 and 1952. The tiny homes, such as those on Jermain Street, epitomized the American Dream: a home of their own for everyone (and one that will be “easy for your wife to clean”).
As you can see, Albany has an abundance of rich architectural styles, with something for every architecture lover. Historic Albany Foundation is located at 89 Lexington Avenue, Albany; 465.0876; www.historic-albany.org.