It takes a lot to get me out of the house on a Monday, especially when it is cold and dark. Last night though, thanks to the thoughtfulness of Louise McNeilly, I made my way to Page Hall (for the first time in decades) to attend the premiere of a local movie, The Neighborhood That Disappeared. This film tells the story of the residents and neighbors whose homes were seized under the guise of Eminent Domain by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his ambitious project, The Empire State Plaza.
I’ve considered Albany to be my home for many years, yet I truly knew nothing about the building of, and controversy surrounding, the South Mall. After last night’s showing, I am belatedly incensed about the arrogant treatment of the residents of what appeared to have been a vital community in our city. Seven thousand citizens or 9% of the total city population were forced to vacate their homes and relocate. Established businesses such as Cardona’s Market and Roma Importers were able to successfully make the leap into new areas of the city, but one is left to wonder how many families were forever impacted by the loss of their homes and livelihoods.
Filmmaker Mary Paley, according to this article, was inspired by photographs taken by her late father, a photographer for the now defunct Knickerbocker News. Using these images as a foundation, she tells the story, or “a collection of family stories,” about the families who previously resided in Albany’s South End, an “ethnic mosaic” of Italians, Germans, Irish, Jews, Blacks, and Greeks.
Despite Rockefeller’s perception of this area as “mundane, dirty and ugly,” it was a true community with stoops and the neighborhood’s St. Anthony’s church as “their piazza.” It was wonderful to “meet” through the film, some of the families who called downtown Albany home and I appreciated that they shared their stories with an audience who may have previously been as ignorant as me. Many of the folks featured in the film were also in the audience and there was still a discernible warmth among them. Some notable local faves of mine such as Mayor Kathy Sheehan, city advocate Susan Holland of the Historic Albany Foundation and writer Paul Grondahl also appeared in the film.
See it yourself when it airs both Friday and Saturday on WMHT. I don’t think you’ll ever look at the Empire State Plaza the same.