ALBANY SHOWS OFF THE CHARM AND BEAUTY OF A MODEL CITY

Grace O'Connor Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, November 28, 1986

The Dutch Reformed Church was erected at the intersection of State Street and Broadway in Albany in 1715 and razed almost 100 years later. In 1935, Paul Schrodt Sr. re-created the red brick church in a detailed model that is now part of an exhibit at Albany City Hall.


Schrodt, a carpenter, researched and rebuilt, at a scale of one-eighth of an inch to a foot, most of the structures that stood in Albany from its earliest days through the 1800s. The son of the artist, Paul Schrodt Jr. of Defreestville, said his family takes "a lot of pride" in the work of his father, who died 20 years ago. Now they are sharing his historic legacy with the city, allowing it to be exhibited as Albany's yearlong Tricentennial celebration comes to a close.


The son of the model-maker said he and his three sisters grew up surrounded by a miniature city. In the basement of their home off New Scotland Avenue, the children watched Albany grow as their father added structure after structure to the city spread out on tables. This week the son studied his father's work at City Hall and said, "Even having grown up with them, I am still amazed at their beauty."


The exhibit includes the west side of North Pearl Street from State to Steuben streets as it looked in the 1800s, each structure identified as to owner, history and use in that era. Backgrounds were made by Schrodt's friend, the late photographer James A. Glenn. All streets are enclosed in eye- level wooden, lighted cases made by Schrodt to display his models as if from a stage.


The younger Schrodt recalled in 1938 he and his father transported a portion of the exhibit to New York, where throngs of visitors viewed it at the New York state Building at the 1939 World's Fair.


Through the years the artist not only built but maintained his city streets. In 1942, he lent it to the Albany Institute of History and Art, which displayed all or parts of it at various times over the next three decades. Last year it was returned to the family.


Schrodt said now seemed the appropriate time for the work to be brought before the public again, put where it could be viewed by citizens of the city in which his father made the models over a period of 36 years.


Schrodt is an engineer who retired five years ago from the New York Telephone Co. He recalls he was about 12 when his unemployed father, desperately seeking a way to provide for his family during the Depression, came up with what he hoped would be a salable idea.


He proposed to architects that they show more than blueprints of structures they intended to build. The elder Schrodt wanted to make a true model of an architect's design, giving a better visual picture to potential buyers. Perhaps he was ahead of his time. Architectural models are common today, but architects of that era turned him down. Their blueprints, they said, were more than adequate.


But Schrodt recalls his father's interest must have been aroused for he began making models of buildings already built. The first model was of the old state Capitol.


"He wanted to see if he could build one already on the record," Schrodt said, so he chose the building that then stood in front of the Capitol.


His first materials were cardboard with cellophane windows. When that began to buckle, the model maker realized he must create from stronger stuff and began to build with wood, giving attention to authenticity right down to detail work on tiny shutters.


It took off from there. The exhibit of Albany in the 1600s is designed so those who wish to learn who owned a particular structure need only check the identifying number and match it against an accompanying chart.


The son remembered his father used regular woodworking tools to shape and detail his buildings. It became such a consuming avocation, "Every Christmas we would buy him books about Albany for his research," Schrodt said.


If he needed materials not available, he improvised. For brick or stone buildings he first painted the wood white. Then he ground brick or stone into dust and, while the paint was still tacky, applied the dust. Finally, with a stylus, he scraped away the brick and stone dust so that the underpaint was revealed as mortar. This created the appearance of a brick or stone facade.


Of all the buildings on the State Street of 1805 that Schrodt re- created, only the State Bank is familiar. The original facade, as designed by Philip Hooker, has been preserved. In fact, almost without exception, the city as it was the first 200 years is gone, still standing only in the display cases now at City Hall.


Growing up, the younger Schrodt and his siblings were seldom surprised to discover an entire class from an Albany school visiting their father in the basement. It was a visual history lesson with the woodworker as guide.


Teachers brought their classes, and the children would send thank-you notes after the trip. These were the only accolades the artist received in his years of creating and showing his work. "He got a whole stack of them," said his son. "He enjoyed them so much."