DONNA LIQUORI Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: C3

Date: Sunday, November 20, 1994

ALBANY For the past 11 years, truck driver Roland Bennett looked forward to the end of his day to be greeted by a friendly canine.

``After a long day's work and you see that dog, you know you're home.'' In Bennett's case, the fox terrier he is referring to doesn't roll over or lick his hand gratefully. Actually, Nipper just sort of sits. It's a trick he's mastered in the last 40 years sitting above a section of North Albany, a largely industrial area and a neighborhood some people think could become an arts enclave.

He's the kitschy 4-ton, 25-foot-tall landmark that brings a smile to most passersby who can see him from surrounding arterials.

``Five miles away, up in East Greenbush, you can see that dog,'' said Bennett. He drives trucks for Dynasty Chemicals, which is across the street from the old RTA building on which Nipper sits. RTA distributed the products of RCA, for which Nipper has been the longtime spokesdoggie.

``That dog is very pleasant to look at. He breaks up the monotony,'' Bennett said.

Nipper sits on what, in the 19th century, was part of the grounds of the Van Rensselaer mansion, which was packed up and moved as the industrial area encroached upon it and the manor controlled most of Albany and Rensselaer counties in the Capital Region's early days, said Assemblyman Jack McEneny, an authority on the city's history.

``It's rare something that large can be figuratively cuddled up to. He's the Statue of Liberty for advertising,'' McEneny said.

Nipper was built in 1954 by W.L. Stansgaard Co. and Associates of Chicago for the Albany firm. He's got a steel frame, a composite body and a beacon on his ear to ward off low-flying aircraft.

Nipper was hoisted to his perch by workmen of James McKinney & Son, the structural steel firm, a neighbor of the pooch.

At that time, the Empire State Plaza didn't exist and there was no Thruway, but the area around Nipper buzzed with industry.

``The dog has seen many changes from the Thruway to the State University,'' owner Ron Richardson said.

On a recent weekday, the industrial nature of the commercial neighborhood was evident. Heavy steel doors clanked closed and truck brakes squeaked. A construction crew nearby hammered and drilled. Inside Nipper's building, balloons and signs heralded the dog's birthday.

For sale are Nipper banks, Nipper mugs, Nipper refrigerator magnets and Nipper tins. Little stuffed Nippers dangle from the banners asking ``Guess who's 40?'' Richardson, owner of the building, makes no bones about the promotional side of Nipper and gives away T-shirts with purchases from Nipper's Market Place, a retail store filled with a melange of goods including televisions, leather sofas and old framed Albany photos.

``It's the world's largest man-made dog,'' Richardson said. While the dog is definitely an attraction, Richardson is hoping his building becomes ``an art and cultural center.'' About 15,000 square feet of the building are dedicated to exhibitions by local artists. On the third floor, poets, musicians and artists gather. Art classes are also held in the building. Some work space is used by local artists. Richardson would like to see this part of the city become Albany's SoHo.

McEneny said he knows of several other artist lofts in that area.

``It's growing,'' Richardson said. ``They needed a home. It has nothing to do with Nipper.''