VISIONS OF A VISIONARY ALBANY INSTITUTE EXHIBIT HONORS AN ARCHITECT WHO HELPED SHAPE THE CAPITAL CITY.

RAY MARK RINALDI Staff writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D1

Date: Saturday, March 19, 1994

If architect Marcus Reynolds had his way back in 1910 -- when Republicans ran Albany and social class mattered -- the D & H Building never would have gone up on Broadway.


Instead, steep State Street would have ended with a triangular waterfront park. Behind the park, a massive L-shaped pier would jut out into the Hudson River and turn north the length of three city blocks. The $1 million structure would support another park -- with actual grass and shrubs. It would have a bandshell for summer concerts and docks for small boats and yachts. Albany wouldn't have it. Too expensive, the neighborhood associations complained, too indulgent and too much traffic (train traffic, that is).


The naysayers had their way, but Reynolds made the most of the situation. Instead, he designed a city landmark, the Gothic office building that still amazes visitors to the capital city.


Stories of what might have been in Albany -- and what is -- color the exhibit "Style Follows Functions: Architecture of Marcus T. Reynolds" opening March 19 at the Albany Institute of History and Art.


The show is an elaborate tribute to the man who thought up some of the city's most revered sites. Among them, the elegant Albany Academy, the cleverly rounded Albany Trust Company on State and Broadway (now a Key Bank), the city's first skyscraper, Albany City Savings Bank, and the whimsical, beaver-topped Truck House No. 4 on Delaware Avenue.


"He was born into the absolute top of Albany society and he could have gone anywhere," said Eugene J. Johnson, who wrote a new book on Reynolds and curated the exhibit. "But he chose to stay. It was where he belonged."


While Reynolds' name may not be as familiar as the city's earlier architect Philip Hooker, Albanians know him better than they think. Reynolds poured his turn-of-the-century, upper-crust personality and interests into his designs and, in a sense, we live with him everyday. He is our roommate whose being is cut from stone and reinforced with steel.


The exhibit attempts to complete our knowledge of Reynolds by focusing on 40 buildings. They stretch from Catskill to Cooperstown to Williamtown,Mass, but are centered in Albany. On display are drawings and three-dimensional models, vintage photographs and recent shots taken by architectural photographer Ralph Lieberman.


Much of the material was taken from the holdings of the institute itself. Reynolds was an obsessive record-keeper and recorded every detail of the daily occurances at his 98 Columbia Street office. The institute has them -- all 38 years worth -- along with thousands of drawings and renderings donated by Reynolds' family and the banks that still occupy his downtown structures.


"Our holdings are extensive on Reynolds," said institute curator Tamis Groft. "They were key to the significant amount of research that was done on this project."


At the urging of institute patron Norman Rice, Johnson, a professor of architecture at Williams College, took on the job of going through Reynolds' journals page by page. Along with an intern, he spent months making lists of commissions and works.


The diaries gave insight to the professional and personal life of a man born into a rich, old-line Albany family in a time when the wealthy class dominated politics and business and the social scene centered around a line of powerful state governors -- the Roosevelts, Alfred Smith, Charles Evans Hughes -- who actually lived and made the party rounds in Albany.


Reynolds, who lived from 1869 until 1937, was on the A-list. His diaries record a going away party for Al Smith on December 22, 1928 and a New Year's Eve party given by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt in 1929.


He was not above a few pithy jabs at his rivals, according to Johnson's comprehensive book, especially upon their death. One entry states "Charles Gibson died in bed (his own)." Another cooly records the demise of his main architectural competition:


"A. W. Fuller died in his office of heart disease while listening to the ball game over his radio. St. Louis 8 -- Detroit 3 (5 errors)."


He was also a political player, well-connected to people in power, especially William Barnes, the influential mayor of Albany in the first years of this century whose family owned the dominant Albany Evening Journal.


Those connections brought him plenty of business and he used the designs to express himself. Put together on the street and assembled in the exhibit, they tell the story of his life.


His first major commission was three row homes in 1893, built for the Van Rensselaer family on Washington Park, which almost serve as snapshots of his post-college trip to Europe. The homes, famous for the vermiculated (worm-eaten) designs on the front, replicated the palaces of the Italian Renaissance princes.


"It's an amazing design considering he was only 24 at the time," said Johnson.


Other buildings show his considerable respect for history, a hobby of his, as well as his trendy upper-class peers. The design for the Albany Trust Company borrowed a round dome from the Beaux Arts style. The plan for William S. Hackett Junior High School, on Delaware Avenue, is based on English country houses of the 18th century.


Buildings that followed borrow castle designs from medieval times and columns ancient Greece and Rome -- and this was deliberate a choice considering other designers of his era (Frank Lloyd Wright was a contemporary) had begun turning to nature as their inspiration.


Most obvious is Reynold's love for his own region. He added Dutch touches when they were hard to justify in the period sense.


The beavers on top of Truck House No. 4, show not only a sense of humour and quirkiness, they are a nod to the the earliest European settlers, who made their living from trapping.


The gables on the D & H Building (which also included the Albany Evening Journal offices) bear the out-of-place, coat-of-arms of early Dutch families. Reynold's placement of a weathervane replica of Henry Hudson's ship, The Half Moon, on top of the building based carefully on a 14th century style, can easily be interpreted as a tribute to home town culture.


"Knowing who he was, you would think his work would be a little more bloodless, a little more restrained, but it wasn't," said Johnson.


Comparing the buildings in the exhibit to an actual walk down State Street, is difficult. Many of the structures have been demolished or altered. Except for a few banks, Reynolds was not known for his inside designs and after decades of remodeling, few original interiors are left.


But his signature building, D & H, remains carefully preserved by its current owner, The State University of New York.


"Reynolds is not known out of the area," said Johnson, "but his buildings were as good as any of that time. He was not an innovator, but his sense of detail was really terrific."