KATE GURNETT Staff writer
Section: MAIN,  Page: A1

Date: Tuesday, September 16, 1997

Paris has the Eiffel Tower. Italy's Pisa has a leaning tower. Albany? Well, Albany has Nipper, this town's top dog.

And downtown office workers want new owner Michael Arnoff to keep the 4-ton fox terrier atop its 43-year-old perch at 991 Broadway. The building is being renovated into a warehouse for Arnoff Moving & Storage Co. of Poughkeepsie.

While many local folks might not be able to tell you the tale of the 19th-century tail-wagger who came to symbolize record players, they just love that big ol' dog.

The mascot was constructed in 1954 for RTA Corp., which distributed RCA products. Even when RCA retired Nipper as its mascot from 1968-78, Albany's version remained.

``I want Nipper there,'' said lifelong Albany resident Bonnie Shelton, 48, lunching west of the Capitol Monday. ``I always look for Nipper in the morning.''

``It's like a monument,'' added Sheila Wagenbaugh, 21, of Waterford.

Nipper got his name biting strangers' heels in 1880s England, said Fred Barnum, author of ``His Master's Voice in America.'' When artist Francis Barraud painted his cocked-eared pup peering into the horn of his phonograph, then sold His Master's Voice to the Gramophone Co. of London, Nipper became a worldwide star.

But Albany's version of Nipper is showing its age, according to Arnoff, who says the 24-foot pooch suffers structural problems.

Lynn Weaver, 33, of North Chatham and others said they wouldn't mind using city cash to help renovate the structure.

``How much could it possibly cost?'' added Ralph Smith, 39, of Albany. ``It's a historical thing.''

Arnoff will hold a news conference Thursday to reveal his plans. He expects to spend $1 million on the four-story building, but is not sure if Nipper can be saved.

``People don't realize what an attraction it is,'' said a 55-year-old Senate worker who asked not to be identified. ``I just drove down South and back and I didn't see anything like it on the way.''

Actually, there are others.

Albany's Nipper is the tallest, followed by Baltimore's at 14 feet. Nipper returned to Baltimore in 1995 after backers raised $25,000 to rescue the terrier from a collector's back yard in Virginia, 20 years after the city pawned him off for $1.

Barnum's former RCA Victor flagship plant in Camden, N.J. -- called the Nipper building -- sported four 14-foot stained glass renditions of Nipper, backlit at night and visible across the Delaware Valley. Six-foot Nippers grace the Dover Museum in Delaware and Middlesex County, England.

``Worldwide interest is extremely strong,'' said Neil Maken, whose Huntington Beach, Calif., antiques store doubles as a Nipper network. ``It's one of the oldest trademarks still in use. And probably the third most recognizable animal in the world -- after Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.''

If Arnoff does ditch the dog, ``Call me, I'll come get it,'' said Maken. ``And the Dover Museum would appreciate having it.''

That's probably unlikely, city officials say.

``We have the best Nipper there is,'' said George Leveille, commissioner of economic development.

``He's my favorite dog,'' added Mayor Jerry Jennings. ``I used to see him every day. I grew up in North Albany and I'll do whatever I have to do to keep Nipper here.'' FACTS: Nipper Facts: The real Nipper: A fox terrier who lived in England, 1884 to 1895, and bit people he didn't know. His owner, painter Francis Barraud, immortalized the snappy pup in an oil called ``His Master's Voice.'' Albany's Nipper Size: 24 feet tall, 8,000 pounds, with an aircraft warning beacon in its right ear History: Constructed in 1954 for RTA Corp., which distributed RCA products. Siblings: Baltimore's 14-foot high Nipper, with Victrola, was returned to the city last year after a fundraising drive raised $25,000 to rescue the pup from a collector. Camden, N.J., has four, 14-foot high stained-glass Nippers built around a rooftop water tank