THIS OLD HOUSE UNDER OUR NOSES

Dwelling on Hudson Avenue in Albany is one of region's oldest

PAUL GRONDAHL STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: D1

Date: Tuesday, December 23, 2008

ALBANY-It looks like a forgettable little downtown building you may have passed without giving it a second thought on your way to the nearby Times Union Center.


But the house at 48 Hudson Ave., built by Johannes van Ostrande circa 1728, is one of the oldest surviving houses in the Capital Region. Its remarkably intact original construction elements provide an up-close view of Colonial Dutch architecture rarely seen in an urban setting.


"This is the kind of house that would have been common throughout lower Manhattan, but they don't have any left. You usually only find them underground in archaeological digs," said Bill Brandow, an associate with John G. Waite Associates, an Albany architectural firm nationally known for its historic preservation work.


A member of the Common Council, van Ostrande's house in style and size was middle-class, built a few hundred yards from the original Fort Orange and just outside the stockade wall. He sold the house to Johannes Radliff, a shoe maker, in the 1750s.


The house measured 23 feet by 33 feet. Its interior was essentially one large room on the ground level, with two upper lofts for attic storage. The first level featured a brick exterior, while the upper portion and its steeply pitched roof were covered with pine shakes.


Remarkably, across three centuries, floods from the nearby Hudson River and fires consumed wide swaths of the old Dutch city, 48 Hudson Ave. survived unscathed.


Brandow has been piecing together the 280-year-old history of the structure, which sits next to the old Capital City Rescue Mission and is surrounded by parking lots. The building previously housed the Saul Equipment Co., a restaurant supply business, but it had sat empty for the past decade.


Enter Brian Parker, who has made a business out of saving old buildings. He bought 48 Hudson Ave. for about $100,000 two years ago. He's invested twice that much to clear it of debris, stabilize the structure with bracing and install a temporary metal roof.


"I'm the patron saint of lost causes," said Parker, 48, of Slingerlands, who owns with his brother, Kevin, Orion LLC, a building restoration business.


Parker, a business economics major at Skidmore College, bought his first old house in downtown Albany when he was 23. He's got two more recent downtown brownstone purchases nearly restored.


"It's gotten a little out of control," he said of his old house lust. He believes he caught the bug as a kid, watching archaeologist Paul Huey's excavation of Fort Orange three decades ago.


Parker also owns the house Dutch colonist Daniel Winne built along the Vloman Kill around 1750 in Selkirk, employing similar construction techniques as the van Ostrande home.


"They're stunningly similar," Parker said. "I love early Dutch architecture and these are amazing examples."


Both are works-in-progress, although the Winne House, purchased eight years ago, is further along.


The van Ostrande house features an exceedingly rare molded anchor beam, a weight-bearing structural element that is also decorative and spans the width of the front of the building.


Although it was torn out long ago, the outline of a side jambless fireplace ‑ barely more sophisticated than an open campfire on the livingroom floor ‑ can be seen in the van Ostrande house. Other notable original features are the wide pine exterior siding, wide floorboards, steeply pitched roof beams, original brick walls and elements more typically seen in museums.


The early Dutch artifacts were found after Parker and workers removed a dropped ceiling, linoleum, vinyl covering and numerous incarnations of kitsch Moderne.


"We didn't know what we had until we began peeling away the layers. We rolled the dice and hit the jackpot," Parker said.


The future use of the van Ostrande house is unclear, since it is tied to the fate of the proposed downtown convention center, which may be built on the site if public funding becomes available.


Parker, a board member of the Historic Albany Foundation, has been speaking with members of the Albany Convention Center Authority all along and they're in agreement that 48 Hudson Ave. is a keeper.


"We're on the same page and no matter what happens with the convention center, this building will be saved," Parker said.


Possible uses include converting it into a visitors center or some sort of public space that will lure visitors to see one of the oldest houses in the region.


"We're lucky," Parker said. "It's amazingly well-preserved for its age."


Paul Grondahl can be reached at 454-5623 or by e-mail at pgrondahl@timesunion.com.