Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Community fortifies a landmark church

$150,000 raised to preserve St. Joseph's for alternative use

Times Union Staff writer
First published Thursday, July 12, 2007

ALBANY -- The pews are long gone, the stained-glass windows are missing paint, and Mass has not been held there in 14 years.

But the mood is still celebratory at St. Joseph's Church, the empty building whose towering steeple is an Albany landmark. Citizens, organized as Committee 150, are celebrating that they've reached their goal of raising $150,000 to stabilize, and thus save, the building.

"We don't know ultimately how the building will be used," said Colleen Ryan, who co-founded Committee 150 with Elizabeth Griffin. "We just want to make sure the building remains standing until someone comes along with a good idea."

In 1994, the Albany Diocese closed the church, saying there were not enough parishioners to keep it open, but preservationists don't want to lose such a central feature of the neighborhood.

"The Ten Broeck Triangle would be totally and completely different without this jewel in the middle of it," Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said at the reception to celebrate the effort. "This magnificent structure once held 1,000 individuals, and you had to get here at 11 p.m. to get a seat for midnight Mass."

In 2001, Mayor Jerry Jennings had the property seized from its then-owner, a local businesswoman who bought the church from the diocese and planned to turn it into a banquet hall. The Historic Albany Foundation, which now owns the former church, received a $300,000 state grant in 2003 for repairs, but it needed to raise a matching amount.

The foundation raised some money on its own, leaving about a $60,000 shortfall.

Susan Holland, the foundation's executive director, praised the efforts of Committee 150.

"It's wonderful they were able to engage over 1,100 people in this community to give money to this site," she said.

Investment counselor Candace King Weir, owner of C.L. King & Associates, donated $50,000, pledging to give $1 for every $2 raised.

"I have a great love of historic preservation," she said. "I've always admired St. Joseph's. How can you not support this? We don't have that many really special buildings in this area."

A new roof has been built and repairs made to the masonry by the entrance. A support column in danger of collapse also was fixed.

"This column had actually failed, and the roof had dropped two feet," Ryan said.

The Historic Albany Foundation took on the work because St. Joseph's is such an important piece of architecture, Holland said.

"It is an integral part of the skyline of Albany," she said. "You can see it from any direction."

The foundation plans to conduct a feasibility study to determine how much money it would take to restore the church for another use. It does not intend to reopen the building itself.

"Our hope is that by putting together a tool kit for restoration, we could get it ready for somebody," she said.

Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and a past president of the Historic Albany Foundation, praised the efforts during the reception.

"Your ingenuity in doing this is really inspiring," she said. "You are not alone. There are other communities that are trying to save their churches but you are rare. ... Most nonprofits are working with active churches."

In New York City, she said, developers are trying to buy up churches to build high-rise condominiums, and parishioners are fighting to save St. Brigid's Catholic Church in New York City from being closed.

Like St. Joseph's and Albany's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, that church was designed by famed architect Patrick Keely. A native of Ireland, Keely designed hundreds of churches in the United States.

Committee 150's
efforts could be an inspiration to others, Breen said.

"You should take this on the road," she said. "Losing religious structures diminishes us all."

All these efforts, however, are just to keep the building from deteriorating. It doesn't begin to restore St. Joseph's for future use.

"It's not like it stops there," Ryan said.

Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cheers to Committee 150!

Remarks at St. Joseph’s Church by Colleen Ryan
June 28, 2007

It’s hard to believe that one year ago, Committee 150 was just an idea.

St. Joseph’s Church is one of Albany’s great landmarks. This building – begun in 1856 – defines the neighborhood in which it stands, and its steeple – added in 1906 – is the most visible element in Albany’s northern skyline.

Situated near the eighteenth-century Ten Broeck Mansion, and in the center of the National Register-listed Ten Broeck Triangle Historic District, this building’s architectural merits are not in question.

Still, just a few years ago, St. Joseph’s future was uncertain.


Shortly after taking ownership of the building in 2003, Historic Albany Foundation convened a series of public meetings in buildings near the church to discuss the potential for re-use.

The St. Joseph’s Re-Use Committee, chaired by Matt Bender, documented suggestions including a public library branch; a computer facility; a history museum focusing on the immigrant experience or the Underground Railroad; a school for restoration technology; or an urban education institute in conjunction with a local college.

The first priority, however, was to stabilize the building and prevent further damage.


Last spring, Elizabeth Griffin came to me with an ambitious idea: to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of St. Joseph’s Church by raising $150,000. In May, 2006, you pledged your support to Committee 150, and together, we set out to do just that.

As of this date, Committee 150 has raised $150,151.

Many people said it couldn’t be done … And it wouldn’t have happened without a generous leadership grant of $50,000 from Mrs. Candace King Weir. Her commitment during the quiet phase of this campaign allowed us to issue a challenge to potential Committee 150 members … that each two dollars they raised or contributed would be matched by $1 from Mrs. Weir.

Thank you, Mrs. Weir, for believing in us and helping us meet our goal.


Special thanks are also due to Mayor Gerald Jennings and the City of Albany, for ensuring that St. Joseph’s remained standing long enough for us to work on saving it!

Late in 2001, Mayor Jennings authorized emergency stabilization work, and seized the building from the owners who had failed to make repairs. We all owe the city a debt of gratitude for recognizing the significance of this building, and for taking steps to ensure its survival.

The Mayor was here earlier, and while his busy schedule prevented him from staying for tonight’s program, I hope you will thank him when you see him.


We are grateful also to the corporate sponsors who made tonight’s celebration possible, in more ways than one. In addition to underwriting the cost of tonight’s event, these organizations have done the stabilization work that allows us to stand in this building right now.

Please join me in thanking

  • All-American Masonry, Inc.
  • Klepper, Hahn & Hyatt
  • Mid-State Industries, Ltd.
  • Reeves Engineering
  • Safway Services, Inc.
  • John G. Waite, Associates and
  • Western Building Restoration.


Let’s also give a round of applause to two local business owners whose generosity to this and other neighborhood causes is simply unmatched – Chuck Kuhtic from the Morgan State House and Brad Junco from Capital Wine & Spirits.


I would like to sincerely thank Committee 150 co-founder, Elizabeth Griffin, and the other members of the steering committee, Bill Brandow, Chuck Kuhtic, Mac Mowbray, and Erin Tobin, for their commitment to seeing this project through. Each brought their own particular brand of energy, enthusiasm, and expertise to this cause – and each makes this neighborhood, and this city, a better place to live through their good efforts.

I should also offer a special thank you to our spouses, partners and friends who supported us in this effort and attended innumerable parties with us … I promise, after tonight, we’re done!!!


Last – but certainly not least – we would like to thank each of you, the members of Committee 150. You truly rose to the challenge issued in 2002 by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and helped match their $300,000 stabilization grant to Historic Albany Foundation.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we should all blush to learn that several additional parties are planned in coming months to raise the final portion of the match.


Committee 150 set out to raise funds, raise awareness, and imagine the possibilities for re-use of this magnificent historic and cultural resource. But along the way, Committee 150 has grown into a much broader effort, and created a core group of stakeholders who are committed to protecting St. Joseph’s church and the unique and irreplaceable historic fabric of the City of Albany.

Ultimately, Committee 150’s many achievements would not have been possible without you. Whether you made a donation or organized a party, we have you to thank for the critically-needed stabilization of the roof and masonry of this building. You have sent a message – loud and clear – that we owe it to future generations to invest in and rescue our old, abandoned buildings.

Thank you all for helping to ensure that St. Joseph’s will continue to stand as a beacon of hope, and a symbol of what people can achieve when they work together.

Now, please join me in a truly heartfelt toast …

Cheers to Committee 150!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Committee 150 Wins "Sense of Place" Award

Whether they hosted a fundraiser, went to several parties, or purchased a single raffle ticket, Committee 150 supporters were honored at the Albany History Fair on Sunday, May 6 with a Sense of Place Award.

"We were delighted to learn that Committee 150's grassroots initiative to raise funds, raise awareness and imagine the possibilities for the former St. Joseph's Church was recognized for contributing to Albany's unique Sense of Place," said Colleen Ryan, Committee 150 co-founder. "Over 1,100 people pitched in, and together, we've raised nearly $150,000."

Photo: Left to Right --
Committee 150 steering committee members Mac Mowbray, Colleen Ryan and Chuck Kuhtic. (Steering Committee members not pictured: Bill Brandow, Elizabeth Griffin and Erin Tobin.)

Monday, April 30, 2007

We're Honored!

Committee 150 to receive "Sense of Place" Award
at 8th Annual Albany History Fair

ALBANY, N.Y. – The 8th Annual Albany History Fair will feature music, tours, displays and activities for the entire family from 12 noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 6, at the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center at Quackenbush Square, corner of Broadway and Clinton Avenue in downtown Albany.

This year's theme is Paw Print on History: The Impact of Animals and Pets on Albany’s Past.

“Important to both Albany’s past and present are the animals that have made an impact on our skyline, architecture and daily lives,” said Michele Vennard, President and CEO of the Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACCVB), which operates the Visitors Center. Admission to the Fair is free and the public is invited. Free parking is available off Broadway via Spencer Street.

The 2007 History Fair celebrates Albany’s animals in many ways:
  • Fur, Feathers and Feet: a downtown walking tour with Tony Opalka, local historic preservationist, explores the use of animals in architectural design and street layout;
  • Kids’ Corner: with “Dog Tales and Other Stories” about famous Albany animals; a scavenger hunt for families; animal crafts and games; live sheep; an appearance by the Albany Aqua Ducks’ mascot, Alfalfa, and hands-on activities, presented by the Albany County 4-H;
  • Farm animals from Indian Ladder Farms;
  • Exhibits, such as Albany’s Bunnie States of America from Historic Cherry Hill, which was home to not only five generations of the Van Rensselaer family, but also to a menagerie of animals and pets throughout its 200-year history;
  • Displays by local historical and cultural organizations;
  • Selected works by fine art instructor Blue Lake Hawk; and
  • The FireFlies performing traditional dance music from the 18th and 19th centuries.

The History Fair will also feature special musical guest Dave Ruch. Equal parts historian, entertainer, educator, comedian and folklorist, Ruch brings musical gems to life in a most entertaining style. His performance is made possible through Speakers in the Humanities, a program of the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Within walking distance of the Visitors Center, the Ten Broeck Mansion will have a variety of displays and activities throughout the afternoon during its “Living History Day.” St. Joseph’s Church will also be open to the public during the afternoon.

As part of the History Fair, the 5th Annual Sense of Place Awards will be presented, honoring and celebrating the historic treasures, people, places, events ... and animals ... that make Albany unique.

The 2007 honorees are:

  • Committee 150 for its grassroots role in saving one of Albany's great landmarks -- St. Joseph's Church;
  • Hartgen Archeological Associates for its role in unearthing, preserving and interpreting those archeological features that make Albany special;
  • Arnoff Moving & Storage for its role in preserving an Albany icon, Nipper; and
  • The 4-H Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Albany County, for its role in preserving Albany's agricultural past.

The 8th Annual History Fair is sponsored by Historic Cherry Hill, Historic Albany Foundation, Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center and the Times Union. For more information, call the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center at 518-434-0405 or visit

The Albany County Convention & Visitors Bureau, Inc. was established in 1976 to promote the civic and commercial progress of the community through increased development of conventions and tourism. ACCVB currently represents more than 300 member businesses and assists each year in hundreds of regional meetings. ACCVB also operates the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center, Henry Hudson Planetarium and the Albany International Airport Information Center. For more information, call 518-434-1217 or 800-258-3582 and/or visit


Thursday, April 12, 2007

"Wine & Delectables" ~ Sunday, 4/15

Event at Historic Woman’s Club of Albany to Benefit Committee 150

ALBANY, NY – (4/12/2007) – The public is invited to a “wine and delectables” reception at the historic Woman’s Club of Albany (WCA) on Sunday, April 15, from 3 – 5:30 p.m. The event is part of Committee 150’s campaign to raise funds to stabilize the former St. Joseph’s Church in Albany.

Hosted by local artist Lynda Porter, the reception will feature tours of the 1895 Victorian mansion which has served as the Woman’s Club headquarters since 1919. Piano music and a display of rare old photographs of Albany – including some from the archives of the WCA – will round out the afternoon.

The Woman’s Club of Albany is located at 725 Madison Avenue, just west of South Lake Avenue. The suggested donation for the reception is $25. For more information or to RSVP, please call 518-626-0931 or email .

“This is one of the final opportunities people will have to attend a Committee 150 event,” said Colleen Ryan, who co-founded the grassroots effort last year. “To date, Committee 150 has raised over $97,000. This amount has been matched – 50¢ on the dollar – by a generous leadership grant from Mrs. Candace King Weir, bringing our total raised to more than $145,000. With a few more parties scheduled for this spring, we are confident that we will meet our goal.”

A Celebration of Committee 150 is slated for June 28 to officially wrap up the work of the committee. “We are looking forward to celebrating a job well done, and to seeing the work that's been done to help St. Joseph's keep its place in the Albany skyline for the next 150 years,” said Ryan.

For more information about Committee 150, or to contribute, visit, or email .


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Save the Date! Celebrate Committee 150 on 6/28/07

Dear Fellow Committee 150 Member:

It’s hard to believe that one year ago this month, Committee 150 was just an idea.

St. Joseph’s is one of Albany’s great landmarks. The building defines the neighborhood in which it stands, and its steeple, completed in 1906, is the most visible element in Albany’s northern skyline. Still, a few years ago, St. Joseph’s future was uncertain.

In May, 2006, you pledged your support to an all-volunteer group that set out to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of St. Joseph’s Church by raising $150,000. Committee 150 took up the challenge issued in 2002 by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, which awarded a $300,000 matching grant to the building’s owner, Historic Albany Foundation, to stabilize St. Joseph’s, which at that time was in danger of collapse.

Thanks to you, Committee 150 has raised over $96,000. This has been matched – 50¢ on the dollar – by a generous leadership grant from Mrs. Candace King Weir, bringing the total raised to date to $144,000. With a few more parties scheduled for this spring, we are confident that we will meet our goal!

Throughout the past year, people have contributed their time, talent and treasure to ensure that the spires of the former St. Joseph’s Church continue to stand tall over Albany’s north end. From a Splashdown for St. Joe’s on the Albany Aquaduck, to an old-fashioned neighborhood picnic – from a raffle to a “virtual tour” of the church – Committee 150 members have raised funds one party at a time, and had fun doing it!

To thank you for your support, we’d like to invite you to join us as an honored guest at a Celebration of Committee 150 on Thursday, June 28, from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. in St. Joseph’s Park.

We hope you’ll save the date, join us as we celebrate a job well done, and view the results of the stabilization effort. (We’ll send a reminder as the date draws near.)

Thank you again for helping to make Committee 150 a great success!

The Committee 150 Steering Committee

PS: Please make plans to attend the 8th Annual Albany History Fair on Sunday, May 6, from noon – 4 p.m. at the Albany Heritage Area Visitors Center. Committee 150 will be honored with a “Sense of Place” award for our grassroots effort to save St. Joseph’s Church. Every one of over 1,100 people who supported this campaign also contributed to Albany’s sense of place, and we’re delighted that the entire group will be recognized with this award!

Monday, February 05, 2007

St. Joseph’s campaign nearing goal

A year after a windstorm took a chunk out of a back tower of historic St. Joseph’s Church in Albany, its supporters – led by Committee 150 – are close to a fundraising goal of $150,000 for repairs.

The money will go toward an interior stabilization project and repairs to the church on Ten Broeck and Second streets in the Arbor Hill neighborhood.

Committee 150 launched its citizens’ campaign last May, setting out to raise $150,000 in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone in May, 1856, committee co-founder Colleen Ryan said Friday.

“We have over $95,000 right now and with a couple of parties to within the next few weeks, we should hit $150,000 by the end of March,” Ryan said.

Funds were raised through 33 parties hosted by the committee and drawing more than 1,000 people, she said.

The committee plans a wrap-up party in June in the park next to the church – the centerpiece of the Ten Broeck Triangle.

Organizers will recognize investment counselor Candace King Weir, owner of C.L. King & Associates, who through a grant is matching each $2 raised with an additional $1, Ryan said.

The church was abandoned in 1993, and with bad winters and no heat, water damaged the roof and other areas. In February 2006, a windstorm ripped off a chunk from a tower in the back.

The slate roofs and copper detailing on the rear towers will be repaired so that architectural feature is not lost, said Erin Tobin, Committee 150 steering committee member and former director of Preservation Services for Historic Albany Foundation.

“Details such as these contribute greatly to the overall character of the building, making it a real asset to the community,” Tobin said in a statement.

Historic Albany had raised $100,000, “when Committee 150 came along and we said we would raise $150,000,” Ryan said. Historic Albany needs another $50,000 to meet its goal.

The combined funds, $300,000, are eligible for a $1-for$1 match from the State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The $600,000 will be poured into stabilizing and restoring the church, Ryan said. Her committee co-founder is Elizabeth Griffin.

-- Carol DeMare
Times Union
Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007