The Language of Houses by Alison Lurie.
At Home by Bill Bryson.
The History of Here by Akum Norder.
A brief glance at my bookshelves reveals that I’ve long harbored a love old houses.
My youth was shaped by a series of homes within feet of each other at Melville and Continental Avenues in Cohoes. A 1970s raised ranch built by my parents. A 1929 Dutch Colonial style built by my paternal grandparents. The ancestral home of the Janotte family (my paternal great-grandparents), just across the street, where two great aunts lived. The difference in craftsmanship between the latter two and the 1970s construction was clear to me even as a child.
In grade school, my best friend was the granddaughter of the family living in the Van Schaick Mansion at the time. Built around 1735, the house is where plans were made for the Battle of Saratoga. History hung thick around the house and grounds.
Over the past several months, I’ve been a pretty regular correspondent for CivMix.com, the blog that highlights local happenings, the arts, government and community events. Two of my pieces focused on new dining options on Lark Street, but in each case, I did a bit of research on former uses of the buildings.
When the owners of Frajee’s Grill at 189 Lark cut the ribbon on the storefront nestled between Jewel of India and the Imperial Market, they became just the latest in a long line of stewards of the building.
It was Ikes’ Pizzeria in 2008; Romeo’s Pizza for several years; one of those sketchy cell phone shops that painted the exterior neon green in 2016; and My Dacha Slavonian European Café was open in the summer of 2017 but closed the following year. The Dacha’s interior featured brick walls painted dark red and terra cotta vinyl floor tiles. The shop has been completely overhauled for its latest iteration.
Just up the block, 197 Lark St. – most recently the home of Crisan Bakery & Edible Art Gallery – had been vacant for nearly five years. Before Crisan, it was Carosello’s Bakery for many years, though the space had another brief brush with art when it hosted the pop-up “Bakery Show” in 2004 for Albany Underground Artists.
And before that? For at least three decades, the Domenico family operated a business there. In 1960, it was Domenico’s Modern Market, and James J. Domenico Jr. lived above the shop. For much of the 1940s, it was Domenico Brothers Fruit, and in 1930, the storefront was occupied by George D. Price, News Dealer, though a James Domenico was listed as a tenant. In 1920, Mary G. Hickey, a milliner, had a shop there.
Soon, 197 Lark St. will have yet another incarnation as the new home of D.P. Dough, previously located at 212 Western Avenue. The co-owners of the franchise are Nick Warchol and Craig Dutra, who, along with August Rosa of Pint Sized at 250 Lark, also operate Post Wine Bar across the street.
In September, I’ll present my first “House Story” to a new neighbor in the Center Square Historic District. He reached out to me before he had even closed on the property.
Using deeds, assessment rolls, city directories and other public records, I’m developing a compelling narrative history of his house, its builder and its occupants, including copies of photos and original documents as available.
Unless you’re living in new construction, every building has a story to tell. Can I help give voice to your House Story? Drop me a line!
Colleen M. Ryan is an