Exploring Albany

JUST SPENT TWO DAYS in Albany, N.Y., underrated capital of the Empire State, enjoying its fanciful row house architecture and the unexpected beauty of Washington Park. I was there to visit my cousin Susan, who’s just moved there for a job. Her new apartment is huge and sunny, in a pre-war building right on that park. We spent a good part of our time together painting an Art Deco bar/bookcase whose brownness was depressing. Now it’s an infinitely more pleasing robin’s egg blue (the bottom photo shows it before its final coat and new gray trim).

The late 19th century Washington Park, an 81-acre landscape in the romantic style of Frederick Law Olmsted, is considered one of the finest urban parks in the country. It’s meticulously maintained, with Victorian-style bedding plants in abundance, and an extraordinary Mediterranean Revival lake house. The footbridge over the 5-acre lake, below, dates from 1875.

The 1929 brick and terracotta lake house faces the lake on one side and a 900-seat outdoor amphitheater on the other.

It replaced the original stick-style structure below.

Of the numerous statues in the park, the 1893 bronze figure of Moses on Mt. Horeb, below, is the most surprising, at least to me.

And the display of annual flowers, below, is the most extravagant I’ve seen in a public place outside of Paris or London.

There’s enormous variety in the cornices, lintels, and other woodwork on Albany’s row houses. I barely scratched the surface in my documentation. These are on Lark Street, a row of cafes, restaurants, and shops, in the Washington Park Historic District.

We managed to spend a little time hitting up antique stores. There aren’t many (most area dealers have removed themselves to Hudson, N.Y.), but they seem to have potential.

A lot remains for future visits: more antiquing, historic house museums, whole other neighborhoods (not to mention nearby Troy, a whole other city).

East Hampton Flag Lot, 1.5 acres, 495K

EVEN I CONCEDE: this one is a tear-down. Oldish, by the looks of things, and enormous, but moldy and just hopeless-looking, even to someone who can see potential in almost anything.

What’s good is the location and the size of the lot — near East Hampton Village and on 1-1/2 acres.

It’s a wooded flag lot, set back from the road, with a secluded feel. And who knows? (A structural engineer might.) Maybe something could be salvaged. The listing is here.

Jungle Pete’s, Landmark Dive Bar

IT CAME TO MY FULL ATTENTION ONLY RECENTLY that I am living a brushstroke away from a significant cultural landmark: the bar where artist Jackson Pollock, this area’s most illustrious resident, frequently got soused with friends like Willem de Kooning and got into famously violent fights. It’s well-documented that Pollock spent almost every evening here in the late ’40s and early ’50s, biking over from his farmhouse down the road (now the Jackson Pollock-Lee Krasner Study Center), sometimes not making it all the way home but falling asleep in the woods by the side of the road.

The place was then called Jungle Pete’s and famous even up-island (that is, in parts of Long Island not the Hamptons) — a baymen’s gathering spot which gradually (especially after World War II, when the creative and working classes served together) accepted the artists as hard-drinking fellow locals. Jungle Pete’s is now known as Wolfie’s Tavern and it’s still a dive bar, noisy on Saturday nights with motorcycles roaring in and out. It’s got paneled walls, neon beer signs, and a pool table, but no cultural cachet or apparent awareness of its heritage.

Jungle Pete’s features largely in Seek My Face, a John Updike novel I happened to listen to recently on my commute between Brooklyn and East Hampton. I’m a rabid Updike fan but this 2001 novel had somehow escaped my notice. Its main character is an elderly woman who reveals the story of her life to a young interviewer, a life which included a long hard marriage to a character clearly and closely modeled on Jackson Pollock. It slowly dawned on me that ‘The Flats’ in Updike’s novel is a stand-in for The Springs (we’ve since dropped the ‘The’) and ‘The Lemon Tree,’ the character’s favorite watering hole, is Jungle Pete’s.

Updike evokes an era when this area was more rural. I became intrigued and began to Google (not intrigued enough to go have a beer in Wolfie’s, though; I’ve peered in but have yet to actually sidle up to the bar). Here’s a description by Dan Rattiner, a longtime local  journalist/publisher, from 1962:

“I made a left on Fort Pond Boulevard and began to look for a tavern named Jungle Pete’s, which I had read somewhere was one of Pollock’s hangouts. The road here was straight but very narrow, with small fishermen’s homes on either side, set in the heavy foliage that marked that area. About a half mile down, I came to it. It was the only commercial establishment on the street. Set in, well, the Jungle.”

A 2004 article in the East Hampton Star, describes how Jungle Pete’s burned down sometime in the ’40s but was rebuilt. It eventually became Jungle Johnnies, Vinnie’s Place, the Boatswain, the Frigate, the Birches, Harry’s Hideaway, and finally, Wolfie’s, in 1988.

A friend who has lived nearby since 1979 remembers the Frigate as a place with holes punched in the walls, and the Birches as an attempt to do something more upscale, with white birch trees in place of the now-asphalt parking lot (I mourn the loss of those trees). I told her I thought someone should buy it and turn it into a bar/cafe called Pollock’s, with Abstract Impressionist wallcovering. She said that sounded like “a city idea.”

In fact, Wolfie’s is presently on the market for 299K. <- Click for the listing, which is just for the business and not for the land or building (I’d be interested if it were!) I hope someone buys it. It doesn’t even have to have a Jackson Pollock theme — just good food.

What do you think? Does it deserve a plaque, at least?

New-to-Market North Fork Tavern c.1800, 349K

SO OFTEN ONE SEES listings that date houses inaccurately. Sometimes the listings claim the houses are much more recent than they are, sometimes older. In the case of this former tavern in Southold, N.Y.’s historic district, I wholeheartedly believe the listing date. Based on its boxy shape, steep-pitched roof (the better to shed snow), and most of all, interior photos, the circa 1800 date seems correct.

The map shows it located at an intersection, which would make sense for a former tavern. I don’t know how busy an intersection; that would be key. It’s on 1/2 acre with several outbuildings, including a 19th century barn. The floors are wide-plank, the windows ‘correct,’ and there seem to be original doors and other woodwork. The attic photo clinches it for me; it totally looks 200+ years old.

I say this looks very intriguing, and the asking price reasonable. What say you? Does anyone know the location? The realtor’s listing is here.

BROWNSTONE VOYEUR: High Victorian Rental in Clinton Hill

WELCOME BACK TO BROWNSTONE VOYEUR, the resumption of a popular casaCARA series in which we go behind the facades of brownstones and other historic Brooklyn housing types to see how folks of today live in the sumptuous spaces of long ago.

“EDITH WHARTON MEETS THIEF OF BAGHDAD”…that’s how Reid Burgess describes the decor of the parlor/garden duplex he and his girlfriend have been working on for almost three years in a classic, detail-laden 1870s Brooklyn brownstone. “People think it’s kind of crazy when we tell them we’re renting,” said Reid, until recently a professional musician who now considers himself a designer/developer. (You can get a look at his first project, a from-the-ground-up ‘little Palladian villa’ in Charleston, S.C., on Reid’s blog.)

Back in Brooklyn, the couple have been busy stripping paint off doors and woodwork, re-painting the place in colors more to their liking, and furnishing with pieces collected from various sources, including eBay, Chinatown, and an auction house in Richmond, Va.

All changes are with permission of the landlord, but still, the couple “had to make virtues out of imperfections,” says Reid. “It’s not a reno where you have complete control of everything. Things I never would have done I’ve learned to think of as interesting.”

For example, they would not have painted the parlor, dining room, and woodwork orange. Some of that they’ve changed, including stripping and staining an arched mahogany door, painting picture rail a dark bronze (it too was orange), and painting other woodwork in Benjamin Moore’s satin-finish Wenge. They also re-painted the back parlor, which they use as a dining room, dark green. But the front parlor remains orange. “We kind of grew to like it,” Reid says.

The front parlor, with its 13′ ceilings, elaborate plasterwork, and over-the-top marble mantelpiece and mirror in High Victorian style, was in very decent shape when Reid and his girlfriend found the place through Craigslist. When they moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn three years ago, Reid says, “It had to be a quintessential parlor. That was the attraction.” The parquet floors, too, with Greek key pattern, were intact and polished.

The white Empire sofa, which Reid says is surprisingly comfortable, was a Craiglist find. Reid paid just a few hundred dollars for it, but he had to drive 17 hours to Pittsburgh and back to pick it up. “That was extreme,” he admits.

The kitchen is in the original hall of the building, off the rear parlor.

Downstairs, the front room is used as a library/guest room, and the back as a bedroom.

The lattice was falling down on the deck off the parlor floor and needed repair.

To dig back into the archives of previous ‘Brownstone Voyeurs,’ click here.