Thursday, October 19, 2006

Open House at Restored Mansion - 10/24

Glory returns to a venerable home
Public is invited to tour restored mansion built by former Albany mayor

By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ALBANY -- A 19th-century mansion commissioned for the daughter of a former city mayor was a roach-infested mess when Millis McLaughlin first saw it in 2001. A few months earlier, the city closed it as a dangerous nuisance after finding the landlord rigged dangerous wiring to steal electricity.

It's come a long way since. Now, McLaughlin, whose real estate firm bought it at a tax foreclosure, has even installed her great-grandparents' carved Victorian mantel as part of renovation she will only describe as in excess of $1.5 million.

The doors to 329 State St. will be thrown open to anyone who wants to look inside on Oct. 24 for a small fee to help Committee 150, which is raising cash to help fix up the former St. Joseph's Church in Arbor Hill.

For McLaughlin, the transformation of the building has been a rewarding ordeal. There was opposition from the local neighborhood association, which unsuccessfully sued to return the building to its original two-family status.

That's the way it was in 1889, when A. Bleecker Banks, who had served twice as mayor, decided to have a fine home in the Romanesque Revival style commissioned for his daughter, Harriet, and son-in-law, William Green.

When McLaughlin bought the building in 2001, its glory days were long gone -- there were 19 tiny, decrepit apartments crammed into the 10,000-square-foot building.

Leaks from frozen pipes and holes in the roof had damaged the original hardwood floors beyond repair. Because of rot, the third floor had sunk five inches and had to be raised using steel girders.

Now, there are 11 units, ranging in size from a 500-square-foot studio to a 1,250-square-foot, two-bedroom penthouse with its own roof deck. "It took us almost a year just to finish the demolition," McLaughlin said.

But some long-hidden gems emerged. Like a ballroom with 13-foot ceilings on the second floor, which has been chopped into several apartments. It is now a single apartment, with lower "privacy walls" to show off the ornate ceiling.

"We also found complete fireplaces that had been Sheetrocked over," McLaughlin said.

A member of the board of the Historic Albany Foundation, which advocates for protection of the city's architectural heritage, she also searched for some antique touches to install, like stained glass windows and light fixtures from the foundation's parts warehouse. "The Round Lake antiques fair also was a real treasure trove for me," she said.

The project has gotten kudos from Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings. "This project exemplifies the kind of commitment we need to both attract new residents and continue to enhance neighborhoods," he said. "We hope it will inspire others to invest in similar ways in our city."

More information about the open house is available by calling The McLaughlin Group at 433-1100. The firm was founded by Bill McLaughlin, a State Street resident, and has renovated more than 90 buildings in the Capital Region.

Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by e-mail at bnearing@timesunion.com.

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