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Hidden Treasure on Hudson Avenue

April 27, 2010

by Jared Dixon

ALBANY, NY -A long standing member of The Pine Hills is relocating after living on

Stephanie Sheber’s living room (Jared Dixon)

Hudson Avenue for more than 20 years.  Stephanie Sheber’s life is filled with success and travel, from upper east side Manhattan apartments, to road trips to Los Angeles. Her house has a history that dates back to the early 1900s when it was built by the wealthy Joseph K. Ross, and has been marked by its different owners, from congenial German families, to its current resident.

Sheber herself complements the character of the house, with her eventful life stories. Her rich history reaches back to when her grandfather served as  FDR’s custodian in the Governor’s mansion to her work years later as the first technical employee of a successful research company in New York City.

After several decades in the workforce Sheber retired last year. She is satisfied with her recent retirement, in fact, “it couldn’t have come sooner,” and now, she plans to relocate to Clifton Park where many of her friends live. Still, there is a yearning in Sheber’s tone when she talks about her long history with the little house on Hudson Avenue. “I can’t think of any other place in Albany that I’d rather live,” she said, “than here.”

Sheber grew up on New Scotland Avenue, the daughter of an accountant. When Franklin D. Roosevelt led the state,  her grandfather was the custodian at the Governor’s Eagle Street mansion. “He had the keys to the liquor cabinet during the prohibition,” Sheber said, “and my aunt used to swim with the governor’s children.”

After completing college Sheber worked for General Electric for a year as a programmer. “In those days programming was considered one step above being a secretary, ” she said. Soon after, Sheber moved to Los Angeles to work for IBM.

“My girlfriend had been in LA for a year and she decided she wanted to go back, so we got in the car and drove cross country,” she said.  That friend, the late Marcia Singer, was a nuclear physicist and a graduate of the second generation of women graduating from R.P.I. After two years Sheber left L.A. to move to Manhattan. It was here that she lived for 20 years in an apartment on the upper east side, and worked at the then fledgling company, Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation or MDRC.

MDRC is a nonprofit social research company focused on improving programs that deal with the poverty stricken. It was created in 1974 by the Ford Company and federal agencies.

Sheber was the first technical employee of MDRC that had five employees at the time.

A home Hudson Avenue (Jared Dixon)

Today it employs 225. “It was a great company…great benefits package.” Eventually, Sheber was drawn back to her hometown. “I loved Manhattan but it wore me out, after 20 years I was ready to come back home,” she said.

That’s when she bought her house on Hudson Avenue. With no job, she somehow managed to secure both a car loan and a mortgage. “How did I get a mortgage?” asked Sheber. Times have changed a lot since then.

“Those where the good old days,” said Diane True, Sheber’s realtor.

It was a year before Sheber landed a job, because of her long resume with GE, IBM and MDRC merely for being over qualified. She ended up taking a $20,000 cut in pay and with the mortgage and car loans her cost of living escalated.

She chose her house based on its convenience. “There is a police station around the corner, there is a grocery store around the corner, a library around the corner…two banks within two blocks, I can’t think of anyplace more convenient.”

Her neighbors all have similar feelings about the location. Dan Wedge lives across the street.

“I moved here from the country in 2001, one of the big reasons was to be within walking distance of everything, people who walk in my experience stay active through their lives, they keep moving, if you are in a situation where you have to get in a car to get anywhere it’s very easy to become sedentary,” Wedge said.

Another neighbor had the same sentiment.

“I have been very comfortable here, it’s a very nice neighborhood, things are very convenient,” said Karen Park.

Sheber’s house was built by Ross around 1910. He built two houses on the street, one for his family and one for his friend. His friend’s house is the house that Sheber lived in for 23 years. Like many houses built in that era it is made up of compartmentalized rooms. The first floor contains a kitchen, dining room, living room, half bathroom, and music room. The walls are decorated with Sheber’s current hobby, art. The beautifully painted porcelain vases and dishes prove just another of Sheber’s many accomplished endeavors.

When she bought the house, she said, “It was so solid, so well built, it was immaculate”. And although she had completed many renovations, the house has maintained its craftsmanship.

The second floor has a large master bedroom complete with a closet room, and a bathroom. Along with a guest bedroom, full bathroom and a small TV room where Sheber enjoys her time and does most of her artwork, carefully designed porcelain plates and vases.

The third floor is what is believed to be the servants quarters, are empty rooms. An ancient Frigidaire freezer is located in the basement with a work place once occupied by the previous owner who did furniture upholstery there.

When the upholsterer and his family sold the house to Sheber they gave her her first house warming gift. “When I moved in the previous owners washed the windows the day before the closing, and they left a little something in every room. Apparently it was some sort of cultural thing, they were both from Germany.”

True, of Prudential Homes, is optimistic about the house. “The last two years have been challenging but we are so lucky to be in this area because we don’t have the foreclosures that other parts of the country have, we have a lot of wonderful things happening bringing business in. I think Albany is in a prime spot to blossom.” -30-


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