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Spanish styled houses highlight history

June 1, 2011

by Brian Hubert

Jamie Kelter is a real estate agent who lives in a Spanish style house in Winchester Gables. She is representing a family renting a Spanish style home at 268 Woodlawn Ave (Brian Hubert)

A unique piece of early 20th century Albany architecture recently went on the rental market in the Pine Hills.  It is a Spanish style home on Woodlawn Avenue in a development known as Winchester Gables

The single family home with two baths, and four full bedrooms, is on the rental market for $1,600 a month, said Jamie Kelter an associate real estate broker with Keller Williams Realty Capital Region.

The neighborhood is home to a mix of families and professionals, Kelter said.  She  has lived in one of the homes on Woodlawn Avenue for six years.

All of the homes, except for the rental are owner occupied single-family homes.  The Woodlawn home was put on the rental market when the owner became too old to live at home, but his daughter did not want to sell the property.

Kelter loves her home for its architecture and she describes the stucco exterior as  “low maintenance.”

When Kelter looked for a house she really wanted to move into one of the Spanish style

This property at 268 Woodlawn Ave is the only house for rent in Winchester Gables. (Brian Hubert)

houses.  “We kind of waited for one,” Kelter said.  The houses have at least three  bedrooms, and one or two baths, and a living room with a vaulted ceiling that reaches up to 12 feet, Kelter said.

Everyone that lives in them, loves them. “They are very comfortable to live in, and are architecturally outstanding,” Kelter said.

The story of the homes in Winchester Gables stretches back to the late 1920’s, according to Cara Macri, director of Preservation Services at Historic Albany,.   “The homes were constructed between 1928 and 1930. It was a plan of 60 residences that began on Hansen Ave, but only 27 were actually constructed,” Macri said.

Historians like Lorraine Weiss, historic preservation planner at the New York State Division for Historic Preservation, and the author of the Pine Hills chapter of the book, Albany Architecture, believes that the plan for 60 homes in Winchester Gables was not completed because of the Great Depression in 1929.

The homes called bungalows were built in Spanish Revival style, Weiss said.

The Homes feature classic elements of Spanish Revival architecture including tile roofs, many also feature stucco exteriors (Brian Hubert)

Bungalows, smaller 1½ story houses constructed in the early 20thcentury,  were given a lot of thought.  “They were very well designed, and they had a nice architectural style inside,” Weiss said.  Bungalow homes could be built in variety of styles including colonial revival, swiss revival, or others, Weiss said.

Winchester Gables was developed by a man named Dan Winchester who was connected to the JB Lyons printing business, Weiss said.  Winchester worked as manager of buildings and purchasing for JB Lyons during a 46 year career,  according to a passage in the bookAlbany Architecture.

“JB Lyons was a prominent printing business in Albany during the early 20th century, and for quite a while afterwords,” Weiss said.  JB Lyons did a lot of printing for the government and businesses said Albany’s City Historian Tony Opalka.  The JB Lyon’s building was located on the Lyon Block where the highway into the Empire State Plaza now exists, Opalka said.  The firm was later merged into Williams Press of Menands, which at one time printed Time, and other magazines, Opalka said.

Before the homes existed the land was undeveloped, and probably was just woods Opalka

The homes feature 1 1/2 stories. They are bungalows, a type of home popular during the early 20th century (Brian Hubert)

said. The lay of the land suggests there was a creek running through the area making development impossible for a long time Opalka said.  “Only when the city began to get built up around the area was the land made suitable-my guess is that it had to be drained before it could be built on-almost like a swamp,” Opalka said.

The houses were erected during a time when Albany was rapidly changing.   Once empty land in the western part of the city was being developed into new neighborhoods Weiss said. “The economy in Albany in the 1920′s was good, lots of commerce manufacturing, printing, etc.  I suppose you could think of it as a golden age,” Opalka said.

Winchester developed these houses as an extra job, Weiss said.  “Winchester also built houses on South Main Avenue in a very different style,” Weiss said.  Historians are not sure why he chose the Spanish style, Weiss said.

The houses all included garages for automobiles, which were well established by this time, Weiss said. The homes catered to middle class people Weiss said.   It was not a suburb, but access to busses trolleys, and cars attracted people to this area of the city, Weiss said.  “There was a trolley route up Madison Avenue and Clinton Avenue, but not New Scotland Avenue,” Weiss said.  New Scotland  had an early bus route.  Weiss does not believe the distance from mass transit routes prompted the builders

The walkability, and access to transportation continue to attract people like Kelter to this neighborhood today.  “The neighborhood is fantastic, you can walk anywhere, we can walk over to New Scotland, or Madison, Starbucks by the Hospital,” Kelter said.

Everyone in the neighborhood is walking out on the street, running, riding bikes, it’s a very

A view down Woodlawn Ave (Brian Hubert)

friendly safe neighborhood,” Kelter said.

In the old days the area had an interesting mix of employment Weiss said. “Some worked downtown, some worked in the neighborhood, and some worked at Tobin Packing Company in West Albany in the industrial district, and other industries in the area,” Weiss said.

“One of the early owners was a president of an area dairy known as Normanskill Dairy.   Many people worked in the stores that existed on New Scotland Avenue at the time, Weiss said. “It is interesting to see the mix of businesses, and industrial sites that people worked at, that no longer exist in the City of Albany,” Weiss said

When new, the homes sold for between $10,000 and $11,000, a sizable sum of money at the time. Kelter said.  Kelter believes her home may of have had room for servants in her basement.

In the late 1920’s and 1930’s, Saint Rose was in its early years, and UAlbany was well established, but there are no certain records of employees of either college living in these homes, Weiss said.

Even with quality construction, the Spanish bungalow homes can present some challenges for homeowners, particularly with the tile roofs, Weiss said. “The tile roofs are challenging to repair, it’s hard to find materials, and craftspeople who know what they’re doing,” Weiss said.

Historic Albany will leading a Walkabout Wednesday tour of the Spanish Homes on August 17th (Brian Hubert)

Kelter has not personally experienced a roof problem, and she says her neighbors have not either. The Spanish tiles have been up for 85 years, and have not been replaced, like slate roofs, they can last a very long time Kelter said.   The back roofs are flat rubber roofs Kelter said.   Every house needs maintenance, but the houses are 85 years old and there are no vacancies Kelter said.

For those interested in learning more about these homes, Historic Albany  Foundation offers tours called Walkabout Wednesdays in the spring and summer months. The tours are open to the public, and highlight homes in several areas of Albany including the Pine Hills.

Historic Albany will be leading a tour focusing on the history of the Spanish style houses in Winchester Gables on August 17th.  The tour costs $6 for Historic Albany Foundation members, and $12 for the general public. -30-


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