Center Square>

The area between Washington Park and Empire Plaza, North of Madison Avenue and South of Washington Avenue, is home to some of Albany's finest and best-restored historic homes. It is bisected by Lark Street, which is really the only example of thriving mixed-use urban development in the city.

Late 19th-century brownstones along quiet Lancaster Street.

Center Square, so named because, well, it is square-shaped, and right in the center of town, is Albany's most properous neighborhood. Its streets, many cobblestoned, are small and intimate; the architecture is varied, but consistently pleasing and human-scaled, and includes mansion masterpieces along upper State Street like the H.H. Richardson house at #397 State.

Center Square residents can reach the Downtown area in a fairly short walk, unlike Mansion neighborhood residents who have been cut off from the city by the intimidating barrier of the Plaza and its effluvia of parking lots and raised roadways. They can also shop in their neighborhood, enjoy a number of decent restaurants and the legendary Bombers Burritos, and walk across the street to the Olmsted-designed Washington Park.

If they want to, they can also stroll up to the modernist fiasco of Empire State Plaza. Few want to, and the pedestrian access in any case is far from easy. A tunnel of traffic from the subterranean parking levels under the Plaza shoots up Swan Street, where there are few lights or stop signs, and even after this challenging barrier, most of the Plaza's western facade presents a sheer wall of marble. The only actual pedestrian access to the West is a small, hardly noticeable passage opposite Chestnut Street.

The residents of this pleasant area don't let Rockefeller's Erection bother them overmuch, though. They have the nicest houses in the city, many of which have been restored under the auspices of the Historic Albany Foundation. Gordana Rabrenovic, in her "Community Builders: A tale of Neighborhood Mobilization in Two Cities", tells the story of the powerful Center Square Neighborhood Association and how they fought, in one case, to keep a massive parking garage from being built in the neighborhood. Though some have complained the CSNA is an elitist upper-class organization, it has performed its main function effectively, which is to fight for the historic character of the neighborhood, and, of course, the property values of its homeowners.

Washington Park, with requisite Olmsted-style winding paths, occasional formal gardens, and a long lake with Boathouse for summer performances. Center Square and Lark Street lie just to the right, and the big mansions are on State Street across from the park.

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created by Lo Faber, November & December 2004
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