Mansion Neighborhood>

The Mansion neighborhood is what's left of a broad area formerly referred to as the South End, which included the area just South of Downtown bulldozed by Rockefeller, the Pastures toward the Waterfront, and the Delaware Avenue stretch South of Center Square. Today the South End refers specifically to the Delaware Ave and Lincoln Park area, and the Pastures (also called 'the Gut') are a bombed-out, worse-than-ghetto post-apocalyptic shell. Up on the hill South of Madison, though, is the Mansion Neighborhood, a residential area named either for the Governor's Mansion on Eagle Street, the colonial-era Schuyler Mansion, or simply for the large number of old mansions on the Hill, depending who you talk to.

St. Anthony's Church on lower Madison, closed for years, now reopened as a 'community center'.

Don't call it the Mansion Hill neighborhood. They're touchy about that, though I'm not sure why, since it seems every other residential area in the U.S. wants to be called a Hill or a Heights. Don't call it the ghetto or the 'hood, either, although there are large parts of the neighborhood that would qualify for such a description; the real ghetto is Arbor Hill, don'tcha know, and the residents of the Mansion area, especially the upper part towards Eagle Street, are trying hard to become the next Center Square, or at least to salvage some sort of modest and respectable property value increase in a city on the decline.

In so trying they face several serious problems. One is the imposing and impassable presence of Empire State Plaza immediately to the North. The plaza presents a challenging barrier to Mansion Neighborhood residents who might like to walk Downtown; to do so they must follow Eagle Street down a steep grade, around a hokey curve that is supposed to be graceful, through a frickin tunnel, and up a bleak and featureless alley beside a chainlink fence until they finally reach State Street. Along this walk they will pass not a single business place--not one lousy deli, newsstand, or pizza joint, but just concrete and marble-faced walls, and two enormous parking garages.

If you think that sounds like a mugger's paradise, you've got the picture, and the upshot is none but a stalwart few ever walk Downtown from Mansion Hill (I mean, the Mansion Neighborhood). If they want to walk up to Center Square the prospect is little better: a steep hike up Madison Ave, along marble walls unblemished by any feature or variation.

The other big problem with the Mansion area is the totally anemic nature of local retail. Center Square has Lark Street, which is all about nice restaurants, Ben & Jerry's, trendy galleries, and some friendly men who are quite affectionate toward each other. The Mansion neighborhood has lower Madison Ave., which is all about bodegas, check cashing places, and beauty salons. There are a few bright spots, like legendary Lombardo's Restaurant, which brings a crowd from all over the Capitol Region. A former church has been turned into a community center, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception has been gorgeously restored, and numerous brownstones are getting the full Historic Albany Foundation treatment from intrepid urban pioneers. In spite of a bit more crime in the area than one might like, there's a good neighborhood spirit here, and if fine intentions count for anything, the Mansion dwellers may yet figure out how to make their neighborhood thrive. And at any rate it's no Arbor Hill.

But the unfortunate fact is that it makes little sense to live in an urban setting if you have to get in your car to go out and do anything at all, which is what Mansion neighborhood residents have to do: driving their cars to the Price Chopper for groceries, to the Spectrum for a movie, out to Crossgates for shopping. This sort of backwards lifestyle turns the urban setting into a strange sort of suburb, where the houses are simply much closer together, and the residents play musical parking spots instead of having their own driveways.


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created by Lo Faber, November & December 2004
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