The Neighborhood That Disappeared


It takes a lot to get me out of the house on a Monday, especially when it is cold and dark. Last night though, thanks to the thoughtfulness of Louise McNeilly, I made my way to Page Hall (for the first time in decades) to attend the premiere of a local movie, The Neighborhood That Disappeared. This film tells the story of the residents and neighbors whose homes were seized under the guise of Eminent Domain by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his ambitious project, The Empire State Plaza.

I’ve considered Albany to be my home for many years, yet I truly knew nothing about the building of, and controversy surrounding, the South Mall. After last night’s showing, I am belatedly incensed about the arrogant treatment of the residents of what appeared to have been a vital community in our city. Seven thousand citizens or 9% of the total city population were forced to vacate their homes and relocate. Established businesses such as Cardona’s Market and Roma Importers were able to successfully make the leap into new areas of the city, but one is left to wonder how many families were forever impacted by the loss of their homes and livelihoods.

Filmmaker Mary Paley, according to this article, was inspired by photographs taken by her late father, a photographer for the now defunct Knickerbocker News. Using these images as a foundation, she tells the story, or “a collection of family stories,” about the families who previously resided in Albany’s South End, an “ethnic mosaic” of  Italians, Germans, Irish, Jews, Blacks, and Greeks.

Despite Rockefeller’s perception of this area as “mundane, dirty and ugly,” it was a true community with stoops and the neighborhood’s St. Anthony’s church as “their piazza.”  It was wonderful to “meet” through the film, some of the families who called downtown Albany home and I appreciated that they shared their stories with an audience who may have previously been as ignorant as me.  Many of the folks featured in the film were also in the audience and there was still a discernible warmth among them.  Some notable local faves of mine such as Mayor Kathy Sheehan, city advocate Susan Holland of the Historic Albany Foundation and writer Paul Grondahl also appeared in the film.

See it yourself when it airs both Friday and Saturday on WMHT.  I don’t think you’ll ever look at the Empire State Plaza the same.

5 thoughts on “The Neighborhood That Disappeared

  1. I saw the movie as well. My family is from that neighborhood. As you note, the key point of the movie is powerful and effectively delivered, but I think the dual storyline (one part of the movie is about the businesses and people who were displaced by eminent domain, and the other part was about what happened in the neighborhood that remained) led to some unintentional confusion and conflation of landmarks. For example, the Cardona’s referred to in the film is not the same Cardona’s that is currently on Delaware Avenue, although the families are related. The Cardona’s in the South End was always on Grand Street (now the location of Grand Street Imports) and was not forced to move because of the Mall. The owner of that store was the father of the beloved Judge Anthony Cardona, who passed away a couple of years ago. Judge Cardona’s cousin operates the fantastic Cardona’s on Delaware Avenue which has always been at that location since it was opened in the 1940s, i.e. the two markets operated simultaneously.

    Roma was also not displaced by the mall (the building it was in still stands on Madison Avenue), but their owners saw the writing on the wall and built a separate suburban location and eventually left the neighborhood not long after the Mall construction began.

    1. It turns out I am guilty of my own conflating and errors. I stopped into Cardona’s today to chat with Rob Jr. about the movie, and he told me his grandfather’s market actually originated on Hamilton Street in an area where the Mall now stands, but then moved to Morton Street below Eagle. Rob’s father eventually opened the Delaware location and acquired the Cardona’s on Grand Street from his relatives. All three locations operated simultaneously into the 1980s and then everything was eventually consolidated into the current Delaware Avenue branch.

      It is another benefit of this film: the younger generations are now learning the important history of our heritage and our area.

      1. Thank you so much for your comments! I dvr’d the movie last night to watch it with my boys. I have a soft spot for Cardona’s. The late Mrs. Cardona always commented on my oldest son’s name, Liam. Said she wanted to name one of her boys Liam. Liam Cardona?! Imagine!

  2. I have just watched The Neighborhood that Disappeared and I am so sad and angry at the same time. I for sure will never look at that plaza the same again. The current mayor said it correctly. “It is not people friendly”. Well Nelson got his just do didn’t he.

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