Mick, the destruction of Elm Street – and all that heart of Albany now erased – calls for some fine-tuned recollection on our part; we’ve got to do some glimpses of Elm street history here as we remember it, so I’ll begin with a portion of what Rockefeller destroyed, a neighborhood institution I’ve recalled many times, the Dobler Brewery (which we aimed at with our home runs – Pete Zakis was the only one to ever hit it, as I recall – and which I broke into after it closed down) and what we knew locally as the Dobler Mansion. Erected adjacent to the brewery on the corner of Elm and South Swan streets, it was a true mansion– built shortly after the Civil War, I believe. It stood right on the southwestern edge of what is now (the concrete wall of) Albany Mall.
The Dobler Mansion was the neighborhood’s mansion, something we were all tacitly proud of having in our vicinity. (The only drawback to the brewery’s presence was that several times a month the local air was all but replaced by the cloying smell of malt being unloaded…) The name Dobler played a big part in the psyche of the neighborhood, which was also the latterly neighborhood of William Kennedy who – oddly – makes no mention of the brewery in his otherwise quite detailed and excellent book O Albany (see sidebar).
At one point in our frequent movings we lived in an Elm Street brownstone just a couple doors east of the Mansion, where the brewmaster lived and where I used to deliver the Knickerbocker News every weekday evening. I got inside on Saturday mornings when I collected the weekly newspaper fee. The mansion interior was a quiet vision of old wealth and earlier times: polished mahogany staircase and railing, chandeliers, stained glass windows, velvet curtains, ornate doorways to other richly furnished rooms– a few steps out of my own poor life into another possible world. I shudder to think of all that beauty falling to the wrecking ball… The brewmaster’s elegant wife was a kindly lady and always gave me a generous tip, even though by that time the company was already tanking, as tv took hold and big-beer advertising began to rule the business.
Must’ve been 1959-60 they finally closed down. I was the only one in the neighborhood (that I know of) to get into the brewery after it closed and before it was demolished. One afternoon in the spring or summer of 1960, while on military leave, I climbed from the back porch of our third-floor apartment, scaled the back fence, somehow got into the abandoned brewery and had the run of the place. It had been cleared out hastily; what remained had by then been left lying for some months in the big, silent white rooms. Nothing of what I saw was of particular interest to me, excepting what I realized was a laboratory: I remember wondering what a lab was doing in a brewery, but of course they were always chemically monitoring the beer… Nor was there anything among that equipment or other detritus that to me was worth taking away (what do we know of history at that age), except from the laboratory a small full wooden canister labeled “Magnesium,” of which related adventure more in a later post…