By 1860, downtown Troy’s 197 River Street had been home to dozens of businesses and institutions. The large, double-wide commercial building was built in the early 1830s, and appears in the Troy papers beginning in 1834. It was originally a plain brick, Greek Revival style warehouse building, like most of the buildings on the street.
It’s a large building – 31 feet wide, and that gave its owners an opportunity to have two separate entrances, one on either side, and multiple businesses on its four floors. As we learned in the first part of this story, over the years, 197 was home to jewelers, dry goods dealers, book sellers, a railroad office, billiard hall and meeting rooms for the Young Men’s Association, whose library was the precursor of the Troy Public Library.
By 1840, the entire ground floor had become one of Troy’s favorite restaurants: Rockwood’s Alhambra. Upstairs, one of the city’s many newspapers had their presses and offices: the Troy Daily Budget. By 1856, Mr. Rockwood was in Oakwood Cemetery, and his business eventually sold to a Mr. Foster, who seemed to have taken over the entire building for his expanded version of the Alhambra Restaurant and Hotel.
But three years later, business was waning, and Foster sold the building to a Troy entrepreneur named Alexander Lutzelberger. He gave us the building we know today.
Alexander Lutzelberger was born in 1826 in Saxony. He and his wife Christiana immigrated to America as Germany was going through its own civil war in 1848. The Lutzelberger joined thousands of educated, middle class Germans who came to North America for a new life. The couple’s first child, Delia, was born in New York in 1852.
Lutzelberger is listed as the owner of a billiard parlor and saloon at 104 Congress Street in 1858. The family lived above the parlor. (This building is gone, replaced by Key Bank, across from Manory’s.) He appears in Troy’s business directories every year thereafter, until his death.
According to the Troy Daily Times, Alexander Lutzelberger was a short, jolly rotund man. He was well known about town, and other sources note that he was a leader in Troy’s growing German Catholic community.
In 1859, he leased, and soon bought, 197 River Street, the Alhambra Building. Although this part of River Street was still popular and had many prosperous businesses along both sides of the street, the gleam was off the silver. Newer commercial buildings were going up in Troy –as the city’s shopping and commercial district expanded.
Lutzelberger knew that if his investment was to pay off, he would have to spend some money and re-invent the Alhambra. He ended up changing it forever, inside and out.
The façade of 197 River Street that we enjoy today is his doing. He had the entire front of the building redone in the newly popular Italianate architectural style. Tall columns line the ground floor, which housed an elegant restaurant. Four pairs of tall, arched double doors line the street, allowing maximum light, and the opportunity to open them out in warm weather.
The entire upper facade was clad in brownstone. The second and third floors are identical. The pilasters enclose pairs of tall arched windows, which replace the old fashioned rectangular 6 over 6’s. The square windows on the top floor were covered with decorative screens, which can be seen in a vintage photo of the building. Sadly, those are gone. To top it off, Lutzelberger had a large wooden cornice installed, with oversized decorative brackets.
All of this was done over time. The Troy Daily Times noted that the interior was refashioned, as well – “A great deal more successfully than any reconstruction…”
“The work,” the article continues, “handsomely finished in chestnut, was executed by Charles Brownell, and is an excellent job in all respects. For lightness, cheerfulness and really elegant appearance, there is no place of the sort that surpasses the rejuvenated Alhambra.”
It’s unclear from the notices found, but it doesn’t seem as if Lutzelberger operated the Alhambra as a hotel. Instead, he had a restaurant, a billiards parlor, a spacious performance space, and meeting rooms. He had an apartment in the building for himself and family. 197 River Street is listed as both his business and residence in the Troy City Directory until his death in 1872.
The meeting rooms were used for a number of organizations over the years. Most importantly to Troy labor history, this was the site for meetings of the Troy Moulder’s Union, beginning in 1864. The Moulders were the most powerful of Troy’s ironworker’s unions. Their move to the Alhambra was noted in the Troy Daily Times on May 24, 1864. All of the trade unions were invited to join them in moving their meetings there.
In 1869, Lutzelberger opened up his gathering space to St. Lawrence’s German-Speaking Catholic Church. They were in the process of building a new church at the corner of 3rd and Jefferson Streets, and worshipped in the Alhambra building until the new church was completed in 1870. That church, a small wooden chapel, was eventually replaced by the current church building in 1884. Some of the literature refers to “Lutzelberger’s Hall,” but it is the same building.
From ads in the papers, it’s clear the Congress Street billiards man brought that love with him to a business that was called “the Old Alhambra,” or just “Lutzelberger’s.” He touted the excellence of his billiards parlor, as well as his fine selections of food and liquors, all consumed in a classy venue.
But Wilson died quite suddenly himself, passing away in 1875.
By the 1890s, the Alhambra had been purchased by Emil F. Winkler. The establishment was well known now as the Alhambra Garden. It may have been the ambitious Mr. Winkler who added a summer garden in the back of the building. This was a bold and astute business move.
One of the steamboat docks along Troy’s downtown working marina was right next door, Day trippers and businessmen stepping off the decks of ships that plied the Hudson from New York to Troy were presented with a large wooden deck in the back of the Alhambra that featured a garden atmosphere, musicians, tables and seating, fine dining and spirits.
Inside, Winkler had an "orchestrion," a large pipe organ/calliope type instrument that could mimic all of the instruments in a small orchestra. He offered dancing and easy listening. There were also billiards, card rooms, and a bowling alley, as well as meeting rooms for business meetings. All was advertised as “first class.”
As seen in a 1904 map, the Alhambra Garden’s deck extended almost to the river’s edge and was built on wooden posts. All seemed to go well, until the spring of 1909, when after a particularly cold winter, the ice broke in Waterford, where the faster flowing Mohawk River meets the Hudson. The water levels in the Hudson rose rapidly as large chunks of ice barreled down the Hudson from Lansingburgh. As merchants downriver began moving and securing their goods, the river rose a foot an hour.
The ice crashed into the piers; both the Alhambra’s and the one next door. The supports holding up the beer gardens’ roofs shook and twisted, causing damage to both roofs and the brick buildings they were bolted to. The newspapers reported that the Hudson was fourteen feet higher than normal, having risen five feet that afternoon alone.
The damage was fixed, and Mr. Winkler’s business continued until later that same year when fire almost destroyed the entire block. This blaze started right next door, in the summer garden of Samuel Goggins, whose establishment was on the corner of State and River. The fire spread through the wooden deck and porch, and consumed the Alhambra Garden’s, as well. It then began to spread through the buildings, almost destroying 195 River, the building in between Goggin’s corner building and the Alhambra.
That may have been it for Emil Winkler. No more ads for the Alhambra Garden can be found.
The 20th Century and Beyond
197 River then became the long-time home of the Whitehurst Printing & Binding Company. The joined a long line of printers on this block. The company was established by brothers James and Alfred Whitehurst. They moved here around 1910.
Whitehurst was one of the Capital Region’s largest printing companies, and the business flourished at this location until at least 1964, employing hundreds of people over the years. From time to time, the papers reported various activities at the plant, including a break-in in 1929, and an attempted break-in through a skylight in 1932.
The Whitehurst Printing Company was a participant in many civic activities, and recruited new employees from Troy’s high schools and colleges. It is still in business today, now located outside of the heart of the city, near Forest Park Cemetery.
Since Troy was and is a college town, it shouldn’t be surprising that the area soon was bustling with bars and nightclubs catering to college students, the new hippies, as well as serious drinkers of all stripes and persuasions.
By 1968, the ground floor of 197 was home to a pub called E. P. Daley’s London House, Ltd. They offered food, drink and entertainment. A fancy invitation was printed in the Albany Knickerbocker News in September of ’68. It was accompanied by a photo of a couple who were performing there, in “Collegetown on the Hudson.”
The years between then and the end of the 20th century aren’t well documented, when it comes to this building. By the beginning of the new century, a renewed interest in Troy’s downtown, and its wealth of historic buildings led to some much-needed attention to this area.
In 2003, Jim Barrett opened the River Street Beat Shop on the ground floor of 197 River Street. His popular shop sells all kinds of vinyl records, as well as other forms of music. The shop is a popular gathering spot for local musicians, including Barrett’s son and partner, Liam. Local bands play out in front at almost all Troy street fairs.
Although the music and dress have changed, the old Alhambra’s long-gone owners would have appreciated the enjoyment and fun that still goes on in the building they worked so hard to preserve. Cars bring people to Troy, not steam boats, these days, but fine food, drink and entertainment is still available along River Street.
Part One of this story can be found right here: http://www.spellenoftroy.com/blog/troys-197-river-street-a-most-storied-building-part-one