Binghamton, Albany: looking back at the places I’ve lived

Maurice Ravel played at at Vincentian Institute in Albany in 1928!

McLeansI have said before that I’m not much for nostalgia. Yet, this year, I have joined two Facebook groups that are looking back at people and places from the cities’ past.

One group is I AM FROM BINGHAMTON, NY. The group was created in 2008.

This picture is of McLean’s department store in downtown Binghamton, one of two stores – the other was Fowler’s – that anchored downtown Binghamton for decades. McLean’s was located on Court Street at the corner of Chenango Street, across from City Hall.

My mother worked at McLean’s, first as an elevator operator, then as a bookkeeper for many years. My sisters and would go downtown, often walking from home, to visit her, or to walk up Chenango Street to eat at some restaurant called the Olympia (?) Tea Room, or to see a movie at the Strand or the Riviera.

Later, my mom worked at Columbia Gas as a bookkeeper, also on that first block on Chenango. Most of the place mentioned are long gone. There’s a Boscov’s where Fowler’s was, but it is possibly the rattiest looking store in the chain. How can I have forgotten that the CVS drug store, was once Hamlin’s before it got bought out?

Closer to my home, we went to the G&H Diner frequently because my mother had neither the time, the inclination, or the talent to cook; how did I forget that place on the corner of Front and Franklin Streets? On the other hand, I never knew about Binghamton’s Buried Stream of the First Ward, MY old neighborhood.

Ross Park Zoo is still around, and still with a carousel. But I had forgotten that it used to have a train to ride around.

I WAS able to add to the discussion. As a Cub Scout, I discovered, on a tour of Crowley’s, the dairy producer. that one building was linked to the building across Conklin Avenue underneath the road. When I was eight, this was exceedingly cool.

When I was a kid, I appeared a couple local daily TV shows in Binghamton on WNBF-TV, Channel 12, maybe TV RANCH CLUB or OFFICER BILL. Or possibly, both. Here’s a LINK to an INTERVIEW with BILL PARKER, the host of those two shows and much more. My buddy John notes that his “VOICE still resonates the same after all these years!” (November 7th 2014, 46 minutes).

This is WAY cool: an amazing historical view of downtown Binghamton from 1950 that itemizes all of the business on a street map of the center of the city. Incidentally, there are two rivers in Binghamton, the Chenango, running north/south, and the Susquehanna, running east/west. The house numbers start from the river they are perpendicular to.

Of course, there is sometimes a tendency to idealize the past. This is a picture of a Ku Klux Klan rally from the mid-1920s, in front of Binghamton City Hall, which is right across from McLean’s. From one participant’s information, they tried to re-market themselves as a “service organization” to attract new members and downplayed their racial motives. They were still anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant as well as anti-black, and tried to form a boycott of Endicott Johnson shoe manufacturers if George F Johnson didn’t fire his immigrant work force; George F ignored them.

This is a piece of local history I had heard about, second-hand. But to actually SEE it on streets I have walked was astonishing. The fiction that the Klan existed/exists only in the southern US. From the Wikipedia: “At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation’s eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men.” Reportedly, from 1923 to 1928, Binghamton was the NYS headquarters for the KKK.

(Unfortunately, the KKK thread, which was quite civilized, was removed from the page by the administrator, presumably as too controversial.)

Also, in 1948, Binghamton had a comic books burning.

I got the picture below from my friend Carol of the remains of the school I attended from K-9, 1958-1968, Daniel Dickinson, taken May of 1973, when I was away at college at New Paltz. I was unaware this was about to take place until long after it was razed, and it broke my heart. The area is now apartments.

By contrast, the Facebook page Albany… the way it was, run by Al Quaglieri, whose byline I remember from Metroland, the arts weekly, involves discoveries of things I never knew. Maurice Ravel played at at Vincentian Institute in 1928! Even Albany before dozens of homes were razed, and the Empire State Plaza was built was new to me, since I didn’t move here until 1979.

I was able to participate in one recent conversation. Al doesn’t always remember some of the places that have come and gone. But I remember, fondly, the Shades of Green vegetarian restaurant on Lark Street, around the corner from Washington Avenue. I went there a lot when I worked at FantaCo in the 1980s.

You should check out the Albany group archive, a “gigantic photo library – over 10,000 images that you can search.”

So these pages provide me an interesting convergence of history and memory, and, yes, perhaps nostalgia.
Daniel Dickinson
Pronounce This: Upstate New York