The Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza is located right in the center of downtown Albany, New York. It is nearly impossible to drive into the city without viewing the white marble Corning Tower or the Egg surrounded by the historical architecture of old Albany. Housing a majority of the office space for the government of New York State, the Empire State Plaza is said to be the largest marble construction project in the history of the world.

The whole project started because of personal embarrassment. Then Governor Nelson Rockefeller hosted Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands on her visit to the US in 1959. Rockefeller became ashamed of the state of the city while escorting her through the South End and Center Square neighborhoods to Schuyler Mansion. He vowed to improve the condition of the city through a massive public works project, improving the architecture and design of the city, while creating office space for the government workers.

Rockefeller began searching for a design team to renovate the capitol. He settled on Wallace K. Harrison, and his partner Max Abramovitz. This is the same team that designed Rockefeller Center, the United Nations Building, and the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. Rockefeller often sat in on their design meetings, throwing in ideas wherever he could. Supposedly, the idea behind the Egg was conceived when Rockefeller placed a half-grapefruit over a cream container, set it in the middle of the model, and told Harrison the plaza "needed something like that."

The final design for the "South Mall" looks almost identical to the Plaza as it stands today. The northern end opens to view the State Capitol, built in the 1800's. Four small office buildings are on the western side of the plot, encased in Vermont marble. The main office tower, which was renamed after Erastus Corning in 1983, is the tallest building in New York outside of Manhattan. The building is located on the south-east corner, also with a Vermont marble exterior. The Empire State Plaza Performing Arts Center (the half-grapefruit and creamer) in the north-east corner, the only building to have a concrete exterior. A reflecting pool is in the center of the plaza, with sculpture art in the open area between the buildings.

Left off the final design was the "Arch of Freedom". It was to be a monument to the Emancipation Proclamation, complete with a rough draft of the speech. The arch would be on top of a four-story platform that would be space for the new New York State Museum. This part of the project was cancelled because it didn’t provide a "solid architectural anchor" to the south end of the plaza. Instead, the Cultural Education Center was designed, which houses the museum and the State Library.

In 1962, the State Legislature appropriated the funds for the "South Mall" project, and city crews demolished a forty-block area between Eagle and Swan Streets. William Kennedy wrote in O Albany! that clearing these parts of the South End and Center Square neighborhoods caused the "destruction of 1150 structures, most of them private dwellings, and the displacement of 3600 households — 9000 people, 17 percent black, many Italians and Jews, many old, many poor." In all, over 95 acres of land had to be cleared, including land for ground reinforcement and highway access to the Dunn Memorial Bridge, also under construction at the time. After almost two years of demolition and clearing, the contract was awarded to J. H. Maloy, and work began in 1964.

Upon opening the Plaza to the public in May of 1978, the name was officially changed to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza. The project cost had run just over $1.7 billion, with The Egg running over $100 Million alone. By the time that construction was finished, many other surrounding projects had already been scrapped. Among these were the Mid-Crosstown Arterial, which would have used the highway tunnels under the Plaza to connect the city with Rensselaer, and the "Capital Harbor" project, which would have renovated both sides of the Hudson River in the area by the Plaza.

After thirty years, the original marble on the Agency buildings and the Corning Tower began to deteriorate. The state awarded the contract to Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. WJE evaluated and replaced 150000 marble panels on nine structures at the Plaza and also performed work on the marble walkways about the reflecting pools and the lobby of the Corning Tower. Rehab work was completed in late 2001.


Resources:
The Albany Times-Union - http://www.timesunion.com
The Poughkeepsie Journal - http://www.pojonews.com
http://www.senate.state.ny.us
http://www.metroland.net
http://www.wje.com

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