On This Spot: 262-268 Broadway

Written by Carol Godette photos Provided  

 Photo Credit - Bonacio Construction

On This Spot is a series that peels back the layers of time at various locations in 
Saratoga Springs to reveal the significant changes our city has undergone.      

"Say what you want, but we wouldn’t be anything without the Springs,” often quipped lifelong Saratogian Minnie Bolster about her beloved hometown. Minnie always stressed the importance of water shaping Saratoga Springs into the beautiful city we treasure today.

Water played the lead role in obvious and not so obvious aspects of the evolving landscape of 262-268 Broadway. “This entire area is loaded with both mineral and pure springs,” reports Charles Kuenzel, president of the Saratoga Springs History Museum.

The curative powers of our springs drew tourists “to take the cure” and led to the development of world-class hotels such as The United States Hotel, which became headquarters for political conventions of the 1800s. Soon the demand for large convention sites surpassed the capacity of these hotels. This led to the 1892 construction of a convention hall described  below in the August 11, 1893 issue of The Baltimore Sun :

Photo Credit- Beatrice Sweeney postcard collection

Sept 17, 1893, a piece from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Nicknamed the “Madison Square Garden of Upstate New York,” this site hosted a myriad of sporting events from boxing to basketball; concerts ranging from Victor Borge to Liberace; and most notably hosted NYS political conventions. Theodore Roosevelt, FDR and Thomas Dewey were all nominated for NYS governor on the floor of the well-known hall.

Convention Hall flourished for 72 years. In April of 1965 the Saratoga Springs Jaycees published a report favoring the demolition of the structure for  a newer, more modern convention site. Local preservationists opposed the move and it was briefly tabled for a few months until fate took over.

Sunday, November 14, 1965 was a cool 39 degrees with winds gusting up to 25 mph. Early that afternoon, two teenage boys decided to sneak a cigarette smoke at the vacant, abandoned Columbian Hotel.

High School senior Pam Stone and her friend Dianne Murray were walking thru the Woolworth’s Plaza when flames from a round metal trash barrel behind the Columbian Hotel caught their attention. The Columbian Hotel was in a mass of fire. In a matter of minutes, they witnessed flames from the Columbian Hotel literally jump across the street to the roof of Convention Hall, burning the landmark to the ground in 35 minutes.

Several factors led to the destruction of the historic building-most notably the lack of water pressure. Then Public Safety Commissioner John T. Roohan described the water pressure as being “so low it was not as much as from my garden hose.”

As early witnesses on the scene Pam and Diane, like many others, watched the spectacle in disbelief. They recalled all the special high school basketball games they had attended in the historic center. “No other school in our area had that kind of arena. It was special,” stated Pam.

The interior of Convention Hall had seating for 5,000 people. Credit- Beatrice Sweeney postcard collection.

The three story brick hall burned quickly on Nov. 14, 1965 leaving only two blackened towers.
Credit- George S. Bolster Collection, Saratoga History Museum.

The loss of this landmark structure left a gaping hole in the landscape for two years until it was finally filled in by Saratoga’s DPW in May 1967.

Water played a different role in structure to follow on this spot. Until 1971, Saratoga Springs’ lacked an indoor public pool and any sort of athletic facilities at our YMCA. Thanks to efforts of many local leaders, that changed on June 14, 1970. Ground was broken at 262 Broadway for a new YMCA, complete with an olympic-sized pool, steam and sauna rooms, a gymnasium, and meeting rooms. The new facility was dedicated on December 5, 1971 before an appreciative group of 1,000 citizens. By today’s standards we would consider it a small, intimate facility, but then it was the envy of surrounding communities. A big draw were the diving boards.“Kids loved the diving boards and learning to jump off them. Watching them ‘beam’ when they met the challenge was so sweet,” recalls Gail Capobianco, part of the swimming staff.

As our community grew, so did the demand for a larger YMCA facility. The YMCA put out a 2006 call for proposals and as reported in the Glens Falls Post Star,

“ YMCA Jim Letts said the Realtor Tom Roohan and builder Sonny Bonacio won the right to redevelop the propriety with an offer of $1,465,000. YMCA officials were seeking proposals for the site that would be acceptable to the city and would bring $1 million or more to the YMCA for construction of its new building. Letts said the Roohan-Bonacio plan offered the most money and the best development of the four plans submitted.”

Construction of Park Place Condominiums at 268 Broadway was completed in 2009. It featured 43 residential condominiums with commercial space on the ground floor.

Of course the sound of water and fountains in  Congress Park was a draw to prospective occupants of the six story building. Locals Jeri Janicelli and her husband chose to sell their country property in Greenfield for a  stunning fifth floor unit at 268 Broadway. She shares, “I have a deep connection to the water, and this spot in particular. I grew up hearing my grandmother talk lovingly about their weekly Sunday drives from Schenectady to Congress Park for picnics and the water in the springs.”

Jeri adds,” My favorite part of living here is hearing the laughter of children below my terrace chasing after or running from the ducks. My granddaughter’s favorite part of visiting me is that I have
fountains and ducks in my backyard.”

Denise Dubois, owner of Complexions Spa located in the ground floor, was also drawn to the water. In the basement is a spring and we were fortunate to have it piped up to our three hydrotherapy tubs,” she states.

“Just before we opened our Spa I sat on our terrace and was so soothed by hearing the sounds of the park’s fountains,” Denise adds.

Undoubtedly Minnie was right. We wouldn’t be anything without the SPRINGS!

Jeri Janicelli’s daughter Hannah and grand daughter Dillon look
at the pond of Congress Park from their 5th floor condominium.

Simply Saratoga

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