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Washington Park: Diversity, convenience prevail
First published: Sunday, September 11, 2005


Washington Park is to Albany what Central Park is to Manhattan, and the residences surrounding the green spaces are as respectively prestigious.

I love living on the park, because it is just so beautiful and I like being able to walk places," says Francine Frank, retired professor of linguistics and women's studies at the University at Albany. "I grew up in the Bronx and love urban living. I only use my car here when I have to."

Many residents around the park use it as their front yard.

It's not uncommon for residents and visitors to the park to set up boccie, volleyball and badminton games, and bicycling is a common activity on the many paths. Walking dogs is a daily ritual. The annual Tulip Festival is held in the park. In warm weather, paddle boats dot the park lake and Broadway musical productions are staged at The Park Playhouse. Ice skating on the lake in winter is equally popular.

Perhaps the biggest deterrent to living on the park is parking.

There is parking along the inside perimeter of the park and, if and when you can find it, on the streets that border the park.

While parking is not a problem for residents at the upper part of State Street, says Frank, who moved from Delmar to the State Street side of the park in 1974, "It's impossible down on and near Willett Street," she says. "A lot of state workers still park on our streets, beginning at the top of the park and walk down to the (Empire State) Plaza. I'd love to have permit parking here. You hesitate if you want to go out during the day, cause you have a hard time finding parking again. When students come back in the fall or holiday vacations, it gets even harder."

Bill Pettit, president of the Washington Park Neighborhood Association says, "We're still trying to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood with a parking permit system."

Although some of the buildings were originally built as apartment buildings, many of the stately and gracious 19th-century single-family row and detached houses around the park have been broken up into apartments or professional offices, which compounds the parking problem.

Pettit says the current trend is to convert multiunit buildings back into single-family dwellings.

"At least four multiunit brownstones have been downsized into a single family or single family with one income basement apartment or some other combination," says Pettit, who has a graphic design business. "We choose to live here, and there's a wonderful cross-section of residents from families with small children to students, young professionals and retired seniors."

Architect and neighborhood resident Sandra M. Baptie says, "It's great to see the houses coming back to single-family ownership, instead of being chopped up."

The economic diversity of the neighborhood and the convenience of being able to walk to restaurants and shopping on Lark Street, Central and Washington avenues is what appeals to residents in this neighborhood.

"By living here, many residents can walk to work, museums and to doctor's appointments or X-rays at Albany Medical Center if you want to," says Michael Gilhooly, who has lived and owned several homes in the neighborhood since 1977, and businesses along Lark Street. "The architecture around the park is exceptionally beautiful, and the park is a gem and has never looked more beautiful. There's always some event going on in the park."

Madison Avenue is by far the busiest street in the neighborhood, because it accommodates four lanes of traffic.

"You can't casually walk across Madison Avenue without looking both ways and waiting," says Gilhooly. "The speed limit is 30 mph, but because it's an open stretch, traffic tends to be much faster."

Most of the houses on Madison Avenue facing the park are attached row houses. The majority are made from brick. There are a few brownstones.

On the upper part of Madison across from the park, where the public tennis courts are located, you'll find large clapboard or brick dwellings with sweeping porches or formal porticos. They are set back from the street with large lawns. The first block of North Lake off Madison looks similar, although the lawns aren't as deep as those on Madison Avenue. North Lake Avenue is a major cross street heading north and south.

State Street is one way east and Willett Street is one way north. Willett Street, like State Street, features a head-turning selection of row houses, varying from narrow four-story houses to two-story, double-width houses. The facades range from brick to brownstone and stucco.

Pettit says the neighborhood association sponsors many activities, from a June picnic in the park to Christmas party in December.

The association also gives out a good neighbor and an historic preservation recognition awards.

Planning is under way for the 200th anniversary of Washington Park next year, which will include lectures and an exhibition at the Albany Institute of History & Art, a juried flower bed show in the park, as well as a traveling show of the history of the park.

Washington Park is patterned after designs originally drawn up by Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park in Manhattan.

Comprised of manicured 84 acres, Washington Park is a botanical garden with more than 100 species of trees from around the world and seasonal flower beds. Centuries ago, the park was used a cemetery, parade ground and welfare farm.

At a glance

Approximate housing values: $200,000 to $525,000.

Schools: Children attend Philip Schuyler or Giffen for K-grade 6, Hackett Middle School for grades 7-8 and Albany High School for grades 9-12.

Taxes: The equalization rate for the city is 97.17 percent. Residents pay $16.07 per $1,000 of the assessed value for city and county and $22.85 per $1,000 of the assessed value for school. Approximate taxes on a $325,000 home would be $12,649. Albany assesses each property every five years, rather than each time a house sells.

Frances Ingraham Heins can be reached at 454-5502 or by e-mail at