Changes are underway at 17 Front Street, a sprawling house that housed Governor Joseph Yates in the early 19th century.
There are new owners, Chris LaFlamme and Eric Johnson – sons of the late Schenectady Mayor Karen Johnson – who purchased the property in October under CE Biscuit, LLC.
They plan to preserve the house and restore the greenhouse as well as the aesthetics of the English Garden, however, they are making a major change to the property. The pool, which was once a community center but has been out of service for some time, will be backfilled starting next week.
“We want to preserve; we don’t want to make any changes but we have to get rid of the pool and out of respect for its history we would like to make people aware that we are going to fill it, ”LaFlamme said in a recent interview with The Gazette.
Restoring and preserving historic properties is not new territory for LaFlamme, which manages four other properties in the Stockade area through its Blue Group Enterprise, LLC. Some of these properties are leased to residents, and one (609 Union Street) is home to the Schenectady Trading Company. Johnson and his family plan to move to 17 Front Street, which has seven apartments, next year.
Johnson grew up in the Palisade and as a young teenager he worked for Union College professor Gilbert Harlow, former owner of 17 Front St. Johnson mainly worked on the lawn and even helped try to repair the pool at one point. He never ventured inside the house but was always fascinated by the gardens and the greenhouse.
“I only have fond memories of it,” Johnson said.
After graduating from Union College, he moved to Denver, Colorado, where he lived for 27 years. He began considering returning to the area several years ago while caring for his mother, who died in 2019.
“I spent about a third of my time at Schenectady,” Johnson said. “To be there after being away for so long. . . [I] I just fell in love with her again.
The Johnsons plan to move into one of the apartments at 17 Front Street soon after their son graduates from high school next year.
“I look forward to being part of the Stockade community again,” Johnson said.
The house is certainly built for community living, as former resident Priscilla Gocha can attest. She spent her childhood there after her late father, Harlow, purchased the property in 1941. She returned to live in the house in 1993 and stayed there for over two decades.
In the 1940s and 1950s, to generate additional income, Harlow rented rooms from engineers at General Electric and the house became the University Club. It featured many bedrooms, as well as an impressive backyard, with gardens on four different terraces that stretched almost to the Mohawk River. It also featured changing rooms, a greenhouse and, of course, the swimming pool.
It was first installed in 1934, replacing a tennis court, according to Gocha. At 20 by 60 feet, the large swimming pool has become a community center, not only for tenants, but also for people from all over Schenectady.
People could buy pool memberships for the summer season, which priced from $ 7 to $ 14. The pool was open to children and families in the morning and teenagers in the afternoon and evening.
“No one had a pool at the time,” Gocha said, adding that it was not unusual to have 150 teens from the stockade and beyond coming in for a swim throughout the afternoon. .
“It was a neighborhood pool. . . it was a real gathering place for the stockade and many others, ”said Gocha. “There are so many memories. I can’t go anywhere without someone saying, “I swam in your pool. “
It has remained a community pool for over two decades. For a while it was open to friends and neighbors, but it has been unusable for some time.
When LaFlamme and Johnson first bought the house, they were hoping to revive the pool. Johnson spoke to professionals to restore it to its former glory. Still, each estimate to fix it came in at around $ 50,000 to $ 60,000, with $ 12,000 in annual maintenance costs. Then their insurer let them know that they would lose their home insurance if they didn’t fix or fill the pool by the end of November.
“It was really devastating because we didn’t want to rush anything,” Johnson said. “I think filling it is the only economic option for us. . . But it’s definitely a bit heartbreaking.
It will be demolished from Monday and to gain access to the pool, teams will have to widen a door in the backyard, knocking down part of an adjacent brick wall.
“We apologize in advance for any noise,” said LaFlamme.
While they remove the pool, they hope to continue the tradition of running the backyard as a kind of community center.
“We want to share the backyard, not only with these tenants, but with the residents. We want to open the yard to the community with future events like weddings, maybe movie night, ”said LaFlamme.
They also plan to restore the greenhouse, which Harlow used to grow tuberous begonias, and before that, Gocha’s mother ran a preschool. There remains a painting of a giraffe inside one of the greenhouse doors from this period.
As for the house itself, they plan to restore some of the shutters at the rear of the building and repair some exterior doors. They are working with the Schenectady Heritage Foundation to do this.
“It’s a gem,” Johnson said. “[We’re] can’t wait to bring him back to his glory.
A little history on 17 Front Street:
It was built in 1760 by Tobias Van Eyck and designed by Samuel Fuller.
The house was originally a two-story Federal-style house with a one-story left wing and a separate entrance that Yates used as an office.
A third story was built on the central unit at the turn of the 20th century, and Gilbert Harlow added a second story on the left wing when he purchased the building in 1941.
The courtyard is surrounded by a high fence in the form of a palisade covered with ivy.
Famous visitors include the Marquis de Lafayette, Martin Van Buren and Aaron Burr in the early 19th century and actress Donna Reed in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, Paul Schaffer, the famous environmentalist and builder from Niskayuna, renovated the house into seven apartments.
Contact reporter Indiana Nash at [email protected] or @Indijnash on Twitter.
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Categories: Schenectady County