Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Homestead Park: A Postwar Development

Upper Western Avenue, near the city limits, was pretty much undeveloped hinterland into the early part of the 20th century.

In 1940, an entrepreneur named William P. Henry, in a speculative partnership intending to build prefabricated homes, bought up some property opposite Albany Country Club and began selling lots as Homestead Park*.

Homestead Park was roughly bounded by Homestead, Garden, Elmhurst and Villa Avenues.

Although the ads boasted walking distance to shops, schools and transportation, the tract was set back quite a ways from Western Avenue.

America went to war the following year, and the project ground to a halt. The property was picked up by newly-licensed real estate salesman Marvin Ayer. To circumvent the wartime shortages of building supplies, Ayer posited his development as low-cost housing for defense workers. Albany had been declared a defense area by President Roosevelt, and the War Production Board issued priority permission for the use of building materials. The homes had all utilities, including paved street, sewers, electricity and gas. The houses were priced at $4,665, or $37 a month. In 1942, the first such first defense home was sold to Mr. & Mrs. Gilbert I. Wakefield.

This tidy little home on Villa Street was most likely constructed by Marvin Ayer.

Ayer realized he wasn’t going to get rich selling cheap homes to government workers, and went on to build Garden Park Estates (off Fuller Road), and more luxurious homes in Delmar, on Hackett Boulevard, and South Manning Boulevard.

By 1946, Homestead Park was owned and operated by ex-G.I. Vincent Grogan. Grogan hit the ground running, completing 13 homes that year and starting five more. Grogan set out to prove he could build quality homes for under $10,000, a goal he succeeded in meeting.

Several of his units included 79 and 102 Homestead Avenue, 17 and 19 Garden Avenue, and 49 Elmhurst Avenue. This is 17 Garden today.

Vincent Grogan prospered as a builder and developer in postwar Albany. In 1951 he left the realty business and opened a building supply store in East Greenbush.

In 1950, Marvin Ayer bought a track of land on McKown Road on which he built 350 homes. Because the McKownville Water District rejected his request to use their water supply, Ayer dug his own well and installed his own water system. By the following year, his buyers had begun suing him for intermittent water service, dirt roads, and makeshift street signs.

Although modified and sometimes expanded, a large number of these homes remain occupied today.

*not to be confused with a similarly-named development at Central Avenue and Lansing c1913, on another in East Greenbush c1957.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: