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Dramatic mural, historic homes all part of annual Stockade Walkabout

Dramatic mural, historic homes all part of annual Stockade Walkabout

History buffs who also appreciate art and architecture will have plenty to feast their eyes on at th

History buffs who also appreciate art and architecture will have plenty to feast their eyes on at the 51st annual Stockade Walkabout Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Schenectady.

Eight historic homes from the 18th and 19th century, the Stockade District’s three celebrated churches, and a 1960 mural and painting by Edwin Becker will all be on display among the 15 stops on this year’s walking tour.

Esperance’s Ona Curran, an art historian who is passionate about paintings, is eager to look at Becker’s work on display at First Niagara Bank on State Street, while Rob Petito, an architectural historian and Stockade resident, is making his first stop of the day at 22 North Church St. to see the home of Franca DiCrescenzo.

Becker’s work includes a 52-foot-long mural that relates the history of Schenectady, including the massacre of 1690 and the famous meeting of scientists Thomas Edison and Charles Steinmetz at the General Electric Company in 1922.

51st Stockade Walkabout

WHERE: Stockade District, Schenectady

WHEN: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $20 through Friday, $25 day of event; children 16 and under, $10; children under 5, free

MORE INFO: 374-0263 or www.historicstockade.com

Becker, a Delmar native, was a state employee who worked much of his life in the civil service department in a clerical position. He was also, however, a talented artist and another sample of his work — a large mural illustrating the history of New York’s merit system — is also on display at the Alfred E. Smith Building in Albany.

“There’s isn’t much out there on Becker, but murals like the one he did in Schenectady were very common after the Depression,” said Curran, who will also be spending her time Saturday at the Schenectady County Historical Society, where she curated “Faces of Schenectady: 1715 to 1750,” a series of historic paintings depicting some prominent Schenectadians from that period.

“The government’s WPA program was trying to give these artists some work, and while Becker came a little later on, mural painting in public and government buildings during that time was very popular,” she said.

Becker painted the mural when the building was owned by the Schenectady Savings and Loan Association. At that time, he also did a smaller mural depicting Schenectady founder Arendt Van Curler dealing with the native Americans in 1661. Unfortunately, the building has had three different owners, and during renovation work in 2000, the Hudson River Bank and Trust Company was forced to cover up this piece of Becker’s artwork. What the public will see as it enters the State Street lobby is a smaller reproduction of the painting.

“I can remember seeing the painting itself, and what’s now on display is a photographic reprint that just doesn’t have the same impact,” said Curran. “The reproduction is a bit smaller, and it just can’t carry the same message as the original.”

Walkabout stops

Here is a list of the stops on Saturday:

No. 1 – Schenectady County Historical Society, 32 Washington Ave., home of the Grems-Doolittle Library and the Schenectady History Museum.

No. 2 – YWCA of Northeastern New York, 44 Washington Ave.

No. 3 – Glen Sanders/Beekman House, 43 Washington Ave., owner, Robin White.

No. 4 – Judge Alonzo P. Strong House, 12 Union St., home of Mary Clare O’Connor and Steve Kowalski.

No. 5 – The Stockade Inn, 1 North Church St., owner, the McDonald family.

No. 6 – First Reformed Church, corner of Union and North Church.

No. 7 – Olin S. and Ester S. Luffman House, 16 North Church St., home of Donna and Chris Thomas.

No. 8 – John Yates House, 22 North Church St., home of Franca DiCrescenzo.

No. 9 – Johannes Marselis House, 23 Front St., home of Maggie and Rev. Paul Blanch.

No. 10 – 32 Front Street, garden of Robert Woods and site of SCCC archaeology dig.

No. 11 – St. George’s Episcopal Church, 30 North Ferry St.

No. 12 – First Presbyterian Church, 209 Union St.

No. 13 – David Engleman House (Studio 232), 232 Union St., home of Diane and Ron DeMeo.

No. 14 – Van Dyck Restaurant, 237 Union St., owner, the McDonald family.

No. 15 – 5 North College St., home of Robert Werner.

First Niagara moved into the building in 2005. Five years before that, according to branch manager Lou Giammatteo, art experts from the Williamstown Art Conservation Center suggested that the best way to preserve the painting was to not move it.

“It’s sort of dry-walled in, very safe and secure,” said Giammatteo. “To look at it you’d have to tear down a partition. I know they wanted to give it to a museum but the move might have damaged it. We’re the landlords right now, but the building is up for sale, so I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

If Curran and other art lovers have anything to say, it will become part of the collection at the Schenectady County Historical Society.

“It’s not right that it’s there behind a wall where you can’t see it,” she said. “Hopefully something can be done about it.”

Open house

But other attractions on the Walkabout will be easier to examine, such as the house on the corner of North Church and Front Street. DiCrescenzo’s home at 22 North Church St., built sometime between 1785 and 1800 for John Yates, is stop No. 8 on the walking tour.

The house was originally designed in a restrained Federal style according to Petito, and appears to have been renovated sometime soon after the Civil War. DiCrescenzo’s house and the home at 20 North Church St. were at one time part of the same structure.

“There was probably a house at the site earlier, but that was replaced by what’s there now around 1790,” said Petito. “The house to the south on North Church, No. 20, was originally part of the home, but it was subdivided sometime late in the 19th century and the current entrance outside No. 20 was constructed to make it a separate house.”

DiCrescenzo, a Niskayuna native who runs her own real estate business, has lived in the Stockade Neighborhood for 11 years and moved into 22 North Church just over three years ago.

“I showed the building to a client, then she changed her mind, so I started thinking about buying it and decided to make an offer,” she said. “I really loved the floors and everything else about the first floor. You just don’t see that kind of craftsmanship anymore. It was in pretty good shape and all I did was change the motif a little bit. It was very Victorian, so I changed the carpet and did some painting and gave it more of an Asian theme.”

Walkabout patrons who were at the 2009 event will also enjoy returning to 43 Washington Ave. to see the renovation work that’s been done there over the past year. Owned by Robin White, the building was built around 1790 and was formerly home to the Schenectady Female Academy.

Events will be going on at all three Stockade churches, including a noon talk on the Erie Canal by City/County Historian Don Rittner in the First Reformed’s Poling Chapel. The Union College Jazz Ensemble, the String Dusters, Liaison Plaisantes and Gary Van Slyke will be providing musical entertainment, and Rich Genest of the Moon and River Cafe will again be offering architectural walking tours of the Stockade.

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