Schenectady County

Drive-through dropped from proposal for bagel shop in Schenectady’s Stockade

The historic Gillette House will not have a drive-through if it becomes home to a bagel shop and cof

The historic Gillette House will not have a drive-through if it becomes home to a bagel shop and coffeehouse, owner John McDonald said Friday.

McDonald had asked the Board of Zoning Appeals to grant permission for a modern drive-through at the entrance to the city’s Historic Stockade District, but he has now formally dropped that part of his plan.

“I talked to some of my neighbors about their issues and decided to delete that,” he said.

Some opposition had already formed, as residents objected to the modern intrusion on their quaint neighborhood and to the possible safety problem of cars crossing a sidewalk in a busy pedestrian area.

McDonald still needs permission to turn the residential house into an independent bagel shop and coffeehouse, which would be open in the mornings and early afternoons. Customers would park at the nearby Van Dyck parking lot, which is also owned by the McDonald family.

The BZA is expected to hear his proposal Jan. 5.

The drive-through notwithstanding, there is some support for the idea.

The Stockade Association has written a letter to the BZA supporting the idea — though it was written before the drive-through was announced — and a preservationist said the building is more likely to be saved if the bagel shop is approved.

“One of the basic ways to save historic housing is to have it used,” Heritage Foundation Chairwoman Gloria Kishton said. “If it’s vacant, no one’s taking care of it.”

She noted that the plan would not destroy any interior historic elements because the house was gutted years ago by Schenectady County.

McDonald said in his application that he plans to create a “historic theme” in the shop.

“The inside is in terrible, terrible shape,” he said. “We’re just trying to find the best use for the building.”

In his application, he added, “This building has been vacant over 20 years. It is located on a prominent corner of the city. It needs to be put back into a practical use rather than remain vacant.”

He hopes to open next spring or summer.

The Gillette House was the home and office of Dr. Elizabeth Van Rensselaer Gillette from about 1900 until her death at age 90 in 1965.

She was the first female physician in Schenectady County. She also became the first woman elected to the state Assembly, running for office a year before women won national suffrage.

After she died, the house fell into disrepair. The county poured more than half a million dollars into it over the last decade, in hopes of memorializing Gillette. But funding dried up after the county put on a new facade and cleaned the grounds of lead pollution from fallen paint chips.

The Chamber of Commerce took over the project, planning to turn the house into a visitors’ center. It was perfectly located, at the entrance of the historic district that most tourists come to visit, but the chamber couldn’t raise the money to renovate the interior. The McDonalds bought it early this year.

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