GLEANINGS FROM THE CORN FLATS — A short history and curious stories of Avon Crest

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At the time, I had little idea that I was on the leading edge of an invasion by fellow General Electric employees when I had my home built in the Avon Crest area of Niskayuna in 1980.

Further, I could not imagine that over 40 years later I would still be living there while most had left. My goal was to find an area without rows of cookie-cutter houses lined up on straight streets, and I sure found it in Avon Crest.

My home site was the first one constructed at the end of what was then the newest quiet cul-de-sac, Norwood Way. Moving from a congested area, I didn’t realize what it would be like when on the first night in my new home I looked out and saw not a single light anywhere. But that would soon change as wave after wave of neighbors poured in as fast as their homes could be built.

Developer Albert Friedman accessed my site, as did I, via a rough dirt path that he wisely chose not to drive his car on. Advertisements in The Gazette from 1980 touted that 300 homes were being developed, but by 1985 the number had increased to 600. Ads also noted that a variety of styles were available, ranging from $49,000 to $250,000.

Builders involved included Hodorowski & DeSantis, Rossi & Borah, Reutter, Schultz and Wheeler. Friedman was fixated on the idea of creating a local slice of what he called “The English Countryside.”

He took the heavily wooded, rolling hillsides that stymied other would-be developers and turned them into charming, scenic neighborhoods with street names plucked from across the Atlantic. Most names stuck but some did not.

For example, a street he named Shropshire had a few homes built on it before residents got the name changed because they didn’t want to be stuck with an unspellable/unpronounceable name — so Oxford was chosen to replace it.

Al was an inestimably gregarious person who had a ton of fun “doing his thing.” For example, as he opened new sections of the development, he typically moved into the first house that was built there. All are still occupied by their buyers, including the last one he lived in on Avon Crest Boulevard located near an old barn where Al kept horses he loved to ride.

One could always tell when Al had been prancing around, as telltale byproducts of equine digestion were left in his wake. A most interesting sidelight of living in what I jokingly called “GE Crest” is what I referred to as “Niskayuna Confidential.”

The neighborhood was disproportionately populated by “GE people,” including many VP’s and general managers who gravitated in and out of Avon Crest in the 1980s. When times were good, friendly neighborhood banter often centered on things like the most popular country club or who might be leaving for a promotion at another GE site.

By contrast, when business turned sour, friendships deteriorated and arguments ensued about who got to keep their job or be laid off. Other undercurrents provided more amusement. For instance, one perk for GE executives was access to free promotional GE products. These ranged from light bulbs to appliances to electric tractors. Executive egos abounded.

One GE VP had his street address changed so the house number matched the output of a turbine product he was responsible for — resulting in a house on Avon Crest Boulevard whose street number is 42 greater than the house next door.

Yet another turbine executive could regularly be seen driving his big Cadillac aimlessly around the neighborhood, allowing time to decompress from a stressful work day. Stress took its toll in a less benign way on another VP who lost his license due to the overuse of a certain liquid concoction, requiring his wife to chauffer him to “the Works” each day.

The boom development days in Avon Crest have long since faded as the area has very few building lots left. Today’s Avon Crest features an assortment of architectures and inhabitants representing richly diverse lifestyles. I couldn’t ask for a nicer neighborhood.

The article was written by Niskayuna resident Richard Felak after reading a Daily Gazette article by Niskayuna Historical Committee member Michael Davi. We encourage any past or present town residents to contact Niskayuna town historian Denis Brennan at [email protected] regarding any information, resources or stories they might like to share about Niskayuna’s distinctive history.

Categories: Life and Arts

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