Some buildings you just don’t tear down. A former weigh station in Schenectady is one of them.
Try as they might, Schenectady officials have been unable to find anyone interested in using the small, historic and unusual-looking building that sits quietly in the back of a parking lot on South Broadway. And they have tried.
They’ve called on developers, urging them to see what a one-of-a-kind structure it is. For a moment back in 1999, a farmers market considered relocating to just outside the structure. The former Schenectady Museum (now miSci), back when it was mulling relocating to the parking lot, mentioned it might use the structure as a gift shop. At the very least, it could make an interesting office for an architectural firm, or so local officials thought.
“There was nothing, no bites,” said Ray Gillen, chairman of the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority, which owns the structure and the lot it sits on.
Although they have no concrete plans for the building, Metroplex will spruce up the exterior and install lighting around the building sometime next year.
“We’re hoping to kind of highlight this interesting-looking, iconic building,” Gillen said.
It’s part of Metroplex’s long-term effort to redevelop the South Broadway corridor by cleaning up contaminated lots, demolishing rundown buildings, collaborating with developers who have built mixed-use development and luring more business to the Broadway Commerce Park.
The curious little stucco building was a weigh station back in its day. It contains 1,500 square feet and is cut in half by an elaborate, open-air Dutch archway. It is here that a large scale once sat, used to weigh wagons of produce and other goods bought at a public market nearby.
It was built around 1910 or 1920 (records vary on the date) next to a busy supermarket and the former Schenectady County Coal Co. In addition to produce, trucks and carts carrying coal were checked for proper loads at the weigh station. Today, the structure is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
A photo taken in 1935 shows two men leaning against the station, surrounded by a sea of Ford Model A’s and pickup trucks and people strolling alone or in pairs into the nearby supermarket.
By 1980, a photo shows the station boarded up, its stucco flaking and dirty, a window broken, a car parked in the archway. Though no longer used to weigh things, the structure was used occasionally over the years to shelter the homeless.
Today, even more stucco has flaked and the red slate roof has browned with age. The buildings that once stood nearby are now gone. In their place is a parking lot used mainly by Proctors patrons. Across the street is the Broadway parking garage.
When Metroplex bought all the surface lots in the city in 2004, it inherited the weigh station — whether it wanted it or not. By then, the station had been both rejected and embraced by Schenectady. City officials had once tried to demolish it, while a handful of local residents, led by Adrienne Klein of Niskayuna, became obsessed with preserving it.
“It’s a thorn in our sides,” Melvin Mintz, chairman of the former Downtown Schenectady Special Assessment District, once told The Daily Gazette.
It was 1988, and the district was eager to see the small structure demolished so the city could add between eight and 20 more parking spaces in the lot. State officials wouldn’t allow it. They said its “historic design exemplifies a city government function.”
“You can’t knock down a building that historic,” Gillen said. “It has to be preserved. And we do think it will be an aid to helping us redevelop the lots and parcels around it.”
There is only 1,200 square feet of usable space in the station, and even that is split in half by the archway. In 2006, Metroplex called on developers who might have ideas for reusing the building and was met with silence.
“If there were 5,000 or 10,000 square feet of space, it would be a good return on investment,” Gillen said. “But with this small of space, there just wasn’t any interest. So we stepped back and spent a good amount of effort cleaning that whole lot.”
Metroplex provided matching funds toward a state Department of Environmental Conservation grant to clean the lot of contamination likely left there by an 1800s-era manufactured gas plant. New soil was brought in as fill, a new coat of pavement went down, and granite curbs, concrete sidewalks and new lighting were installed.
During the cleanup, Metroplex was careful to preserve the weigh station.