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Foss: An effort to save a popular old bird once connected to Schenectady’s now-gone Nicholaus Building

Foss: An effort to save a popular old bird once connected to Schenectady’s now-gone Nicholaus Building

Foss: An effort to save a popular old bird once connected to Schenectady’s now-gone Nicholaus Building
Loppa once freely roamed the old Nicholaus Restaurant on State Street.
Photographer: Photo provided

SCHENECTADY -- Schenectady's Nicholaus Building was reduced to a pile of rubble two years ago, joining the ranks of noteworthy Capital Region structures that now exist solely in memory. 

Gone forever are the distinctive turret that graced the building's exterior, the imposing brick facade and the eye-catching rooftop lettering that proclaimed "Nicholaus Block." 

It's a big loss -- one that transformed a charmingly historic piece of downtown into something blandly modern. 

But it isn't entirely correct to say that nothing of the Nicholaus Building remains. 

The Nicholaus Building lives on -- in the form of a scarlet macaw named Loppa. 

Until last week, I didn't know anything about Loppa, or his, ahem, colorful history, although older Schenectady residents and visitors to the Schenectady County Historical Society are likely to be familiar with the brightly hued bird. 

What brought Loppa to my attention was a fundraiser on Facebook titled "Save Loppa!" 

Once a fixture at the Nicholaus Building, the parrot was preserved by a taxidermist after his death in 1936 and has been a part of the Schenectady County Historical Society's museum collection for years. 

But now Loppa has fallen on hard times, and is in danger of falling apart. The SCHS estimates that $7,000 is needed to restore the bird to its former glory. 

"He will crumble if we don't do something," Mary Zawacki, the executive director of the SCHS, told me. "His tail has already fallen apart multiple times, and I keep having to put it on." 

I have a natural affinity for quirky stories, and an effort to raise money to fix up a beloved old parrot is exactly the sort of the thing that would catch my interest. 

But that doesn't mean there isn't a serious case to be made for making Loppa beautiful again, and ensuring that he'll be around to greet visitors to the SCHS for years to come. 

Loppa is more than a whimsical curiosity -- he's a tangible link to Schenectady's Golden Age, the only material reminder of an iconic and much-missed building. 

"People connect with Loppa," Zawacki said. "He was a living thing. He was a character that people knew." 

She added, "The Nicholaus Building is gone now, and it was a really cool building. But we're fortunate to have this colorful parrot. He's the mascot that lives on." 

Macaws are not native to the Capital Region. 

Loppa was brought to Schenectady from Guatemala in 1907, at the ripe old age of 50, according to a brief history of the Nicholaus Restaurant that can be found on the Schenectady County Historical Society's blog. 

Until his death, Loppa "freely roamed the saloon, the restaurant, and the outside environs," the blog post notes. He was then mounted and stuffed, and greeted patrons from his perch until 1975, when the longtime eatery closed. 

As for the Nicholaus Building, it remains the subject of litigation. 

The building was deemed unstable and torn down in April 2017, one year after it began shaking so violently its walls separated and pieces of ceiling fell down. This sudden situation occurred two weeks after the adjacent Olender Mattress building was knocked down to make room for a new development.

The Nicholaus Building was evacuated, but never reoccupied. Instead, the city demolished it and the owners subsequently filed a lawsuit contending that the building was a casualty of efforts to construct an apartment complex next door. 

Loppa needs a lot of work and, in addition to raising money, Zawacki is seeking grant funding to help pay for it. 

According to a report put together by a taxidermist who examined Loppa, "The overall condition of the bird is very poor. It is extremely dirty, many of the feathers are broken, have lost their webbing structure, and have a very tattered appearance. There are areas of missing feathers and disrupted feather patterns."

I'd like to see Loppa cleaned up, repaired and returned to his home at the Schenectady County Historical Society in a condition that recalls his glory days. 

He's a piece of Schenectady's history that makes people smile, and there's real value in that. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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