SCHENECTADY — The house at 1849 Van Vranken Ave. has been in the same family for more than 100 years, home not only to three generations of Glennons and Pellegrinos, but to three different businesses they operated at widely separated intervals.
In the early 20th century, Anthony and Margaret Pellegrino ran Stoney Lane Ice Cream Parlor.
Years later, their daughter Isabel Glennon ran the Dutch Oven bakery there in the mid-20th century.
Early in the 21st century, Donald Glennon retired early from his department store career and came home to his ailing parents. He also cleaned years of accumulated family castoffs out of the space, and in 2005 opened Dragonfly Pottery, which features his own pottery and other pieces of art, antiques and decor.
It was a late and slow start for Glennon, but he became skilled in the art and mechanics of creating objects of beauty from clay. Today, the back room behind the retail area is a teaching studio where students follow Glennon down the same path.
Photos by Marc Schultz/Staff Photographer
“It started for me as a hobby,” said Glennon, who throws his own work on the same pottery wheel where he teaches others.
“It was always an interest of mine. It was very frustrating in the beginning. That’s why when I have students now, I just tell them, calm down, wait, it’ll come. I get real excited now when a student goes out and buys an $1,800 wheel of their own.”
The old saw is, if you choose something you enjoy as a career, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Glennon is now 73 and clearly still enjoys what is essentially a second career after 37 years in design and management for department stores, mostly in the Federated family.
DEEP ROOTS IN AREA
The house at 1847-1849 Van Vranken Ave. has a fairly remarkable longevity with the same family.
The Goose Hill neighborhood, with its large Italian-American population, was a natural choice for Anthony and Margaret Pellegrino when they settled down. He was born in Italy, she was born in America of Italian-immigrant parents.
Anthony worked at General Electric and Margaret probably did the bulk of the work running the ice cream stand. They raised a family there as well.
“My mom was born here, up on the dining-room table in 1918,” said Glennon.
It was a good place to be a child.
JOHN CROPLEY/BUSINESS EDITOR
An original business card from the Van Vranken Avenue ice cream parlor operated many decades ago by Anthony and Margaret Pellegrino. Their grandson Donald Glennon now runs Dragonfly Pottery in the same space.
“My grandmother used to tell me all the time, when she and my grandfather went to sleep, her kids would come down here in the middle of the night and make themselves sundaes. When they used to hear my grandfather coming they’d throw it out the window into the driveway.”
Stoney Lane didn’t last long. Glennon isn’t sure of the exact date or reason for the closure, but the Great Depression put a lot of people out of business in that era.
(Neat bit of Electric City trivia — the long-ago ice cream fountain lives on in the name of Stoney’s Irish Grill next door. Anthony Pellegrino’s cousin was opening a bar on that site as Pellegrino was shutting down, and asked if he could have the name. Pellegrino said he could, and it endures today.)
Isabel was the next entrepreneur in the family. Born and raised an American, and married to a man of Irish heritage, her bakery featured American-style breads and treats rather than the Italian-style products familiar to her parents and grandparents.
“She was the baker, and a great cook,” Glennon recalls of his mother. “At the holidays she would do the traditional Italian stuff, but the rest of the year it was American. I was raised on a lot of pasta and cake.”
The Dutch Oven also didn’t last forever. Isabel closed it and went to work in Barney’s Department Store downtown to help pay for her son’s college education, after he graduated from Linton High School in 1965.
Glennon’s career took him out of Schenectady for decades, mostly in Brooklyn.
When his father, William, became ill, he transferred to a Capital Region department store, from which he eventually took an early retirement at age 58.
The old family homestead was showing its age, cluttered with decades’ worth of accumulated stuff. Not interesting or valuable things, just stuff.
“The stuff that they kept, nobody wanted,” Glennon recalled. “I always used to say, ‘Didn’t you save anything from the ice cream parlor?’ I found a table and two chairs in the basement, and one Planter’s Peanut jar that they used to have on the counter. And that was it.
“I think my grandfather sold everything to someone up in Bellevue. So that’s probably why there’s nothing around.”
When William Glennon passed away in 1993, Donald Glennon set about fixing up and cleaning out the building. Around the time he finished, his mother died.
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Pottery became a bigger part of his life, and in 2005, he opened Dragonfly.
“It’s a shame she never got to see it, she would have really enjoyed it,” Glennon said of his mother. “She loved her little store.”
Glennon has enjoyed a long growth curve in his skills — shapeless, colorless lumps of clay become multi-hued shapes of beauty in his hands. The 60-member pottery guild he belongs to contains some fantastically talented people, he said, and to hear one of them compliment his work is very gratifying.
The fact that he started at a low baseline relatively late in life — his first attempt at pottery was in his mid-50s — helps him relate to his students, who include five-year veterans and novices alike. Class size is limited to four to allow enough elbow room to work and to allow enough time for one-on-one guidance.
“I try to make it a very fun thing,” said Glennon, who teaches from his own model of working.
“I don’t ever sit down at my wheel and make something unless I have an idea of what I want to do,” he said. “I always tell my students, look through the papers, look through magazines, see if you find something, no matter if it’s clay, wood, glass, as long as it’s got a shape that you’re attracted to.”
He added: “I tend to go towards an art nouveau type of work. I like the lines and the flow of art nouveau pottery.”
Glennon previsualizes color, as well as shape.
“I never use just one glaze on a piece, I put one color over another and get something different,” he said. “If you reverse the two, you get something completely different. There’s endless combinations.”
So at 100-plus years old, the house at 1849 Van Vranken Ave. is now a home, a classroom and a retail shop.
Glennon’s own finished pottery is for sale on the shelves, along with his photography and artwork by Ralph Lanzetti, who works behind the counter a few hours a week.
Artwork and historical pieces that Glennon finds in his travels also have a place on the shelves.
Restaurants on either side (Appian Way and Stoney’s Irish Grill) supply a stream of potential retail customers for Dragonfly which.
“I’ve got customers that come in, as soon as they come in they get a big smile on their face, they like coming in to have a good time looking at stuff,” Glennon said.
“I like when people ask me how I make things.”