Troy has many iconic buildings, each unique for either an architectural, functional or historic reason. The city’s building stock is one of the reasons Troy has become a favorite Capital District destination.
Walking the city’s streets is a visual treat. Within the space of blocks one can see more than 200 years of architecture and history.
One of downtown Troy’s most beautiful buildings is the Rice Building, standing at the intersection of River and First streets. This triangular site allowed the architect to design a unique building, resembling in some ways, the prow of a magnificent ship.
There are many great architectural features here – the most striking being the banks of double-story arched windows on both sides on the second and third floors. All of the building’s street-facing windows are capped by polychrome stone voussoirs – those are the arched wedge-shaped stone frames above the windows. A polychrome arch has more than one colored stone.
Add to that, the decorative terra-cotta tiles festooning the gabled dormers and elsewhere, the fine decorative brickwork and other details, and you’ve got a gorgeous building, and a fine example of High Victorian Venetian-inspired Gothic architecture. It was even more impressive when it still had a sixth story, a central clock tower and two smaller towers rising high over downtown Troy.
The building was built in 1871, and was originally called the Hall building, for its owner Benjamin Homer Hall, who served as a City Clerk of Troy. There is some dispute as to the architect. It’s generally ascribed to Calvert Vaux and Frederick Clark Withers. Vaux is better known as one of the architects of Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, with his partner Frederick Law Olmsted.
He was a fine architect in his own right, the architect, both alone and with Withers, of many fine buildings, especially in the Hudson Valley. The Rice Building has many similarities to his Jefferson Market Courthouse building, which still stands in NYC’s Greenwich Village.
But recent investigations have led many architectural historians to believe that the Rice Building was actually designed by George Post, who also designed the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. If so, this would be one of his earliest known buildings. Post went on to a fine career which included the NY Stock Exchange Building in Manhattan, as well as many, many other banks, university buildings, churches and large commercial buildings.
Either way – Vaux and Withers or Post – the building had a great architect and it shows.
A fire took that top floor and the towers sometime between 1913 and 1920, but the building was repaired and in use until a foreclosure in the 1980s, which left it abandoned and run-down, like too many other downtown buildings. In the 1990s, a non-profit group consisting of the Troy Architectural Program (TAP), Troy Savings Bank (now First Niagara) and RPI saved the building. Aided by $2 million from the State, via Senator Joe Bruno, the building was repaired, restored to beauty, and used as a business incubator.
The Rice Building can be seen as a law office in Martin Scorsese’s 1993 film, “The Age of Innocence.”
In 2015, the building was purchased by brother and sister Luther and Lolly Tai, who have plans with preservation architect Joseph Michael Kelly to rebuild the towers. Hopefully those plans are still in the works.
Photos, from above: Rice building courtesy Wikimedia user UpstateNYer; illustration of Rice Building in Troy; Rice Building details courtesy Ganem Construction.
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