Center Square Association’s paper records, from its inception in 1958 through 2013, have been donated to the Albany Institute of History & Art (AIHA) where they are archived in the research library for historians, scholars and others who are interested in the story of Albany’s oldest neighborhood association. The Center Square Association, Inc. collection consists of 36 boxes containing correspondence, meeting minutes, newsletters, legal documentation, photographs, newspaper clippings and other printed material. This finding guide details how to locate specific documents within the collection.
The Albany Institute’s library is open to the public on Thursdays, 1-4:30 p.m., or by pre-scheduled appointment which can be made by calling AIHA at 518-463-4478. The guide is also posted on the AIHA website: www.albanyinstitute.org. To access it, click on the Library tab, then “Library Collection Finding Aids” and then, “Manuscripts.”
Center Square Association Historic Records Archived at the Albany Institute of History and Art
by Jackaline Ring
The story begins with Harold Rubin, as many things in Center Square have. Beginning in 1996 and in subsequent years, Harold gave his voluminous paper records of Center Square Association (CSA) to the Albany Institute of History & Art (AIHA). CSA’s current president, Jackaline Ring, followed suit and donated numerous boxes of records she received upon becoming president in 2013. The collection, which AIHA Chief Curator Doug McCombs considers significant, were stored, waiting to be processed and catalogued so they could be useful for researchers. Large library acquisitions, such as this, often have to wait for processing until funding is available.
In anticipation of CSA’s 60th anniversary in 2018, Jackie and Clare Yates proposed to the membership that the milestone be marked and celebrated by hiring a professional archivist to process the collection – to sort the information chronologically and by topic, to create an online finding guide and to put all the paper records in archival materials. The membership enthusiastically approved an amount not to exceed $5,000 for the project. It came in under-budget.
Doug recommended James Corsaro, the retired associate librarian in charge of manuscripts and special collections at the NYS Library, for the task. Jim found most surprising the volume of records – particularly the litigation CSA initiated to stop the historic housing stock from being chopped into multiple rental units – the insistence that codes and zoning were enforced and the decades long advocacy for resident parking. And most importantly, the successful fight to stop the 787 arterial highway from running through the middle of Jay St. and Hudson Ave., tearing down 19th Century homes and slicing the downtown historic neighborhoods in half. “What started off as a beautification initiative within Center Square, within two years became focused on the larger issues,” Jim said.
I asked Jim what he most enjoyed about the project. The photographs. Most frustrating? Photocopying the many newspaper clippings – some from the New York Times.
Doug put the collection in historic perspective. “Center Square Association was a pioneering, grassroots organization that made a difference at a particular time in American history. They were the first to look at maintaining and revitalizing inner city neighborhoods at a time of exodus to the suburbs – both in Albany and nationally. This is an important collection that the Institute is thrilled to house.” Doug said that historians from SUNY Albany have already begun using the documents.
Several people have asked about digitizing the CSA records. Doug explained why that isn’t feasible. “It’s safe to say there are thousands of documents in the CSA collection. A collection of that size is beyond the capacity of most libraries and archives since it requires dedicated servers to store the large quantity of digital files, extra staff to digitize and record metadata in order to meet professional standards, and additional website development to make them accessible. Most large collections that have been digitized tend to be the papers of presidents and other noted figures, and usually have been funded by national granting agencies.”