Marcus T. Reynolds
Gothic detailing of
The SUNY Plaza
weathervane, a replica
of Henry Hudson's ship
the Half Moon
A coat of arms adorns
a rooftop spire
Born in 1870 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, Marcus T. Reynolds graduated from Williams College in Williams, Massachusetts, took an advanced degree from Columbia University, and spent two years studying the medieval architecture of various cities in Europe.
Reynolds is said to have changed the face of downtown Albany more than any other architect of his period; banks were one of his specialties. Listed below are some of the other structures still standing in Albany that Reynolds designed.
Other structures designed by Reynolds include the Gideon Putnam Hotel in Saratoga Springs and the railway station in Cooperstown, as well as buildings in Hudson, Catskill, Amsterdam and Schenectady. It is the Delaware and Hudson and Albany Evening Journal Buildings, however, that are recognized as Reynolds's most striking creations. The design for these buildings was a unique blend of traditional Gothic architecture with a modern reinforced concrete and steel framed building.
Reynolds's firm, Quackenbush, Wagoner and Reynolds, is still in business in Albany, now known as Lux and Quackenbush, where Reynolds's grandnephew is an architect, and many of Reynolds's drawings are kept.
The design for the Delaware and Hudson building was interpreted by Reynolds to include New York State history in the extensive adornments on its facade. For instance, the portal at the base of the tower bears the name and coat of arms of Henry Hudson. To the right of this buttress is the salamander emblem of Francis I of France, who sent an expedition to this area before the Dutch arrived. The opposite buttress bears the arms of the Dutch States General. Adorning the center of the upper balustrade are the arms of the Duke of Albany, brother of Charles II of England, whose name was transferred to the City on September 24, 1666. Other symbols include the names of the VanRensselaers, Schuylers, Bleekers, Cuylers and Livingstons with the dates of arrival of the family founders, as well as the coat of arms for the D&H Railway, and carvings of beavers. (It was the beaver's pelt that brought the first Dutch settlers to Fort Nassau, later Fort Orange, in 1614 to trade with the Mohawk Indians.) Expressive caricatures of human heads are carved in a row above the three ground floor arches of the central tower. In Gothic times such contorted faces, portrayed as looking out on our world of sin and death, were a reflection of the tensions inherent in the human condition, however humorous they might seem. The most curious carved image on the building is in the central niche of the dormer's gable at the top of the main tower. It is a copy of Michelangelo's "Ill Pensieroso" (The Thinker). Ironically, the significance of this is more suited to the building's present function as a university headquarters than to the Delaware and Hudson Railway Company. However, it may have been meant to inspire thinking among the company's employees. It is evident from the costly ornaments in carved stone with which the structure is adorned that it was constructed during a period of great prosperity and low labor costs.
The weathervane located at the top of the center tower of the building was also designed by Reynolds. It is a replica of the Half Moon, the ship that Henry Hudson sailed to the site of Albany in 1609. Local legend has it that the Half Moon landed on the place now occupied by the D & H building, which is why Reynolds chose the ship. According to the Smithsonian Institution, it is the largest working weathervane in the United States. Its dimensions are 6' 9" in length, and 8' 10" high, keel to tip of mast; it weighs approximately 400 pounds. It was manufactured by James Akroyd and Sons of Albany and was installed on January 26, 1915.
It is interesting to note that during the same year that Reynolds began work on the D & H building, the Cloth Guild Hall, which was erected around 1250, and its Nieuwerk annex, which was completed in 1624, were virtually destroyed by direct hits from German artillery. After the war, a portion of the Cloth Guild Hall was rebuilt and is now a war museum.
Some sources say that Reynolds's plan for this building was an intention to carry out the Brunner/Lay plan; other sources suggest that Reynolds pirated the plan (a preliminary drawing of the plaza by Brunner shows a building very similar in appearance to that which Reynolds designed). During the time that Reynolds was campaigning his plans for this building, the Delaware and Hudson Railway decided to erect a centralized office building to replace its cramped quarters. Here, too, some sources say that it was merely "coincidental" that the D & H Railway saw Reynolds's plans at that time and decided that they wanted to inhabit the building shown. Other sources say that the City pressured the D & H into agreeing to build and inhabit the object of Reynolds's plans. The structure was completed in 1915, at a final cost of about $1,250,000. (To reproduce this structure today would cost more than $90,000,000.)