A few months ago I was in Albany for the weekend and had some time to kill so I got starbucks and took a walk around the old neighborhood. Yes folks, I, Owen Foley, former punk rock boxer and anarchist extraordinaire have become a pinkey up, latte drinking stroll taker. 2005 Owen would totally kick my ass right now.
My stroll took me past the houses on Holland Ave where I spent many of my formative years. This is a little bit of hyperbole since I didn’t grow up in the Holland houses, but moved in when I was 19. While I was technically an adult at the time looking back it feels like it was just infancy, and the 4 years that I lived on Holland were the ones that laid the framework for most of my friendships and fundamentally made me the person who I am today.
If you didn’t attend the Albany College of Pharmacy and/or Health Sciences from 2003-2008 you probably don’t have any clue what I am talking about. There are 6 big and beautiful Tutor style houses on Holland ave just a block from the college. They were actually closer to the school and the dorms while having amenities such as off street parking (a premium in Albany), full basements, and no adult supervision. They looked beautiful on the outside and had once been grand on the inside, our solarium had a wall mounted fountain shaped like a fish, plus we actually had a solarium. The problem was upkeep, and the landlord didn’t put any time or money into the properties since he really didn’t care, as evidenced by the fact that he rented them to college students. While they had the potential to be nice they were so outdated that there was no way they would pass code inspections. In our entire house we had 2 grounded outlets, the walls were moldy and full of asbestos, and there was a room in the basement with a dirt floor that was infested with all sorts of insects. We also didn’t do much in the way of upkeep, and between the parties, and the hookah coal dust, and the beer bottles all the houses (except for the 110 which had 2 girls living there who cleaned) looked like they war zones.
The school and possibly the city of Albany have ordinances in place to prevent fraternity houses, so these were technically not frat houses, but that was just a technicality. When I first came on campus there were 2 KE houses and one Phi Del house on Holland ave, by the time of the great eviction there were 2 KE houses, 3 Phi Del ones, and one former KE house that had been condemned. It is worth pointing out to those that went to other pharmacy schools on our campus KE was not the national women’s pharmacy fraternity, but the only all male chapter, and while they were good guys they were definitely some hard partying natty swilling bros. Those of us in PDC were not much more refined, many of us were hard partying devotees of Keystone Light and Evan Williams. For the fraternities it was an ideal situation, close to campus, secluded from most neighbors, on the main drag but isolated enough that the cops didn’t bother us.
When we were freshman my group of friends was always looking for a place to hang out and drink. After a near stabbing experience behind a bodega it was decided that we needed a safe place to call our own. Behind the Holland houses was a road that was protected from view by a stand of trees, so we started drinking there. The normal people on the road didn’t mind us and the KE guys would sometimes come and drink with us. But as Albany tends to do it eventually got cold. I knew the PDC guys, but didn’t hang out with them much outside of parties, eventually one day as we were counteracting our shivers with malt liquor one of the PDC guys approched us, lets call him Meatball. Unlike the KE guys who came out and drank with us Meatball had no such intentions, he came out to yell at us for being stupid and drinking in the cold, and dragged us into his warm basement where he told us we can drink anytime, it was one of the kindest things that anyone has ever done for me. Eventually we moved from the basement into the living room, and into their poker games, and eventually we were accepted as PDC wannabees. It is no surprise that most of us wear letters today.
After my first year of college I was asked to move into a room at 100 Holland. It technically was an office, and it technically wasn’t insulated, but I jumped at the chance despite the objections of my parents and the college. The rest of the story is a bit of a blur. During the next 4 years I lived with 9 different roommates, hosted dozens of parties, went through good and bad times and generally raised hell… oh yeah and I studied a little bit too. By 2008 our landlord had had enough, after a certain roommate of mine neglected to pay rent for 11 consecutive months nobody’s leases were renewed and we all had to find new places to host our debauchery. Myself and 4 others ended up settling in the suburbs at a decent house called Fort Glenmont that we proceeded to run into the ground to the point that it was torn down last year. No matter what other places I lived my college experience will always be tied to 100 Holland ave.
When I was on vacation with Meatball this spring he told me how he had walked past 100 Holland when he had last been in Albany. I decided to take that walk down memory lane myself. I walked around all the houses and peered in the windows and was saddened to see how far things have fallen apart. In a few short years our already run down houses had descended into decrepitude. The doors were boarded up to prevent vagrants, but there are smashed windows and broken porch railings, and the roof of the office that I had moved into 10 years ago had collapsed. It was an immensely sad experience to see the cathedrals of my youth reduced to rubble.
I take a lot of solace in the fact that the most important part of those houses are the people who lived in them. The friendships that were fostered by living in these very fun places so close to each other have stood the test of time. I can’t think of a week during the past 10 years that I have gone without being in contact with someone who lived on Holland ave. My best friends and I had an opportunity to be together in a unique place at a unique time when the school and the cops and the slumlords allowed us to create memories that will forever bind us. When I returned from my walk I wiped the tears from my eyes and went out with a bunch of those friends to have new experiences and to write the next chapter or our story.