153-159 South Pearl Street

One way of getting started is to post some things I’ve already worked on.  By the way, everything on here is a ‘work in progress,’ so if I get something wrong or you have some information to add, please let me know.

This is a ‘geographical genealogy’ bit I recently did on an imposing and quite old structure on South Pearl Street, opposite Herkimer Street, which is a recent bright spot for that area’s economic development.

153-159 SOUTH PEARL STREET

Nov 2014 Al Quag
153 South Pearl Street in November 2014. Thanks to Al Quaglieri for the picture.

The Historic Albany Foundation Inventory of oldest buildings dates the building at 153 South Pearl Street as circa 1845. In the notes it also says that it was built as a synagogue. But I think this might not be entirely correct.

After Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise’s disastrous tenure as rabbi at Albany’s first synagogue, Congregation Beth El, he and other like-minded friends founded a new synagogue, dedicated to the Reform principles espoused by Rabbi Wise. This was Congregation Anshe Emeth. Rabbi Wise tells us in his autobiographical Reminiscences that soon after the split in 1850, the congregation purchased a Baptist church on South Pearl Street, and, after making pertinent renovations to the former church building, regular synagogue services began there on October 3, 1851. Rabbi Wise noted how ‘commodious’ the building was, seating more than 900 people and giving them an unobstructed view of the sanctuary.

Wise had purchased a church building constructed by the South Baptist Society. I don’t know whether they had split from First Baptist or from Pearl Street Baptist (on North Pearl), or why. But, according to Munsell’s Annals of Albany, on Christmas Day, 1843, the South Baptist Society dedicated their new edifice on South Pearl Street at the head of Herkimer Street. South Baptist would then move to a building at Franklin and Herkimer, which made 153 South Pearl available for the new Jewish congregation.

Shortly after it ceased being a synagogue, 153 South Pearl was purchased by William E. Drislane and transformed into a grocery store. This was one of two stores he maintained on South Pearl, the other being in the former Pearl Street Theater, but when a fire destroyed that store in 1894, Drislane moved and consolidated his operations on North Pearl Street in the former Female Academy building.

Anshe Emeth - Drislane's
Drislane Bros. ca. 1890. Many details left from its use as a synagogue. Taken from Flickr AlbanyGroup Archive.

It would have been shortly after this that 153 South Pearl was purchased by John Pommer & Son, which firm had been established in 1885 as a dealer in home furnishings. They sold furniture, floor coverings, upholstery, mantel pieces, and later on, phonographs. It would be known by a variety of names: John Pommer’s Son; H & J Pommer’s; Henry Pommrer’s; and eventually just plain Pommer’s (which name is inscribed above the building’s entrance), and even today it is known as the Pommer Building. There was a substantial fire in the building in 1903, and perhaps this is when the present façade was added. An additional floor was also added, as is apparent from the pictures. But I couldn’t say when that happened.

I can’t tell when the building ceased to be Pommer’s, but the name seems to disappear from advertising in the 1930s. Not having access to any directories from this period, I also lost the trail as to what was here. It seems to have been a hardware store from at least the 1970s until 1991 (Reis-Hartmann’s?). It was then left abandoned for some years until 1999, when the building was purchased by Gallagher & Co., which made a substantial investment in it’s rehabilitation. It was for a time an antiques auction house called Pommer Gallery. But in 2006, it was reopened as a ‘vertical retail mini-mall’ called The Coliseum, which continues to serve as an ‘incubator’ for local entrepreneurs.

153 South Pearl 4
Bing Maps image showing location – it’s the blue dot in the center. You can get a good idea of its size and of how ‘commodious’ it might have been as a place of worship.
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