I don’t remember who first came up with the description of the aluminum front that hides the handsome architecture of No. 415 on Albany’s First Avenue West. But now, the days of the “cheese grater” may finally come to an end.
On Wednesday (July 18), the advisory board of the Central Albany Revitalization Area will consider a $10,000 grant request to help pay for restoring the original storefront, which includes taking down the metal front and repairing the plaster on the brick walls.
Ten years ago CARA had approved a $357,000 aid package to help upgrade what was known as the former Book Bin. The applicant was Willamette Development Services, the Albany real estate investment venture that was then about to collapse. WDS did not follow through on the First Avenue project, and CARA canceled its aid offer in March 2008.
The building dates from 1866. It is owned by Kevin and Sally LaCoste of Gearhart and leased to Mercy House International, an Albany nonprofit that operates 1st Hand Seconds Unique Boutique on the ground floor. The store’s proceeds support the organization’s program to help women get away from abusive men.
Mercy House intends to buy the building and, as a first step, wants to restore the storefront at a cost estimated at around $320,000. The $10,000 sought from CARA would go toward restoring the second-floor arched windows, which will cost about $62,000.
According to the grant application, once the organization owns the building it plans to restore the vacant second floor as an event space or as market-rate apartments. The second floor is reputed to have housed a speakeasy during Prohibition. Later it served as a meeting room for veterans’ groups. The aluminum cheese grater front was added in the early 1960s when the ground floor housed an appliance store.
It’s the only building on this block of First that has not had some work to make it look like the historic original. Come to think of it, the cheese grater now is more than half a century old. If it stays up much longer, some people will start calling it historic too. (hh)