Local documentary brings in the donations at WMHT

TROY, NY – History was made when WMHT-TV (PBS) premiered the local documentary, “The Neighborhood That Disappeared” on December 12. Viewers contributed more dollars during a single fundraising broadcast than ever before. Nearly $40,000 was raised to support public television when WMHT aired the new documentary that tells the story of the neighborhood that was destroyed to make way for the construction of the Empire State Plaza. Now, the program will return in four separate broadcasts.

“The Neighborhood That Disappeared” will be broadcast at the following times:

  • Monday, December 29 at 8pm
  • Thursday, January 1 at 10am
  • Thursday, January 1 at 3:30pm
  • Thursday, January 1 at 9:30pm

“The Neighborhood That Disappeared” tells the story of the neighborhood that was destroyed to make way for the construction of the Empire State Plaza. In 1962, one of the most massive urban renewal projects in American history sterilized the cultural and ethnic heart of Albany. Almost 8% of Albany’s diverse population was displaced to make way for the construction of the South Mall. The project razed more than a thousand buildings, dislodged 3,600 households, and closed 350 businesses.

One-third of the city’s ethnic population was displaced to build the South Mall. An Italian-American settlement resembling a southern Italian village was swiftly uprooted, transforming the city of Albany forever. In that moment, a mode of life mixing Old World flavors with mercantile aspirations was dealt a death blow. Albany’s Little Italy was a feast for the senses. Its goals embraced the American dream. And its story could have been lost forever. But producer Mary Paley and her team changed that with this film. From beneath the cornerstone of the Empire State Plaza, Mary and her film team unearthed a vibrant ethnic neighborhood that housed courageous immigrants and the Greatest Generation. Young boys invented street games; goods were exchanged in place of cash; no child grew up anonymously; no one went hungry. In these Italian American stories, we have all found an inspiring resourcefulness that’s gone missing in America.

In the words of former Assemblyman Jack McEneny, “The South End was much more of a Lower East Side of New York because it was home to many different people who were cheek and jowl to one and other.” Although “The Neighborhood That Disappeared” focused primarily on the Old Italian neighborhood, the South End was a vibrant blend of cultures with individuals from so many walks of life who came together to help tell this story.

Albany’s Old Italian neighborhood was an important part of the city’s 400 year history, but it has vanished. Because there was no personal technology during the formative years of the neighborhood, filmmaker Mary Paley and her creative team had to use a process called “cultural forensics” to bring the story to life.  There was little technology during this time – no iPad or iPhone; no digital cameras; in fact, few cameras of any kind as they were luxuries that many couldn’t afford. But through years of research and painstaking effort, the filmmakers have brought the story to life. They recorded over 40-hours of video (including many interviews from former residents) and collected over 700 photos and documents. There’s no way to tell every aspect of this story, but it’s simply remarkable that so much of it has been brought to life in this way.

This historic film features many of Mary Paley’s father’s historic newspaper photographs along with archival film footage, photos from families, archives from the Albany Institute of History and Art and scores of other sources. Creating this film was a labor of love for Mary and her partners. Because of the support of viewers, WMHT was able to approach Mary and her partners and make an investment in this film which is allowing it to be seen by thousands of individuals across the region. It’s a demonstration of WMHT’s ongoing commitment to sharing the history of our community. WMHT has told the story of baseball on our region’s diamonds and focused on the heritage of Irish-Americans; traced the history of the Iroquois and taken a nostalgic look back at our region’s many movie theaters; we’ve looked at Presidents in our Backyard and the history of rail manufacturing; focused on individuals like Charles Steinmetz, Seneca Ray Stoddard, Erastus Corning and Legs Diamond; and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Additional information about “The Neighborhood That Disappeared” may be found at http://www.wmht.org/blogs/history/the-neighborhood-that-disappeared/

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