The Altamont Fair – Albany Agricultural Society

The first Fair was sponsored by the Albany Agricultural Society in 1813.

From then until 1892, fairs were held in Albany and other surrounding towns, including Bethlehem Center and Slingerlands.

The Altamont Driving Park and Fair Association was incorporated on May 20, 1893. The Board of Directors voted to establish a grandstand (which would be the first permanent structure on the fairgrounds) and also instructed him to draw up plans for a front gate.

Within a month the Board of Directors also approved the purchase 24.5 acres of land in Altamont originally owned by George Severson now held in trust by Isaac Reamer to be known as the “Altamont Fair Grounds.” This is the site of the present fairgrounds.

The first fair to be held at the Altamont location was from September 12 through 15, 1893. Admission was 25 cents for adults, and the net receipts for the four days was $884.13. A racetrack was built in front of the Grandstand, and horse racing was held at the first fair and continued at the Altamont Fair until the mid 1990’s.

In 1896 the Board of Directors appointed a committee to travel to the Cobleskill Fairgrounds to obtain plans and cost estimates of duplicating Cobleskill’s two story Fair Building to be used at Altamont for the “exhibition of Domestic, Manufacture Art and Fancy Work and Fruits and Vegetables.” On August 26, 1896 the Board examined the completed Exhibition Hall and voted to approve and accept the structure, which thy felt had been built with “superior workmanship.” This building is now known as the Flower & Fine Arts a Building and has recently been named to the State and National Register of Historic Sites.

In 1897, the Altamont Driving Park and Fair Association changed its name to the Albany County Agricultural Society and Exposition. Over the next 20 years, more property was acquired and more buildings were constructed, including the Poultry Building in 1899  and a Ladies’ Building (now the Vegetable Building )

In  addition to the the  agricultural, animal  and domestic arts competitions and  exhibitions, the Fair has, through the years, incorporated other attractions. Auto racung was started in 1915 and continued through the 1990s.  Other feature events included wrestling, boxing, a rodeo, a fall out shelter exhibit in the 1960,  dramatic  readings  and plays, an Atlas Missile exhibit in 1962 and, in 1964, a raffle for a house.  Of course, Fair queens have been crowned. Here’s smattering of Fair ads from the 1920’s through the 1960s.

Altamont Fair 1927
Altamont Fair 1937
Altamont fair 1950
Altamont Fair 1951
Altamont Fair 1959
Altamont Fair Fallout Shelter Display 1960
Altamont Fair 1962
Altamont Fair Home Giveaway 1964
Altamont Fair 1965
altamont1968 - 8105
Miss Altamont Fair 1968


If you are on Facebook,  you might want to join the  Facebook Group, “Albany …the way  it was”, to share  your memories of Albany, NY with others. Here’s the link.


The Colonie Summer Theater

The Colonie Summer Theater was THE place for summer entertainment in the Albany area in the 1960’s.  It went by many names over the years: the Colonie Musical Theater,  the Colonie Summer  Theater, the Colonie Colosseum,   and the Starlite Theater, but to locals, it was always “The Tent”.  It was the  place many baby boomer kids saw their first theater production or professional musical act.   It was theater in the round .. there was a sense of intimacy.   When it opened, there were only about 2,000 seats. It was summer theater at its best.

Some nights it was hot and steamy and still,  but there always seemed to be a slight breeze blowing through the flaps of the brightly striped orange and green iconic tent. Other nights, the excitement of the show vied for attention with the crashing and booming of  thunder and flashes of lightning.

tent 1958   colonie


My family went  to the Tent at least 3 or 4 times each summer. The memory of the sights and smells of The Tent are right up there with Coppertone, swimming pool chlorine and orange Popsicles when I think of summer.

I was raised in a family with a love for  theater, especially musical theater.My brother and I were weaned on Rogers and Hammerstein LPs and gorgeous Technicolor movie musicals.  But nothing prepared me for the my first real musical theater at The Tent.  It was  thrilling and exciting,,, there was a sense of immediacy that was wonderful.  The actors and actresses entered down the aisles… right next to where you were sitting. In that small venue, it was almost like they were performing just for me.  The sound of the pit band was bright and clear.

The Tent was started by Eddie Rich, a New York City producer, in 1958.  He created  a venue that brought headliners and somewhat colibniw 1958past their prime headliners from all over, and from all aspects of show business; actors, singers, dancers, musicians.  The first production was Damn Yankees.  We went. I remember being gob smacked, and wandering around the neighborhood for at least a week singing “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and little man, Lola wants you” at the t0p of my lungs, anywhere and everywhere.

My most vivid memory is a performance of Brigadoon, the Lerner ad Lowe  musical about a small village in Scotland that appears magically, once every 100 years, and then vanishes again.   There is a chase  scene in Act II.  When it began in the Tent… the performers used very inch  of the theater, running up and down the aisles; we became part of the performance.  It was if there was no distance between us.. we, the entire audience and the  actors were one. For an 11 year old, it was one of the most thrilling experiences, something only avilable in such an intimate setting.  

colonie 1958


Rich died in 1968, but the theater continued. Joe Futia took over operations and built a new, permanent structure in 1969 that replaced the old tent, but it was still theater in the round.  Even in the new building.. the farthest seat was  just over 50″ from the stage. The actual “theater’ events became  fewer over time,- but I recall seeing Gypsy and The Solid Gold Cadillac with Martha Raye in the 1970s.   Futia was terrific at booking the hottest bands and comedians of the time, at the peak of their celebrity.. Blood, Sweat and Tears, Eddie Murphy, Iron Butterfly  in one night gigs, but there were also Las Vegas style acts, like Wayne Newton, Tom Jones and Jerry Vale,  with week-long runs.

In the late 1970s, a revolving stage was constructed.  The acts started to change – a lot of country/western; there were boxing matches.  There were no more week-long productions. I think the headliners were getting ‘bigger” and didn’t want to play a smaller venue.

And then abruptly in the late 1980’s The Tent closed its doors.. mid-season.  The operators at the time canceled all remaining shows – leaving angry ticket holders. It re-opened for the 1988 season.. under the aegis of Northeast Concerts.  The first act was a double bill – Three Dog Night and America.  The Tent was now the Starlite Theater.

But the next decade was a struggle – there were several owners and it never managed to become financially  feasible again.  The halcyon years of the 1960’s and even the 1970’s were gone.  The baby boomers were occupied elsewhere.. with children and mortgages, and there were other options fro summer entertainment throughout the Capital Region and the Berkshires.

The last season was 1997; the Starlite never re-opened. It fell in to sad disrepair and was finally demolished in November 2012.

Notices and memorablia from some of the Tent performances:  1958- 1971.



colonie 1958 (2)colonie  1959  oklahomacolonie  bells 1959colonie  1959 jamaica

colonie rusell 1959

1958 1

1959  4


1959N 3

CAN CAN 1958merry widow 1959



colinie 1962 wildactecolonie 19601960  1colony 1962

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1961 - 7485

Line at “The Music Man”  1962

music man 1962

colonie 1962

colonie 1962 (4)

colonie 1960 3

colonie 1961

colonie 1962 (2)


Schenectady NY Gazette 1960 Grayscale - 2039

1963 -1966

Troy NY Times Record 1963 - 4543

colonie 1965


colonie 1966 (2)


colnie 1966

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1966 - 7113

colonie 1966

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1966 - 5712

Schenectady NY Gazette 1966 Grayscale - 7055


colonie 1967 (3)

colisum dave clark five

Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1967 - 2330


Albany NY Knickerbocker News 1968 - 6389

colonie 1968

Troy NY Times Record 1968 - 7401

Troy NY Times Record 1968 - 7304


Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 9351

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 6965

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 7383

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 7845

Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 8300Schenectady NY Gazette 1969 Grayscale - 8679


Troy NY Times Record 1971 - 5108

The Paradise Show Boat .. The Floating Night Club

The Paradise Show Boat


3For three years, the Paradise Show Boat Club was THE place to go in the Capital District.  It booked some of the biggest acts  and exuded a glamour and vitality unique to the 1930’s.

The Paradise Show Boat started out as  a 5 masted schooner called the “City of Portland”.   When she was launched  in 1916 she was the largest single-deck wooden vessel ever built in the United States. She weighed more than 4000 tons and was over 300 feet long.   The City of Portland was commissioned into the United States Navy during World War I.  After the War end she hauled cargo. mostly in southern waters near New Orleans,  various Florida ports and Central America.

However, in 1924, on trip in the Northeast, she became water-logged  in the Hudson Highlands off the New Jersey coast.  She ended up,  badly damaged, at the docks in Perth Amboy,  N.J. 

In late 1930, she was purchased  by Edward Berry and John Moncello with the intent to turn her into  a floating pleasure boat in Albany.  She was towed up the Hudson to the port of Albany, near the Albany Yacht Club. Her 5 masts were reduced to 3.   Major renovations were envisioned.  There would be a dining room,  dance floor, miniature golf course and tennis courts;  all the amenities one might find at the time on an ocean-going cruise ship.

Lloyd Vanfbenscoten, a local man from Altamont (a small town outside of Albany),  was engaged to decorate the ship. While he was waiting for the ship to be ready for his work, he set up camp in Albany and painted the wonderful old murals on the walls of the old Boulevard Cafeteria  (now Ristorante Paradiso – how coincidental is that?)  on Central Ave. and Robin St.

cp 1


In the photo below,  the City of Portland is docked in Albany, near Madison Ave and Riverside Park. 



The intended renovations did not materialize quickly. For a while she lay at anchor in the Schodack Creek. The proposed fittings were much scaled back  to a just dining room and  a dance floor.    Finally, in 1933,  she was anchored and ready for business in Troy, not Albany.  Albany City officials would not permit her to be moored in the Port of Albany. She was towed across the River and found a home at  the bottom of Fulton Street in Troy.  The Paradise Show Boat was open.

cp 2 1933The Paradise soon became a wildly popular local venue, offering major talent and drawing large crowds.   The major headliner  to play the Show Boat was  the wonderful Cab Calloway and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

cp 1935

Cab Calloway affiche



Cab Calloway and his Orchestra

Cab Calloway.. REEFER MAN


Another headliner was Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears. She was  one of the only female band leaders, with an all  female band. Hutton toured with the Melodears for five years.  Known as the “Blonde Bombshell of Rhythm,” she often danced and sang as she conducted. Ina was known for fabulous gowns, ranging from the glamorous to the almost scandalous.  The audience expected sex appeal and she gave it to them, often changing costumes 3 times within a show.

cp 1935 ina



The Melodears

ina ray hutton band0001

Troy NY Times 1934 - 1522Most of the other bands that  played The Paradise were well known,  from their recordings and radio broadcasts. They included Ted Blake and Bennie Meroff, who had close connection with Jack Teagarten and Bix Beiderbeck , and the Blue Barron, who would go on to have one certified hit in the late in 1940’s, “Cruisin’ on the River. 



But  there were other acts.  Some nights the lineup looked like a Broadway revue of the time, and others, more like a classic night club floor show.  There was a “house band” comprised of local musicians; it played regularly on WGY.  There were  fan dancers and  vaudeville acts like the Gould Sisters from the old  Orpheum Circuit who sang and did musical impersonations.   Carlton and Juliette were a Latin dance duo from Havana who were said to have popularized the Cha Cha in later years. Phil Regan was the “singing Irish Cop”, a handsome tenor who went on to appear in a number of movies in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Gypsy Nina was a well-known  dark beauty who sang and played the accordion.

Most often the acts made the circuit in and around New York City, Long island, Upstate New York  and New Jersey in  night clubs and supper clubs.  Some, like Edith Murray, a singer, appeared in one of the first one reel  “talkies”.  Others, like Mildred Roselle,  a blues singer, appeared in Broadway revues,  clubs, and was a recording studio singer.

Some of the music was sweet, perfect for dancing “cheek to cheek”. but there was plenty of jazz, swing and blues.  There was something for every audience; “society singers”  to acrobatic acts.  While some performers were ‘regulars”,  most of the acts changed regularly  so there was always something new. There were tea dances on week-end afternoons; charities and club booked the Paradise for fund-raising and special events.

Charlton and Juliette

Binghamton NY Press Grayscale 1940 - 2715  carlton ND jULIETTE




phil regan thge singing cop



Phil  Regan  NICE TO SEE YOU

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I think my favorite act is Elvera Gomez and her Canadian Rockets.. if only for the name.. but there is a great graphic in the ad too.

plattsburgh-daily-press-1935-november-1936-april - 0373


Troy NY Times 1934 - 3453Troy NY Times 1934 - 3549

Troy NY Times 1934 - 3944

1935cp 1936

Schenectady NY Gazette 1935 Grayscale - 6285


Schenectady NY Gazette 1936 Grayscale - 1174

Schenectady NY Gazette 1936 Grayscale - 1174

cp 1936

In the Show Boat’s last summer season, 1936, the

In summer, 1936, the Paradise moved to Crescent Beach,  about 5 miles north of Albany, up Route 9, to a site on the Mohawk River. However, it appears that, while she was towed back to Troy in fall, 1936, she never re-opened.

cp 1936 4

It  was the Hudson River  itself that did in the Paradise.  She survived the spring floods  of 1936,  and being smashed by millions of tons of ice that clogged the River in the  winter.   But it was the possibility that she would break her moorings and smash into the Congress Street Bridge, destroying the only direct automobile and bus route into Troy that made the Mayor of Troy and his Police Commissioner demand that the Paradise be moved in December, 1936.  By this time the Paradise seems to have been acquired by new owners.  The demands for her removal went unheeded  several times.  FinTroy NY Times Record 1973 a - 3690 2ally, in 1937  the Paradise was sold at auction for scrap.  

cp 1

cp 1036 3

cp 1937  1sr