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September 23, 2013

Oneonta saw construction, destruction in fall of 1973

The Daily Star

---- — Whether it was the sounds of a pile driver to start construction, or a wrecking ball to demolish old construction, decibel levels were pretty high at times during the month of September 1973 in Oneonta.

‘Cardboard Alley’ defied expectations

The wrecking ball was near for some buildings on the Hartwick College campus, well known to many as “Cardboard Alley.” The Oneonta Star of Friday, Sept. 14, 1973 reminded some readers, “Cardboard Alley isn’t made of cardboard.”

“It is made out of cheap, World War II vintage lumber and is held together more by sheer stubborn determination than the thousands of nails covered by dozens of layers of paint.” It was one of several military surplus buildings the college obtained to help handle the postwar student crunch. The buildings came from Sampson Naval Training Base on Seneca Lake.

When the Cardboard Alley buildings were reassembled on campus, college officials were told not to count on it having a life expectancy of more than five to seven years. Engineering inspections, however, always showed that the buildings remained solid. They weren’t too sightly though, and were never in the original design of the campus made in the late 1920s. Change for more attractive buildings was at hand.

River Street School razed

Over in the city’s Sixth Ward, it was reported on Thursday, Sept. 20, that another landmark would be razed next week.

“The venerable River Street School Building, which for the past few years has housed the Sixth Ward Athletic Club, will be torn down.” It had stood on the site, now occupied by the Oak Square Apartments, since 1888.

The Club had looked into the possibility of renovating the building but decided the cost was too great. Vandalism had been on the increase and the school was becoming an eyesore. River Street School had been in use through the 1965-66 school year. Riverside Elementary School opened in September 1966, replacing River Street and Mitchell Street schools, the latter once found where Nader Towers stands today.

One memento of the River Street School, the school bell, was saved, and is on display at Riverside School.

Burt Box Co. got go-ahead from town

“The Oneonta Town Planning Board last night gave its approval to the F.N. Burt Co. plant construction plans to be used if the company decides to locate in the town,” it was reported on Friday, Sept. 21.

The company did locate here, producing cardboard packaging. The site chosen was on Browne Street in Oneonta’s West End. Although plans were made for the firm to open in June 1974, delays in placing a water line to the plant caused an opening later that year.

The company planned to hire and become operational in two phases, with 100 employees in the first and 200 more in the second. Some of F.N. Burt’s clients included Avon, Revlon, Lipton, Pillsbury, General Mills, Ultra Bright and Colgate.

Parking structure project got its start

“For the next couple of weeks the sound of pounding will be a downtown fixture,” the Star reported on Wednesday, Sept. 26, “as work begins on phase one of the $1.2 million three-tier parking structure,” found today at the corner of Market and South Main streets. Piles were being driven into the lot to support the steel and concrete building.

There had been debate among city officials as to whether the parking structure should be two-tiered, or postponed entirely until the city’s “financial position improved.”

“However, the projected growth of the city and obligations incurred through participation in the urban renewal program insured the passage of the three-tier proposal, which will accommodate 420 cars.”

The plan was to have the parking structure completed in the spring of 1974, but numerous delays held off the opening to the late fall of 1975.

This weekend: The War Exhibit Train arrived in Oneonta in September 1918.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at