Four generations removed from the roistering days of the Erie Canal and 4,000 miles from the battlefields of France, Albany was a peaceful place in 1918. With a population of 110,000 the city had just 3 homicides, each of which was solved immediately. Although people were arrested for adultery, bastardy, and barbering on a Sunday, the most common crime was drunkenness, the cause of more than a quarter of all arrests.

Maintaining order fell to a police force of 209 men and a jail matron, whose officers patrolled on foot, horses, or a trio of motorcycles which could likely outrun anything in the city but a New York Central locomotive. The largest of the five police precincts was the third, which stretched from Quakenbush Square on the south to Lexington Street on the northwest and from Clinton Street east to the city limits. The Third Precinct's 24 officers were commanded by Captain John Dugan, with the veteran expertise of 74 year old Lieutenant Michael C. Moss, who had walked his first beat just after the Civil War. All the precinct commanders were New York born, and most were Albany natives.

Topped by a fierce terra cotta eagle, the Third Precinct Station House at 220 North Pearl Street provided a sophisticated Beaux Arts contrast to other city police stations. Built in 1910, the station house was not just a rebellion against Victorian red brick conservatism. Its design by local architect Walter Hunter Van Guysling reflected both the ideals of the Progressive movement and the reformist concepts championed by Theodore Roosevelt in his rise from New York City Police Commissioner in 1895 to President of the United States in 1901.

Even as construction bids were taken, the Albany Evening Times saluted Van Guysling's design as possessing "the dignity and character so essential to a municipal structure", but lavished most of its article on its "modern" features . The "large gymnasium" in the basement reflected rising standards for officers. The station's first floor was dominated by a large office, from which a corridor led to the cellblocks in the fireproof rear wing, as well as to a detention room to segregate witnesses from prisoners and a lounging room for off-duty officers.

Separate cell blocks for women in the main building and men in the rear wing were an "arrangement never before provided for in an Albany station house". There were two female cells and eight for men, a more generous ratio than the city's 11:1 male-to-female arrest ratio.

Most of the station's second floor was devoted to the officers' needs. The iron staircase which ascended from the lounging room was "an arrangement which will make it entirely unnecessary for patrolmen off-duty to appear in the corridor until called by the officer in charge" and thus avoided the atmosphere of a clubhouse in public space. Over the front entrance was a clothes drying room, a necessity in the days when a rain-soaked wool uniform could stay sodden for days, and along the center hall were four dormitories with eight beds each.

The Evening Times marveled at the station's plumbing fixtures, which included an officers' washroom with three showers, a lavatory room, and a sink and toilet for every cell. With brass nickel plated fixtures and tile floors, the bathrooms were probably superior to those in most officer's homes.

A once-common crime prevention feature was the police station "tramp room", which provided indigents a free resting place under watchful eyes. The station house's upper floor included a room with twenty-four bunks, two toilets, and a shower for such "lodgers". During 1912, when precinct officers made 313 arrests, the station's tramp room accommodated 1,368 transients.

Because of its "special facilities", the Third Precinct Station House long served as the citywide lockup for female prisoners. Sometimes this role proved difficult, as when a 1914 inspection found that two young women detained as witnesses "appeared to have the run of the place" without the matron present, which the inspector "doubted was in accord with decency".

When new, the Third Precinct Station House was considered among the finest police stations in New York State and called "a credit to the city". It was still cited for excellence a decade later, and continued in service into the 1970s. For decades, the station house has stood vacant and boarded, awaiting a new use. On March 12, 2010, the collapse of a section of the roof and rear wall placed its survival in doubt.

For Michael X. Rose's completely original take on the station house's apocalyptic future, click here.