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The Right Approach


A RENEWED APPROACH

"J. Erik Jonsson once said, 'you can't have a great city without a great university and you can't have a great university without a great city.' The Approach represents a commitment between the city and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute," recalls Francis Pitts '75.

 

After the great fire of 1904 destroyed Rensselaer's Main Building and threatened to close the school, city leaders expressed their solidarity for the Institute by commissioning a monument linking the campus physically and symbolically with Troy's downtown. The Approach was completed in 1907, directly south of the Winslow Building on Eighth Street. Its construction was funded by the local Chamber of Commerce and the city of Troy under Mayor Elias P. Mann, an 1872 Rensselaer graduate, with a sum of $40,000.
 Used as a means of scaling the hill, as a meeting place, and as a striking location for group photographs and ceremonial events, The Approach began to fall into disrepair when maintenance was interrupted during World War II. Maintenance completely ceased in the 1960s, and by the 1970s the massive granite stairway was virtually unused. The stairs were broken, askew, and defaced. The lights had ceased to function. Everything was overgrown with weeds and brush.
Approach old
Approach new
The Approach (before and after).

 In 1996 Rensselaer County was awarded a HUD Small Cities Development Block Grant to begin restoration of Troy's historic riverfront district. Included in this grant was $250,000 for the rebuilding of The Approach, which will become the eastern terminus of the Broadway corridor leading to the Hudson River. In November 1996 Rensselaer said it would match this block grant with $250,000, and the Louis and Hortense Rubin Foundation pledged $100,000 toward the project. Philanthropist Louis Rubin had a sincere interest in and concern for the "town and gown" relationship between Rensselaer and the city of Troy. Before he died in 1993, one of his final wishes was to see the dilapidated Approach rebuilt.
 The donation launched "The Approach and Beyond Campaign," which has since raised most of the funds needed for the restoration. The city of Troy pledged $50,000, while the Rensselaer Alumni Association committed $10,000. Rensselaer alumni contributed nearly $185,000, with the Class of '44 and the Hudson-Mohawk chapter of the alumni association in particular stepping forward. Another $150,000 was raised through donations from the Troy community.
 "I was stunned that the community raised the kind of money that it did for the project," says Francis Pitts '75, principal of Architecture Plus, a Troy firm heading the restoration. "I didn't think that that was going to be possible. I was surprised to see it come in such a range of denominations from so many places."
 Pitts recalls that, "J. Erik Jonsson once said, 'you can't have a great city without a great university and you can't have a great university without a great city.' The Approach represents a commitment between the city and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The commitment was made at the turn of the century, and there's a recommitment now being made at the end of the century. It's beautiful symmetry."
 On June 6, 1998, a ceremony was held at The Approach, renaming it the Louis Rubin Memorial Approach.
 The renovations are nearing completion and a rededication ceremony is being planned for Oct. 14. The reconstruction includes period light poles, new landscaping, and a performance area. Pieces of the stairs that were missing or broken have been replaced with granite that will be a close match to the original once it has weathered a bit. The Approach will now be maintained by the Approach and Beyond Foundation, a private not-for-profit corporation that draws its leadership from both the Institute and the city.
 "The most important thing about the project is not the physical reconnection of the city of Troy on a path that you can traverse; there are plenty of those. Nor is it the connection on the symbolic old path. It's really the relationship itself between the town and the university that was forged in doing the project," Pitts says.

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