Start of Venture
The Parker Building is named after attorney, John R. Parker, who had the tall narrow building built in *1905 at 434 State Street at the time the Erie Canal was still in use. It came before Proctors Theatre and The Carl Company and before the bank building now known as Key Hall. It is sometimes referred to as the “Needle” because of its width of only 24 feet. It is over 100 feet high, has one elevator and originally had 63 offices with a square footage of 19,200 feet.
The building had a variety of tenants over the years. Since July of 1906, the ground floor was home to the Citizen’s Trust Company, and in later years, the Liggett Drug Co and the Lady Lee-Evelyn Shop. The upper floors were used by various law, real estate and insurance offices. Over the years, the building was home to other offices operated by members of the Parker family, including James C. Parker Inc. (real estate and insurance).
The building’s height attracted many daredevil climbers. Soon after the Parker Building was erected, it became an attraction for those to risk their lives to climb it. In April of 1929, the “Human Fly” climbed the building donning a black cape in twenty minutes as part of a promotional event. An unsanctioned attempt in 1942 by Robert Vrooman drew onlookers of 1,000. On a $2 bet, Robert scaled the building and climbed the front using only his bare hands. He reached the cornice of the roof, but was unable to climb over the long section projecting out, separating him from the roof. He would not quit. He climbed to the east corner, then to the west at which point the Schenectady Police broke down two doors on the eighth floor and grabbed his clothing through a window. He was then arrested for disorderly conduct. The judge was nonetheless impressed and quipped that he ought to be fighting for his country. Robert replied that he was due at the Navy Recruitment office that day. The judge suspended sentencing, and Vrooman joined the Navy later that day.
The building remains the highest building in Schenectady. At one time this led to a desperate act. In February 1947, a WWII veteran named John Karen had just moved to Schenectady from Pennsylvania. At age 25, he was a Penn State graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in metallurgy. He worked for GE and had high commendations for his work. On a Thursday at 8:00 AM he ascended the stairs to the eighth floor, smoked a cigarette, and climbed a ladder to access the roof. He then took a running start and jumped landing headfirst into the busy street, narrowly missing several pedestrians. Police later found the cigarette still warm and smoldering on the window sill of the eighth floor.
Over the years, use of the building declined and time and weather were beginning to take their toll. There had been several attempts at restoration until 1964, when Ray Phillips bought the building from Hunter Parker and partners, whose grandfather had built the building in 1905. He renamed it the Phillips Building and renovated the seventh floor, where he relocated the offices of his two insurance agencies. As the new landlord, he made other renovations and promised to keep the building open past 5:30 which attracted new tenants. Eventually, these new tenants vacated. By about 1980, only the first floor was in regular use. Proctors operated the ACT II antique shop, while other offices were only sporadically used. The upper floors were left abandoned and vacant. Over the next twenty years, as the value of the building was less than the cost of repairs, it was slated to be demolished.
In the early 2000’s, Christopher Myers, a local developer, bought the building for $1 and partnered with the Metroplex organization to revitalize the building as a 23 room boutique hotel. He secured loans and put up $350,000 of his own capital into the project. Much of the building was gutted to bring the building up to code. In 2002, the Parker Inn opened, and initially had full bookings. The building was saved, but still not out of the woods. By 2003, the hotel was out of money and in search of more loans. Metroplex declined and eventual losses lead to 2011 when the companies that owned and operated the hotel filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Both companies plan for reorganization was court approved and the two companies successfully exited chapter 11. Myers never filed personal bankruptcy. Further renovations were made, adding kitchens and other residential amenities, in hopes of rebranding the building for luxury corporate apartments.