A special essay from Albany Archives historian Matt Malette: 

Late last year, my segment about the hidden Teddy Roosevelt gargoyle within the SUNY Administration Building aired on Spectrum News. I was fortunate enough to talk with local architecture guru Bill Brandow on how a gargoyle with the likeness of one of the country’s most recognizable presidents ends up facing a dormer in Albany.

The story goes that Roosevelt, a New York republican, and William Barnes, the Republican leader of New York and owner of the Albany Evening Journal newspaper had a falling out over differences in opinion. At the time of their rift, Barnes was in the process of having his new Journal building constructed at the base of State Street and Broadway. It would coexist with the recently completed D&H Administration Building and it would tie a little bow on the area what Albanians would call “The Plaza” for decades to come. The gargoyles with the likenesses of Marcus T. Reynolds, the building’s architect, Barnes and Roosevelt had already been commissioned by the time the Republican stalwarts’ feud began. It was too late to cancel the order but there was still plenty of time to change the location where Roosevelt’s gargoyle would hang. And that’s how Roosevelt met his untimely placement on Albany’s most ornamental building, or so we thought. The story makes perfect sense. Why would anyone question such a rational explanation, including Bill Brandow or myself? It turns out though that this is Albany, a land where "rational" and "logical" don’t usually mingle with "political." In another city or in another time this is how the story would play, but not here. This is not how it happened:

Roosevelt was always known for being an outspoken individual, leaving his victims in the wake of his words, and it was his mouth that got him into hot water with Barnes. In July of 1914, Roosevelt claimed that the Republican leader was corrupt and manipulated both political parties for his own intentions. Barnes was not pleased. He sued the former president for a whopping $50,000 for libel and in 1915 it went to trial. Originally set for the Albany County Courthouse, it was later moved to the county of Onondaga in Syracuse after Roosevelt claimed he would not receive a fair trial on Barnes’ home turf. Over the course of five weeks with testimony from both Barnes, Roosevelt, and a slew of other politicos including Alfred E. Smith and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the jury ruled in favor of the defendant.

A year later in 1916, construction on the new headquarters of Barnes’ Albany Evening Journal began south of the newly completed D&H Administration Building, now SUNY. The years between the rift and the creation of the building indicates that the Roosevelt gargoyle was not commissioned prior to the falling out. At its earliest, it went into production a year and a half after Barnes caught the horns of the famous Bull Moose. The other two gargoyles that accompany Roosevelt, Reynolds and Barnes, are both exact to their own visage. The same can not be said for Roosevelt. His smile, while always large, is not proportional to the rest of his face. The corners of his mouth are anchored down by his large mustache making him look more like a cartoon villain sneering at some plucky do-gooders. It’s a caricature of Roosevelt and not one you would write home to your mother about. Roosevelt’s gargoyle was always meant for that corner of the roof. This was a rich man’s insult, in the form of a stone creature.

Which rich man was it though? One would assume it was the owner of the building the gargoyle is perched on. In a 1952 Times Union interview of Aaron Anderson, an apprentice under Reynolds during the time of Evening Journal Building’s construction, Anderson claims Barnes had no knowledge of its creation. In fact, Barnes wasn’t exactly pleased to find his rival adorned in his building. According to Anderson, it was Reynolds who had the Roosevelt gargoyle commissioned and placed in its infamous spot. The famous architect was somewhat of a practical joker and he took it upon himself to have some fun at the expense of, presumably, both Roosevelt and his employer. Anderson stated that Reynolds took Barnes up on the scaffolding after lunch one afternoon to show him the gargoyles, half apologizing after unveiling Roosevelt. After seeing Roosevelt’s likeness, Anderson recounted that Barnes picked up a mason’s hammer and broke off part of its nose. Reynolds returned to his State Street offices later that day and told his team he would never repair it.

The story sounds extraordinary. It reads like fiction, or at the very least a greatly exaggerated half-truth. And it very well may be, except for one crucial piece of Aaron Anderson’s story: the broken nose. In a follow-up with Brandow, he can confirm that a portion of Roosevelt’s nose is missing, along with a small portion of his chin. Brandow also said none of the other gargoyles are damaged quite like the former president. For years it had been thought that time and weather claimed Teddy’s nose. Perhaps they did. Only two people really know for sure what happened and they’ve both been dead for at least the last eighty years. For once, the grounded rational story turned out likely to be false. With the new information we have now, I can comfortably say that this wild story of how the gargoyle of a presidential powerhouse ended up in Albany’s skyline seems to be true.