Last updated on December 31st, 2023 at 01:48 pm
The statue of a redheaded angel with purple wings and a green gown made me decide to take the leap.
Sometimes in life, we have to leap to pursue a dream outside our comfort zone and that feels beyond our reach. This angel was in the window of the commercial property I once purchased in downtown Troy, and she felt like my “building angel” who guided me to make a real estate dream happen.
Believe it or not, I found happiness in making this scary big dream a reality and starting a new venture that changed my life.
I have lived in historic downtown Troy, New York, since 1997, except for a year when I earned my Master in Public Administration degree at Harvard University and three years when I lived and worked in my other favorite U.S. city, San Francisco. Troy was once the fourth wealthiest city in the U.S., with the highest per capita income.
Troy flourished post-Civil War, during the Industrial Revolution, and was also a hotbed of abolitionist activity. I own a home in Troy that was previously owned by Harriet Tubman’s cousin, John Hooper, and that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The city is sometimes called “Hollywood on the Hudson” because so many movies have been filmed here. The architectural stock is reminiscent of Victorian-era Brooklyn, and some say Troy looks more like Victorian Brooklyn now than Brooklyn itself.
Finding the Dream Property
When I first moved to Troy in 1997, the downtown was a ghost town with predominantly empty storefronts. Troy did not have the best reputation then, but I immediately fell in love. I am a sucker for a beautiful historic property: the grandeur, the elegance, the cornices, the plaster medallions. I swooned over these Victorian brownstone mansions built in the 1800s that remained intact.
When I first moved to town, I made a hobby of finding my way into as many historic properties as possible to explore whether they were occupied or long-vacant, whether they were residential or commercial. I loved the high ceilings, the peer mirrors, and the chandeliers. I loved the adventure and mystery of poking around old buildings that had been vacant for a while and that smelled of must and danger. It was thrilling in an illicit way, something I was not really supposed to be doing, yet it was not harming anyone.
Even when I moved away to San Francisco in 2005 to work for then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and fell head-over-heels for SF, my love for Troy remained. I still sometimes wondered if I should move back there to run for office, as was once my game plan. I had invested so much time, energy, and love into urban revitalization projects to help move that city forward between 1997 and 2004 when I left for grad school at Harvard. I did not want to “abandon” my sweet little historic city and figured I would return if I felt “called” back.
A Fire Called Me Back
Well, Troy did call me back in the most sudden and unexpected way. In 2008, my tenants accidentally set my house on fire, and I was suddenly compelled to return to my fair little city to oversee what turned out to be a yearlong renovation project. I discovered that I love designing and renovating homes, although, of course, no one wants to have to do so because of a fire! Having a good insurance policy helped tremendously.
Troy could not let go of me, it seemed, and I moved back to my little historic city on the Hudson River, which is also famous for being the home of “Uncle Sam” (Sam Wilson, who inspired the “Uncle Sam Wants You!” character, is buried in the Oakwood Cemetery). No matter how much I travel and roam the world, this city always seems important to my destiny.
Fast Forward to Dream Come True
Right before moving away to San Francisco for my dream job, after graduating from Harvard, I toured a group of my Harvard classmates through Troy. One of the buildings that I toured them through, showing off the grandeur of my beautiful little city, was the “Devane Building” at 38 3rd Street in Troy, New York. I loved this property: its grand wrought iron gates at the entrance, mosaic tile floors in the entranceway, and 20′ high tin ceilings with an ornate balcony. It was exquisite.
I never dared to imagine at the time that I would someday own this building. It was just something to be admired and loved. I really was in love with so much of the historic architecture in this city. But this building was destined to become mine. It started when I was scouting out downtown commercial spaces, just for fun, for a friend in San Francisco who is a bar owner. I wanted to convince him to open up a branch of his successful Miami and SF venture here in Troy. And I accidentally stumbled onto a building for sale – the Devane building – the one I had always loved.
Why Not Make The Leap?
I found the building just a few days after it went on sale. I found out the owners wanted out fast and asked only $199,000 for a 9,000-square-foot, gorgeous, historic commercial downtown building. This was on a block where another building had recently sold at Sotheby’s for $500,000. , I found out other developers were investing $2.5 million into the building next door.
So, on my birthday, I made a big leap and put an offer in on the building without figuring out the funding source yet. I knew somehow that I would make it happen. My parents were in Troy for Easter weekend three days later, and I toured them through the property. My parents are also real estate investors, and they became the first members of my team for this building.
In the tapestry of my life, with its historic charm and unexpected turns, Troy has woven itself as a vibrant place to be. The journey from that redheaded angel’s gaze to the ownership of the Devane Building has been nothing short of extraordinary. I extend heartfelt gratitude to my parents, my ‘building angels,’ who believed in this vision and joined me on this exhilarating ride. With its storied past and promising future, Troy is not just a city; it’s a testament to the power of dreams.
I invite you to embrace your aspirations, take those leaps of faith, and witness the magic of turning dreams into reality. For in every historic building, there lies a story waiting to be told, and in every dream pursued, there resides the potential for a transformative journey.
Lisa P. Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, TED motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning in their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on her website or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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