The plaza was the idea of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was inspired to create the new government complex after Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Albany for a celebration of the area's Dutch history. Riding with the princess through a section of the city known colloquially as the Gut, Rockefeller was embarrassed and said later, "there's no question that the city did not look as I think the Princess thought it was going to."
This lead me to the Reel 2 slides where I knew I would find a photo of this very occasion. Here are the princess in the backseat and Governor Rockefeller waving from the front (9 September 1959).
So the slides I have of the construction site were taken 7 years later. During those 7 years "The area to be thus, no pun intended, gutted, was a rectangle comprising 29 entire blocks and parts of 11 more, home to an estimated 7,000 people lived, along with one police station, three churches, two public schools, and 350 small businesses." This last quote came from an essay titled "The Making of the Empire State Plaza" which is sub-titled more irreverently "Rocky's Last Erection". This is a long and very thorough history of this project. If you're interested you can find it here http://www.lofaber.com/albany/essaymaking.html This site also provided this photo of the neighborhood before it was gutted.
To say the least, this has always been a controversial project. When not referred to by its original or its official name, it is often called Rocky's Folly. Here is a newspaper column written in 1975 http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1356&dat=19751017&id=E6NPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=9QUEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1829,3403719. The columnist was writing about Rocky's Folly in relation to something Nelson Rockefeller was doing while Vice President under Gerald Ford.
OK, now that I have bored even the most inveterate followers of Albany history, here are the 3 slides from May 1966 that started it all.
(taken from South Hawk Street)
(also taken from South Hawk)
(taken from High Street)
And this is a photo of the plaza today.