Caffe Lena


"We made trips from Boston to Saratoga, chugging along in the recalcitrant Morris Minor, to spend the weekend with hammer and nails, mops and brooms, then back to Boston to jobs to make a little money to buy the chairs and tables, the sputtering espresso machine, the cups and saucers and all the paraphernalia needed to open the doors on a venture with an uncertain future."

-Lena Spencer

Timeline: A History of 47 Phila Street

1800s: Designed and Built
47 Phila Street is a historic building located in the nationally recognized historic Phila Street neighborhood district of Saratoga Springs, New York. According to the Saratoga Preservation Foundation's records, the building's initial construction is dated mid to late nineteenth century, and it is representative of post civil war Italianate commercial architecture. First developed in England in the early 1800s, motifs drawn from the Italianate style were incorporated into the commercial builders' vocabulary, and appear in Victorian architecture dating from the mid to late 1800s. Like her Caffè, 47 Phila's appearance reflects Lena's Italian heritage.

1890: A space for community
Early on, the building's popularity owed much to being a versatile space for the community. 47 Phila Street is listed in the Preservation Foundation as a boarding house in 1890 under the name "George Golden," and in 1900 as a flower, feed, and grains shop under the name "William McCrae." Finally, the records show that "significant to the history of the building" is William Case, a contractor who in the early 1900s took over the building as a woodworking shop.

1900s: A space for creativity
1910 in Saratoga Springs brought years of despair with the prohibition of gambling. The 1920's brought a resurgence tinged with a more exuberant and flamboyant style. Survivors of the Depression maintained the grandeur and energy until the 1930's when natives began to complain about the influx of gamblers, gangsters, bookies, pimps and prostitutes. Life in Saratoga began to ebb. The WWII years led to a suspension of horse racing for three years, and the great Saratoga hotels suffered and declined. Throughout these tumultuous years and into the 20th century, 47 Phila Street remained a woodworking shop under ownership by The CR Parmateer Company and later under Mr. Hugh Germanetti's contracting company where it served to create the various ornate moldings that shaped Saratoga's buildings into what they are today.

1940-1950s: A loft space ready for music
In the 1940s Hugh Germanetti Jr. took over 47 Phila, but sold it to Saul Goldman in 1959 when he realized that a woodworking shop in postwar America where nonessentials were eliminated, uniformity was encouraged, and the average home was a one-level ranch house, would not flourish. Saul Goldman turned the first floor into a laundromat for local Skidmore College girls. The second floor loft space remained empty.

1960: "Caffè Lena"
In November of 1959, a young couple from Boston arrived in Saratoga Springs. They walked the snow filled streets of the quiet downtown area, until Bill Spencer settled on one particular building. He looked up at 47 Phila Street, and told Lena they'd found the place where they would open their new coffeehouse. Caffè Lena was born. Lena remembered "We made a deal with [Mr. Goldman] that, in exchange for having it rent-free for six months; we would assume the whole expense of getting the place in shape. So we came up to Saratoga every weekend from Boston and worked on it."

1998: We bought our building
In the years that followed the 1960s folk boom, Saul Goldman's daughter Sandra and her husband David Silverhart became Lena's landlords, and her stalwart supporters. In 1998, the Caffè's building changed hands for the last time. The great boon of a Parks and Rec grant enabled Caffè Lena Inc., the nonprofit that had formed after Lena's passing, to buy 47 Phila Street from the Silverharts.

The Future
Caffè Lena is now preparing for a major renovation that will enhance access for disabled people and bring greater comfort to all.