Sunday, May 10, 2015

Deco Delights: Discount Deco

Syracuse, NY. 501 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
 
Syracuse, NY. 508 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
 
Deco Delights:  Discount Deco
by Samuel D. Gruber

Often in cities it is the small things that catch the eye, and the small details the create a stimulating streetscape that one can return to again and again with boredom.  Sure, shop signs and windows displays are the main attraction, but often those ever-changing contemproary details are set in fixed architectural frames. I've posted often about Art Deco period and style building in Syracuse. Most of those buildings wanted to stand out - not just fit in. But one of the best legacies of the commercial building boom of the 1920s is the large number of simple vernacular commercial buildings that rise above the ordinary because they were a bit of thought and a bit of simple desecration. These buildings are scattered around the city, but they were most often found clustered on busy thoroughfares, often on trolley lines.  They are an urban version of the early strip mall which began to develop in the interwar period on local highways to serve the first generation of automobile commuters. 
 
No one has documented these buildings, and they are often remade at the expense of their details or demolished altogether. Several that I remember seeing in the 1990s when I first moved in the 1990s are now gone. The ones I know best are on Westcott Street since I pass them most days. At the southeast corner of Westcott St. and Harvard Pl. is the popular Mom's Diner, which occupies a corner commercial building that has long been a place for local gathering and dining. The names of the establishments have changed, but the popularity of breakfast or lunch with neighbors has not. In the 1930s and 40s this was Whittig's Ice Cream Store, then it became the Westcott Bakery & Ice Cream Store, Chatterbox Cafe, and later the Common Grounds. In recent years Mom's Diner has served up popular diner food, and the Diner is a popular morning meeting place for Westcott regulars young and old. Architecturally, the simple box-like building stands out with its simple and inexpensive aesthetic of flat brick walls enlivened with geometric patterns. 

Syracuse, NY. 501 Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Across Westcott Street, Asahi Restaurant (#508) and Beer Belly Deli (#510) now occupy space built in the mid-1920s for comemrcial occupants, probably first a plumber and a building contractor. The decoration here is more serious - with fluted applied pilasters, a narrow deco-design frieze and a guarding eagle atop one of the pilasters where the building ends. Next door to the south, filling the in-between space until the Westcott Theater at number #524, is a now much-altered commercial building that originally housed, at least from 1928, the local A & P Grocery Store and the much later the Big M. The top part of the Discount Deco wall and a series of applied pilasters survive, but the windows were altered in the 1990s when the grocery closed and the space was divided. 

Syracuse, NY. Westcott Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
 
Also on the Eastside are few related 1920s chimerical buildings on East Genesee Street. The Community Folk Art Center is a good example, and two doors up Rothschild's Home Healthcare Center also is in a similar building, but the Deco details has been entirely covered over.  

 Syracuse, NY. Community Folk Art Center, 805 East Genesee Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

 Syracuse, NY. Community Folk Art Center, 805 East Genesee Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

The north side of the 400 Block of Hawley Avenue, on a block just outside the Hawley-Green National Register Historic District has four contiguous buildings of the type, though the original face on one has been either covered over or entirely replaced.  

 Syracuse, NY. 433 Hawley Ave. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Syracuse, NY. 445 Hawley Ave. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015

Syracuse, NY. 483 Hawley Ave. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2015
 
Here is another example from the Westside, at the corner of Delaware and Grace Streets, across from the former Delaware Avenue Baptist church. Who knows how long this charming little abandoned building will last?   

Syracuse, NY. Former commercial building at corner of Delaware and Grace Streets. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014.

Syracuse, NY. Former commercial building at corner of Delaware and Grace Streets. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2014.

These are just a few surviving examples of what was once a familiar building type. But I'm keeping my eyes open and camera ready to find some more. Are there any in your CNY neighborhood?

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