Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pending Demolition of Catherine Street Buildings Includes Northrip Apartments and Building Where F. Scott Fitzgerald Briefly Lived

Syracuse, NY. 501 Catherine Street, where famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald lived for less than a year when he was child. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

 
Syracuse, NY. Northrip Apts, Catherine Street. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

Demolition of Catherine Street Buildings To Include Northrip Apartments and Building Where F. Scott Fitzgerald Briefly Lived
by Samuel D. Gruber
 
As reported on Syracuse.com and in the Daily Orange, property abandonment and fire have led to planned demolition of one of the more architecturally interesting Northside blocks situated off James St. Though the pending demolition of the entire west side of the 500 block of Catherine St. has garnered attention because famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald lived briefly while still a child in one of the doomed buildings, perhaps what should be regretted more is the larger loss to the historic architectural fabric of this part of the city.

505 Catherine Street was recently was down after several fires. 501 Catherine on the NW corner of Willow Street, will also be torn down since it too, was heavily damaged. According to the Syracuse.com story a third building - the substantial Northrip Apartments - will also come down to create a large lot for new housing development.

Fitzgerald, who was born in 1896 in St. Paul, Minnesota, spent much of his first decade in Upstate New York where his father worked for Proctor & Gamble. Though mostly based in Buffalo, the Fitzgeralds lived in Syracuse between January 1901 and September 1903. According to Dennis Connors, Curator of History at the Onondaga Historical Association, they first lived at 603 W. Genesee St. (now demolished). and then at the still-new Kasson Apartments on James Street (built 1898, recently restored), before moving to 501 Catherine, also built in 1898, where they lived for less than a year.

Syracuse, NY. View from 501 Catherine Street of the Kasson Apartments on James St. across now empty lots (surface paring). Because the Kasson was one of the tallest buildings in the city when built, in 1898 6-year-old F. Scott Firzgerald would have been able to see his old home form his new one. Photo; Samuel Gruber 2016.

There is a good reason to publish a literary tour of Syracuse (Edward Noyes Westcott, L. Frank Baum, Fitzgerald, Eric CarleJoyce Carol Oates, Michael Herr, Raymond Carver, Tess Gallegher, Tobias Wolff, David Foster Wallace, Mary Karr, and many others). For this, the Kasson Apartments on James Street is the best stop to tell the Fitzgerald Story.
If any of these buildings were located in better neighborhoods, or certainly in richer cities, they might be saved and renovated. But the Northside of Syracuse is particularly distressed – and with an impoverished and mostly disenfranchised populate, including large numbers of immigrants, there are few, if any, advocates in the area to protect buildings – when the needs of the people are so great.

Many buildings on the Northside have come down in recent decades, especially in the past decade for expansion of Saint Joseph's Hospital. Still, most of this new demolition is preparatory to new construction - which is better than in the recent past, when demolition has led to empty lots.


The opening of the Northrip Apartments got quite write-up (and ad revenue) in the Post-Standard of November 21, 1926.

Two fires in a still attractive 19th-century brick Italianate house (505 Catherine St.) in December 2015 led to its demolition. One fire spread to the larger turn-of-the-20th century apartment house on the corner with Willow Street, and that building - where F. Scott Fitzgerald once lived - was heavily damaged, and it too, is now scheduled to come down.

Syracuse, NY. 505 Catherine St. (demolished after fire, Dec. 2015). Photo: Google Streetscape.
 
Syracuse, NY. 505 Catherine St. (demolished after fire, Dec. 2015). Photo: Google Streetscape.

The corner building - the one where Fitzgerald lived  - was an attractive eclectic apartment building,  mostly Romanesque inspired, but with stepped Flemish gables and some classical brackets. It probably had only a few large family units. The rear of the building, facing north, had several wide two story arched bays that appear originally to have been open, or gated. These may have been garages for the occupants - for carriages or horses, but maybe later for cars. Now the bays are enclosed.
 
Syracuse, NY. 501 Catherine Street. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

 Syracuse, NY. 501 Catherine Street. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

Syracuse, NY. 501 Catherine Street, view of rear and fire damage. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.
 
Syracuse, NY. 501 Catherine Street. Rear, showing enclosed bays (garages?). Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

The intersection at Catherine and Willow Streets was once a prominent one with Miller Bros. grocery (later J. B. Miller), a popular German food store on another corner, at 500 Catherine St., where the 3-storey 19th-century mixed-used building stands, still home to a small grocery.

Syracuse, NY. 500 Catherine Street. This the popular Miller Bros. Grocery Store when Fitzgerald lived at 501. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016.

Just one block up Willow Street is the magnificent Truesdell-Schoeneck House, one of the city's great Queen Anne style residences.  One hopes that whatever is built here can respect this corner, respond to the best buildings in the neighborhood (not the worst), and help recreate urban dynamism here.

Syracuse, NY. 500 N. McBride St. The Truesdell-Schoeneck House, 1892. From 501 Catherine, looming up the Willow St., one sees the tower. From the back windows of Truesdell-Schoeneck, one can see clearly to the Catherine Street properties. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2014.

Added into the mix is the demolition of the former Northrip apartments, a series of 32 apartments in connected townhouse-type residences, at 5-529 Catherine, built by Charles H. Northrip and opened in 1926 (The building was sold to Edward H. Gerber in 1930). When opened in the prosperous 1920s, the Northrip was advertised as having all the most modern amenities. It boasted its location as only a seven minute walk form Downtown.

Though the building is not architecturally ambitious, it is an attractive urban structure, well-proportioned, moderately and modestly decorated, and fully engaged with the pedestrian street. This type of apartment building is related to earlier strip-housing projects on the other side of James Street, notably the Elm Court Apartments on the 300 block of Catherine Street. This housing type would become the model for many public housing projects in the 1930s, before high rise housing became the norm.Though unaffected by the fire, this building apparently has serious structural problems which are deemed to costly to remedy.

Syracuse, NY. G. M. Hopkins Atlas map of 1938 block 272 showing properties to be demolished. Catherine Street is afar right between Willow and Hickory Streets.. The pink buildings are of masonry. 505 Catherine, here called "Lighthouse," is already demolished. Courtesy: Syracuse University Libraries

Syracuse, New York. Northrip Apartments, 509-521 Catherine Street. Vw. from Hickory St. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016. 

Syracuse, New York. Northrip Apartments, 509-521 Catherine Street. hickory St. facade. Even in a speculative building like this one, simple brick details and a classical cornice are used for aesthetic accent. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016. 

Syracuse, New York. Northrip Apartments, 509-521 Catherine Street. View of rear porches and stairs. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016. 

Syracuse, New York. Northrip Apartments, 509-521 Catherine Street. Detail of one of four entrances. Scheduled for demolition. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2016. 

Fortunately, despite the loss of these buildings, something good may come of it, if plans for the erection of 50 apartments for needy (often homeless) residents takes shape.  One hopes that in addition to providing safe and secure housing to these city residents, the city, Home Headquarters and appropriate agencies will work with the designers to provide some aesthetic relief – and work to recreate the former integrity of the block and to begin to knit this neighborhood together again.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this article! I often wondered who the Northrip Building was built after.

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