Sunday, November 20, 2011

Recycling T. Aaron Levy Middle School / Central Tech

Recycling T. Aaron Levy Middle School / Central Tech
by Samuel D. Gruber (all photos copyright Samuel D. Gruber)

When most people think about saving old Syracuse schools, it is Blodgett and the former Central High School that most likely come to mind. PACNY and OHA sponsored a discussion on the fates of these buildings last year.

Much closer to (my) home is the former T. Aaron Levy Middle School on Harvard Place between Fellows and Westmorland Avenues. Built in 1924 as the William Nottingham Junior High School (soon after High School), the building is now serving as the temporary home of the Institute of Technology. As far as I know, plans are still on the books for the Institute to return downtown to new wing adjacent to the old Central High School (Central Tech). That will leave the Harvard Place building empty.

My solution - first thought of last year by my daughter when Nottingham High School senior - is to move the local Food Coop (Syracuse Real Food Cooperative, Inc.) to the school, and develop the school building in a public-private partnership. The ground floor would allow an expanded store, and the upper floors would make fine apartments - or perhaps one wing could be apartments and the other studios.

The Food Coop, now located a ten minute walk away on 618 Kensington Ave., had its plans to expand in the former Hematology / Oncology Center (previously Young Israel Synagogue) on Fellows at East Genesee scotched by neighbors worried about the increase in traffic - by delivery trucks and shoppers. I also thought the price that the Coop was going to pay for the property was rather steep, too, considering that they would have remodel, and then their members would be stuck paying the bill for a long time.

Moving the Food Coop to the former Nottingham/Levy would be a much better solution. The ground floors are already large and airy, there is an adequate parking and loading docks, and the neighbors have experienced students for decades - so how could they possibly complain about MORE noise and litter. Since the city already owns the school, they could lease the space to the COOP, provided the COOP paid for renovations. The money then planned for a purchase price could go right into developing the new store. There is a kitchen too, to encourage a catering business.

If the COOP just needed to use the cafeteria space, other ground floor spaces for might be leased to other tenants. Imagine a bakery on the premises and the smell of fresh bread in the neighborhood. Perhaps the gymnasium could be preserved for community use. or leased out for recreation purpose, perhaps through the Westcott Community Center. The playing field could remain green space for organized sports - or it could be landscaped as a recreational park.

The City should be able to recoup costs for insurance and maintenance, and some repair, through partnering with a private developer who could develop the second and third floors for residential or studio use. There are already several former schools on the Eastside that have been very effectively turned into housing, and one look at the example of the Delevan Center downtown for effective conversion to studios.

Over the past year I've begun to talk to a number of people in the neighborhood casually about this idea - and they seem to like it. The next step is to for neighbors brainstorm with school and city officials, and some experienced developers and architects.

I really think this can be done. What do you think?

A Little History

In the early 20th century the City of Syracuse was expanding rapidly, and the influx off immigrants put a strain on the school system. Building new schools was one of the big political issues of the day (sound familiar?). Under Mayor Walrath a massive building program began, but the mayor and School Board (under Superintendent Percy Hughes) argued about the number, size, and placement of new schools (sound familiar?). The Herald reported on May 18, 1923 that the city finally decided on the Fellows Avenue site for the William Nottingham Junior High School, after protests of plans to build the school within Thornden Park, off south Beech. Mayor Walrath battled Hughes over which plan to use for the building - Walrath pushed for a plan by Gordon Wright employed in the 19th Ward, which was less expensive and housed more students. Hughes and board held out successfully for a plan by Albert Brockway, first for the Thornden site, and then settling for Fellows Avenue. The school opened in September 1924 (see Syracuse Herald, Sunday, September 07, 1924). By the end of the decade is was renamed William Nottingham High School.

In 1953 the district opened a new high school on Meadowbrook at East Genesee, the first new school built since 1930, and transferred the Nottingham name. The old school was renamed the T. Aaron Levy Junior High School, later changed to T Aaron Levy Middle School, a name it retained until 2009, when Levy was disbanded, with 7th and 8th graders attending other schools, and the school became the temporary home of Central Tech. T. Aaron Levy had served on the School Board in the early part of the century. He was reformer, and worked hard to united different ethnic and religious groups in the city into a civic community. Levy advised the Roosevelt administration and was instrumental in Pioneer Homes being erected as one the first public housing projects in the United States. Levy was also Jewish, a member of Temple Society of Concord. That probably counted for a lot in the school naming, since the population of the neighborhood in the 1950s was significantly Jewish, and Concord's Rabbi Benjamin Friedman lived just up the street. Friedman also participated in the dedication of the new Nottingham on October 19, 1953.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More Terracotta: Rite Aid (Former Woolworth's) on South Salina Could be Beautiful

Syracuse, NY. Former Woolworth's Store (photo: Samuel D. Gruber, 2011)
Syracuse, NY. Old postcard view of South Salina Street with
Woolworth's on the left.

More Terracotta: Rite Aid (Former Woolworth's) on South Salina Could be Beautiful

After posting about the Byrne Square Building, I've been asked about other terracotta buildings in Syracuse. There are several, but the best known, but also most forlorn, is the 70-year-old former F. W. Woolworth's store, built in 1941 at South Salina and East Fayette Streets, where it replaced an earlier Woolworth store. The store closed in 1979 and was sold to the Rite Aid Drugstore chain, which still occupies the structure.

Much of the terracotta skin of the building remains visible, and some of the molded terracotta decoration. More of the facade and original trademark clock may still survive beneath the wraparound Rite Aid sign. The building was included in the recently (October 2009) designated South Salina Street Downtown Historic District. Listing, however, has not yet brought any change to the facade, though it may encourage repair and replacement of elements the next time the property changes hands.

The architecture of Woolworth's was all about the skin. Inside, was a large space (created by the steel frame construction) that allowed changing displays. Still, a lot more care went into the decor of the 1940s five and dime - with its display counters and long soda fountain - then we'll ever see in any new Family Dollar or other contemporary drug or discount store. Perhaps the best way to experience that old-style interior now is to watch The Best Years of Our Lives for the scenes where Dana Andrews is working as a soda jerk. Those long counters with stools on poles are now cultural icons, still replicated for new style diners and hamburger joints. They were also battlegrounds in a changing society - the scenes of sit-ins during the civil rights movement. The students who sat-in at the Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina turned drugstore design into social action, and led to the desegregation of the Woolworth's counter.

By comparing the old postcard with the recent view, you can see how much more appealing the old street level storefront windows were. They were scaled to the passing pedestrian, and decorated to lure the passersby to stop, stare and then enter the store.

The Art Deco facade of Woolworth's was considered stylish and jazzy when it was built. In the 1940s, just before America went to war, the country was beginning to build again, and for the most part what was "modern" just picked up where building had stopped with the Great Depression (think State Tower Building). Woolworth's had fared better than most companies in the Depression. Woolworth's sold things people needed - at an affordable price.

The new Syracuse Woolworth's store opened on January 29, 1942, less than two months after the United States entered World War II. Commercial construction was again mostly halted as the country directed resources to the war effort. When building resumed after 1945 a new form of modernism was ascendant - linked more closely to the functional industrial architecture of the interwar years as than the flashy glamor of Art Deco and Art Moderne.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Exhibition: Onondaga County Landmarks Opens Tonight

Exhibition: Onondaga County Landmarks Opens Tonight

OHA is opening two new exhibits tonight (Friday, November 18) dealing with historic architecture. The first is entitled "The Landmarks of New York." This is a traveling exhibit of 90 framed photographs of official New York City Landmarks, curated by Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. The opening event will be this Friday from 4 to 7 pm and also feature the curator signing copies of her new book of the same title, which is a complete compendium of NYC's designated landmarks and historic districts.

Accompanying the New York City photo exhibit, OHA has installed a supplementary exhibit featuring 20 framed photographs of "Onondaga County Landmarks." It is a more subjective exhibition, not driven by municipal landmark status, as is the NYC exhibition. However, the local photos and buildings are every bit as interesting.

The exhibits will be up until January 31, 2012. Make a point to stop by the OHA and see if one of your favorite buildings made the Landmarks of Onondaga County show.

Meadowbrook Modernism, a Closer Look

Syracuse, NY. 1920s (?) Tudor-style apartment building at Meadowbrook Drive and Brookford Rd.

Syracuse, NY. 1960s (?) apartment buildings on Meadowbrook Drive betwen Brookford and Hurlburt Roads.

Meadowbrook Modernism, a Closer Look
by Samuel D. Gruber (photos: Samuel D. Gruber (Nov 2011)

Both my children attended Nottingham High School, so I've been driving up and down Meadowbrook Drive for years. Sometimes I've walked and biked the miles or so between the school and my house, but it wasn't until last week when I was out looking at bird houses that I really stopped to look at the row of modern style apartment buildings that line the north side of of Meadowbrook between Brookford and Hurlburt Roads. As one moves east there is an interesting progression form 1920s apartment design (Tudor-style) to the modular, rectilinear and flat-roofed style of the 1960s.

True, this Meadowbrook modernism is not Miesian in its purity or its transparency. Laid-up flagstone entrances give a semblance of rugged country contextualism, and in the largest building the tri-partite facade treatment harks back to Deco design of the 1930s. Still, for Syracuse, these buildings are decidely non-traditional. And given the sad fate of many modern buildings in the region, these examples have held up extremely well, and still contribute positively to the neighborhood.

If anyone knows the genesis of these buildings, please let me know.

Modern in Syracuse has gotten a bad name - and many extremely ugly, leaky, poorly lit and badly arranged examples certainly deserve the savaging they have received - and often the wrecking ball, too. The list is too long to recite. It is good, whoever, to remember that modern design, when simply done, can be practical and effective. It was criminal to demolish fine buildings on James Street to erect ugly boxes - many of which are now underutilized. On Meadowbrook, however where the development was new, these modern-style buildings sit lightly on the landscape and decidedly support the very nature of Meadowbrook - a transitional space from suburban to urban settlement.
The row of buildings from the 1960s still holds up very well - good proportions, nice details, and they keep a clean street line enhancing the urban pedestrian experience while maintaining the area's airy and open suburban feel. From Meadowbrook these buildings provide the security of a containment wall, but one can still see the tops of trees overhead.

This type of design is so much better than what was produced after the 1970s, when new buildings were set further back from the street, surrounded by lots of parking a big useless lawns, isolated with the "industrial park" look. Pedestrians were not just discouraged - they were disparaged; even forbidden.

Anyone who has traveled in Europe knows that modernism and good urbanism - even something smacking of "new urbanism" - are not antithetical. In fact, the smoothness and regularity of mass and line, when not overdone or overblown, can enhance an urban experience - something true since the ancient insulae and Renaissance palazzi of Italian cities. Maintaining the street line, and especially the corner, is very important. Fortunately, we are coming around to this view again. The new downtown buildings in the Armory Square area demonstrate this (the Center of Excellence - though a striking, even sculptural form remarkable in may ways; does not). We need to extend good urbanism further into neighborhoods.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Byrne Square Building: One We Should Care About

Byrne Square Building: One We Should Care About
by Samuel D. Gruber

Not everyone is happy that the new Creekwalk jogs away from the creek so soon after leaving Armory Square. I'm guessing there was just no way to overcome security concerns at National grid to allow the Creekwalk to traverse NatGrid property, right under the building addition.

One great outcome, however, is the upsurge in pedestrian traffic past two of my favorite buildings. One is obviously the National Grid (formerly Niagara Mohawk) building itself. And then there is the Byrne Square Building at 300 West Genesee Street at the corner of Willow Street, the little terracotta clad jewelbox of a building, which has hardly gotten the recognition it deserves. Now 91 years old, it certainly merits protected landmark status - in its own right, not just for being close to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.

The Byrne Square building is anything but square - its has a triangular plan, making it one of the city's many "flatiron" buildings - those wedge-shaped structures that have gone up at intersections when the city grid meets older streets, that then slice the orthogonal plan diagonally. Nor is the building named for Byrne Dairy, as claimed on the Yestercuse website.

The building was erected by Mathew V. Byrne, Syracuse representative of the Miller Rubber company (of Akron, Ohio). According to the Syracuse Herald of June 13, 1920 Byrne spent $100,000 on the "terracotta business block."

A year later (June 12, 1921) Byrne took out an ad in the Herald exclaiming "Four years ago Miller Tires were practically unknown in this section. today 65% of the tires sold in Syracuse are Millers. Four years ago we had the smallest service station in the City of Syracuse. Today we have one of the finest service stations in the entire country." A photo of the building in the Herald of June 8, 1923 a sign for Miller Rubber Co, M. J. Byrne on the frieze (now covered in black) above the first floor to the right of the doorway. The accompaning ad explains that Syracuse Grocers, Inc. have leased the entire second floor of the Byrne Square Building and have a few offices to rent. Today Arthur Murray Dance Studios occupies the old tire showroom and service station, remarkable for its large plate glass windows.

Terracotta was a popular material for cladding all sorts of buildings in the late 19th century and first quarter of the 20th century. sometimes it was used only as decorative trim - since it was relatively cheap to mold a repeating decorative detail or pattern. In New York City it was famously used for the Woolworth Tower (1911), which is clad in about 400,000 glazed white terracotta tiles. Nearly as tall is the Smith Tower in Seattle (1914), financed by Syracuse industrialist Lyman Cornelius Smith and designed by Syracuse architects Gaggin & Gaggin. One problem of using a terracotta skin on a large surface, however, is that the expansion and contraction rates of the metal frame and the terracotta tiles is different. In many cases decades of stress has damaged the tiles causing failure - or expensive repair.

By the 1920s glazed white terracotta was a favorite material for automobile showrooms and gas stations. The tiles looked sleek and modern, and they were easy to clean. Since these buildings are mostly steel frame, the terracotta clad thin walls could allow large windows - like those preferred for auto showroom.

Besides the Byrne Square Building, Syracuse doesn't have many terracotta buildings left.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Other Creekwalk: Meadowbrook and its Birdhouses

The Other Creekwalk: Meadowbrook and its Birdhouses
by Samuel D. Gruber (all photos copyright Samuel D. Gruber)

Today we walked part of Syracuse's other Creekwalk - Meadowbrook Drive - and saw the many new birdhouses that have been designed, built and erected by unnamed neighbors (the guy in the white house with the red door). If anyone can give me more information, I'd like to acknowledge this local talent.

The Syracuse Garden Club has worked their magic to plant flower beds where there was previous hard packed grass at the ends of the medians, where street cross over the brook - really a collect that drains excess water form the neighborhood. It is in these beds that the birdhouses have been built. Some are fanciful houses, and the one near St. Alban's church is a church with steeple - something St. Alban's lacks. The aforesaid owner of the white house with red door has made a miniature version for the birds. The most recent addition is an airplane. The birds don't care what model - since they can already fly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A City Success: Syracuse Creekwalk Opens

A City Success: Syracuse Creekwalk Opens
by Samuel D. Gruber (all photos copyright Samuel D. Gruber)

Its been about 20 years in the making, but a continuous Creekwalk route from Armory Square to Onondaga Lake opened two weeks ago to the relief and delight of area residents - eager to take advantage of this new urban walking a bike route while the beautiful fall weather is still with us.

My wife and I walked it last Saturday - and here are some photos:

click image for larger format slide show

While this does not put Syracuse on par with cities like Philadelphia (Fairmount Park with all sorts of walks and trails), Washington (Rock Creek Park) or New York (Riverside Park and now the extraordinary new High Line), it does link us to cities like San Antonio and Milwaukee that have used downtown waterways to provide a new urban look and a new pedestrian experience. While we have many fine walking trails in the region, there just is nothing else like the Creekwalk in the city. I can see that it will be a great resource for residents, but will also attract many outsiders because of the great variety of the route. Tired of Onondaga Park? Come try the Creekwalk. There is good dose of nature, but there is also a fine mix of old and new buildings, often seen from unusual and unexpected angles. Kids and adults will enjoy the new Dragon sculpture by Armory Square, but look to at the attractive 1991 mural by sculptor William Severson - blasted into the Allen Building's brick about halfway along the trail.

It is great to see a project completed in Syracuse - where vision becomes reality. All who struggled to get this project done are to be commended. As a case study - I'd love to have someone in the know outline all the phases of the project, and where the funds have come from. Who has paid for this? City operations budgets, funded by taxpayer dollars? Special fees or PILOT funds? Was there county, state and federal money? Private sponsorship?

This is just Phase I of an ambitious (and still unfunded) project that will bring the walk all the way south to Kirk Park. In the spirit of the great WPA-sponsored public works projects that brought us much of our modern (local, state and national) park systems, this would be a great use of (more!) stimulus money. Rather than extend our infrastructure with more incursion into rural areas we need to invest in our existing settled communities and upgrade and improve our urban infrastructure. That is the best recipe for jobs creation where they are most needed, and the stimulation of green sustainable economic and civic growth for the 21st century.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

PACNY To Present Historic Preservation Awards May 12 at 7 pm

Fayetteville, NY. The Matilda Joslyn Gage House will be awarded the Pat Earle Award

Barb Bartlett will receive Josena Foley Education Award

PACNY To Present Historic Preservation Awards May 12 at 7 pm

The Preservation Association of Central New York will celebrate Historic Preservation Month by presenting its annual Historic Preservation awards on Thursday, May 12th, at 7:00 pm. The event will take place at the:

CNY Community Foundation’s Philanthropy Center Ballroom, second floor
431 East Fayette Street, Syracuse (at Fayette/Firefighters' Park).

Admission is free to the entire Central New York Community. Come celebrate the good things happening in our community. Light refreshments will be served.

PACNY will recognize a wide variety of individuals and organizations who have made singular contributions to the culture of preservation.

Jasena R. Foley Education Award is given to individuals or groups who educate, promote, engender or advocate a preservation ethic in Central New York.

Recipient: Barbara Bartlett

Syracuse, NY. King + King Architects offices will receive a Merit Award.

The Pat Earle Award is given for a singular outstanding historic preservation project which benefits the community.

Recipient: Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation

The Harley J. McKee Award is given for excellence in the promotion and application of appropriate preservation technology and fine craftsmanship.

Recipient: Hollis Robbins / Robbins Rarities

The Preservation Merit Award is given to recognition of exceptional achievement in historic preservation.

Syracuse, NY. Slocum Hall at Syracuse University will receive a Merit Award.

Recipients: Syracuse University, Slocum Hall

King + King Architects

Andrew Besemer

Community Foundation of Central New York, Philanthropy

Skaneateles, NY. The Watt House will recognized with a TLC award.

Tender Loving Care (TLC) Awards are given to individuals, organizations or civic agencies that have maintained exceptionally high standards of care for historic properties or landscapes.
Garth Coviello / 127 Stolp

Virginia Denton/ 5498 N. Manlius Fayetteville

Homer Town Hall

Watt House, 72 Jordan St Skaneateles

Downtown Committee of Syracuse, Onondaga Citizens League

King + King Architects to receive PACNY award for Adaptive Reuse

Syracuse, NY. King + King Architects. Photos: Exterior view by Samuel Gruber; interior views courtesy King + King

King + King Architects to receive PACNY award for
Adaptive Reuse

King + King Architects will be recognized with a Preservation Merit Award from the Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY) for its innovative and attractive renovation of the former Dupli Envelope & Graphics Corporation on Syracuse's Near-West Side. The award will be presented at the annual Preservation Awards Ceremony held on Thursday, at 7 pm at the Philanthropy Center in Downtown Syracuse. The event is free and the public is welcome.

Funded in 1868 by Archimedes Russell, King +King is the oldest architectural firm in New York state and fourth oldest in the country. The firm of 70 is led by four partners: Pete King, Dave Johnson, Jim King and Kirk Narburgh.

The firm was located in the City of Syracuse until the 1980s, when it moved offices to Manlius. In 2008 the firm decided to return to the city as part of the continuing revitalization of Downtown and the Near West Side. King and King renovated the former Dupli Envelope & Graphics Corp. building at 358 W. Jefferson Street, on the corner of West Street. The original structure (the barn space) was constructed in 1913 and used as an assembly plant by the Case Tractor Supply Co. Other additions were made in the 1920’s and the 1960’s.

Renovations began in May 2008 for the $6 million, 52,000 square foot office project and were completed at the end of the year. An original warehouse section has been kept fairly open as the firm’s lobby, conference room and some offices. Timbers were cleaned and left exposed, but skylights have been added to brighten the area. Large windows give employees a view and allow people driving by on West Street to look in and see the office at work. Overall, the new skylights bring sunlight into the building and save energy costs by reducing the need for lighting and heating.

The King + King office project is both a preservation project and a recycling one, since ninety-fine percent of the original but dilapidated commercial structure and building envelope has been reused; including the brick walls, trusses and most of the roof deck. The result is now a LEED platinum-certified building renovated for new purpose following a new design. It is a perfect example of the adage that the “greenest” building construction is reuse of one that already exists.

The 70-employee firm fully occupied the new space in January 2009. The building was renovated under the U.S. Green Building Council's top Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.The new building consumes 50% less water and 80% less energy than a typical Syracuse office building and 50% less energy of a typical new office building. In addition, because of the firm's new location it is estimated that employees drive 30,000 less commuting miles annually.

The building is a great contribution to the commercial development in Syracuse’s Near Westside. As partner Pete King has said, “It shows, and can help show, other developers, and the community, what's possible in some of the older architectural stock buildings in the city"

The King + King Architects design team included Eric Witschi, Jason Benedict, Matt Leak, Mark Azzarello, Nicole Stack, David Green, Tammy Seward, and Matthew Brubaker. Construction was carried out by Hueber-Breuer Construction Company with Otey Marshall and the late Harold Bush as Construction Manager. The Mechanical Engineer was IBC Engineering's Dan Fox . The Structural Engineer was Jim Kaplan of John P. Stopen Engineering Partnership and Tim Lobczowski of Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture was Landscape Architect.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Upcoming Lecture: "Temple Concord, Jewish Architecture and City Beautiful"

My Upcoming Lecture: "Temple Concord, Jewish Architecture and City Beautiful"

You are invited to the upcoming (free) illustrated talk “Temple Concord, Jewish Architecture and City Beautiful,” at Temple Concord next Monday, April 11, at 6 pm.

The talk is part of the on-going celebration of the centennial the National Register listed sanctuary which will culminate with a public re-dedication in September. The talk, co-sponsored by Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY), is part of Temple Concord’s ongoing series featuring Syracuse University faculty presenting their work to an audience further down the Hill.

I will discuss the architecture of Temple Concord in the context of American synagogue design, the evolution of Reform Judaism and as an example of early 20th century civic architecture.

The talk will address several of my ongoing research/activist interests – synagogue architecture, the history of urban planning, and the past and future of Syracuse. Just as today; Concord when designed and built (1909-1911) was literally a pivotal building on the Connective Corridor. Its design had roots in consulting-architect Arnold Brunner’s (with Alfred Taylor) past work and writing about the origins of the synagogue, but it also was tied to the new Neo-Classical plan adopted by Syracuse University in 1906 and the completion of the new County Courthouse downtown the same year.

lecIn 1910, Brunner, who was the favorite architect of the New York Jewish establishment, became president of the American Institute of Architects New York chapter. He was nationally recognized as the leading designer and historian of synagogues in America, but also as one of the country’s foremost urban planners, thinkers and the most public and articulate spokesperson for what he called “City Practical.,” but which we now think of as the City Beautiful Movement. The same year that Concord was dedicated, Brunner’s Cleveland Federal Building was also completed culminating Brunner’s decade service with Daniel Burnham and John Carrere as the triumvirate behind the famed Cleveland Plan.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Researching the History of Your Home Part I, Feb 26th

Researching the History of Your Home

Part 1

Presented by the Preservation Association

of Central New York

in Partnership with

The Onondaga County Public Library

Saturday, February 26, 2011, 2-4pm.

Onondaga County Public Library, Local History / Genealogy, 5th Floor, Smith Room

The Galleries of Syracuse

447 South Salina Street, Syracuse, NY

If walls could talk, oh, the stories your house would tell…

If you own an older home, you’ve probably at some point wondered who slept in your bedroom long before you, when your plumbing was last updated, or, maybe, why that ghost keeps hiding your car keys. Want to get a glimpse into the secret past of your abode?

Join us for a presentation on tips and techniques for home history research hosted by PACNY followed by a tour of the OCPL Local History / Genealogy Department with discussion and examples of all the really neat stuff contained therein!

We’ll share with you the secrets of where to search for your home’s history, what rocks to look under, how to be a genuine house detective! The OCPL Librarians will share with you the unbelievable wealth of resources they have at your disposal. They will show you how to use historical files, Obits, maps, directories and that grossly underestimated jewel, THE CATALOGUE!

So, mark the date and don’t miss it!

Part 2 of the series will be presented by PACNY in partnership with the Onondaga Historical Association on Sunday, November 20, 2011, 2-4 pm. at OHA, 321 Montgomery Street, Syracuse NY.

The member-based Preservation Association of Central New York has been the area’s citizen voice for historic preservation for over 35 years. Founded as a reaction to the widespread neglect and demolition of historic buildings and neighborhoods in the 1960’s, PACNY has led the successful effort to transform our community’s perception and care of its historic resources so that now the City of Syracuse and Onondaga County have over a dozen historic districts which contribute to the region’s cultural and economic vitality.

For further information about PACNY, contact Michael Flusche (President of PACNY) at 315-569-6761 or See the PACNY website at

Monday, January 3, 2011

Scottholm Neighborhood Documented By Cornell Students

Scottholm Neighborhood Documented by Cornell Students
by Samuel D. Gruber

Early in December representatives from the city's Bureau of Planning & Sustainability and students from Cornell University's Historic Preservation Program presented some of their results of a survey of 175 residential properties in Syracuse's attractive Scottholm neighborhood, on the East Side, two miles from downtown. Dick Case has already reported on the presentation and summarizes some of the findings in the Post-Standard, but I present some additional information and my own take on the history and the process.

The Cornell group presented their work in an attractive booklet that summarizes the history of the neighborhood and its development as well as the various styles of domestic architecture built - mostly during the 1920s. The publication is available on the City's website, through the Bureau of Planning & Sustainability page: a color-coded map showing all house and street names and numbers and the periods of developments is particular helpful (especially to people like me who need help labeling photos when the house number is clearly visible).

Much of the booklet is taken up with reprinting style definitions from standard handbooks, but this may be useful to area residents, especially when the styles are applied to specific neighborhood houses, a few of which are featured as "house spotlights." Because of the nature of the accessible sources, most of the descriptive texts for individual houses is about the history of ownership with little specific information about the architect or designer, or the sources of the ready made plans.
It is often now impossible to recovery this information, or its take luck in finding plans, correspondence or recorded and signed contracts.

Development of the area began with creation of Genesee Turnpike, now Genesee Street in the 1830s, but what would became “Scottholm Estates” was sketched out in 1914 and lots were sold beginning in 1915. The survey identifies only about thirty houses as dating from from the 1915-1925. Most date from the late 1920s and some even from the early 1930s, suggesting the effects of the Depression took a while to by fully felt by Syracuse's white collar (and white color) commercial and other professionals, who made up a substantial portion of the neighborhood residents. Scottholm was designed by a landscape architect and planner Arthur C. Comey following the popular ideals for new garden suburbs easily reached by streetcar from urban commercial centers. These new developments, of which Syracuse has several notable examples, are typified by winding streets, mandated setbacks and front yards, organized tree-planting alongside sidewalks, and various protective covenants regarding ownership qualifications. The stone gates at the entrance to the neighborhood at Scottholm from East Genesee Street remain in place.

John W. Reps provides this biographical information about Comey on his invaluable website about American urban planning history before 1914:
Arthur Coleman Comey (1886-1954) graduated cum laude from Harvard University at the age of twenty­one in 1907 with a degree in landscape architecture. His teacher, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. helped place Comey in his first two positions as a park planner in Dixon, Illinois and as Superintendent of Parks in Utica, New York. In 1911 Comey returned to Cambridge where he began his practice as "Consultant on City Planning." In 1912 the City of Houston, Texas, retained him to prepare a city planning report, and he wrote this article that October proposing a system of regulating building height and bulk and the minimum size of lots.

In 1911 he decided to enter the international competition for the design of the Australian Federal Capital. Although he did not win a prize, his design was the second choice of the minority judge. Comey's career as a city planner had only begun. He entered and won second prize in 1913 in a competition sponsored by the Chicago City Club for the design of a typical 160­ acre tract in that city. In 1914 he won first prize of $5,000 in a competition with 146 participants for the design of a 350­ acre harbor, industrial, business, and residential complex at Richmond, California.

In 1914 he also began work on a study of suburban planning for the City Plan and Improvement Commission of Detroit. He also designed the garden suburb of Billerica, Massachusetts, a state-sponsored project. By 1917 Comey had served at least nine towns and cities, including Beverly, Brookline, Cambridge, Fitchburg, and Lawrence, all in the state of Massachusetts, and Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

He also was a Town Planner for the U. S. Housing Corporation in 1918 and 1919. Doubtless he drew on this experience during his twelve­year teaching career that began in 1928 when he was appointed a lecturer in the School of Landscape Architecture. He became an Assistant Professor in Harvard's School of City Planning and an Associate Professor in the Department of Regional Planning. During the 1930's and early 1940s he was also consultant to the U.S. National Resources Planning Board. With Max S. Wehrly Comey prepared a major study of American planned communities.

Comey was at one time an associate editor of the National Municipal Review and edited for publication in the Harvard City Planning Series a collection of the papers of Alfred Bettman. His own study for that series, Transition Zoning, published in 1933, reflects his interest in the legal and regulatory aspect of planning that he saw as necessary as ability in design. Among his other publications are Regional Planning Theory and Integration of the New England Regional Plan.

Comey helped found and became secretary and later vice chairman of the Massachusetts Federation of Planning Boards. He was a founding member of the American City Planning Institute in 1917 and was a member of its Board of Governors. He was a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Institute of Consulting Engineers, and the American Planning and Civic Association. He was also president of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects.

His most elaborate contribution to Landscape Architecture was his "Regional Planning Theory: A Reply to the British Challenge," published in 1923. Illustrated with several line drawings and color plates, this advocated a policy of multi­directional city growth along radial transportation lines laid out on hexagonal patterns.

One interesting fact from the student's research is that a “considerable Jewish presence in the Scottholm tract, beginning in the first decades through the 20th century.” This reflects the first big move east of the City's more affluent Jewish community, especially those like the Marksons (documented here) in retail trade. According to the report: "A notable business in Syracuse, the Markson Brothers company specialized in the sale of furniture and other home goods. Started by four Polish immigrant brothers in 1905, Markson Brothers had stores in downtown Syracuse, Utica, Auburn, Oswego, and Rome. Several members of the next generation of Marksons continued to operate the business for years to come. Interestingly, several members of the Markson family decided to settle in Scottholm during its first years of development." The extended Markson family occupied at least four houses in the development.

The presence of Jews in Scottholm in its early years probably distingishes it from most other garden suburbs. However, it does reflect the outward migration of Jews from city centers that began even before the widespread development of ex-urban suburbs following World War II. Similar migration patterns of Jews (and other immigrant groups) along streetcar lines can be seen in Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and many other cities.

There are some large and distinctive houses in the neighborhood, especially on Scottholm Boulevard and the north end of Scottholm Terrance when some interesting houses are built high in and up on the hillside. But since most Scottholm houses were built at a time of design and material standardization. Structurally most houses are the same, and what is called "style" is most often only represents modest different - perhaps the angle of a roof line, the proportion of windows, the type of siding preferred, or the decoration. There is no historic and little social difference between a 1920s "colonial," "Tudor," or Spanish," house when built on the same street in the same neighborhood. Similar houses are can be found in developments across the United States. The most significant difference which might given some insight into the original owner's taste or status is whether the house is a standard purchased pattern from a book, builder's catalog or developments template or whether it is a unique architect-designed house. In Central New York as in most of country the former type is the norm.

We do have in Syracuse, however, houses designed by Ward Wellington Ward (such Sanderson House at 301 Scottholm Blvd), Albert Brockway and a few others that have been documented, and possibly many others still to be researched. Some of these can be found in Scottholm. One of the most significant houses in the Scottholm neighborhood is excluded from the survey because of its relatively recent date, but this the Louis and Celia Skoler Residence at 213 Scottholm Terrace designed in 1957 by Louis Skoler (d. 2008). It is one of the most significance modern houses in the region, and is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a designated local protected site (another fine Skoler House can be seen as 953 Comstock Ave. near the University where Skoler taught in the School of Architecture for 30 years).

The real meat of the Scottholm survey will be the reports on the history and architecture of the individual properties - and this has not yet been released. Katelyn Wright, a land use planner for the city says that it should be forthcoming early in 2011.

This survey is one small but necessary step in the improvement of the city's information regarding history and architecture. Relatively speaking - this project was an easy one - since it deals with properties built more or less at the same time under similar circumstances, and still occupied and well maintained. Fortunately, much information on such residential areas can be found through reviews of deed histories, city directories and importantly the real estate pages of the Post-Standard which are quite informative for new development after about 1910. Alas, we lack such details reporting for most 19th century neighborhoods - especially those on the West and North sides. Since those are the areas more deteriorated and endangered, they are the areas that cry out for research and better listing on the city's historic property registers.

We have now documented the post-World War I houses and landscaped developments of Sedgewick, Berkeley Park Strathmore and Scottholm. We really need to turn our attention to the more distressed areas of the city.

Unlike in Scottholm, unfortunately this is work not so easily done as course work for students, and the City has not in the past allocated funds for this kind of work, and is especially short of resources now. The likelihood of being able to hire graduated (and experienced) preservationists to do this work is slight. It is hoped, however, that with the new committed staff at the city’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, that outside resources may be procured.

Meanwhile, local professional and organizations will as always be called on to fill the informational breach. In the past this has been mostly in reaction to specific threats, often at the eleventh hour and too late. It is hoped that the new preservation planners will be able to better identify endangered areas, and marshall talent and resources to these sites.

According to Katelyn Wright "With regard to a preservation plan, City preservation staff (Kate Auwaerter and myself) are currently in the preliminary stages of developing a strategic plan for the local preservation program. We expect this plan to include many of the strategies called for in the ESF plan and are consulting the faculty that were involved in that effort." The ESF plan was a major step forward in articulating a rationale city policy toward historic preservation, and clearly demonstrating links between preservation, land use, quality of life and economically sustainable development. Unfortunately, until now it has largely been ignored. You can read of copy of it here.

Katelyn and Kate will publicly share some of these plans and their thoughts on local preservation priorities at the PACNY annual meeting on January 23rd. Meantime, a one-page handout outlining the City's preservation policy and priorities is available here: