Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sam Gruber Lecture: American Synagogues & Jewish Identity at Temple Adath, Syracuse (NY)

 Syracuse, NY.  Temple Adath Yeshurun, sanctuary.  Percival Goodman, architect (1971), Dorothy Reister, sculptor.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013).

For readers in the Central New York area, this Sunday morning, December 8th,  I'll be giving an illustrated talk at Temple Adath Yeshurun in Syracuse at 10:00 a,m,  Admission is free.  Come a little early for coffee and chitchat.  

The venue is special.  Temple Adath is one of the last synagogues designed by modern master Percival Goodman, and it is also one of the very best - and certainly most striking - of modern buildings in Central New York.  You don't have to be Jewish to be interested in synagogue architecture, and you don't need to be Jewish to want to visit this building. 

Arise and Build: American Synagogues & Jewish Identity

In the last hundred years, American Jews have built synagogues at a rate never seen in the world before, and in the process they have integrated the synagogue into the American landscape, and Judaism into the American cultural mainstream. This illustrated lecture explores the evolving form and meaning of American synagogue in the 20th century, shaped by architects and their congregational patrons. Through synagogue design, we trace changes in the organization of the American Jewish community and its relationship to American culture as a whole. The location, size, shape, and stylistic language adopted for synagogue designs throughout the century is a reflection of the changing needs and values of American Jews.

Temple Adath has interest inside and out, and the entire plan - combining myriad practical and utilitarian functions with large worship, social and educational spaces - is worth study.  Goodman is often noted - and I have recently done so myself (see recent post about Herbert Ferber and Ibram Lassaw) - for his signature design elements such as sharp angles, natural materials (especial brick and wood) and the abundant incorporation of modern art in his designs - but he also excelled as a site and facilities planner.  He had a good sense of building siting, the relationship of parts for function and aesthetic and emotional effect, and how to develop interesting spatial progressions.

Syracuse, NY.  Congregation Adas Yeshurun (Neustadter Shul), Mulberry St (now State St). founded 1870, built 1878 (demolished). Photo: Rudolph, From a Minyan to a Community)

The evolution of Temple Adath Yeshurun as a congregation, and as a series of buildings, is a good illustration of the development of American synagogues common throughout the country (I develop this theme further in an essay titled The Continuing Exodus written for an exhibition about urban synagogues a few yeas back).  Temple Adath was an offshoot in 1870 from an existing congregation (New Beth Israel, commonly known as The Grape Street Shul).  Congregation Adas Yeshurun received a New York State charter in 1872, and the members then bought a house o Mulberry Street to use as a place of worship.  They erected a new building on the site in 1878.  This building remained in use until the congregation moved in 1922 to an imposing classical structure (designed by Gordon Wright) slightly further east  on South Crouse Avenue and Harrison Street (now the Hotel Skyler).  At that time the name was changed to Temple Adath Yeshurun.

Syracuse, NY.  Former Temple Adath Yeshurun, sanctuary.  Gordon Wright, architect (1922)

Fifty years later, in 1971, the congregation dedicated its present home on Kimber Road at the eastern edge of the City of Syracuse.  Design by Percival Goodman, it includes impressive ritual and decorative artwork by Dorothy Reister.  Some of the stained glass window panels from the 1922 building were moved and installed at Kimber Road.

Syracuse, NY.  Temple Adath Yeshurun, chapel.  Percival Goodman, architect (1971).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013).

For more information, call the Temple Adath office at (315) 445 – 0002, email, or visit

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Queen Anne (and Stick Style) Survivors on Syracuse's East Side

Syracuse, NY. 623 Euclid Ave. (NW corner of Lancaster).  Loomis House, c. 1890. Photo: Samuel Gruber

Queen Anne (and Stick Style) Survivors on Syracuse's East Side
by Samuel D. Gruber

Not too long ago I posted about Italianate houses on the East Side, and mentioned that stylistically they lost popularity to the nascent Queen Anne Style in the 1870s, and to the related Shingle and Stick Style variations that continued to be built until the end of the 19th centuries as popular so-called Victorian houses.  This styles, toward the end of their run in the 1890s, often combined with the Colonial Revival style  to include Palladian windows, Ionic or Tuscan columnar porches and other classical elements mixed in with their still variegated roof lines, stairway stained glass, and vestigial corner towers.

Syracuse, NY. 106 Victoria Place. One of the four oldest houses on Victoria Place, built before 1892. It combines elements of several Late Victorian styles. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2011.

The Queen Anne style became fashionable in the United States in the late 1870s. The style is often called “Victorian” since it is the most recognizable and most visually exciting of all the many 19th-century variations of 19th-century domestic architecture – many of which are equally “Victorian”. Queen Anne, refers specifically to houses that have all or some of these characteristics: an irregular plan, asymmetrical form, hip, multi-gabled roofs or a combination of roof types, towers, dormer windows, stained glass windows, bay windows, turrets (small towers at the corners of buildings), encircling porches, and tall chimneys with decorative brick and shingle patterns are typical.

Part of the popularity of the Queen Anne style was due to technological innovations that allowed plentiful and relatively cheap lumber from the Upper Mid-West and elsewhere to be mechanically cut into standard size and shapes, and shipped by railroad across the country. Power saws, lathes and drills allowed an almost limitless choice of decorative details. These could be ordered out of an assortment of builder catalogs and even general mail order retail catalogs. Queen Anne houses and contemporary late Victorian styles were also the first houses to be fully designed with healthful ventilation, as well as internal heat and plumbing, and even gas for lighting. 

Queen Anne is the style that represents "Victorian" to many people. It is visually the liveliest of the styles of the Victorian era and was popular in Syracuse and throughout the United States.   Queen Anne houses were often quite large and date from the last decades when the professional middle class was likely to have live-in domestic help and childcare. For later generations, these houses have been too big (and expensive to maintain) and so have been transformed for apartments, offices or other new uses.

The former Babcock-Shattack house, built ca. 1895 and being restored for condominium use, is a good case in point.  By the 1930s is was used as a political clubhouse, and after World War II as a meeting place for the Jewish War Veteran's.

Syracuse, NY. Walnut Place (Walnut Park).  It is not clear which direction we are looking here, and what intersection this is, but on the right you can see a typical house of the time with a wrap-around Queen Anne style porch.

Syracuse, NY. 1540 E. Genesee St. One of the most intact Queen Anne houses, but it probably once had a porch and slate roofs. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2009

Scattered across the Eastside are several Queen Anne and stick style houses, but not so many as their once were, since much of territory for Queen Anne houses, often designed by notable architects, were the new residential districts north of the newly founded Syracuse University laid out in the 1870s.  Alas, this prime part of the "Hill" has been mostly ravaged in recent years, as part of the institutional zoning district that has encouraged widespread demolition along University Avenue and adjacent streets.  

Many fine old houses have been demolished, especially a large number between Ostrom and Comstock taken down to build the Science Center in the 1980s.  Others have been leveled for parking lots and parking garages.  Some survive, but have been seriously "remuddled" by large scale landlord to turn them into student housing.  Mostly, what we find surviving are the either the "bone" of Queen Anne houses, now stripped of much of their original ornament and trim, or more simple houses - sometimes a single gable-fronted upright house, that has been enlivened with small corner turret, or a Stick Style porch, or some other intricate detail.

Perhaps the best preserved Queen Anne house in the area (at least on the outside)  is the large green towered structure at 623 Euclid Avenue  at the NW corner of Lancaster (photo above).  This house was already standing in 1892, and belonged to E. L. and Emma Loomis. In 1901  Loomis was secretary and manager of the Bankers Mortgage Company of Syracuse and also was one those who incorporated the new Eastwood Manufacturing Company.  In 1910 he was Deputy Superintendent of Poor, a post he held for many years. He had been involved in real estate development with his father Henry H. Loomis, and the two were active in developing the Westminster Tract in which it is centrally located, and many parcels in the sixteenth and seventeenth wards.  This is one of the oldest houses in the neighborhood and rivaled contemporary houses on West Onondaga in size and decoration.  The present green color is not representative of what would been an original polychromatic paint job that emphasized the many different shapes, angles, and types of siding, especially the decorative shingle patters, some of which still survive. The house's impressive qualities recall the short period of neighborhood development before the streetcar and subsequent congestion on Euclid Avenue discouraged grand houses. 
 Syracuse, NY.  400 block of Clarendon Street, 1890s. Photo: Samuel Gruber (2011)

Many other houses in the neighborhoods have smaller towers which were only vestiges of the castle-like corner tower.  Some of these, like the one perched atop the hill at 4?? Clarendon, are simple late Victorian boxes - with one or more projecting from bays.  The addition of the corner turret, however, adds a bit of spectacle to this house.

Syracuse, NY. 737 Comstock Ave., ca. 1895.  Photo Samuel Gruber (2012)

Another large towered house at 737 Comstock Avenue, now a SU fraternity, also has a large rounded corner tower.  This much-altered building, when it had a porch and before it was painted white, probably more closely resembled the late Queen Anne style of the 1890s.  But like the Babcock-Shattuck (to which it seems related), it already also include Colonial Revival elements.

 Syracuse, NY., 612 South Beech Street.  Photo: Samuel Gruber (2013)

Syracuse, NY., 612 South Beech Street.  This house, probably built in the 1880s, preserves one of the best Stick Style porches on the East Side.  Photo: Samuel Gruber (2011)

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Art Deco Delights: The New York Telephone Building

Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building, 201 State St., Voorhees Gmelin & Walker, archs, 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building, 201 State St., Voorhees Gmelin & Walker, archs, 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

Art Deco Delights: The New York Telephone Building

I walked to Downtown yesterday to attend the Sacred Site Symposium at St. Paul's Cathedral, taking advantage of the beautiful day to look at buildings - and our streetscapes lovely and ugly.  We are fortunate to have Fayette Park, and the morning sun over the park lit of the sometimes sheer and forbidding facade of the former New York Telephone building (now Verizon), one Syracuse's most austere, and thus least appreciated Art Deco delights  Close up, the scale of the building is a little forbidding. After all, it replaced John Crouse's Italianate villa the north side of Fayette Park where it was built in 1928.  But the building looks good from a distance, especially looking north on State Street, it has some enchanting detail.

The structure hugs the corner of State and East Fayette Street, and the beige colored masonry facade - is it cut stone or cast stone? - always looks warm in the sunlight.  The original skeleton steel tower on the northwest corner of the building was replaced by an enclosed microwave tower in 1969.  This added a certain heaviness to the composition, but it is also more linked to the 1969 northern addition, and so the Art Deco building can be viewed more-or-less distinctly.  Best of all is the intricate and delicate incised carving around the doorway and large ground floor windows, on the corner, and up near the roof level. 

Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building, East Fayette facade, 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

 Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building, East Fayette facade, 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

 Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building, East Fayette facade, 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

 Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building, East Fayette facade, 1928. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013

The building was designed by Voorhees Gmelin & Walker, who were tasked with designing New York Telephone buildings across the state.  Ralph Walker, one of the great Skyscraper architects of all time, and the man most responsible for creating the iconic stepped setback skyscraper in response to New York 1916 zoning law, designed the flagship New York City telephone building, now known as the Barcley Vesey building, in 1926. The Syracuse building also shares with the New York Telephone Building annex in Buffalo, also designed by Voorhees Gmelin & Walker, and built in 1930, some decorative features, especially the extremely flat and shallow relief decoration.

Buffalo, NY. New York Telephone Building annex. Voorhees Gmelin & Walker, archs., 1930. Unlike the Syracuse building, this six-story annex mixes brick and stone facing. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2013.

 Syracuse, NY. New York Telephone (now Verizon) Building,State Street facade.  There was damage to the facing visible here in 2009, but it has since been repaired. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2009

Other Art Deco Delights:

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sacred Sites Symposium, November 16th

 Syracuse, NY.  Former south Presbyterian Church. This window and all other stained glass was removed and sold to a dealer/collector in California. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2005)

 Syracuse, NY.  Greater Love in Christ Church (former First Methodist Episcopal, 1927), Frederick Roy Lear, architect. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Sacred Sites Symposium, November 16th

Over the past few years I have frequently reported on this blog about the many religious buildings in Central New York - remarkable for their history, architecture, art and often vibrant congregations.  These buildings and the many activities which they house are mainstays in many neighborhoods.  They are landmarks of architecture, landmarks of community, and landmarks of the spirit.  

As we all know, many of these building are threatened with slow neglect or a quick demolition.  Changing demographic and worship patterns often mean declining congregations and limited congregation resources - financial and human.  Aging building that have not been maintained often face staggering costs to be brought up standards of safety and integrity appropriate for regular use.   The problems are many - but so are the solutions.  Many local congregations have been steadfast in their care for their historic buildings, and others have been innovative in how they have adapted and shared use, and planned for the future.  Outside of Central new York was can also turn to many cities with similar problems - that have also forged community solutions. 

 Syracuse, NY.  United Baptist Church, South Beech St.( 1916), Revels & Hallenbeck, architects.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2012)

The Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY) will offer an opportunity to explore problems and solutions at an all day symposium to be held at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral on Montgomery Street on Saturday, November 16th.  I am thrilled that Bob Jaeger, president of the nationally active Partners for Sacred Places with which I have for more than 20 years, will be the keynote speaker.  To my knowledge this is the first time in more than a decade that this topic has been publicly addressed.  I hope that it will set off a chain reaction of discussions and actions.  There is so much w can all do to help. 

 Syracuse, NY.  St. Patrick's Church, N. Lowell Ave. (1871). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2013)

Here are the details.   I recommend registering on-line, but you can also do so on-site before the symposium.

‘SACRED PLACES SYMPOSIUM’ will take place on Saturday, NOVEMBER 16th from 9:30 am to 4:15 pm, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, 310 Montgomery Street in Syracuse, New York. The Symposium will bring together an array of expert practitioners to discuss the issues that can determine the fate of these magnificent community places, and the neighborhoods that surround them. 

Attendees will be able to choose from sessions offered in two learning tracks: SUSTAINING SACRED PLACES, or RE-USING FORMER SACRED SITES. The Keynote Speaker will be A. Robert Jaeger, Co-Founder and President of Partners for Sacred Places, who will discuss the importance of protecting, preserving, and repurposing our Sacred Places. Mr. Jaeger is the co-author of Sacred Places at Risk (PDF, 1998) and Strategies for Stewardship and Active Use of Older and Historic Religious Properties (1996), author of Sacred Places in Transition (1994), and editor (from 1985 to 1989) of Inspired, a bi-monthly magazine with news and technical articles on religious property preservation.

Specific ‘Sacred Places’ topics will include: Conditions Surveys, On-Going Maintenance, Energy Concerns, Historic Significance, Funding Possibilities, and Preservation Networking – with case studies including Grace Episcopal Church, Syracuse; Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, Buffalo; and Friends of Corpus Christi, Inc., Buffalo. This symposium will also address Cultural Identity; Community & Neighborhood Stability; Economic Value; and New Uses for Sacred Places – with case studies including a Community Facility – Willard Memorial Chapel, Auburn; Restaurant – The Benediction CafĂ©, AME Zion Church, Syracuse; and a School – Martin Luther King Charter School at St. Mary of Sorrows Catholic Church, Buffalo.

Registration: There will be a registration fee of $40 for the all day symposium which will be offered to the general public, with a discounted fee of $25 available to PACNY members. Symposium registration and PACNY membership options are available on our Event Registration Page.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York Annual Meeting September 29th, 2013

Syracuse, NY. Gustav Stickley House, Columbus Ave.  Designed by Wellington Taber, remodeled by Gustav Stickley.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York Annual Meeting September 29th, 2013

I frequently write on this blog about Craftsman artist, arbiter and impresario Gustav Stickley and Arts and Crafts architect Ward Wellington Ward. Here is a chance to experience and continue their legacies in good company - at one event:

Join the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York on Sunday, September 29, 2013 at the Ward-designed Mohegan Manor in Baldwinsville, NY for the Annual Membership Meeting and Luncheon. 

This year’s agenda will include a round table discussion, “Our Legacy: Two Craftsman Homes.”  Nancy and Davey Willans of The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms; Steven Kern, executive director of the Everson Museum of Art; and Beth Crawford, preservation architect at Crawford and Stearns are scheduled to participate. The presentation will cover plans for the restoration of Gustav Stickley’s Columbus Avenue home in Syracuse, New York and the continuing restoration of his Craftsman Farms complex in Morris Plains, New Jersey.

 Syracuse, NY. Gustav Stickley House, Columbus Ave. First floor stair hall in the first "Craftsman" interior, as remodeled by Gustav Stickley. 

The meeting will begin promptly at 11:30 am. A lunch buffet and cash bar will be offered. Registration for the meeting and luncheon is required.  Cost for ACSCNY members is $35, guests and friends: $45. Registrations must be received no later than September 21, 2013.

For additional details on the event or information on becoming an ACSCNY member, contact Dave Rudd at 315.463.1568 or

If you are not a member of the ACSCNY, this is a great time to join!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Art Deco Delights: First Trust & Deposit Wolf Street Office

Syracuse, NY. former 201 Wolf Street. Wolf Street Office, First Trust & Deposit, 1929. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Syracuse, NY. former 201 Wolf Street. Wolf Street Office, First Trust & Deposit, 1929. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Syracuse, NY. former 201 Wolf Street. Wolf Street Office, First Trust & Deposit, 1929. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Art Deco Delights: First Trust & Deposit Wolf Street Office
by Samuel D. Gruber

As a follow up to my recent post on the Art Deco Grant School, let me bring attention to a much smaller, but more charming example of Northside Deco at 201 Wolf Street, on the NW corner with North Salina. This is the Wolf Street Office of the First Trust & Deposit Co., the last in a series of branch offices the bank opened in different neighborhoods across the city after its creation in 1919 through the merger of The First National Bank of Syracuse and the Trust & Deposit Company of Onondaga.  These branch offices were an early version of what we now recognize as chain stores - where each store or office has similar architectural features to create brand recognition. Drugstores and Five and Dimes were doing the same thing - but in a different style.

Generically, almost all banks of the first decades of the 20th century had this branding feature - since they favored the stately classical style that linked banking to the broader civic culture. Government buildings, libraries, and schools also often adopted classicism, especially after the success of the 1893 Chicago Exposition (the White City) and the spread of the "City Beautiful" Movement.  Architectural "branding" was nothing new. The main building of First Trust & Deposit is also classical - a huge Downtown Roman temple at 201 South Warren Street; now Key Bank.  The building was erected in 1915 and then doubled in size in 1928.

As far as I can tell the establishment of First Trust & Deposit offices in neighborhoods - taking banking to the people - was something of an innovation in Syracuse at the time, though Melvin L. King also designed at least one branch (is it still extant?) for the City Bank Trust Company (see photo below). Elsewhere in America branch banking - with scores of branch buildings - was common for big banks in the period after World War I.

 Syracuse, NY. former 201 Wolf Street. Wolf Street Office, First Trust & Deposit, 1929. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Syracuse, NY. former 201 Wolf Street. Wolf Street Office, First Trust & Deposit, 1929. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

The first four First Trust & Deposit branch offices are all designed as nearly identical classical style structures by leading local architect Melvin L. King, but the Wolf Street branch takes a stylistic departure. It is built of brick and glass, with its facade and especially its entrance portal decorated with lively Art Deco motifs.  Is it also a product of King's office - but just a stylistic upgrade? I hope a little research in the archives of King + King will tell. 

Syracuse, NY.  First Trust & Deposit East Side Office (still extant facing Loguen Park). Photo from Melvin L. King : Architect. (Syracuse: Architectural Catalog Co., 1925).
Syracuse, NY.  City Bank Trust Company, West Side Branch. Photo from Melvin L. King : Architect. (Syracuse: Architectural Catalog Co., 1925).

We are fortunate that the building found new life as Brian's Fine Art Gallery & Custom Framing, operated by Brian Wood who has beautifully maintained the building - inside and out.  Other 1920s banks have not fared so well.  Word is, however, that the building will soon be listed for sale.

The little bank sits on the center of an historically and architecturally rich intersection.  This was the heart of the old commercial area of Salina - first the village laid out by James Geddes, beginning in 1798, and then later, after its merger in 1848 with Syracuse to create the modern city, of the old First Ward.   By the late nineteenth century the are was more industrial.  The Moyer Carriage Factory (now the Penfield Building) was located just behind the bank site, and Kearney's Brewery was across North Salina (where the new Family Dollar recently opened).  Streetcar lines ran on North Salina and Wolf Streets and the main terminal and car yards of the People RR company of Syracuse were at Wolf between Fourth and Fifth North Streets. 

Syracuse, NY. North wall of former Wolf Street Branch of First Trust & Deposit, with view of Penfield (former Moyer Carriage) building in rear.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

Syracuse, NY. 200 block of Wolf Street looking north. In the center is former Engine House #4. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013.

The 1600 block of North Salina Street and the 200 block of Wolf Street still preserve some of the oldest non-residential structures in the area. Some of these buildings date to the last quarter of the nineteenth century once housed grocery stores, dry-goods establishments, taverns, and cooper shops. Immediately to the west and north of this intersection Harvey Moyer developed his carriage factory (in what is now the Penfield Building), and then later his automobile works in three large buildings erected on with side of Park Street between Hiawatha Boulevard (formerly Free Street) and Wolf Street.(see below).  Visit Brian's Art Gallery, the nearby Antiques Exchange on North Salina Street, and take a walk up Wolf Street. Then head a block east to Washington Square and look at the Kirkpatrick Monument, or head west to the Regional Market.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Italianate Style Houses on Syracuse's Eastside

Syracuse, NY. 909 Salt Springs Rd., Italianate house, mid-19th century.  The bifora windows in the attic level are unusual. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

 Syracuse, NY., 2800 East Genesee Street. Italianate house, probably built in the 1850s.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Syracuse, NY., 2800 East Genesee Street, Italianate house, probably built in the 1850s.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Italianate Style Houses on Syracuse's Eastside
by Samuel D. Gruber
I didn't make it to Italy this summer as I had hoped, so instead I've kept my eyes open for Italianate style houses around Syracuse.  These include some of the oldest and most distinctive structures on the Eastside of Syracuse; cube-like houses that are still scattered throughout the thousands of other later residences.  

These houses, built mostly in the third quarter of the nineteenth century, pre-date Syracuse's suburban expansion to the East and the laying out of the new residential grids that mark the first new residential developments.  Thus, the Italianate houses quickly tell us where the old roads were.  The houses mostly faced major travel routes, and these also often indicate the locations of prosperous farms, all of which, like the Scott Tract (later developed as Scottholm) were subsequently built over, especially from 1880 through 1930.  

This phenomenon is hardly unique to the Eastside; the process can be traced on all sides of Syracuse.  The further one travels from the modern city on the old pre-automobile routes, the more Italianate houses one finds still in relative pristine isolation. To my knowledge there is no list of all of these buildings, and certainly no detailed architectural or photograph record.  When the historic preservation movement began in Onondaga County in the late 1960s and 1970s some of these buildings were noticed and celebrated, but more attention was given to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century buildings in Federal and Greek Revival style.  While many of our local historical societies have information on their Italianate houses, these have not been collated. There are probably several hundred Italian houses still extant throughout Onondaga County. While most of these houses are not designated either local or National Register protected sites, a good number are well preserved.  In areas like the Northside of Syracuse where the largest number of urban Italianate houses survive, these are mostly owned by absentee landlords, and many (like the Catherine Murray House) are not well maintained.

On the Eastside, where we find Italianate houses on East Genesee Street, Salt Springs Road and South Beech Street - all old roads - the buildings (or at least their exteriors) have fared better, though the landscapes over which they once presided have been very much compromised.  Streets have been widened and so the houses sit closer to the road than originally intended.  In some cases (1924 East Genesee) there are now paved parking areas instead of front lawns or walkways, and the Italianate at 309 Columbus is hardly recognizable beneath its recent vinyl siding.  Many of the Eastside Italianate houses still have their distinctive square cupolas.  Additions to buildings, however, have changed appearances somewhat.  But even early on many Italianate houses were enlarged, usually with front porches and rear additions, as can be seen on the Scott House at 2686 East Genesee Street.

What we now call the Italianate Style evolved from the earlier Italian Villa Style, a widespread  American rural and suburban residential architecture popularized by Alexander Jackson Downing. A popular residential style, it was the most common architectural “high” style for a well-designed house in the mid-nineteenth century, especially in the 1850s and 1860s. Urban versions more closely copied Italian Renaissance palaces (palazzi) while rural and farm versions were loosely based on Italian (mostly Tuscan) villa forms. 

Italianate houses could be built of wood, brick and even stone, and are easily recognizable by their distinctive cube-like shape, and their overall formal regularity of fenestration and applied architectural ornament. Italianate houses are usually two and occasionally three stories high, square or rectangular in plan, with low-pitched hip, gable, or shed (roof with one slope) roofs. Ornamentation can be of pressed metal, stone, or wood ornamentation, or wood with wood ornamentation. The most distinctive feature of nearly all Italianate houses is a cornice supported by brackets ("bracketed cornice") and decorative, projecting window "heads" (above openings). Ornamentation of more elaborate brick or stone houses, sometimes includes quoins and window decoration that varies from floor to floor. A recessed doorway is common.

Later versions of Italian houses could be more rectangular in plan (with the shorter side facing the street), and these could also be slightly taller, and often included projecting side window bays - all elements that lessened the geometric purity of the cube, and added some variety and a hint of dynamism to the plan and exterior elevation. In some cities (but only rarely in Syracuse) these were built in rows creating blocks of urban multi-story connected town houses. 

Italianate houses are especially common in Central New York, since so much of the region underwent rapid and prosperous development during just those decades when the style was most popular.  These houses once filled the downtown residential streets of Syracuse, and fine examples can still found on many of the roads leading into the city and on the main routes between towns and villages. Italianate farmhouses stood close to the road (though not as close as they often seem today, since so many old highways have been widened). They opened onto lawns, gardens on the sides and farm fields and pastures in the rear.   Carriage houses were often in the rear of more urban Italianate residences, while barns and other buildings were in the vicinity of the rural houses.

Italianate houses exuded a sense of solidity and dignity typical of the pre-Civil war era that emphasized civic-minded striving and personal modesty and family thrift. This regularity of form – some would same predictability – would be upset in the economic boom period of the next generation with the often exuberant experimentation of the Queen Anne style when asymmetrical forms, varied roof lines and mixed siding material and colors created a dizzying array of houses forms. 

Italianate was also favored for commercial buildings in the late 19th Century.

Syracuse, NY.  Scott House, 2686 East Genesee Street, ca. 1860. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

 Syracuse, NY.  Scott House, 2686 East Genesee Street, ca. 1860.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

The Italianate style Scott family farmhouse, built ca. 1860, is located at 2686 East Genesee Street at the southwest corner of the intersection of Scott Avenue and East Genesee Street. The homestead was owned throughout much of the 19th century by Benjamin Scott. He lived in this house until his death in 1910.  Amon Sanderson of the East Genesee Extension Corporation bought the entire tract and developed it as “Scottholm Estates.” The house is what is left of the farmstead for which the subdivision was named. 

According to a 1916 newspaper article, the Scotts used the house as an inn for travelers on the Genesee Turnpike (now East Genesee Street). The house was sold to Amon Sanderson in 1914, and then sold to and remodeled by E. A. O'Hara in 1915. O'Hara's father was publisher of the Syracuse Herald and the younger O'Hara eventually became publisher of the Herald-Journal. O'Hara electrified and “modernized” the house, which stayed in the family until 1969.

Syracuse, NY. 1924 East Genesee St. The original lawn of this house has been paved over for parking. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2013

Syracuse, NY.  726 South Beech Street. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Syracuse NY.  309 Columbus Ave.  This Italianate house lost most of its original look in an unfortunate "remuddling." . Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Syracuse NY. 1124 East Genesee St. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Syracuse NY. 1106 East Genesee St. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Art Deco Delights: Northside's Grant Middle School

 Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

 Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

Art Deco Delights: Northside's Grant Middle School
by Samuel D. Gruber

(n.b. This post was updated on January 29, 2014.  The names of archtects were added).

When one thinks of Syracuse's architectural contributions to the Art Deco or Art Moderne styles, the Niagara Mohawk (now National Grid) building always demands first (and sometime only) attention.  It is our most spectacular building, and one that perfectly melds style to message.  Like the Chrysler Building in New York, it is one of a handful of iconic American commercial buildings of the 1930s.  

But Syracuse has much more to offer in Art Deco and Art Moderne.  During the boom years of the late 1920s and even in the first years of the Great Depression, private and public projects continued - albeit at a much slower pace and often plagued by funding and labor problems.  Building really didn't peter out in Syracuse until about 1932-33 when previously planned projects were completed, and no new projects were begun.

I've been looking at a lot of these buildings and will attempt to post about them to make them better known.  Few are included in any architectural guides, so local residents, visitors and scholars are hardly aware of their existence - or hardly give their history and architecture much thought.  

For me, the greatest - or certainly the biggest - of these Art Deco delights is the Grant School on Grant Boulevard and Kirkpatrick Street on the Northside.  Completed in the fall of 1932, it was one of several schools built or planned to alleviate massive school overcrowding at the time, but budget constraints kept it closed until the new school year began in September, 1933.  The new Grant Junior High School, built in a very modern style we now call Art Deco, replaced the former Grant School on 2nd North Street between Danforth and Kirkpatrick, that had opened in 1898 (and still stands). Charles Colton was the architect of the earlier school, and prolific school architect James A. Randall designed the new Grant School.

Syracuse, NY. former Grant Elementary School on 2nd North St., opened in 1898.  Now the Neumann Hall Residence (n.b. the entrance has been drastically changed). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Photo:  Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

In the late 1920s and early 1930s the Syracuse City School District was overwhelmed with record enrollments. Despite new buildings erected in the 1920s (such as  Nottingham High School opened in 1924), every school at every level was overcrowded by 1930.  Publicly funded school construction was one area where building was needed and continued after the 1929 stock market crash.  Mayor Marvin saw school construction as a way to alleviate unemployment - and even advocated hiring two separate crews to work alternate weeks at Grant - but was overruled because this would be more expensive.  Preference was given to local contractors.

 Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

 Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

The new building was of brick and what appears to be cast stone combined in a warm color pattern of orange and beige.  The three-story building is framed with two heavy tower-like corner pavilions and has a large projecting entrance bay, all of which are articulated in what appears to be cast (concrete) stone resembling carved limestone blocks.  The tops of these and the central entrance bay are decorated with lively relief work, combining geometric shapes and patterns with stylized floral designs - all typical of Art Deco architectural decoration of the period.  In between are flat walls of brick punctuated by large classroom windows.

 Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Relief of monkey gathering nut. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

 Syracuse, NY. Grant School (1931-32).  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber August 2013

To the sides of the main entrance are carved brackets supporting window lintels.  These depict a monkey wearing clothes gathering nuts or fruits which could be symbolic of children gathering knowledge or a sly reference to the theory of evolution and the 1925 Scopes (monkey) trial. On another bracket is an eagle with a small nestling (?) at its feet, also by a similar nut or fruit tree.  These and other decorations of the school building deserve closer scrutiny.  Go take at look!

see: "Economy in School Budget May Keep Grant School Closed Till September, 1933," Syracuse Herald (October 9, 1932).