Friday, September 26, 2008

The sense of using what we have...

A recent article in the September 15, 2008 edition of Newsweek, entitled "The Bad News About Green Architecture" has sparked quite some lively discussions both around here as well in some areas of the preservation community read the article hereThe author, Cathleen McGuigan, outlines her disdain for green architecture - in her words: "I can't stand the hype, the marketing claims, the smug list of green features that supposedly transform a garden-variety new building into a structure fit for Eden. Grassy roofs? Swell! Recycled gray water to flush the toilets? Excellent! But if 500 employees have to drive 40 miles a day to work in the place - well, how green is that?"

By citing examples of green building that embody cutting-edge technology but burn through non-renewable resources to construct and maintain, she lays out a good case that some of the so-called "green" architecture is an oxymoron in action. However, she missed out on a stellar opportunity to discuss one of the greenest of all construction options: adaptive re-use and preservation.

Recycle buildings? YES.

Although preservation doesn’t get a lot of attention as a sustainable design or "green" building technique, there are connections everywhere. Preservation has always been a green activity. New construction, no matter how green it is, uses valuable resources and energy and also creates waste. Furthermore, while the value of newer, greener construction can’t be overlooked, it is crucial to understand that many of these technologies are able to be applied to existing buildings.

The demolition of buildings in the US generates at least 124 million tons of debris a year, all which ends up in a landfill. Reusing existing buildings lessens demands and conserves embodied energy in structures. In terms of energy use, many older buildings are already quite energy-efficient due to the quality of their construction. Traditional features such as operable shutters, courtyards, double-hung windows with operable upper and lower sash, porches, real masonry construction, and appropriate roof pitch naturally help to keep a building warm in winter and/or cool in summer. These attributes can contribute to reductions in energy usage and can even be retrofitted with newer technologies to continue to reduce their environmental footprint.

These factors are especially relevant in areas experiencing stagnant or negative population trends – the spread of a region’s shrinking population across a broader and broader geographic area results in the decline of existing buildings and neighborhoods. Revitalizing and reinvestment in existing communities instead of continuing sprawl utilizes uses the already-existing infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer lines and encourages more walkable neighborhoods as opposed to suburban developments which have contributed to our automobile-reliant lifestyle and increased use of fossil fuels.

The National Trust for Preservation and The Landmark Society of Western New York have long been touting sustainable reuse as another alternative. Conservation and improvement of our existing building stock is logical, economically sound and environmentally responsible. Readers can find out more about this on our website, or on the National Trust’s website of, where much of the information I've quoted here is gleaned from.

The environmental value of the reuse, or continued use, of historic buildings gets much less attention than it should. We were hopeful that Ms. McGuigan would point this out while discussing the irony a “green” palace in Vegas whose visitors use tons of jet fuel to reach. We (Katie Eggers Comeau, Landmark Society Advocacy Coordinator, and I) sent a letter to the editor of Newsweek saying the same.

posted by Laura Keeney Zavala, Director of Marketing


Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We just returned from our day trip to Elmira last Friday. Elmira is just 2 hours away and nestled at the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains in New York State’s "southern tier." Our group hopped on the motor coach and drove south into the historic city.

Being familiar with this historic city, I decided to pull together a motor coach day tour. I came to know that Elmira is built almost entirely in the flood plain of the Chemung River and has suffered many floods over its history, the worst from Hurricane Agnes in 1972. But I also found out that Elmira is the home of the Near Westside Neighborhood District. Located on the National Register the district is rich with architectural jewels and holds one of the highest concentration of Victorian style architecture in the country with over 450 structures on the National Register. One tour participant stated that Elmira is “Cape May without the ocean” and
boy were they ever right. In doing more research on the city I came upon historian Samuel Draper. Samuel is a tour director, historian and advocate for the cities historic district and wonderful history and architecture. I told him we wanted to visit his city and we spoke in length about what type of tour I was looking for and what he could offer us as a preservation organization. With Samuel’s knowledge of the city he pulled a wonderful tour together for our group.

After confirming an itinerary and settling on a date, I started to advertise this tour. I wanted to mention that after a few months, a woman from Akron Ohio was on the computer researching Victorian architectural tours. She came upon our web site! She called me and she decided to book the tour with us, stay in Elmira a few days and meet our group in Elmira! Another lady from Massachusetts came to Rochester to visit relatives and decided to book this tour too! What a thrill for both everyone! We can honestly say now that our tours have gone nationally.

Samuel, being excited that we were coming, spread the word around his city. Within a few days I was receiving calls from The Christmas Tree Shop asking if we would like to make a stop in their store and I also received a call from the East Side Farmers market asking me if our group would like to make a stop for some local fresh produce. I decided to put both stops on the itinerary.

We departed on a beautiful bright sunny Friday. Upon or arrival, our first stop was at the Arnot Art Museum, where Samuel greeted our group. And there we met our travels from Akron Ohio. The museum is housed in an 1833 neo-classical home of the Arnot family. The collection includes 17th, 18th and 19TH century paintings as well as 19TH and 20TH century American art and bronze sculpture. WOW! What a wonderful stop and everyone was thrilled with their collection and exhibits.

After our museum tour Samuel give us a driving and walking tour of Historic Elmira including the Near Westside Neighborhood. This is neighborhood is designated as having the largest concentration of Victorian style homes and architecture in the nation! The historic district has over 450 nationally registered homes in twenty square blocks! As an added treat we will view the interiors of several of these historic homes! Some of these homes were under renovation, but the group enjoyed walking under ladders, through dark room, stepping over cords, and all sorts of tools and lumber. We actually should have worn hard hats in some of the homes!

Oh I wanted to mention that during our driving and walking tour, Samuel took us through alleys, their “hood” and drug districts. Unfortunately some of their wonderful historic homes are in these neighborhoods, but the area is becoming revitalized. Everyone was fascinated.

One of our stops was at the historic The Park Church located on West Gray Street. They had a wonderful antique (1850’s) melodeon which the church organist, Joseph Barber played for our group. One of our tour goers, Joyce Lawrence who plays the organ, asked if she could get a closer look at the melodeon. Joseph asked her if she wanted to play it! We all stood around watching Joyce play and everyone in the group sang along. Many of us had tears in our eyes it was so touching. Joyce said it was the highlight of her day!

After our tour, we had a delightful lunch at Horigan’s Tavern, located in the National Historic District. Incidentally, I had the best Reuben sandwich…. EVER! I’m told that they are noted for their wonderful food. I personally think its worth a drive to this tavern just to eat!

After lunch we toured Mark Twain’s Study on the Elmira College campus. The study once overlooked the city from atop East Hill and still contains some of its original furniture. What a treat this stop was.

Before heading home, we made a fun stop at The Christmas House. This Queen Anne mansion features six decorated rooms beautifully adorned with a variety of classic Christmas decorations and gifts. Some even did a bit of early holiday shopping!

Our last stop was at the farmers market where many of our group picked up some fresh local produce. I personally picked up a gallon of fresh squeezed cider.

We certainly had a fun day and I advise everyone who is in the area to make a stop in the beautiful historic city of Elmira!

And who else but the Landmark Society to take you through dark alleys, the hood, construction sites, uneven streets, walking under ladders and having lunch in an authentic tavern!

Submitted by Cheryl Corsi Landmark Staff

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Now THAT sounds like a cool lecture!

Jean France, one of our wonderful trustees, has alerted us to a fascinating-sounding lecture that's coming up this week. Carla Yanni, whom Jean describes as "a rising star in architectural history, as well as being a Rochester native and a University of Rochester alumna," will give a talk titled, "The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States." Read more about the topic here.

The lecture will be at Rush Rhees Library, Hawkins-Carlson Room, at 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 25.

I'm in the midst of preparing a presentation myself (so what am I doing procrastinating on this blog? Excellent question) - tomorrow (Sept. 24) at noon I'll give a lecture on the topic of historic preservation and sustainability. I'll be speaking at MCC's Brighton campus, on the 4th floor of the library. Visitors may park (or at least look for parking) at the meters in the entry loop.

My talk tomorrow is just one of many presentations that the preservation division has planned for the coming months. Cynthia Howk gives frequent lectures on architectural styles, local architectural history, and appreciating the architecture in your community. In addition to tomorrow's sustainability talk, I've recently spoken on 20th-century architecture and on Rochester's Olmsted parks, and Rebecca Rowe talks to audiences about her areas of expertise, including real estate and city living. We enjoy these opportunities to get out and share our knowledge, and we welcome invitations to speak at all kinds of events.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Monday, September 22, 2008

Windows - again!

This past Saturday's Real Estate section had another column on the supposed energy advantages of replacement windows. I've written about this topic a couple of times before and can't bear to do it again, so I thought I'd share a neat blog I ran across while looking for something else!

"House in Progress" is by one of the many homeowners out there who chronicles her old-house rehabilitation in progress. She wrote two excellent articles last summer that describe, from a homeowner's perspective, the decision-making process when it comes to windows. She carefully considered the impact on her budget, her energy bills, and her family's health in weighing the pros and cons of keeping her windows versus replacing them with high-tech new ones. (When you finish the first post, be sure to click "Next" to see the second.)

If you would like to learn how to improve the performance of your old windows, don't miss our upcoming "Your Old House" workshops. The series begins September 30 with "Basic Home Inspection and Energy Efficiency for Your Home," led by our talented trustees Jerry Ludwig and Virginia Searl. On October 7, learn "Composting 101" with Landmark Society horticulturist Beverly Gibson. Then on October 14, old-house expert Steve Jordan will present "Window Repair." Steve returns October 21 to share his expertise in a session titled "Plaster and Drywall Repair and Painting."

All workshops begin at 6 p.m. the Stone Tolan House Museum Barn, 2370 East Avenue in Brighton. The workshops are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, or attend all four for $90. Tickets are available by calling (585) 546-7029 ext. 10 or at our website.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Thursday, September 18, 2008

I met the ghosts last night

They were looking pretty healthy, especially since some of them had not been around since 1849. The youngest of them had not walked the earth since 1904. But they were active, energetic – you might say they were “in good spirits.”

All right, I’ll stop!

Last night was the first rehearsal for “The Landmark Society’s Ghost Walk “ (sm). It’s our 15th year of presenting this night time walking tour. Our event’s not like other ghost walks you may have experienced. Ours is like a progressive evening of short plays. You follow a lantern-bearing guide from one outdoor setting to another, encountering actors portraying Rochesterians from the past – each with a “true history, gory story” to relate. Yep – all true, and (mostly) all gory events from the darker side of our history.

I produce the event, which includes researching and writing the scripts. A story doesn’t get into our Ghost Walk just because it’s gory. If you want that, you don’t need a historic venue - just check out your favorite news portal for today’s events. The Landmark Society’s Ghost Walk stories also have a connection to what’s affecting our lives today. Religious fanatics, who think nothing of taking a life in the name of their belief system. Trying to keep pace with scientific advances. What happens when personal pleasure is put ahead of public responsibility (no, not talking about John Edwards – or am I?)

Of course, all performed in an entertaining, exciting, moving format. Research proves that what we learn through narrative (stories) stays with us longer and in a more meaningful way than a lecture, or reading an article (or blog entry?)

Which brings me back to the ghosts.

Okay, the actors.

We have a great crop of 13 actors this year. Some experienced with The Landmark Society’s Ghost Walk; others new to our performance format. The experienced “ghosts” tried to fill in the neophytes on what to expect. That they will perform their scene 12- 14 times each evening, as a new group of tour goers arrives about every 5 minutes. That they will be outside, on a porch of an historic house, no matter what the weather on those October nights. That it is “street theatre” – you never know what outside distractions may occur, be it an ambulance screaming up adjacent East Avenue, or a neighbor’s dog getting out of the house and joining you on your porch, looking up at your adoringly as you perform. That last one might not have been so bad if it hadn’t been a bulldog in his Halloween costume – a pink tutu.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Inside Downtown!

In case you missed it, our Inside Downtown Tour, coming up this Friday and Saturday, has been getting great press! A beautiful story on the cover of Saturday's Living section in the Democrat & Chronicle showcased the Sagamore, the elegant new apartment building on East Avenue. We were featured on Channel 13 this morning (see the video). Metromix Rochester is also featuring a great photo album showing some of the sites on the tour.

I'm going on the tour on Friday night and am particularly excited about seeing the Halo Lofts, the apartments in a converted church in Grove Place. The young developer of this project, Shane Bartholf, says he started out by asking potential tenants what they would like. The answer? Sound-proof practice spaces! The building is right around the corner from the Eastman School of Music and caters to Eastman seniors and graduate students. I've heard a lot about this building and can't wait to see the interior. I'll be spending Saturday afternoon as a volunteer in the beautiful Ward House and look forward to getting to know this building better as well.

The tour features a mix of historic and new spaces, all highlighting different aspects of downtown living. A detailed guide was printed in last week's City Newspaper and will be available during the tour; you can also see the full text of the guide, photos of the sites, and a map on our website. Tickets are still available; order online or call 546-7029 to reserve yours today!

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Galveston Today

A sampling of recent images...

Posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for The Landmark Society.


Galveston on My Mind

So I have started this blog and erased it about ten times now. I want to say something meaningful about Galveston, to really convey that this is one of the great American cities, as beautiful and distinctive as New Orleans, Savannah or Boston. On this one small island there are two National Historic Landmark Districts (there are only a couple dozen of these nationwide) and the National Historic Landmark 1877 Elissa ship. It is one of the cities in Texas that I have a huge soft spot for and always felt that no amount of time spent there was enough. I feel a connection and a loss. I also feel that Galveston is fortunate to have the Galveston Historical Foundation and the Texas Historical Commission - their very capable and passionate staff who will work hard for Galveston and its historic resources. Since I don't really know what else to say, and since I can't locate my Galveston pictures in all of my unpacked boxes I will just go ahead and steal some from the internet to try to convey this place.

From; the Strand is a National Historic Landmark District.

Bishop's Palace, constructed in 1892, a 1900 Hurricane Survivor, part of the East End National Historic Landmark District - from

The Landes-McDonough House, another 1900 Hurricane Survivor and part of the East End National Historic District - from

Please visit the Galveston Historical Foundation's website to learn more about the island, its history and its architecture. Consider making a donation to assist in the post-Ike efforts.

Posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for the Landmark Society and common-law Texan.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Show me the money!

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten an even higher than usual number of calls from people who were looking for funding for the rehabilitation of historic buildings. This is a very common question – probably the most common one we get. While we get this question all the time, the recent uptick was noticeable, suggesting to me that people are starting to look more closely at all those warm-weather projects they want to get done.

Frequently, the calls are from people who would like to do some work on their private homes. For these people, the answer is pretty simple. There is a new New York State income-tax credit for rehabilitation of historic houses, but it is available to a very, very small number of people (in this region, virtually the only area that meets the criteria for this program is the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood in Rochester) who do substantial rehabilitation work. Legislation is in the works to expand its availability to more National Register-listed buildings and districts. There is also a program through HUD that assists people who purchase fixer-uppers, offering a low interest rate that encompasses the purchase and rehabilitation costs. Otherwise, there are no grants or other financial resources out there for homeowners that provide funding specifically for preservation activities. For developers, there is a tax credit for the rehabilitation of income-producing properties; this is commonly used in some parts of the country but hasn’t been used in Rochester in years, apparently because it works best for very large, multi-million-dollar projects.

The news is somewhat better for municipalities, not-for-profit organizations, and religious organizations. For these groups, there are some funds available for certain types of projects; even so, this funding is very limited and grant programs tend to be highly competitive. More funders will help offset the cost of architectural services (such as hiring an architect to conduct a conditions study) than the actual hands-on work. The best program for funding the work itself is a program called Sacred Sites, which is only for (you guessed it!) religious buildings in New York State.

We have a section on our website devoted to this very issue. A few weeks ago, since so many calls on this issue were coming in, I posted our new funding handout as a pdf. Note that this focuses on sources available in the Rochester region; if you’re outside our service area or outside New York State, fewer of these programs will apply to you.

As always, if you think your project may qualify for grants, please give one of us a call. We’re always happy to talk you through the process, and we regularly write letters of support for applicants in our nine-county region.

Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

At the end of the summer, I took two whole weeks off – something unprecedented for me! My family and I hoped to go out of town for part of that time, but life gets in the way sometimes, and for reasons I won’t go into here, we weren’t able to get away. We were initially disappointed, but decided to make the best of it and have fun at home. (I’m trying to avoid that dreaded buzzword.)

What a great place for a vacation! It made me think I’d like to come here even if I didn’t live here. From our home base in Rochester, we stepped back in time to the Genesee Country Village, fed exotic animals and observed large domesticated ones at the New York State Fair, saw even more exotic animals at the Buffalo Zoo, biked the Erie Canal and Genesee Riverway Trails, hiked in a state “Unique Area” and a town nature park, learned about robots at the Rochester Museum & Science Center, and swam in a beautiful lake. We didn’t even get to everything on our list and are still trying to squeeze in visits to the beach, Seabreeze, and Letchworth, and to take more hikes and bike rides while the weather remains warm.

It was a busy and fun vacation that reminded me why I love living here. There’s so much to do, and it’s so easy to do it! Anyone who says there’s nothing to do here is obviously not trying very hard.

How does this connect with my work at The Landmark Society? In order to take care of what’s around us, we must first value it, and most of us in preservation learned to value our surroundings through experiences we had as children. While I read to my family the Native American story about the Bare Hill Unique Area where we were about to hike, I was reminded of a road trip from my own childhood when my mom read from a guidebook on New England for what seemed like the entire drive from Rochester to Boston. (We still joke about her pointing out “coastal vegetation” starting somewhere near Albany, no doubt in an effort to convince us we really were almost there.) Who knows how much of this registered with my kids (although if anything stuck with them, the legend of the huge snake whose thrashing cleared Bare Hill would be it), but over time, I hope my enthusiasm for western New York rubs off on them the same way my mom’s efforts to show us what was worth noticing in the natural and architectural world alike influenced me. Thanks, Mom!

By Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator


Monday, September 8, 2008

A Rainy-Day Tour

During a recent visit to one of the condos that began the housing renaissance of the Grove Place neighborhood in the 1970’s, a comment was made about the contrasts one finds in a building’s design when looking at it from both from the street and within its walls. The exterior is not always the best indicator of what’s inside. The townhouse we were visiting, from the outside, did not have a particularly warm or inviting look and from some angles more resembled a fortress than a home. Once inside, the contrast in feel and color became apparent. Twisting and tiered areas framed by exposed beams and topped with a cathedral ceiling of different angles joined by a vertical skylight created an interior as inviting and airy as its exterior was somber and insular. Wide interlocking wood panels that covered the ceiling provided welcome warmth and definition to a space so open and bright, without dominating it.

With this experience in mind, I turned my thoughts to the older, more distinguished buildings downtown, particularly the group of fine municipal and commercial structures concentrated around the Fitzhugh to Main to Church Street corridor. A veritable museum of the gorgeous and sturdy designs of the Warner family is there for the exploring. This father and son team seems to have been involved in most (if not every) important 19th century building in the 100 Acre Tract. We are fortunate that, with the exception of the former Rochester Savings Bank building, all of these buildings survive to this day with minimal alterations to their facades.A particularly rainy day served as an excuse to view the interiors of these historic buildings. I wanted to know how dry one could keep while taking in our most distinguished civic architecture, from “New’ City Hall to “Old” City Hall (Irving Place). The experience was inspiring and relatively dry. The following is a mini-tour one can take on a rainy day during one’s lunch hour. Anyone within a few minutes drive of the Sister Cities Garage can park there and take this tour…..for free! All city garages give you the first hour free and since this is a lunch hour tour you should be able to park there without paying a dime. Please keep in mind that we live in a “post 9/11 world” and that we must respect the wishes and privacy of the owners and tenants when walking through their buildings. Most of the guards at these buildings are friendly so please ask first before going somewhere you might not belong and/or prior to any picture taking. Even the visits to public buildings should be approached this way.

Begin the tour by entering the Sister Cities Garage on Fitzhugh St. and parking your car. Go to the ground floor and head toward the Church St. side of the garage. Exiting the garage, cross Church St. and enter City Hall through the arched main entrance. Ascend the white staircase in the lobby. You are now in the light court of the former Federal Building built in 1884 and the only building on the tour that was not designed by a Warner. Originally a light well with a glass floor that was not open to pedestrian traffic it now serves as the central meeting place for public functions of the city government. A wedding was taking place when I visited. According to a clerk from the law department this area is often used for such functions due to its ornate and vertical Romanesque design. To experience a modern take on the courtyard return to the lobby area and head to the right, past the chrome streamlined payment counter to the hallway on its left. This will take you though the Annex Gallery to the lobby of the modern addition (Bldg. B). Take the steps down to the lobby, turn and step down a few more stairs and exit the glass doors into the outside courtyard that was created when the addition was built in the 1970’s. Head back to the lobby of the old building (Bldg. A). Cross Church St. and enter the garage through the entrance to the left of its “plaza.” Walk inside the garage, along Pindle Alley and exit the doors to the alley on the south side of the garage.

The massive cast iron columns and transfer girder frame the entrance to one of the most important commercial buildings of its era, A.J. Warner’s Ellwanger and Barry building of 1888. Many alterations have taken place here in an effort to update the building for the needs of the modern office worker, most conspicuously the atrium that was built facing west to allow light into the offices. Once past the atrium look to the right to find the elevator lobby. A small room, the elevator lobby is a remnant of the original design of the building and features ornate copper/brass elevator surrounds and mail box. The staircase to the right beckons with its marble steps and finely crafted railings and leads to a narrow hallway that faces an external light court framed by the rear façades of the surrounding buildings. Exit to State Street (you might need an umbrella for this short walk outside) and head south towards the Four Corners, passing the monumental Greek temple designed by J.F. Warner to house the First National Bank in 1923. It is currently vacant and inaccessible to the public.

After passing the bank, enter the Powers Block through the cast iron portal on State Street. Follow the sign to the area of the building that was originally an open-air light court but now has a glass and steel roof and serves as an atrium for the second floor café area the tenants use for lunch and socializing. Continue through the large wooden double doors to the right of the café and follow the sign to the garage. From this glass-enclosed bridge you will get another interesting view of the rear facades of this cluster of buildings. Descend to the ground floor of the garage and head toward the short staircase along the southern wall, through the metal doors that open into the Executive Building. Also known as the Powers Hotel, it was built in 1883 and was designed, like the adjacent Powers Block, by A.J. Warner. The interior has been altered beyond recognition from its use as a luxury hotel. The marvelous ceiling and wall wood paneling and the marble columns and staircase of its rotunda/lobby have been removed or covered during the course of its many renovations. There are a few remnants of the hotel’s glory days, when dignitaries and celebrities slept there. They can be found by looking through the glass doors of an office located near the Fitzhugh Street exit and the ceiling trim in the narrow hallway that bisects your path to the garage entrance at the north end of the hotel’s lobby. I have been told that the original columns can be seen in a few of the ground floor offices and in the basement but I wouldn’t suggest you go looking for them. There is a guard who will show these areas to you if you ask nicely, although he was not there the day I visited.

Exit the hotel and cross Main Street to enter the former 3rd Monroe County Court House, a renaissance revival masterwork of the younger Warner, J. Foster, from 1896. Now known as the Monroe County Office Building, it contains an atrium that to some outshines its counterpart on Church Street. Marble and wrought brass define this space and delight the visitor, who can ascend the double staircase to the second floor for a different perspective and to discover the recessed staircase that leads to the third floor. Words cannot properly describe the courtyard; it needs to be experienced in person.

Once back on the first floor, continue south to the annex that once was an open park in front of “Old” City Hall, fully renovated in the 1980’s for private offices and now known as Irving Place. The porch of the main entrance as it was designed by A.J. Warner in 1874 is still visible between the two buildings although its prominence had been diminished by the removal of the Erie Canal and the use of Broad Street as the main entrance. The checkered marble floor, Corinthian columns and wrought iron railings of its stairway at the Broad St. entrance showcase the legacy of the aesthetic skill and workmanship of Rochester’s architects and builders from the city’s beginning that I hope will continue into the 21st century.

Simply follow your route back through both buildings, cross Main Street and walk through the Powers Hotel to the garage and back to work with a dry head filled with the rich architectural history of the nation’s “first boom town.”

By Dan Palmer, Recent Past Intern, Summer 2008

Note: We’re so pleased to have had Dan Palmer, Nimisha Thakur, and Jessica Belknap at The Landmark Society this summer, where the three of them completed an inventory of buildings from the recent past in downtown Rochester. Thanks for the great work!

Photos: Townhouse interior by Dan Palmer; Powers Building by LSWNY; County Office Building by Cassy Petsos.


Friday, September 5, 2008

I am putting this book on my Christmas wish list!

Some of my happiest moments at my desk are when I get notification of the latest Planetizen Newswire newsletter in my in-box. I pour a cup of coffee or get some water and settle in to read some of the most interesting national and international planning news around. The August 28th edition caught my eye with the article titled, "Something New Inside Failed Big Boxes." I was intrigued.

In the town where I lived in Texas (Taylor, home of the world famous Louis Mueller barbecue) the patterns of development can be read like the strata of rock formations. There is very clearly the turn-of-the-century Main Street and downtown district, bordered by the historic neighborhoods of American Four-squares and cottages, built up through 1930. Drive north on Main Street and just past this first layer of the original town is the 1950's and 60's version of the town - some modest strip malls, ranch houses and split levels. Next comes the 1980's developments - more ranches, just slightly different materials, but definitately more strip malls. Finally there is the most recent turn-of-the-century section. The builder communities and - you guessed it - more strip malls.

Starting downtown there is the former Piggly-Wiggly grocery store, abandoned in the 1960's; now City Hall. Interesting adaptive reuse to be sure but kind of a sad building, especially in light of the 1920 City Hall that sits on the main square downtown, now relegated to once-a-year use as a haunted house. But I digress. The next layer of strip malls, the 1960's versions, are surrounded by a sea of pavement, no landscaping, just plenty of room for cars, cars and more cars. Whatever the original anchor stores of these plazas were they have now been replaced by Rent-a-Center, Family Dollar and, most recently and impressively, the YMCA. In the next layer the 1980's strip malls have only very recently been abandoned by HEB (the Texas Wegmans) and Wal-Mart. There they sat, across the street from one another, totally empty, for a couple of years. As far as I know there is still nothing in the Wal-Mart although the HEB plaza was recently purchased and a clothing store - Bealls (think Sears) - was going in. The rest of the plaza is Dominos, China Buffet and Dollar Tree (because Family Dollar just isn't enough).

Almost completely outside of town is the newest incarnation of each sprawling store. Built on greenfield sites where new roads had to be constructed, by the city, and ulities had to be provided, by the city, they again sit directly across the (brand spaking new) street from one another. Each has numerous vacant store fronts surrounding them because apparently, despite the mostly empty downtown, the mostly empty 1960's plazas, the mostly empty 1980's plazas, Taylor needed more retail space.

So, slowly but surely these hulking spaces have been turned into something, except for the abandoned Wal-Mart.

The article that got me thinking about all of this, Towns Recycle Abadonded Stores, had some really excellent points to make and some innovative solutions. Some towns are now requiring that when big-box stores are constructed that they include the infrastructure for the building, once abandoned, to be more easily convereted in smaller, more manageable and rentable, spaces. Some are becoming churches or medical centers. Inspirational. I belive in Fort Worth, Texas an old Eckard's Drug Store was rehabbed as gallery space.

So, to the book that will be on Christmas wish list. Featured in the article is Julia Christensen and her forthcoming book Big Box Reuse. In it Ms. Christensen highlights ten communities that have come up with innovative solutions for adaptive reuse of these vacant hulks. Visit the website for the book to view a map of the featured projects and to preorder the book. It looks like the kind of information that every preservationist and urban design professional will want to have in their tool-kit. Believe it or not people the day of the historic Wal-Mart is coming.

The book comes out in November - expect a blog or a newsletter article reviewing it soon after!

posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for The Landmark Society.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Getting my kicks on Route 96

I grew up road-tripping with my family. My parents would put the back seat of the station wagon down, put down sleeping bags, carry us down from our beds and we would wake up halfway to Ohio, or Tennessee, or the Adirondacks, or wherever we were off to this time. We grew up doing it and I've gotten pretty good at it - timing the rest stops and the coffee stops for highest efficiency, packing food to take with you so you save time and money, good cds for music, good books to read out loud (I highly recommend the Princess Bride). I don't even know how many times I have driven from Texas to New York and back again (at least 5).

So I really wasn't prepared for how grueling the drives back and forth from Rochester to Binghamton would be. This is only a 2.5 hour drive no matter how you slice it - 90E to 81S or 390S to 17E. The only thing I can point to is that we do this drive frequently, especially last summer when I was here alone, and last fall after Foster came to NY from Texas. Our friends and family expected us to be in Binghamton ALL the time and we wanted to oblige.

One fortituous day we noticed that Route 96 would take us from Rochester through Pittsford, Victor, etc. all the way through Ithaca and Owego straight to Endwell if we didn't want to get on the highway at all.

Eureka! We decided to give it a try one day last fall. What a difference - while the time of our drive was actually extended from 2.5 hours to 3 hours we discovered that it seemed a lot shorter and faster. Our senses were active the entire drive. Rather than miles upon endless miles of asphalt on the highway, not to mention the new wind farm, we drove through small towns. Romulus, Phelps, Waterloo, Trumansburg...what a feast for the eyes. Occasionally we would stop off at some winery we would pass one of the wine trails. Sometimes we would stop at Taughannaock Falls to walk and splash around. Finally, the trip was no longer just about the destination but about the journey.

What does this have to do with preservation? Well, consider the following views...the first of I90 and the second of downtown Waterloo.

Isn't this the definition of Heritage Tourism? Lets get off of the beaten (and beat down) path and experience the places on the road less traveled. These are the places that I had in mind when I thought about coming back to New York state. I am such a small town girl at heart.

posted by Rebecca Rowe, Preservation Program Coordinator for The Landmark Society.