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Archive for the ‘The next city: urbanism’ Category

I’ll keep this short. Honest. (Stop laughing).

But I do want to offer an update on the ongoing conversation here about the fate of the landmark 13 Cataract Street building.

From Albert Stone, 1917. To the left of center, with the steam, is 13 Cataract Street. On the right, immediately adjacent to the railroad tracks, is the former packaging center.

I have been in an email exchange with the staff of the building’s owner, North American Breweries (NAB). They have indicated that they have for some time intended to restore one building on their beer campus, that they assessed various possibilities based on size, space, cost, and location, and they did not select 13 Cataract Street, but instead chose another old building, the former packaging center. I am not sure why they decided to select just one building to save, but they did. NAB, the 8th largest brewing company in the U.S., decided that they would only preserve one of the historic structures on their campus. Seems a bit parsimonious at first inspection. But onward.

The lovely old packaging building.

13 Cataract Street, a historic landmark.

Having made their selection, they put 13 Cataract up for sale, and “dozens” of developers toured the hapless building.

They tell me that “serious” buyers concluded that the rehab costs were prohibitive. They peg these costs at $2 million to stabilize and $5m to $8m to adaptively reuse. I have not seen estimates or drawings of any kind, so I can’t assess whether this is right or wrong. But remember, there is a 40% tax credit for rehabbing historic properties. This would certainly reduce the project costs, by millions.

Then their explanations get a bit problematic, I think. They say that the reuse of the former packaging center “hinges on the abandoned buildings being removed.” Hmm. Not sure why – I suppose to make way for a parking lot. Why does their project “hinge” on the demolition of 13 Cataract? Have they asked the city about using a bit of the adjacent park to help them with their plans?

And the use of the word abandoned is odd. They are the ones who abandoned 13 Cataract. It’s their building, not an absentee landlord’s. If they think of the “abandoned” building as a liability, they might consider donating it. In an instant, the building would be saved, their liability would disappear, and the costs associated with stabilizing and reusing 13 Cataract Street would vanish.

And finally they tell me that they have a budget of $2.6 million, and that is the end of that. Okay, then.

They have also let me know that the brewery staff are folks of good will, trying to do a good thing for themselves and the larger community.

Okay again. Even people I admire enormously have made wayward decisions. I don’t know the beer folks at all, and I have no reason to doubt that they are good citizens. But I say again – tearing down 13 Cataract Street is not a good idea.

Another reason demolition, instead of the creation of a broader beer campus and area plan, is not a good idea surfaced Tuesday morning in our newspaper, when we learned that our gas and electric utility, RG&E,  is decommissioning their facility immediately across the river, in preparation for some as yet unspecified future redevelopment. For this entire portion of our city, this is a moment rich with possibilities.

Finally, NAB suggests that we should not think that they are rushing to get this done, rushing to demolish 13 Cataract Street. Well, I wonder.

They filed an application Monday to tear down 13 Cataract. In the Tuesday paper was the usual threat: if we don’t get immediate approvals, “then it’s a different question altogether.”

But I have a solution, I think. I invite NAB to really reach out to the entire community, the city, the county, RG&E , and others for help in shaping a larger vision for the beer campus and High Falls. And let them ask us all for help in finding funding for a phased stabilization and adaptive reuse of both buildings.

And to find immediate extra dollars to get this done I propose something simple. They seem quite set on a budget of $2.6m. But if we could help them raise a few million more, we might be able to assist in saving 13 Cataract too. You know, a kind of beer version of a region-wide pass-the-hat bake sale for NAB and their landmarks.

All of you go along to your local pub this long weekend. Have a Genny or a Labatt’s Blue or a Magic Hat (NAB owns all of these). No, have several (designated drivers, please). The increased revenue from all this jovial beer drinking goes to the 13 Cataract Street Fund. We should be able to raise a pile of dough with just a little effort – bend an elbow or two, or three.

Save the Cataract. No, save both Cataracts. This blindness is curable.

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“Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Albert Einstein.

As if to conclusively prove Professor Einstein correct, we stand to lose yet another wonderful part of our particular urban narrative here in favor of  – wait for it – another parking lot.

I will be brief. I simply want to say yet again that one of the surest foundations for our best urban future lies in our rich, textured, and meaningful past. Tearing buildings down has rarely made any place better, and especially when the razed building is replaced by asphalt and yet more cars. We really must stop doing this.

Here’s the potential next victim in Rochester’s sad but ongoing effort to erase its past:

 

The library’s print was backwards. Now corrected.

The building, at 13 Cataract Street here, is part of the Genesee Brewing campus. Its owners, who say the building is in bad shape (they own it of course, so why are their problems now our problems? Take care of your damn assets, already) want to demolish it so that they can build a visitors center and tasting room in another of the old buildings on their beer campus.

The building, and the campus, are immediately adjacent to one of our most astonishing physical assets – the High Falls of the Genesee River, seen here in 1925.

This is High Falls. The brewery campus is to the left of the falls, adjacent to the horseshoe in the river.

Another view, this time from 1917.

13 Cataract Street, our endangered subject, is the building at the far right of the picture, with steam emanating from its roof.

To get a better idea of the High Falls, take a look at this:

The brewery is out of the picture to the left. I invite you to go and look for other images. This is an amazing place, freighted with the origins of this city.

This is where our city began, in the 18th century. Ebenezer “Indian” Allen built a mill not far from the High Falls in 1789, on what was known as the 100 acre Tract. It looked like this:

Later the High Falls themselves would run an assortment of mills as the growth of the city began in earnest.

And much more recently, the city and private developers have worked diligently in the 100 acre tract to restore and revitalize the High Falls area as a kind of campus – not just one building, but a collection of landmarks.  Like this:

Restorations, new infrastructure, streetscaping. It worked at first, sagged for a while, and now is reviving. The buildings pictured above look across the river at the brewery, and our endangered subject. Lots of public and private money has gone into this place. Leverage that investment? I guess not.

So here are a few reasons why demolishing 13 Cataract Street is kind of stupid:

1. The building’s owners know nothing about preservation and reuse, or repairing neglected buildings. They make beer.

But if they did know anything about preservation, they would not be able, with a straight face, to say this building is too far gone to save. Hah. Many of us who have saved buildings in so much worse shape know that their claims are just laughable, and a perfect illustration of their ignorance. Take a look at this:

Interior of 13 Cataract Street, photo by thecolorblindphotographer.com.

Dirty? Yes. Needs attention? Yes? About to fall down? Emphatically no.

2. There are people who want to save and reuse 13 Cataract Street. The Landmark Society of Western New York has stepped in to offer help, and to offer expertise in saving old landmarks. They stand ready to help further, given a chance.

There is a group working to create an Aerial Garden, (www.gardenaerial.org/) a kind of local version of Manhattan’s wildly successful High Line project (you can look it up) on the pedestrian bridge across the river at the High Falls. They would be happy to get involved. Their plan connects the High Falls neighborhood with the beer campus. It makes clear sense that the two sides of the river will increasingly work together.

There are others. But with the announcement on Friday that the brewery is moving forward with their very flawed plan, it looks like the time to talk to them in reasoned tones about real alternatives is over. They make beer.

3. If their plan was part of a redevelopment that included the brewery tasting building in another old part of the campus, offices, residences, a visitor’s center for the Aerial Garden, and other uses, would the brewery benefit? Yes. In fact, drawings of this better possibility have been made, some time ago, and they are really pretty wonderful.

Would the city benefit? Yes. Would the redevelopment act as a balancing counterweight to the work on the other side of the river? Yes. Would the brewery need to find partners? Yes. Have they reached out to find such partners? They say yes, I say no.

They’ve tried to sell the building, it’s true. But have they really dug in to figure out how to make something better really work? No. They make beer. They don’t do historic preservation. But some here do, and I guess since the owners have said they are moving ahead with plans for demolition, our collective ability to help will go unused.

There are folks here who understand that the key to these kinds of redevelopments lies in utilizing the tax credits available for saving and adapting historic structures. Have they been invited to help get this done? Nope. On we go, rushing towards another legacy mistake, in this city filled with legacy mistakes.

4. In Chicago, where I grew up, one of the most enlightened of all of that city’s citizens was a beer baron, Charles Wacker. It was Wacker who was charged with building Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. And he did. He reached out to every corner of the city for support, got it, and built much of the plan, making Chicago great then, and greater now. He made beer, he made sense, and he made a great city.

Enough. Any of you who visits us here often knows by now that this was once an incredible city, crafted by the enlightened and otherwise, filled with character and texture and a particular kind of vitality. And now, again, we are doing what we can to wreck our legacy, our heritage. This is happening in every city in this nation, but less in some places than others. And every time we lose yet another landmark, we sadly prove Dr. Einstein right.

Alas. God save the Cataract.

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Almost every day as I wander around this place in images of times gone by, I find signs of who we once were. Perhaps these signs also point to what we may hope to become.

Witness this:

July 13th, 1913. The automobile is a Franklin. That’s Jimmy Feeney at the wheel – service manager for Franklin. City Sealer John Stephenson is about to pour a measured gallon into a glass container. Officials look on – after all, it’s a National Efficiency Demonstration.

And the answer: 57.2 miles on one gallon of gasoline.

Franklin Automobiles went out of business in 1934.

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Staib’s Saloon, Blossom and Winton, 1913.

Of course it was an imperfect arrangement. Streetcars in cities were an important, even critical, part of early 20th century urban life, but like any human conception, not without the occasional flaw.

Like the one above, when a streetcar crashed through the front door of Staib’s Saloon. Perhaps the motorman was thirsty….

One of the biggest challenges was keeping autos and streetcars separated. As on Main Street, below in 1919, officials experimented with a variety of controls to assure that the transit modes stayed clear of each other.

Which of course they didn’t.

Parsells Avenue, 1915.

Monroe and Crosman, 1923.

And often the sudden presence of a car or truck on the tracks would induce various kinds of mayhem.

On St. Paul in 1922, a truck bumped a streetcar off the tracks, and it promptly hit a fire hydrant, causing a small tidal wave.

Not sure how this next one  happened right downtown, but it sure drew a crowd.

 

Methinks somehow a rubber-tired vehicle was involved….

Streetcar workers occasionally went on strike (as railway companies found ways to operate the trolleys with fewer employees, for example), but the show had to go on. And it did.

I can hear OSHA inspectors nationwide groaning at this image. But hey – it worked.

Judging by all the smiles, everyone was having a pretty good time in spite of the work stoppage.

Main and Fitzhugh, 1910.

So mishaps and hiccups notwithstanding, the streetcar city worked pretty well.

Moral of the tale: cities are for feet, then rails, then cars.

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I have been spending a fair amount of time recently trying to understand the streetcar city we once had. Say in 1929 or so.

Why, you might ask? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, the routing of the streetcars of so long ago is nearly identical to the routing of today’s bus system. This may seem counterintuitive to some who realize how much this place has changed in the last 80 years or so – sprawl has emptied the city, changed where we live and work, vaporized downtown retail and entirely changed our patterns of urban life. But the routes, right down to the route numbers for many routes, are intact. More about this later.

And then I got to wondering about how it was to move around the city in those days. In 1929 we had subway, streetcar, bus, and trackless trolley (electric buses running on power from overhead lines) in addition to interurbans and long distance passenger rail. Today we have bus. And our cars, endlessly our cars.

Anyway, I found a map of the streetcar, bus, and subway routes from about that date, and I have been puzzling over it for some time. Here’s the map:

The solid lines are streetcars, the dashed lines are buses, and the subway is a doubled line with dashes inside. There were something like 10 bus lines and about 15 or more trolley lines.

Remember this: in those days the city was nearly twice as populous in nearly half the land. There was not yet a large non-city population (regional population). Downtown was, well, downtown: bustling, filled with jobs and retail and entertainment – the destination. The map shows so many routes going there because that’s where everyone wanted, and needed, to go.

The fare was a dime – about $1.25 today – and there were transfers so that you could change streetcars, or change modes, from streetcar to bus to trackless trolley. (Today there are no transfers – it’s a buck a ride, and another buck on the bus you have to transfer to).

In fact the streetcar transfer was invented here, by a man named John H. Stedman, 1843 – 1922, in 1892. Notably, Stedman also invented the fuzzy pipe cleaner. He’s buried here in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

I digress. There were also weekly passes. For a buck, you could ride anywhere anytime, all week.

The streetcars were pretty comfy, actually. We know this because Mr. Stone photographed their interiors in 1918, as they were disinfected during the influenza epidemic. Take a look.

In the winter, the cars were heated by coal-fired stoves. During WWI coal was rationed, so the railway system positioned coal stations across the city where a conductor could get a handful of coal lumps to keep the home fires burning.
This guy looks like he is having a real ball.

Perhaps I have digressed again.

In the 20s, the streetcars ran from 6:00am to 12:00pm – 18 hours a day. But here’s where the comparison to today starts to get a bit, well, revealing.

At peak, the headway – the distance between trains – was about 5 minutes. The longest headways were in the evenings, and were about 15 minutes.

Today, the bus system runs about 20 minute headways at peak, and off-peak headways sag to about an hour or more.

And if you were inclined, there was an interurban between Rochester and Syracuse that ran every 30 minutes.

So over 80 years ago, you could move around our city almost as quickly on the streetcar/subway/trolley/bus system as in your car today. Maybe we’re not as smart as we think we are.

And you could get to Syracuse, downtown to downtown, from here as fast or faster than you can get there today, in your car. Hmmm.

Now, a short glimpse at today’s bus system. Here are a couple of images of the bus routes today. I have taken these from the RGRTA website. They offer a 14mb image of the system map that is pretty nearly impossible to use – slow to download, gigantic, and cumbersome, at best. Come on guys – the 1929 map is a snap to use.

First, the overall system:

Looks kind of familiar, yes?

And now a snapshot of the system in downtown:

So in 1929, you could get downtown (you wanted to go downtown) quickly, and transfer easily to other parts of the city.

Today you have to go downtown (you may want to go there, or you may want to go elsewhere, but you have no choice), usually pay a second fare to transfer to another bus, and go out of downtown to your destination.

Lots has changed in our region in the last 80 years. As I said at the outset, we no longer live, work, shop, or loiter in the same places we did then. But here’s the thing: it was a 20 minute city then, and it’s a 20 minute city today. Except that in those times, it was 20 minutes using transit. Today, you are in your car.

Is this progress? Maybe. Maybe not.

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In our most recent post, we wondered if any of our readers knew what had happened to the monument to Mayor Hiram Edgerton that stood on Backus Street near Phelps, at the entry to Exposition (later Edgerton) Park. You may recall that the monument looked like this:

And now it’s nowhere to be seen.

I can report that the monument has been found. Well, kind of found. Let me explain.

I asked preservationist, historian and colleague Cynthia Howk (Landmark Society of Western New York) if she could help me find the monument. She leapt into action, and put out a call to her Rochester History Detective Squad.  Within about 45 minutes I had my answer. Here it is:

The relief portrait of Mayor Edgerton, sculpted by NYC artist Joseph Renier (1887-1966) has been removed from its larger stone setting, and hangs inside the Edgerton Park Rec Center, on a segment of wall between the elevator and what appears to be a door to an electrical closet or maintenance room.

The larger monument apparently is no more. Mystery solved.

But I did not think I could call this case closed without a bit more sleuthing, which I finally concluded this morning. My results follow.

I found an article in the Democrat and Chronicle, our local newspaper (well, kind of a newspaper today, but once heftier and meatier) from Saturday, September 1, 1923. In that article, I learned that the monument, paid for entirely by private donations, was designed by notable Rochester architects Edwin Gordon and William Kaelber. The monument had inscriptions both front and back, words that were written by a committee led by Edward Foreman, who was, among other things, Rochester City Historian from 1921 to 1936.

Under the relief of Mayor Edgerton is inscribed:

“For Fifty Years a Faithful Public Servant.” These words  have been preserved in the Rec Center today, as you can see.

But the words that are missing are, I think, an amazing and now vanished testimony to the city of the early 20th century, to the attitudes of that time, and of course to the man who was Hiram Edgerton.

The left hand panel facing Backus read:

HAVE HONOR

FOR THE GREAT CITY BUILDER

WHOSE MANY ACHIEVEMENTS

INCREASED HUMAN HAPPINESS

AND ENRICHED THE LIVES OF ALL OUR PEOPLE

And the text of the right hand panel read:

HE HAD A VISION

OF THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

AND GAVE HIS BEST

TO MAKE THE DREAM COME TRUE

UPON HIS HEART WAS WRITTEN

ROCHESTER

In smaller letters below was this:

WHOEVER WOULD BE FIRST AMONG YOU

SHALL BE SERVANT OF ALL

On the park side, the back side, of the monument, there was more text. The left hand panel read:

HE MOST DESERVES A MEMORIAL

WHO DOES NOT NEED ONE – WHO

HAS RAISED

HIMSELF A MONUMENT

The right hand panel read:

BEYOND HIS EARTHLY YEARS

HE LIVES

BECAUSE HE SERVED

AND SERVING WON THAT GREATEST

PRIZE

THE PEOPLE’S LOVE

I saved the punchline for the end, where it belongs. In the center panel on the back side was a quote from the Mayor himself. The words were from his farewell address, as he left the office of Mayor, December 21, 1921. He said:

MY CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE

OF ROCHESTER IS UNBOUNDED

AND MY FAITH IN THE PEOPLE IS

LIMITLESS.  I KNOW THEY WILL

PERMIT NO BACKWARD STEPS.

There’s still time, Mr. Mayor.

Now the case is, indeed, closed.

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1923, Edgerton Park.

Max Frisch, Swiss novelist (and architect) once said, “Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.”

True, I think. Like maps, our lives unfold until all is revealed. And so it is with cities, as we unfold the stories of their places time after time.

I have been unfolding the stories of a particular portion of our city for quite a while. It has taken me months to put the pieces together to create an unfolded map of  just this one particular spot. The stories crisscross back and forth over a very long time in our city – 165 years to be exact. Get comfortable – this one is going to take a while.

This particular place in our city has had many names in many eras: Western House of Refuge, State Industrial School, Exposition Park, and finally Edgerton Park (named in memory of former mayor Hiram Haskell Edgerton, who has appeared in our pages previously).

Just under 40 acres, this place has been home to juvenile delinquents, trade school students after the children’s prison was reformed in the late 1880s, hundreds of thousands of Rochesterians from across the entire city and region attending the annual Exposition from 1911 until the late 1940s, Glenn Miller and his orchestra, the 1950-51 NBA Champion Rochester Royals, high schoolers (Jefferson High School is a part of this site), model train buffs, and today neighbors and all kinds of recreators. It’s an amazing, complicated place. The map across time of Edgerton Park is really a guide to the changing life of our city.

For me, it all started with this:

A parade. It’s 1908, and Mr. Stone is showing us what was called the Industrial Exposition Parade. Moving up and down Main Street are floats exhibiting all manner of Rochester businesses: milliners and tailors, shoemakers, photographic supply houses – a long list of local enterprises. The notes accompanying the photograph explain that this parade was a precursor to the annual Industrial Exposition at Edgerton Park. Hmm, I thought – what the heck was that? I was puzzled – because today, Edgerton Park looks like this:

In the distance at the right is Jefferson High, and a bit to the left is the Edgerton Park Rec Center. And then: a running track, a children’s water park, tennis and basketball courts, and a whole bunch of ball fields. Sensing a rather large gap between what I could see and what I was beginning to sense were the other lives of this place, it was clearly time to investigate. Here we go.

In 1846, the State of New York created the Western House of Refuge. When complete, it was the first reform school in the United States – home to young delinquent boys. The place opened in 1849, with 50 children. By 1875, the legislature agreed that girls could be housed here as well, and the place kept growing, with more and more buildings added to house the swelling roll of inmates.

In 1870, the place looked like this:

And in 1872, like this:

A walled prison in a bucolic, ex-urban setting.

As the 19th century came to a close, reforming the reform school became an increasingly pressing matter. Corporal punishment was banned, hard labor reduced, bars on windows removed, real schooling instituted. In fact, by the late 1880s, the Western House of Refuge was renamed. It became the State Industrial School, and inmates were now taught trades in addition to their regular classes.

In 1900, the place looked like this:

That’s the Erie Canal running diagonally at the far left. The School had a tiny railroad that carried supplies (mostly coal) from the Canal to the building that housed the boilers, the dining hall and the power house.

And as you can begin to see, the city had moved out to and now surrounded the School. Time for change. In 1902 the State purchased 1,000 acres of land in what was then the nearby but very rural Rush, New York, and the move began. By 1907, the site was abandoned. Now what?

The City of Rochester bought the place, and transformed it into Exposition Park, home to what had begun as the Industrial Exposition Parade. Voila – now I was getting somewhere.

But before Exposition Park would open, a certain canny photographer visited the place to show us what it looked like as a reform school. Here are a few of the images Mr. Stone shared with us.

This is the Main Building and the main entrance to the School, facing east and Backus Street (Backus was an early Director of the Western House of Refuge). Mr. Stone took this image from the middle of Phelps Avenue.

The portion on the left, with the arched openings, is the chapel. Remember that part of this huge rambling building – you’ll need it later.

Demolition is underway – the boiler room/power house/dining hall is biting the dust in the middle ground. In the distance is the Main Building, and again the chapel is seen on the right. You’re looking east.

And finally, this, from 1910:

Looking north, towards the School. Streetcar tracks. In both directions. Remember this – it will become very important later. Very important.

So, with demolition complete, Exposition Park could open. From the looks of the parade in 1908, I expected to find that this annual event would prove to be some kind of glorified trade show. Boy, was I wrong.

Concerts:

1911.

I think the bandstand is one of the odder structures I have seen. Here’s another view, from 1922. To the left of the bandstand is the zoo, complete with apes and bears and ostriches.

The ostriches, in 1917.

Exhibitions by the Historical Society:

1913.

Art Exhibitions:

1912.

Every manner of sports competition imaginable, but lots and lots of horse contests of various kinds:

1919.

In 1918, the place looked like this:

Here’s Mayor Edgerton opening the Expo sometime in the 19 teens:

Oh sure, the latest technologies were showcased:

Yes, that’s a lawnmower – 1920.

And as time passed, lots and lots of car exhibitions:

1924.

A couple of favorite exhibitions from this period include:

This is an exhibition of stolen autos, held in 1920.

The cars were stolen in the midwest, but shown here. Hmm.

And this one:

An exhibition of “Fruit Diseases and Injurious Insects,” 1921.

Huge crowds were the norm. Here are two views. Often these events were at the 4th of July, or revolved around patriotic events linked to World War I.

4th of July, 1917.

4th of July, 1918.

I could go on, and on, and on. Clearly this place was at the heart of city life in those days. Folks could hop on a streetcar, or later the subway, and then walk a block and join the throngs. It must have been an amazing place – a kind of annual mini-World’s Fair. The more I looked, the more astonished I became at the heady life of this place.

Here’s Edgerton Park in 1926. By then, Mayor Edgerton was gone, and the place had taken his name.

Notice that the Erie Canal is gone now, and in its place, at the far left, is the word “Transit.” This was our beloved subway.

You could get to Expo Park by subway, or by streetcar on one of at least two car lines. Kodak Park was only a few blocks south, and this part of the city was dense and bustling.

But more. After his death, a monument to Mayor Edgerton was erected, and it looked like this:

1929.

It’s on the left, in front of the peristyle where visitors bought their tickets. I have not been able to figure out what happened to the monument – it’s gone, but I don’t know where. Maybe you know.

Back to the Expo. Every year one of the most wonderful features was the baby contest.

That’s Richard Eyer and Doris Sedgwick, in 1926.

There are many images of this particular event – apparently a favorite of Mr. Stone’s. Here’s another:

Virginia Grace Coxon, in 1923.

The Expo survived the Depression, and went strong until the 1940s. But it faded after World War II, and I couldn’t figure out what happened, or why.

I knew that hockey was played in the old arena in the late 40s and 50s. I knew that the Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) won the NBA championship here in game seven of the 1950-51 season. I knew that the PAL (Police athletic League) started a fabulous model train layout in the 50s, aimed at giving children something creative to do, and which thankfully survives. But I could not figure out how the place went from being at the heart of the city to being a big neighborhood park.

Today, a few more views.

First, a view of the park in almost the same place as Mr. Stone’s image of 1910 – the middle of Phelps Avenue looking west at the chapel. Remember the chapel? Good. There it is – the Edgerton Park Rec Center.

And here, a view looking toward what was once the Erie Canal, then the
Rochester Subway, and today a berm.

And here, another view of the park today.

Today, the park is an important part of the neighborhood. A few events at the park draw folks from across the city – dances, the model trains, athletic contests, the water park, and others. And the city is conducting a few special events in this, Expo/Edgerton Park’s centennial year.

But as the city dispersed after World War II, and Kodak dwindled, and the car took over the streets, the park went from central to the life of the city to peripheral, at best.

It’s this last part that I could not figure out. What was it that pulled the plug on this place? Dances and concerts continued into the 50s. Glenn Miller – yikes. Basketball – big time. Hmm.

And then last week, the last piece of the puzzle emerged. We had lunch with some of Amy’s long time family friends, from her old neighborhood. She baby-sat for the family, and the matriarch of the family, an M.D., grew up in the Edgerton neighborhood. She remembered the Expo, and the concerts and the music. She remembered the dances especially, jitterbugging into the night.

She said: “Things were different after the War (World War II).” And then the light went on, at last.

The city pulled out the streetcars in 1941. Symptomatically, Expo Park ceased in 1947.

And the subway ceased in 1956. In 1957 the former World Champion NBA Rochester Royals moved to Cincinnati, and thence to Sacramento.

Our lives changed radically here in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, like lives in cities across the nation. Edgerton Park, so long a central part of the life of the city, was now abandoned, and marooned. The river of city life had shifted, and today the map shows only a small creek where once had been a mighty stream. Chapter closed.

Today Edgerton Park remains an important place in our city. While the neighborhood is poorer than the old days, and abandoned buildings are visible, it would be wrong to underestimate the role the place continues to play in the life of the city. But there are no more throngs, no monuments to beloved mayors, no baby contests, no exhibitions. The city does not teem to the park on the 4th of July. It’s pretty quiet now.

165 years in the life of any city is a long time. Edgerton Park has unfolded before my eyes, from prison to school to gathering place to home for great city moments, and now, simply, a park.

Perhaps we made some mistakes along the way. The future’s map is unclear. But certainly we will not go back to where we have been.

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