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Posts Tagged ‘Albert Stone’

Cities contain us. Cities hold our stories, our dreams, what we wanted to be, what we failed to become, the way we lived, what we built and why. A good city has swarms of stories, and a best city is a city in which the most narratives remain legible for the longest possible time.

Stories of people. And in even modest sized cities, this means millions and millions of stories. For which we can and should give endless thanks.

Herewith, one pretty interesting story about our place. Get comfy: we’re going to Carthage.

In 1809, at a place that is now called St. Paul and Norton Streets in Rochester, and which is also the home of the Lower Falls on the Genesee River, a few folks settled on the east bank of the river and called their little spot Carthage.

Lower Falls (2)

Photo by Sheridan Vincent. Carthage would be near the green tank and the bad modern building.

Carthage was below the lower falls on the river, so if you had goods to ship, you could take them to Carthage, and from there they could go out onto Lake Ontario and into the wide, wide world.

A few years passed and in 1816 a couple of rich Rochester guys, the two Elisha’s (Strong and Beach), bought 1,000 acres of land that included Carthage. By 1818 there were 40 buildings there.

But there was a problem. Isn’t there always a problem? Carthage was on the east banks of the River, and so if you were coming from the west, you could not get there to ship your stuff. The entrepreneurial Elishas decided to build a bridge across the river so everybody could come to Carthage, and by 1817 they had amassed $16,000 in state and local funds to do the deed.

The bridge was completed in 1819. It was over 700 feet long, and stood 200 feet above the river. Some described it as the eighth wonder of the world. (Have you ever wondered how many eighth wonders there must be? I have….)

Carthage bridge

Unfortunately, the bridge fell down in 1820.

And by 1825 the Erie Canal was here, and Carthage was doubly obsolete. Poof.

Enter our intrepid Rochester hero, Albert Stone. In 1908 he made this photo:

Carthage monument 1908

 

The monument was a column, a vent for sewer gas, a watering trough for local horses, and the holder of a plaque to the memory – the stories – of Carthage.

The column lasted quite a while. It is visible on a whole host of plat maps until sometime between 1925 and 1936.

I bumped into Mr. Stone’s picture this afternoon, and kept pulling on its threads until Carthage had fully emerged.

Good stories in good cities last a very long time.

Turn the page.

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In a hundred years in any city, change is pervasive. We constantly reshape our urban places to suit our sense of what is most important, most desirable, most necessary. And so here, on Scio Street just north of East Avenue, in Rochester, we can see what that refocusing has created, thanks to Mr. Stone.

Scio Street 1912

Scio Street, looking north from East Avenue, in 1912.

Scio street 2015

Scio Street, looking north from East Avenue, 2015.

Yes, as far as the eye can see on the west side of Scio, that is a parking garage, for about 750 cars.

The little street visible in the 1912 image, on the right, is called Bell Alley. Today if you strolled over to take its measure, you would find this:

scio street 2015 (3)

If you walked down Bell Alley to Matthews Street, and then looked back towards Scio, you would see this:

Bell Alley Mathews to Scio 1924

So it has gone, in almost every city in America. Ahh – progress.

I should probably stop snooping around at these photographs….

 

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Reader David Steele has asked what the street side of the Main Street bridge was like. Reader Jason Haremza told him: just like any other street, really. You’d never know the river was there. Herewith, proof.

Here’s the bridge from the south, looking downriver, in 1919, on a day when the river was very high. (This was after the city deepened the river under the bridge in 1916, because of a flood in 1915).

Here’s a similar view, a bit closer, from around 1920.

And here’s a similar view but closer still, from 1922.

Can you make out the name on the upper right of the right hand building? Ocumpaugh’s. Remember that – here’s the front on Main.

51 to 55 South Main, 1922. These shops and offices comprise the Ocumpaugh property. The pedestrians are all on the bridge.

Okay, so what did the street side of the bridge really look like? One more image tells the tale.

Main Street, looking east across the river, in about 1912. The streetcar in the middle of the image is almost exactly in the middle of the river.

In truth, it would have been a nicer bit of the city if there was a little porchlet or terrace out on each side of the river, providing passers-by with a little vista up and down the river. The Ponte Vecchio does have that lovely colonnade on each side.

But it was pretty nice, anyway.

Streetcar buffs – note the headways on the westbound side of the street. What do you figure? 20 seconds, maybe?

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I found myself wandering around in my map files the other day, and I was struck by this 1820 map of the city. I noticed two things of particular importance. In the lower right of the map, there is an open space labeled “Public Square.” I know this place quite well – it’s Washington Square Park, where the Soldiers and Sailors Monument stands (sculpted by Leonard Volk, in 1892), the one surmounted by A. Lincoln.

The land for the Square was generously given as open space forever by one Elisha Johnson, in 1817. So it makes the 1820 map.

A century after Johnson’s gift, and nearly a century ago, the Square looked like this:

The Square is mostly empty now, what with 4G and DWTS and all, but it still is a lovely place to stroll. Not that anybody strolls downtown much anymore. Still, it is a nice space. I was strolling there the other evening, and admiring the monument. But I was almost bulldozed by a gang of skateboarders doing their damnedest to wreck the thing. And yet, it really is a nice urban space. Honest.

But that’s not what really touched my sense of curiosity. In the upper left of the map, there is another space labeled “Public Square,” and this one too still exists. It’s Brown Square, and was given by the Brown Brothers likewise prior to the 1820 map. The Browns owned 200 acres or so of land abutting and immediately north of Colonel Rochester’s 100 acre tract, and conjoining their holdings was central to the creation of the city.

I had a dim memory of Brown’s Square, or  Brown Square as it is called today. It’s over by the baseball stadium, a block from Kodak Headquarters. Railroads run by it, I could recall. And it’s pretty plain vanilla stuff. And lumpy I remembered – filled with grass-covered berms.

But it too is still there. So I thought I would wander around the Square and get to know a bit of its story. I was in for a bit of a shock.

Now some of you, my dear readers, must be convinced by now that I am taken by places in the city that are fuzzy and warm and tidy. I would deny this with some vehemence, and to prove it, get comfy.

Brown Square and its neighborhood is, and always was from the first, a giant, wonderful, tangled snarl of a mess. How it and it’s surrounds survived – and one of its most important neighbors didn’t survive, but that comes later – is completely mysterious. Here we go.

In 1875, the city’s plat for Brown Square looked like this:

It’s easy to see the Square – it’s green. To the east of the Square, those round things are railroad roundhouses. The Square’s  easterly neighbor is the maintenance yard for the Buffalo and Niagara Railroad – by 1875 swallowed by the New York Central.

A block and a half to the southwest is the Erie Canal. A few blocks to the northeast is the Genesee River, and all of the mill races constructed there to industrialize the city’s greatest asset – the High Falls.

In this plat, the Square is surrounded on at least two sides by homes, though the ones to the west face the Square and a few active tracks. Not for long.

Next comes a plat from 1888.

The rail yards are a bit more extensive. The Square, bounded by Brown, Jay, Kent and Jones Streets, is still cut off from the homes to the west – tracks continue between the Square and the homes on Kent. And there are more large pink blobs – factories and warehouses.

Nonetheless, the Square was filled with life and exuberance. Mr. Stone took many pictures of the action here in the first decades of the 20th century, as did others. Here’s a sampling.

1903. Looks bucolic, but remember, the railroad is rumbling on at least two sides of this place.

Mr. Stone was so taken with all these kids, that in 1913 he took two shots. I like the next one better.

The rail yard is crystal clear in the background of these two shots. I wonder what Mr. Stone said to the kids to get them to mug for him?

In 1921, the Square’s field house was home to a branch of the library.

 

Brown Square existed at the farthest eastern edge of what was, and still is, called Dutchtown. Dutchtown was filled with many thousands of immigrants, starting in the late 19th century. Germans (it was originally Deutschtown), Irish, Italians, and lots of others,  mostly workers. And, obviously, lots of kids.

In 1919 some enterprising soul brought a rail car from Boston filled with fresh seafood. He parked the rail car on Kent Street, against the Square, and there was an instant feeding frenzy.

And in 1922, at Christmas, the kids were lined up for “Christmas Tree Exercises,” whatever they were. Maybe one of you knows.

Then comes the plat from 1926. Things are getting a bit dicier for the neighborhood.

The Kent Street homes are gone – the railroad has claimed them for an expanded rail yard. The Erie Canal is gone, too, replaced by what is called an Industrial Railway – it’s the city’s oft lamented subway, here riding in an open cut in the ground. And now let’s travel a block to the south, to Frankfort (now Plymouth) and Platt.

Brown Square is at the top of the railyard, just off this plat. In the middle of the image, near the big number 2, is St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

And here is what the Cathedral looked like in 1896. There had been a church here on this site since the 1820s.

A bit later, the parish managed to raise the spire, and in 1923 St. Pat’s looked like this (remember this image – it’s going to return shortly):

Yes, that’s a factory next door to the church. In fact, It’s Eastman Kodak.

If you walked down the neighborhood streets in those days, you might get a view like this, from 1919:

Not exactly a tame and sedate urban view.

Because it was a Cathedral, it was the site of all kinds of important events. Let’s take a look at the Cathedral’s interior, from some time in the 1920s. Not sure what the event was, but the place was packed. Looks like a funeral, but I’m not sure.

By the mid 1930s the Cathedral was surrounded by Kodak. Here’s a view showing the church with Kodak Tower looming above. I believe that this postcard image has been, um, photoshopped. The picture of the Cathedral is from Mr. Stone’s 1923 image, above. Kodak Tower has been added in the background.

And then – wait for it – KABOOM!

Kodak acquired the Cathedral in September of 1937, for $350,000, and then tore it down, to make way for further corporate expansion.

Please do note all the parked cars in this aerial view.

I discovered, as I looked into this bit or our story, that in the preceding years Kodak had made other offers to buy the church. Apparently the diocese was slow in considering these offers, and they were never accepted.

But several things seem clear by 1937. The diocese was strapped for cash – the depression had clearly been felt – and there were a handful of churches nearby that the parishioners could use as alternates.

What Kodak got in the deal was the Cathedral, the rectory, and several other buildings in that block between Platt and Brown. A year later construction had begun on the site, and the explosive expansion of the Company ($18 million a year in capital improvements in the late 30s – and well into the middle $50 millions by the mid 50s) continued.

I have combed through the newspapers of the day, and while there was some solemnity about the passing of the Cathedral, and a party line from both Kodak and the diocese that got repeated ad nauseam (Kodak: our facilities are maxed out – we need room to grow; diocese: we’re surrounded, our faithful can go elsewhere, and we need the cash), there was not much hand wringing or whining. I suppose that first, parishioners must have seen this coming – there were other offers. And next, Kodak was the roaring engine not just of this neighborhood, but of the city, and the region. Don’t bite the hand that feeds.

So in an instant, the church was gone. At least it didn’t become a parking lot…. Unlike much of the neighborhood surrounding the Square.

Today Brown Square remains, and while it is not nearly as seductive as it once may have been, it is still there – as a regular venue for events in Rochester’s wonderful world of music, as an example.

That’s jazz flutist Herbie Mann, onstage in the Square in 1995. And in 2009 the tradition continued.

From The City Hall Photo Lab collection.

Somehow Brown Square has survived all manner of the enormous pressures of change. But change has not been kind to the neighborhood – there’s not much left but Kodak and the Red Wing’s ballyard. It’s amazing it made it.

As I look at a century or so in this part of our city, read the newspapers, look at the images, get to know the places and a few of the faces, and recognize the fast pace of change, I understand how we ended up with what is, essentially, a kind of twilight zone, in place of what was a vital, albeit messy, urbanism.

We made our choices. We thought it was progress. It wasn’t.

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Block by block, I am slowly piecing together a lost city. The more I unearth, the more I am fascinated by what was once Rochester. The fineness of urban texture, the richness of that urban life a century ago, is long gone now. But the traces are beguiling, sometimes sad, and always suggestive. As I sift through the images, I can hear the life on the street, and almost smell the lunches being prepared at Mike Miller’s diner, at 60 North Street. Let’s go for a walk.

This is the Salvation Army’s Citadel Building, on the east side of North Street (now Liberty Pole Way….), in 1907. Notice the little house to the right in this photo – you’ll see it again a few more times. To the right of the house is Achilles Street – named after a Civil War veteran and city benefactor, Henry L. Achilles. So: the intersection of Achilles and North.

Sometime in the early teens, Mike Miller came to North Street. Mike found an old rail car somewhere, and decided it would make a great place in which to open a diner. Which he did – here’s a view in about 1914.

He’s set his diner against the wall of the Salvation Army, and on the front lawn of the little house. Always open, day and night, ladies and gents.

In 1917, the lettering on the diner had changed, as had the weather, but Mike was still at it. Only now, an addition to the little house made a storefront for a glove shop, and Mike and his diner had slid a bit south. Now Mike was right at the intersection of North and Achilles.

Dining Car No. 29 must have been a good place to grab a meal – by 1917, Mike’s name was in the window.

 And two years later, Mike was still at it.

The glove shop had become a tailor, but Mike soldiered on, serving up his quick lunch.

Directly across the street, there were other little establishments – a jeweler, a laundry, another lunch spot. Mr. Stone must have just had two eggs over easy at Mike’s before he made this image.

Around this time there was a murder in the neighborhood. Mike’s night clerk, Bill Kelly, who was all of 18, was slain by a fellow named Tony Chireco, aged 20, from Buffalo. It was big news, so Mr. Stone was on the scene.

The murder happened right outside the diner, next to the church. If we enlarge the photo, we can see the crime scene. Mike’s diner is just beyond the church, below the Salvation sign.

Later the church was demolished – Second Baptist – to make way for the formidable Baptist Temple, which remains in place today. Stone took a picture of the Temple in 1925, two years after it was completed.

Mike’s diner is still there, at the lower left of this image, across Achilles Street from the Temple. Here’s another view.

By this time – 1925 – Mike had been at it for over a decade. Ten years later, in 1935, a view of the City Plat is equivocal. The Salvation Army Citadel is still there. The little house with the storefront addition is still there. The Star Palace Laundry, across the street, is still there.

Is the diner? Not sure. It appears that there is a dotted line next to the storefront addition that could be Mike’s diner. Would the City have platted a railroad car sitting on someone’s lawn? Hard to say.

Today the stories of North Street, Mike’s diner, quick lunches, bustling sidewalks, crimes in the night, and clattering streetcars are all vanished.

Here’s the intersection of North and Achilles today, oriented just like the City Plat, above.

All gone. 

I am reminded of something Christopher Lasch wrote, in a book entitled “The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics.” He was making a distinction between nostalgia, which freezes and idealizes our past, and real living memory, which leads us to our future.

He said: “(Memory) draws hope and comfort from the past in order to enrich the present and to face what comes with good cheer. It sees past, present, and future as continuous. It is less concerned with loss than with our continuing indebtedness to a past the formative influence of which lives on in our patterns of speech, our gestures, our standards of honor, our expectations, our basic disposition toward the world around us.”

Thanks to Mike Miller, and 60 North Street, I, for one, expect more for our city.

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Downtown Rochester today, from Google Earth.

The Rochester Regional Community Design Center’s (RRCDC’s) Vision Plan for downtown, 2008.

Pogo, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Talk about a city that is shovel-ready – yikes!

As a counterweight to the desolation and destruction of downtown, the RRCDC here has created a Vision Plan, a kind of roadmap that illustrates some of the steps that should be taken to return the central city to something like it was once. This city is very lucky to have this wonderful group of urbanists at work. Without their substantial contributions, there would be no guide to proper city making, and no yardstick by which to measure the sorry state of our downtown – it’s a mess.

The urbanist principles of the Vision Plan are so simple: put streets back, build to hold street edges, erase surface parking, make boulevards not expressways, fill in at least part of the moat that is the Inner Loop, green up the public realm, create mixed use neighborhoods of varying character, create hierarchies, and enhance urban sequences. Simple. Really good stuff. For more, go to our link to RRCDC, below at the right, and check them out.

So as I look at the Vision Plan, and stroll through older images of this city, I am touched by the urban narratives I keep bumping into. Narratives like the one reader (and architect and RRCDCer) Tim Raymond offered in comments to our last post – a story about the resurrection of Wadsworth Square. Each of these stories has a common thread: lovely urban asset turns into dumpy urban squalor, is paved over for cars, and in a few lucky cases, thanks to the pluckiness of urban dwellers like Tim, is occasionally reborn to new/old life. 

Here’s another little narrative that I tripped over in my research. You’ll have to stick with me here – it will take a series of images to explain.

Once upon a time, there was a place in the city called Riley Triangle. The Triangle was just that – a triangle of land at the southeast corner of Monroe Avenue and Clinton Avenue, kitty-corner from one of Rochester’s most important public open spaces – Washington Square Park. Across the street from the Triangle was the Naval Armory and Convention Center, built in 1868 and now home to the Geva Theater Center. Here is Riley Triangle in 1908, thanks to photographer and hero Albert Stone.

On the Triangle in those days was a large Federal house, and the wonderful “Lunch Car.” Behind the lunch car is a shop selling tire repair for autos. (Foreshadowing).

Not long after that image, Stone returned to the site and took this picture.

The lunch car, front and center. And that pile of bricks to the left? The old Federal house – gone but not forgotten. (Foreshadowing).

The lunch car was controversial in those days, though I am not sure why. Maybe it was a squatter on the site.  And so a few years later, Stone returned again to the Triangle and took another picture.

Poof! No lunch car – in fact nothing. The Triangle has been transformed into a small urban park. Note that Monroe Avenue, on the left, and Clinton Avenue on the right, are and were important urban thoroughfares, and this intersection, adjacent to Washington Square Park, was a 100% urban location. Here’s what I mean.

Lincoln stands atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Washington Square Park. Riley Triangle is the open space just to the right of the monument, and just to the left of the Armory and Convention Center. You can just see the windows of the Italianate house that edges the Triangle in this photo.

Most important urban spaces are sites for recollecting or remembering important urban matters – stories, events, people. Riley Triangle was no exception, as Stone shows us in 1922.

A monument has been placed on the corner. I am not sure to what end, but something is marked here. Maybe Riley’s story. Stone must have really liked the place, because he kept taking pictures of it. Here’s another.

The light in the park is truly wonderful, I think. And that sweet little Italianate house – nice.

Now I bet you are wondering how all of what I am talking about here ties together. Well, take a look. Here is Riley Triangle today.

Yet another parking garage.

That’s Clinton Avenue on the right, now a thinly disguised expressway ramp. Monroe Avenue was hacked off years ago, and today it doesn’t come anywhere near this intersection. Somehow the city failed to ruin Washington Square Park, at my back in this photo (it would make a terrific parking lot). Nor did the Armory and Convention Center bite the dust – it’s Geva Theater Center, just to the right in this picture. But the rest is pretty clear. Here’s another view of the place today.

In this aerial it’s easy to see all the carnage. The arrow points to where Riley Triangle used to be. Here you can see Monroe Avenue disconnected and diverted, the parking garage in my picture and its surrounding surface parking, and Clinton Avenue as an expressway ramp. Oh, and by the way, that’s Wadsworth Square in the lower right – that small green square patch just south of the Inner Loop.

So – to return full circle, here is what the RRCDC recommends for Riley Triangle.

Now there’s new construction added to the face of the parking garage (lipstick on a pig, methinks, but better than it is today), and across the street. New construction on Clinton as you approach Washington Square Park from the south. Surface parking gone. And perhaps most momentous of all, no Inner Loop. Hurrah! And look at how nice Wadsworth Square has become – defined by buildings on all its edges.

As I said at the outset, we are truly surrounded by insurmountable opportunity. And thanks to the Vision Plan, we know what to do.

Can we make the Vision Plan into some kind of law, please?

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