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Home / Government / Restoration spiffs up a N.Y. landmark

Restoration spiffs up a N.Y. landmark

The 1880s Rochester City Hall has acquired the stature of an urban castle, tucked away on one of the downtown’s quieter streets. Noted architect Harvey Ellis worked on the building’s design, which was taken up later by a government official. Photos by Vasiliy Baziuk

The 1880s Rochester City Hall has acquired the stature of an urban castle, tucked away on one of the downtown’s quieter streets. Noted architect Harvey Ellis worked on the building’s design, which was taken up later by a government official. Photos by Vasiliy Baziuk

Colleen M. Farrell
Dolan Media Newswires

Rochester, NY — Thanks to a multimillion dollar restoration, a piece of Rochester’s most-prized architecture will enjoy a longer life.

The ongoing brownstone masonry restoration project at Rochester City Hall — which began in the spring — has meant cordoned off sidewalks and lanes along Church and Fitzhugh streets as crews perform the work.

City workers have experienced near-constant noise from the tools used to repair the stones.

Concerns about falling stone and the structure’s stability prompted the need for repairs. Preservationists say the inconveniences are worth it.

“There’s absolutely no other building like it in Monroe County, or the region,” said Cynthia Howk, architectural research coordinator for the Landmark Society of Western New York.

The $6.7 million restoration project is being handled by Lari Construction, which has offices in Canada and Syracuse.

Today, 30 Church St. may seem a bit out of place. With its turrets and gargoyles and towers, its stature is that of an urban castle, tucked away on one of the downtown’s quieter streets. When it was built in the 1880s, however, its architectural style — Richardson Romanesque — was all the rage.

A Methodist and a Baptist church were constructed in the same style adjacent to and across from the building.

City Hall actually was Rochester’s first federal building. At the time, the U.S. government was commissioning such structures nationwide, Howk said.

The brownstone exterior of Rochester City Hall has been undergoing restoration work since the spring. The $6.7 million project is expected to be completed next year.

The brownstone exterior of Rochester City Hall has been undergoing restoration work since the spring. The $6.7 million project is expected to be completed next year.

The style is named for Henry Hobson Richardson, whom Howk said was the Frank Lloyd Wright of his day.

After he built Boston’s Trinity Church, his design, with large cut blocks, round arches on windows and big entry portal arches, drew national attention.

Rochester’s example is “right out of Romanesque building vocabulary,” Howk said.

Noted architect Harvey Ellis worked on the local design, which was taken up later by a government official.

Over the years, the building housed customs, taxation, courts, prohibition control, draft board and FBI offices. Until the 1930s, it served as Rochester’s main post office.

It also was the site where local servicemen and women reported for military duty.

In the 1970s, a new federal building went up on State Street, and 30 Church St. was vacated.

At the same time, city leaders were looking for new headquarters.

Forty years after Rochester’s incorporation in 1834, city leaders decided it was time to build their own hall.

Space previously had been rented in the second incarnation of the Monroe County Courthouse.

In the 1880s, the city commissioned its first hall at Broad and Fitzhugh, built by local architect A.J. Warner.

By the 1920s, space was getting tight, however. George Eastman had paid for the city to use the nearby Kimball Tobacco Factory as an annex, Howk said.

After World War II, that space wasn’t an option anymore because the War Memorial, now the Blue Cross Arena, was being built.

The city either could build new or buy the old federal building, which ended up costing only $1 because the federal government had declared it as surplus property.

City offices moved up North Fitzhugh Street to the present site in 1978, and an addition was added later.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and named a local landmark in 1973.

The purchase turned out to be a good deal for preservationists.

“This was the largest, most public preservation win up until that time,” Howk said.

Restoration work is expected to be completed next year.

“It’s a beautiful gem of a building,” Pamela Marcotte, managing architect for the City of Rochester, said.

“They just don’t make buildings like this anymore. It’s a treasure worth saving.”

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