Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rochester Revisited

The Hall of Justice at the Monroe County Civic Center in downtown Rochester.  What am I doing here?  Jury duty, of course.  One good thing about it is being able to wonder the area on my lunch break.

The Powers Building (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_Building) at Main and State Streets.  It's one of the finest buildings in the city.  A historic structure (http://www.powersbuilding.com/index2.asp?page=history.asp) that provides lots of retail and office space.  It once housed the largest art collection in New York State outside of New York City.

A rare vantage point of the former Sibley's Department Store building on Main Street between Clinton and Franklin.  It's a large building that is becoming a mixed-use property with retail on the first floor.  There's office and residential space in the upper floors.  This includes the taller structure barely in the picture to the right (http://thesibleybuilding.com/).  Where I'm standing will be the site of the new Democrat & Chronicle building (http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/2013/10/29/dc-announces-plans-for-new-downtown-home/3305125/).

 This is the tower of the former Midtown Plaza Mall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midtown_Plaza_(Rochester))that encompassed a large portion of the downtown area.  The street grid that was removed for the failed mall will return.  Here is the plan for this specific structure (http://www.thetoweratmidtown.com/)
This should be an interesting project once completed.

The Liberty Pole (http://www.thelibertypole.org) just to the northeast of the Sibley Building on Main Street.  This is the true center of downtown Rochester and the focal point of Main Street.

What is a Liberty Pole?  Originally, large wooden poles were erected in colonial America as a sign of support against the British Crown.  This 190 foot tall stainless steel pole is a modern version of those poles that was erected in 1965.  And, with the lights, it makes an excellent christmas tree (or Festivus Pole).

A view of the streetwall on the north side of Main Street.

The new Windstream Building (Seneca Building actually: http://senecabuilding.com/)  on the former Midtown Plaza Mall site  It's an alright building.  Nothing inspiring.  Doesn't have too much first floor activity.  Should be interesting to see how it evolves.

I'm not sure about this structure at Main Street and Franklin (across the street from the Liberty Pole).  It's built to the human scale and seems like a structure you'd find in Boston.

Plymouth Commons at Main Street and Plymouth is a huge improvement to the area.  This major intersection was wasted on surface parking lots on all four corners (now it's down to three).  New townhomes are located to the north leading to the baseball stadium.

 Main Street at State/Exchange facing east.

Main Street at Cascade (?).  I find these old industrial buildings interesting near the gateway of the downtown area.   The building on the left was right on the old Erie Canal (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erie_Canal) when it ran down Broad Street.  There's so much potential for this area and for tying the Susan B. Anthony (http://susanbanthonyhouse.org/index.php) neighborhood to the city.  I remember my first time visiting Rochester and this area is what I saw from the highway.

The north side of Main Street facing east.  It's a surprisingly intact streetwall.

The Gordie Howe County Building (not to be confused with Gordie Howe of hockey fame for all you Detroit Red Wings fans out there).   This was the courthouse for Monroe County before they built the one I'm sitting in this week.  Here's a bit of history (http://www2.monroecounty.gov/history-cob.php)

I really like the Wilder Building at Main Street and Exchange.  It reminds me of a few buildings in Chicago.  This was Rochester's first skyscraper.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilder_Building)

This is another one of my favorite buildings in Rochester at Main Street and St. Paul.  It was built for Sibley's Department Store.  When it caught fire in 1904, they moved to their facility just a couple blocks to the east.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granite_Building)

Now for the bad stuff:  This is a great example of why downtown is so inactive.  This is the center of Main Street and look at the first floors of these buildings.  All of them are designed to say "do not come in."  The building in the center seems to use the first floor as a fortification.  These should be full of little boutiques, jewelry stores, shoe stores, cafes, restaurants, and so much more.

How many of you have traveled somewhere to visit a parking lot?  Anyone ever just went downtown to just hang out on asphalt?  Are your favorite vacation memories placing your vehicle between two yellow lines?  Probably not and that's a huge problem with downtown Rochester.  It is a city of parking lots and parking lots are dead zones.   There should be no parking lots (especially surface parking) wasted on Main Street.  Parking should be hidden in back alleys and underground in urban environments.

 The same parking lot at Main Street and Chestnut.  The best thing about this picture is the Eastman Commons building (tall structure) (http://www.esm.rochester.edu/reslife/eastman-commons/).  Downtown Chicago was fairly inactive after 5pm not so long ago.  The city actively worked with colleges and universities to bring student dorms into the area.  That changed everything.  Diners stayed open late.  There were more cafes and restaurants.  Book stores moved in as well as lots of entertainment options.
Another beautiful lot on Main Street between Broad and Washington.  Does this look like a place you'd like to live, work, or visit?

Main Street facing west toward the Susan B. Anthony neighborhood.  This should be the "touristy" part of town.  It's the gateway of the city with lots of space to work with.  It's close to downtown and has lots of historically significant areas.  When people drive into Rochester for the first time on 490, this is what they think of.  This is our "Front Door" and it needs to be a lot more welcoming.

Mentioned earlier, this is one of the three surface parking lots that occupy the intersection of Main Street and Plymouth.  Beautiful and underused property that I could see having a significant use.  It would be a great location for a high rise.  Maybe some kind of a public structure dedicated to the arts.  So much potential.

At least something is being done about cars and parking!  The Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA) is constructing a new downtown transit center (http://www.rgrta.com/TransitCenter.aspx) on Mortimer Street between St. Paul and Clinton.  This will provide an indoor space for people to wait for buses instead of waiting on Main Street.  Buses won't be parked up at down Main Street as well.  And, the new structure replaces a former surface parking lot.

Scheduled to open in 2015.

The Frederick Douglas-Susan B Anthony Memorial Bridge (Freddy-Sue Bridge) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Douglass–Susan_B._Anthony_Memorial_Bridge) over the Genesee River.  Did they have to paint it grey?  San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge.  Pittsburgh has several yellow bridges all around the city.  We chose grey...  And, that's not just a parking lot across the street, that's the festival grounds.  Do people realize that waterfront property is valuable?

 The Genesee River (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genesee_River) looking north toward the High Falls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Falls_(Rochester,_New_York)).  A lot of cities wish they had a river and a large waterfall in their downtown.

Flood control dam with the Freddy-Sue Bridge in the background.

Lots of talk about the land across the river.  This is the former bed of the Erie Canal.  For a while, it was the bed to the Lehigh Valley Railroad (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lehigh_Valley_Railroad) and the subway system (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochester_Subway).  Now, there's talk of building a large skate park (http://www.roccitypark.org/) to the right under the Freddy-Sue Bridge.  I've seen plans, but not sure about the financing or completion dates.  There have also been proposals for condos.  This is a huge resource for Monroe County and I believe it should have public access like rivers in Milwaukee, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and lots of other great cities.

Rundel Public Library (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rundel_Memorial_Library) to the right and the Court Street Bridge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Court_Street_Bridge_(Genesee_River)).  Some kind of platform should be constructed between Court Street and Broad Street behind the library.  Connect it to the Genesee Riverway Trail (http://www.cityofrochester.gov/grt/).  Wouldn't you like to read a book on the river?

East side of the River at the Andrews Street Bridge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrews_Street_Bridge).  Again, a walkway along the buildings should be constructed that connect the Genesee Riverway Trail and the High Falls.  These should be some of the most active buildings in the city.
 The east side of the Genesee River.  The park to the right is open to the public and a pedestrian bridge is to the right.  Unfortunately, the pink hotel in the center doesn't connect either.  The hotel could really benefit from enhancing its relationship with the public and the river.

A better view of the pink hotel.  There's already space below to connect the trail with the park, pedestrian bridge, Main Street, and the Convention Center.  They could really make this hotel the center of town.

First Federal Plaza (UFO Building) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Federal_Plaza) actually has an arcade with restaurants and retail on the river (bottom left).  It could be more inviting.  Built in 1976, it's probably due for a renovation and update.

Genesee Crossroads Park (http://rocwiki.org/Genesee_Crossroads_Park).  Rochester seems to be in a never ending search for a place to have festivals and music events.  Ummmm...  What about here?  It's a central location along the river.  It could be made a lot more functional by removing all the stairs everywhere.  It could be expanded by removing the parking lot to the rear.

 Broad Street Bridge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broad_Street_Bridge_(Rochester,_New_York)) is so unique and interesting.  The lower have was an aqueduct of the Erie Canal to all barges to cross the river.  Then the second level was added to allow for traffic to cross.  The original first level was used for the subway.  It sits between Blue Cross Arena (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Cross_Arena), the Convention Center, and the Rundel Library.  Lots of ideas for this bridge have been floated, but something has to be done for such a great, unique feature.
Another part of the river that's not connected between Main Street and Broad.  Aqueduct Park (http://rocwiki.org/Aqueduct_Park) sits to the right.  Outside of the buildings to the left seem particularly ripe for a river platform with outdoor dining.  It has a great view of the city and plenty of space.  There's parking everywhere and lots of activity with the arena, courts, businesses, etc.

 Valuable riverfront property wasted on a substation and limited parking.

Other side of the previous photo.  The convention center (http://rocwiki.org/Rochester_Riverside_Convention_Center) has an outdoor patio area along the river, which could be enhanced.  The RGE substation to the right needs to be removed.  The facility could be converted and a river walk connection added.  It might be a prime location for a public structure of some sorts that could share resources with the convention center, library, arena, etc.

Old First National Bank of Rochester/Old Monroe County Savings Bank Building (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_National_Bank_of_Rochester-Old_Monroe_County_Savings_Bank_Building) on State Street 
just north of Main Street by the Powers Building.  Who needs to go to Rome, eh?

Strike or protest across from Liberty Plaza off Main Street.  Not sure what it was about.  Such tiny writing on the signs.  

First Universalist Church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Universalist_Church_(Monroe_County,_New_York)) on Clinton and Court

Rundel Memorial Library (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rundel_Memorial_Library) on South Ave.  Beautiful old library and a lot of great resources. 

I've always liked this building, but never knew what it was.  It's the old Rochester City Hall Building.  The mansard roof looks a little rough, but the rest of the structure seems to be in good shape.  And, it's part of a 19th century civic center complex.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_Hall_Historic_District_(Rochester,_New_York)

Ellwanger and Barry Building (http://rocwiki.org/Ellwanger_%26_Barry_Building) on State Street.  What a great early skyscraper.  It reminds me a bit of Jenney's Manhatten Building (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Building_(Chicago,_Illinois)) in Chicago (mostly the first floor).  For the time, these were fairly large windows for a structure.  The masonry was a curtain wall with a metal skeleton underneath.  But look at the industrial looking first floor.  That's was probably a show room and was pretty impressive at the time.  Windows and light came at a premium.  And, it had to hold all the weight above it too.

Historic State Street District (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_Street_Historic_District_(Rochester,_New_York)).  Reminds me of the LODO district in Denver.  Especially with its relationship to downtown and the baseball park.

Rochester City Hall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Building_(Rochester,_New_York)), which use to be the Federal Building/Post Office, on Church and Fitzhugh.  A great Richardsonian building with tons of little details.  Every inch of this building has something to look at.

City Hall Atrium all ready for Christmas.  Pink marble arches with all kinds of facial medallions.  Lots of light and paintings of old mayors.  I'll have to come back here when I have a bit more time.
This is probably my least favorite building in all of Rochester.  Where do I even begin?  How about the fortified wall around the entire complex apparently designed to slow down an invading barbarian horde.  I'm surprised there isn't a moat.  Then there's the sea of parking to further emphasize how unfriendly the building is to the rest of the city.  There's nothing on the first floor to further cut it off from a vibrant urban fabric.  Finally, it's an ugly box on stilts.  This building should be in every architecture book as an example of what not to do.

Mercury Statue (http://rocwiki.org/Mercury_statue) on top of the Aqueduct Building (http://rocwiki.org/Aqueduct_Building).  Originally, it sat on top of the Kimball Tabacco Factory (http://www.libraryweb.org/rochimag/architecture/LostRochester/Kimball/Kimball.htm) until it was destroyed to make room for the War Memorial/Blue Cross Arena.

Another example of what to avoid.  This is what I like to refer to as "Robocop Architecture."  A world where legs and walking are obsolete and the only means of moving is by car.  Nothing but car storage at the large garage to the left.  Dead wall space on the right at the Convention Center.  This design should be reserved only for back alleys, not an important corridor through your downtown.

First time I visited Rochester, I remember saying "What is that building!"  It's the Times Square Building (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Times_Square_Building_(Rochester)) and it certainly makes a statement.  Certainly an interesting Art Deco building that Superman would have liked.  The structure on top is known as the "Wings of Progress."

Democrat and Chronicle Building.  Not sure what it will be in the near future as it is up for sale, I believe.  They are building a new structure on Main Street across from Sibley's behind the new Windstream Building.

Street signs.  The one at the bottom is particularly interesting.  These are made by a small group of individuals to help people find places.  Times given in walking and biking are great.

The Campbell-Whittlesey House (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campbell-Whittlesey_House) prominently displayed on 490 racing through downtown.  The home use to be the headquarters for the Landmark Society of Western New York (http://landmarksociety.org/).  It has been sold as a private residence and here's an update if interested (http://landmarksociety.org/2011/12/a-good-steward-update-on-the-campbell-whittlesey-house/)

More Robocop Architecture and where I've been spending most of my time lately at the Civic Center.  Built in the early 1960s, it looks like it was designed by people expecting a nuclear bomb to go off at any time.  Bunkers and fortifications.  The best thing I can say about this huge complex is they wisely hid the parking complex. 

Another place that could be festival grounds had they planned it.  Unfortunately, it was recently renovated to this.

I will leave you with parking garage art to contemplate jury duty...

That's it.

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