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
Begin the tour by entering the Sister Cities Garage on
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
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
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
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.