Rochester's Old Federal Building Should Go

Rochester's Old Federal Building Should Go

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published September 19, 2012 and can be found here.

Old Federal Building (now City Hall). [PHOTO: Richard Margolis]

   "Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a city landmark, the old Federal Building is considered a fine example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. No one's particularly interested in using it, however, because inside it's dark, gloomy, usually uncomfortable and just plain ramshackle. Blow it up. It's an ugly thing...and not particularly interesting inside or out...It should be demolished. A modern, tax-producing building would be a better use for the site and would give more new life to that section of downtown..."

Old Federal Building (now City Hall) atrium. [PHOTO: Rick U.]

   Those were some of the thoughts printed in a series of newspaper editorials from 1969-1972. When the new Federal Building was built on State Street, the old building was left behind - seemingly without a good reason to live...

'Don't Weep for Federal Building' -Editorial, Rochester Times-Union, 8/28/1969 [PHOTO: Rick U.]

And this...

'Old Federal Building Should Go' -Editorial, Rochester Times-Union, 2/2/1973 [PHOTO: Rick U.]

Luckily, good sense prevailed. The following is an account from     Rochester History: Rochester's City Halls    of how the old Federal Building became Rochester's new City Hall:

In 1972, when officials dedicated the new Rochester Federal Building, the destruction of the old one seemed nearly certain. Already, however, the Landmark Society of Western New York had submitted an application to gain National Register status for the building while the city's Preservation Board conferred to make it an official city landmark...The city, which changed administrations following local elections in 1973, was persuaded to pay for a series of feasibility studies on the re-adaption of the structure for use as a new city hall.    Superficial deterioration and unwise maintenance practices in the old federal building gave rise to more than a few second thoughts about its suitability for purchase and reuse. Strongly worded editorials in both local newspapers suggested that preservationist efforts in its behalf were misdirected. Indeed, during the last years of federal ownership the building presented a forbidding and gloomy appearance. Much of its interior had, over the years, received coats of government green paint; woodwork was covered with dark varnish and falling plaster attested to problems in the roof. Dirt covered the exterior sandstone and the skylight which had been designed to illuminate the     cortile

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[Thanks to     Richard Margolis

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and     Rick U.

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for the great photos, and Rick also for story idea.]

Update On Zoning & Preservation Code Changes...

And in an update to a related story, you might remember that     Mayor Richards had been seeking to change Rochester's zoning and preservation laws    to make easier for buildings to be demolished. After those documents were leaked on, neighborhood leaders across the city voiced their disapproval and the administration has backed down - for now.

According to the Landmark Society, changes to the preservation code have been tabled for at least six months (possibly a year). Minor changes may be made to the zoning code but any changes in the future will be vetted through the preservation community first. And any future changes will continue to allow for a 3rd-party landmark nomination; something the City had tried to do away with in a     previously "leaked" draft    . The Mayor's office and the Zoning Director did not return my requests for comment.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA