Friday, May 30, 2008

Urban News Vol. 18

I come to you today with two tales from Scranton. Both authors bill their subjects as examples of the proverbial "progress," though I'd venture that only one actually is. I'll leave it to you to determine which is which.

by David Falchek, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:
  • Developer Donald Rinaldi's Renaissance at 500 underway after four years of planning
  • Since work began, new gas, electricity, water, and sewer service has been installed
  • Several false facades have been removed to be replaced or restored to their original form
  • Highlights include: The Bogart Boutiques at ground level in the rear alley, a public park on an old elevated railway platform, a public plaza in the one vacant lot on the block leading to the Boutiques and Park, and 13 high-end condominiums starting at 1300 square feet.
  • Last surviving block of the original Lackawanna corridor will pay great attention to architectural preservation

Growing up I'd always walk on the other side of the street as I looked across to see the decaying old billiards halls, furniture stores, and pawn shops. Twenty years ago, three other blocks similar in stature to this one were imploded amid great fanfare in the name of the only type of 'progress' the 1980's ever knew, the enclosed shopping mall. While I will admit that the Mall at Steamtown has been a much larger success than I initally imagined, it is important that this block does not meet a similar fate and is being recognized and saved for what it is rather than what it isn't.

Dust Signals Progress in Downtown Rebirth
by James Haggerty, Scranton Times-Tribune

Article Key Points:

  • Crews are demolishing 245-247 Wyoming Ave and 246 Penn Ave, both owned by Jerry Joyce
  • Plans for the large St. Peter's Square project are on hold
  • A new three story building will be built at the Penn Avenue location
  • "We were talking about trying to restore the building," Mr. Joyce said. "It's just not structurally worthy of restoration."
  • Demolition proceeding carefully to preserve the stone-walled basement and vaults

It would appear my brother and I became recorders of history on that late March day (Urban News Vol. 9) as he snapped the pictures of the painted brick advertisement returned to the sunshine from under a cheap addition to 246 Penn Avenue. Despite Jerry Joyce's proclamations that $250,000 would be invested to develop the building's four floors into space for commercial and professional tenants, there was a large hole in the ground as we walked the same route just two months later.

All that remained of a historic wholesale district corner anchor was an insubstantial excuse that neither I nor Wayne Evans of the Architectural Heritage Association are buying. His May 11th letter to the editor of the Times-Tribune, entitled "Losses in Many Ways," brings up many salient points beyond simple stylistic taste:

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing demolition of the Coney Island building on Lackawanna and Cedar avenues and the former Pub Charles building on Penn Avenue, both in downtown Scranton.

These two buildings that are under demolition are over 100 years old and were prominent corner anchor buildings. They were well-built, sturdy structures that certainly had not outlived their usefulness. Both surely represented a great deal of time and energy expended in their construction and maintenance. Each building possesses a great deal of architectural integrity; Coney Island in the Romanesque style with its beautiful brick arches and Pub Charles, a classic example of the Italianate style. Many similar buildings have been properly restored and adapted for reuse for today’s urban lifestyle both across the country and here in Scranton.

The above factors are very important and can stand alone as reasons why they should not have been demolished, but in addition there are other important considerations that may have been overlooked in this time of environmental awareness.

We would like to point out the hidden waste in addition to the actual dollar amount expended for demolition. It takes the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to make, deliver and install eight bricks. Preserving these bricks instead of discarding them means that the energy of a gallon of gas can be used to meet other needs.

Another concern is the need to conserve rapidly dwindling landfill capacity. It will take an enormous amount of landfill space to dispose of the remains of these two buildings. Reusing old buildings saves the energy required to demolish and replace them with new buildings. Properly rehabilitated buildings use no more energy on the average than brand new green buildings.

In addition to the loss of our important historic fabric we believe that the demolition of these two buildings fosters a mindset that lacks sound environmental strategies. Our organization stands ready to assist any property owner who wishes to preserve rather than demolish their historic structures; our future should always be linked to our past.


It would appear that my personal plea to repaint the bricks to retain character fell on deaf ears. It could be done on a new building, but of course wouldn't be the same. My next planned entry is a review based on first impressions of the Rochester Regional Community Design Center's 2008 Charrette Vision Plan full report based on the 2007 Downtown Design Charrette. Unless other more pressing news comes to the forefront, I'll write again either Sunday morning or early next week.

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