Thursday, January 8, 2009

Great American Architecture Vol. 6

I've got an architecture post today derived from some news that was passed along to me earlier in the week. The subject is the Mizpah Building on Columbus Circle in downtown Syracuse. After reading the following news excerpt detailing the lack of progress in restoring the historic structure, I decided to do a little homework and decided it was worthy of the spotlight on its own merits, not contingent on developmental and political drama.

by Greg Munno, Syracuse Post-Standard

Terracotta skinned from from the basement level to the sky, the Mizpah Hotel combined religious and commercial functions under one roof as the First Baptist Church of Syracuse occupied the semi-circular auditorium from 1914 to 1988. Designed by architect Gordon A. Wright, once head of the Syracuse University Architectural Department, and built in 1914, this Gothic Revival was one of Syracuse's first instances of reinforced concrete construction.

"The building's upper three stories were originally connected with the YMCA building next door on Montgomery street and housed the Y's overflow. The rooms were once furnished with Stickley furniture. In the 1940's the connection to the YMCA was closed and the upper floors became an independent hotel. At one time the church's minister enjoyed a five-room penthouse surrounded by roof gardens."

Hotel management was assumed by the church in the 1960's to provide rooms for single women. It was at this time that the Mizpah moniker was bestowed. While the 1980's weren't kind to anything (least of all hairstyles!), they were especially cruel to the Mizpah. If you notice in the picture from the 1930's, all towers are crested in finials. A lightning storm is the official explanation of the loss of two-thirds of this unique ornamentation. In addition 43 of the church's stained glass windows were lifted after the assumption of the property by the City of Syracuse.

Things were looking up for the magnificent Mizpah in December 2005 upon sale to Syracuse Bangkok, LLC, a partnership formed of mixed-use developers and historic structure restorers. Despite the apparent delay in tangible restoration, a positive is that work designed to winterize the structure and prevent further damage occurred in early 2006 and was paid for in full. The following from the Downtown Syracuse Development Showcase outlines the plans for the property:

"The project team proposes to turn this former Baptist Church into a Ramada Hotel that includes 101 hotel rooms, a full service restaurant, day spa, and auditorium...The hotel is intended to serve business and university travelers with rooms equipped with high-speed Internet access, writing desks and a business center."

I'd like to end today by linking you to something giving me more concern for the attitude of leadership in Syracuse going forward. While I'd go as far to say that Steve Kearney, Syracuse's Senior City Planner understands the importance of density and the value of infrastructure projects vs. luxuries (-cough, canal, cough-), Mayor Matt Driscoll seems to actually favor the pockmarked arrangement of gaps in the urban fabric to make sure people have the ultimate in convenience in terms of accessing their precious motors.

Posted to CNY Speaks (Post-Standard Blog) by Greg Munno

My take is eloquently tabulated by the first commenter, Joe Lorenz of Be sure to read joebass123's discourse immediately below the article (blog entry?). Well done, Joe. I especially appreciated your use of the 'missing teeth' terminology, the footprint issues, and the one-way vs. two-way debate regarding city vitality and pedestrian safety. These concepts are not well understood by a public who have accepted the suburban paradigm, never pausing to quanitfy exactly what makes their preferred city districts (like Armory Square) vibrant and exciting places to be compared to their sterile motoring 'paradise.'

1 comment:

JoeBass123 said...

thanks for the link. a shame about mizpah. it's such a beautiful building. hopefully it can get utilized in some way in the near future. i could be wrong but i think the syracuse symphony played there as well for a time being, before moving to the civic center.

that 5-room penthouse with a roof garden sounds pretty swank.

as for warren street, i'm still surprised that this plan got passed so easily and quickly in the name of natural light. i suppose it's one of the drawbacks of our society being currently obsessed with the word "green". at any rate, i found this recent article interesting. it goes on about a time capsule buried there back in the 1950's that hasn't been recovered yet.