Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Discarded and Forgotten: RIT's Downtown Campus Vol. 4

The era of acquistion and razing had been in full swing for over four years by the time Armistice Day, 1958 rolled around. On this day, the moniker 'Concrete Campus' would be passionately reinforced and symbolically stamped on the forehead of The Institute at the dedication of Veteran's Memorial 'Park.' This sterile conrete patio, where the Clark Union once stood, and focused inward at nothing in particular, became the largest, though not the first, 'missing tooth' in RIT's urban tapestry.

Beginning with the acquisition of the Graflex, Inc. Clarissa Street plant (and its precious 138 car parking lot) in October of 1955, RIT would eventually own almost everything between Troup, Broad, Plymouth, and Clarissa. Their zeal was justified by overwhelming enrollment numbers, resulting in overcrowded accomodations and facilities. As early as the beginning of the 1956-57 school year, a large number of freshman were forced off-campus due to lack of space. Rumored Middle States Association accreditation, which would finally arrive in May of 1958, only served to swell the ranks that much more.

Despite rejecting roughly half of all applicants, the 56-57 school year would see an anticipated enrollment of between 1800 to 1900 students. Of that number, about 800 would be freshmen. At approximately the midway point of that campaign, President Mark Ellingson issued the following address:

"It is agreed thoroughly that a men's dormitory and student union building are two of the most necessary structures in our expanding transitional period. Our Board of Trustees has set up a committee and has made preliminary plans with respect to size and possible location. It is our expectation that a men's dorm would house from 500-600 students and the student union building could accommodate the Medical Department, Counseling Center and all of the food services of The Institute along with student facilities."

Only 48 days later, on April 4, 1957, a 25-year loan transaction valued at over $1 million was completed by RIT and the Housing and Home Finance Agency to finance the purchase of the Hotel Rochester from the Manger Hotel Corporation. This arrangement would place The Institute in debt for the first time in 40 years, but was deemed necessary to satisfy a desperate need for men's student housing.

The acquisition of the hotel would increase the total housing accommodations by 225 beds as inadequate barracks buildings would be razed and use of Clark Union (102 Spring St.) as dormitory space on upper floors would be disontinued. Floors 3 through 10 would be utilized as dormitory space for 450 male students. Banquet rooms would be retained as meeting rooms and additional classroom space. According to Ellingson, major considerations in negotiations for an existing structure versus building new were the cost per occupant ($2,475 vs. $4,500-$4,600) and the timeframe involved in bringing a new building into operation.

More property acquisition was not far behind as just one month later a house containing five apartments at 170 Spring Street was purchased solely to be razed in order to provide more parking behind the gymnasium. 143 Spring Street, the property of RIT alumnus Paul Wilde, was also acquired with the intention of razing, but with no further information on future use of the grounds.

Upon returning to campus for the 1957-58 school year, students found a familiar landmark, The Clark Union, nearly completely demolished. Having served as men's residence hall and student union for over a decade, the building orignally known as 'The Jenkinson' was built on the site the first mayor of Rochester, Jonathan Child, built his first home in 1829. The Jenkinson was said to have contained the first hydraulically operated elevator in the city. The 'Barracks' residence halls, rumored to have been sold to RIT for the cost of shipping from an Army base in South Carolina, met their demise shortly thereafter.

As a result of the demise of Clark Union, the Student Association was forced to look elsewhere for student union facilities. They found a home at 90 Troup Street, a home owned by the institute that had not been used in the past year. In a very different era, association leaders decided that refinishing of the interior could be accomplished by student groups in order to keep the cost under the $3,000 budget set by the institute administration.

The biggest story on campus come fall 1958 was proposed increase in the price of student parking permits from $5 to $10 per year. Contentious student council votes and negotiations with the administration failed to pacify the 360 motor owners who officially protested through petition. Despite an increasing expense report related to lot improvements, in classic automobile operator fashion, it was expected that someone else would bear the cost for daily storage.

Despite the exhibited angst, acquisitions for expanded parking facilities continued through the purchases of three properties on Clarissa and Spring Streets. The former Hathaway Bakery on Clarissa Street was the target in this instance, an inconvenience precluding 53,000 square feet of ground from being used for its intended purpose, Institute student parking.

More to come...

As a pair of asides, this February 14, 1958 piece encapsulates the feeling of the time regarding the Monroe County Civic Center, our disgraceful Courthouse/Jail complex and its accompanying plaza, barricaded from actual civic participation by a chainlink fence perched atop an artificial bunker-like embankment used to park cars. Note the other differences between what was envisioned and what was ultimately built.

In the picture to the left, note the Campbell-Whittlesey House as the original incarnation of the inner loop bends to travel over the river.

Work is now underway on Rochester's 43 million dollar Civic Center which is to be located on Plymouth Ave. near the traffic "loop." Within view of RIT, this project will cover 26 acres of city-owned land in the heart of town.

Dr. Leo Smith, dean of instruction at RIT, feels that the Civic Center will indirectly increase the value of RIT property, since we are located so near the building site. Property value in the area will raise considerably, as the Civic Center will improve the entire RIT neighborhood, states Dr. Smith. "If nothing else," he comments, "it will provide us with a nearby group of new buildings and a plot of green grass to look at."

Construction will begin with the public safety building, which is expected to be completed by the summer of 1959. Consisting of four buildings, a large plaza, and an underground parking area the center has been one of Rochester's most controversial subjects for quite a few years. The newly constructed War Memorial Building and the Rundell Library are considered a part of the entire Civic Center and the new buildings will be similarly constructed. The buildings will be of steel construction, sheathed in off-white limestone, matching the War Memorial in color.

Important to solve parking problems, the underground parking area will have approximately 1300 car spaces and will be made available for evening parking for those who are attending War Memorial events. Past parking problems show that additional parking spaces are a definite necessity at the War Memorial. Excavation for the two-level underground parking area will start this summer.

With the plazas the central point of the center, one of the buildings, the city-county office headquarters will be approximately twenty stories high and will house office workers in both departments. In addition to the four buildings near RIT, two additional buildings will be constructed across the river adjacent to the Rundell Library.

Crowded space in the court house and city hall make new construction a necessity for both city and county governments.

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