Rochester’s historic Carnegie Building at 274 North Goodman Street can now officially be demolished, marking a significant loss to what has remained of the University of Rochester’s old Prince Street campus.
Had to try to save this wonderful building, and certainly worth doing so, despite the obstacles. And not simply because my great-grandfather, Professor Herman LeRoy Fairchild, U of R Professor of Geological and Natural Sciences, had his office in the Carnegie Building a century ago.
This fine structure facing the Memorial Art Gallery across the old campus lawn represents an integral part of this now-disappearing historic campus. Such fine masonry craftsmanship as seen there would never be duplicated today. Character and history have a cachet that cannot be replicated by new construction.
Rehabilitation was certainly a viable option, but was not as simple for everyone as was demolition. The easier method was selected, with none of the persons involved in the process seriously examining how to rehabilitate the building, instead simply brushing aside that alternative.
The City of Rochester currently has about 5,000 structures officially termed "Designated Buildings of Historic Value" (D.B.H.V), of which the Carnegie Building was one. Such buildings cannot be demolished without permission from the City Zoning Board of Appeals, unless an emergency threat to public safety intervenes.
Building owners over the years have seemed all too ready to invoke this loophole to historic preservation. The resulting dialogue is thus whether to demolish, not how to save and rehabilitate.
My belief is that "emergency" scenarios should first call for fencing the public away from any risky situation, and then promptly analyzing in good faith what it would take to do a respectful rehabilitation of the building at issue. Only then could demolition and rehabilitation be compared with each other to establish the best course forward, considering both the economics and the diminishing surviving heritage of the City of Rochester.
This issue of demolition vs. rehabilitation will continue to arise with numerous other of the 5,000 D.B.H.V. buildings in the city, such as the church on West Main Street proposed for demolition for some type of big box store.
More effective protection of our heritage via D.B.H.V designation needs to be addressed prior to other such crises arising, with more emphasis on how to save our remaining important buildings.
On the Carnegie Building, the hearing officer could just as easily have found that any danger to the public was in abeyance while the chain link fence around the building stayed in place during rehabilitation work.
Most of the original post-and-beam construction of this century-old building survives in good condition, as I witnessed inside the building. The undamaged vertical timbers inside the building bore the weight of the transverse horizontal beams.
The exterior walls were designed to bear their own weight on a free-standing basis. These exterior walls supported only the extremities of the horizontal beams, which were already being cantilevered from interior vertical posts.
The only wall removal that has happened thus far was the middle section between two corners on the North Goodman Street side, where the surviving parts of the walls constituted right-angle bracing to the longer front and back walls.
The structural situation parallels the similar configuration on West Main Street in the Nothnagle Building, whose design a Carnegie Building rehabilitation may well have emulated.
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