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New Perspectives on an Old Bridge

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by Wayne Goodman

The photographs presented in Richard Margolis’s new book on the Hojack Swing Bridge (The Hojack Swing Bridge Its History–and Its Future) provide the reader not only with an incredible history, but they also provide the reader with a unique opportunity to view this historic bridge in different settings and from varied perspectives. Whether the photos are historic or modern, color or black and white, panoramic or detailed, they gives us the ability to see and contemplate this resource in diverse conceptions. It is this very paradigm—seeing the bridge in various perspectives—that is most important today. It is now more important than ever to consider this bridge in alternative “views.”

The most recent discussion about the bridge’s uncertain future has alarmed The Landmark Society of Western New York. Perhaps surprisingly to some, it is not merely the possibility of removal that is most disturbing, but it is the fact that no creative options have ever been fully discussed or considered to see this bridge in an innovative way. There have been no formal negotiations to consider the possibilities of how this resource could be reinvented or reconceived in a new use, instead of remaining what some consider a rusting eyesore. Knee-jerk conclusions have been drawn before any true thought has been given to options.

Contemporary historic preservation philosophy realizes that our historic structures are not only preserved for history’s sake, but they are preserved to further economic development opportunities, to create jobs, to retain an area’s unique sense of place, to encourage tourism and to add an irreplaceable element of community enhancement. At its core is the need to be creative with our old and often forgotten or neglected historic structures. Adaptation, reuse potential, contextual design and community input are all vital in investigating the feasibility of preserving a historic resource.

In his new book, Richard Margolis has clearly and painstakingly demonstrated this resource’s significance – a resource that is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. While there are those they may not “like” the bridge’s appearance or its location, the fact remains that this is a very rare and significant historic structure. It is a resource that very few communities possess. It is part of our identity. Rare and unique resources provide us the opportunity to set ourselves apart. In an era that is witnessing a rejection of uniformity in community design, this bridge gives us the ability to potentially make Hojack a great, historic and unique asset.

Can the bridge be adapted to serve a new purpose? Can creative design make it an attractive feature that all would hold dear? Could the bridge be an incredibly unique component to a revitalized harbor community? What are the cost comparisons to full removal, potential relocation or stabilization and restoration? These and other questions have never even been fully discussed with the Coast Guard, CSX Railroad, the City of Rochester and organizations and businesses that have a stake in the area, despite calls for such action. These discussions should take place before hasty decisions lead to the loss of a resource that can never be replaced. In the end, can the bridge be saved and reused in some capacity for some unique use? No one knows. That is the point – no one knows. We need to know.

The Landmark Society’s greatest fear is that an impulsive decision based on no creativity, with no chance to even deliberate possibilities, will lead to a loss that may not be necessary. And, not unlike other architectural losses in Rochester’s past that we now view as unbelievably poor decisions, this decision will almost immediately be regretted and lamented. Let us all be dedicated in ensuring that immediate regret does not happen yet again. The final outcome for this bridge’s future should be reached only after sincere and diligent attempts are exercised to find any viable options.

Stay tuned. I encourage everyone interested in how Western New York’s heritage can lead to a more prosperous future to follow this situation and become involved by letting your voice be heard. Before we once again lose such a resource, thorough and genuine examination of options is not too much to ask.

Wayne is Executive Director of The Landmark Society.

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New Perspectives on an Old Bridge

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