Rochester has eight preservation districts, which encompass just over 1,000 properties. The districts were created by the city government to protect the area’s exceptional architectural character. The first district was designated in 1969, with the most recent in 1993.
The largest and oldest district is the East Avenue Preservation District, which covers East, Park and University Avenues and the streets in between, from Alexander St. to Probert St.. This is one of the country’s premier preservation districts, because it holds varied and impressive buildings and is very intact. The next largest district is Mt. Hope/Highland, which preserves much of the area that was once the Ellwanger and Barry nursery, including the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Highland Park.
Four districts are either in or near downtown. Grove Place, near the Eastman School of Music, offers great city living. Brown’s Race, also known as High Falls, highlights the popularity of historic architecture as an entertainment setting. Corn Hill/Third Ward holds one of the country’s premier arts festivals each summer. And the Susan B. Anthony district reflects the image of an old New England village, with wood and brick homes ringing an historic square.
Two other districts are small, yet preserve unique architecture in unique parts of the city: the Beach Avenue and South Avenue/Gregory Street districts.
Each district covers a very distinct portion of a neighborhood, not the whole area. Maps and a list of properties included in preservation districts can be found by clicking on the district names in the above paragraphs, or through the the “Buying a House” section of the Rochester City Living website of the Landmark Society’s Home Room project. For your own copy of maps and property lists, call the Landmark Society at 546-7029, x10, or visit the city’s Bureau of Buildings and Zoning, Room 125B, City Hall, or call the bureau at 428-7063. Ask for a brochure called “Can I Paint My House Purple?”.
By no means is every significant area designated a district. A survey of the city, done in 1986 and updated in 2001, identifies many more areas with significant architectural heritage. And as time goes by, more areas reach a point of historical significance. Indeed, buildings constructed in our lifetimes may soon become landmarks.
Within the districts, many properties are outstanding examples of architecture or landscape design, and clearly deserve protection. Others, though, are more basic, and yet because of their locations or features, enhance the beauty of the area. The grouping of properties into districts protects an overall aesthetic, the “safety in numbers” idea. Unfortunately, there are no aesthetic regulations on the properties just outside a district, so the district boundaries can become invisible lines between a beauty and a beast.
In addition to the districts, city government has designated about 65 individual properties as city landmarks. Some are within preservation districts, but many are not. Because these properties are extra special for being outstanding historically, architecturally or culturally, they are regulated to a slightly higher standard than properties in preservation districts.
Among these properties are City Hall, the Powers Building, Holy Redeemer Church, and the Ontario Beach carousel. Also on the list is a downtown street–Goldsmith Place–that dates from the early 1800s. As is true with the preservation districts, not every important property has been designated. Some obvious examples are the Rundel Library, the Wilder Building, and the former University Club.
Proprties listed as individual landmarks lack the crucial protection offered by districts, in that nearby properties are not regulated for aesthetic compatibility. A clear case in point is the stretch of East Main Street just outside downtown, where major landmarks–Corpus Christi church, the Masonic Temple (a.k.a. the Auditorium Theater), and the Eastman Dental Dispensary–are surrounded by muffler shops and burger joints. This area is an obvious choice for a preservation district. (Sadly, the imposing Armory building, centered in this potential district, has no official landmark designation or protection.)
With all of the districts and all but two individual properties, only the exteriors are regulated. Anything can be done to the interiors, as long as the changes do not impact the exterior. The two exceptions are the former Hallman’s Chevrolet Showroom (now Spot Coffee) and the Masonic Temple (the Auditorium). Because of the large expanses of glass at Hallman’s, the interior is so visible to the exterior that one cannot be considered separate from the other. The auditorium is important for its overall design and character. And, again, there are many more interior spaces worthy of landmark protection but, for now, we’ve only got two.