A Journey in Architecture

George Eastman House

Back in 1877, most wealthy New York City residents built their summer homes on Long Island or in the Hudson River Valley. Not true for Frederick Ferris Thompson (1836-1899), founder of the First National Bank of New York City, which became Citibank, and his wife Mary Lee Clark Thompson (1835-1923), daughter of the New York State governor. Choosing instead to vacation in Mary’s hometown, the couple from 1885 to 1887 built a beloved summer retreat on their 52-acre Canandaigua estate, calling it Sonnenberg, German for “sunny hill.” Their three-story, 40-room Queen Anne-style house is constructed of rusticated gray stone, trimmed in Medina sandstone, and gables of half timber and stucco. The major rooms on the first floor are the grand dining room, trophy room, billiard room, library, circular rotunda and two-story Great Hall, shown here.


In 1868, Henry W. Sage, a lumber industrialist and a founding trustee of Cornell University, challenged the three-year-old institution to embrace the “idea of educating young women as thoroughly as young men.” Sage then provided a $250,000 donation to build Sage Hall, a combination dormitory and classroom building. Construction of the Victorian brick building began in 1872 under the design guidance of the university’s professor of architecture, Charles Babcock. With Sage Hall completed in 1875, the university became one of the pioneer coeducational institutions in America. Above the four stories of the facade rises a dramatic spire and on the rear elevation, a high-peaked tower also pierces the sky, but stops short of the spire’s flamboyance.


One of the best examples of Art Deco style in New York State, and arguably in America, is the Niagara Mohawk Building in Syracuse. This dramatic seven-story structure, headquarters of the Niagara Mohawk Power Company, was built in 1932. The facade is constructed of gray brick and stone in a series of setbacks, with additional cladding in stainless steel, aluminum, and black glass. The ornamentation is truly opulent, complete with parallel bands, zigzags, and chevrons. At the base of the tower stands the “Spirit of Light,” a 28-foot-high male figure with outstretched arms from which rays of light emanate like
giant wings.


Gideon Granger, Jr. (1767-1822) served as U.S. postmaster general from 1801 until he retired in 1814 and moved his family to 10 acres of scenic property just a few blocks from downtown Canandaigua. Here, Granger built a homestead that he predicted would be “unrivaled in all the nation.” The magnificent Federal-style mansion, inspired by the works of the distinguished British architect, Robert Adam, took two years to build and was completed in 1816. Four generations of the Granger family occupied the house, which is now a museum incorporating the original elaborately handcrafted moldings and fireplace mantels, as well as much of the original furnishings.


In 1905, George Eastman (1854-1932), founder of the great photographic enterprise, Eastman Kodak Company, built his dream house, a 35,000-square-foot mansion in Georgian Revival style with 37 rooms, 13 baths, and nine fireplaces. The baronial edifice is the largest single-family house in Monroe County and is as close to what the English call a “stately home” as it gets in these parts. When Eastman moved in, he noted that the conservatory seemed too square and that the proportions should be made more rectangular, so he ordered that the house be cut in half and the rear part moved back nine feet. The effort cost more than the original house itself, and his architect, J. Foster Warner, noted, “I learned a lesson in proportions.” Today, the meticulously restored house is a National Historic Landmark.

photography by Andy Olenick, text by Richard O. Reisem

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *