The “911” for Old Buildings

Parrott Hall, Geneva
02/20/2020
by Laurel C. Wemett

Protecting this region’s unique architectural heritage for the past 80 years has been the mission of The Landmark Society of Western New York. The non-profit group fosters “healthy, livable and sustainable communities” by promoting sound preservation and planning practices across nine counties: Monroe, Wayne, Livingston, Seneca, Ontario, Yates, Genesee, Wyoming, and Orleans.

From its headquarters in the historic Warner Castle in Rochester’s Highland Park, The Landmark Society provides wide-ranging educational programs, tours, grants, and resources. It is the go-to organization for questions about adapting or saving a building or landscape. It also oversees three Rochester properties of its own: the Stone-Tolan House Historic Site, the Ellwanger Garden, and St. Joseph’s Park.

“We’re the 911 for old buildings,” quips Landmark Society’s Preservation Planner Caitlin Meives. They often hear from homeowners and developers needing to make a building handicap accessible. Others face at-risk situations – prominent mansions in a state of deterioration, notable commercial buildings without tenants, churches with dwindling congregations unable to maintain them, rare industrial structures up for sale, valued educational institutions facing costly repairs, and designed landscapes threatened by alterations.

“We try to find an economic way to reuse a building. Preservation isn’t freezing things in amber,” explains Meives. A site’s revitalization can help to create local jobs, stimulate investment, increase tax revenues, and build sustainable communities. Meives stresses the importance of grassroots support for the built environment. “We don’t go into a community and tell people what to do.”

Meives oversees grants for pre-construction studies, repairs, feasibility, and condition reports, but she cautions they receive requests for twice the available $10,000 given annually.

Five to Revive, a list of “irreplaceable historic resources,” has been named annually since 2013. “Each year, these become priority projects for Landmark Society staff and programs as we work collaboratively with owners, municipal officials, and developers to facilitate investment and foster rehabilitation,” says Wayne Goodman, The Landmark Society’s executive director

“In the 1960s, the preservation movement focused on high-style homes,” says Meives, who oversees Five to Revive. “Today we want a variety of resources and building types.” Selection criteria include architectural/design integrity, historical significance, degree of endangerment, potential catalytic impact, and likelihood that inclusion on list will help facilitate a positive outcome. Some listings are thematic, like “Traditional Trades” (carpentry, masonry, metalwork and skills to rehabilitate historic buildings), recognized in 2016.

Here are the 2019 Five to Revive.

1. Highland Reservoir and Cobbs Hill Reservoir, Rochester.
Each is a prominent component of the city’s parks system, integral to the designs of renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. Today, both water features face potentially drastic alterations to comply with a federal law requiring public water systems to add physical covers over the reservoirs or provide additional water treatment to protect against microbial contaminants. The Landmark Society believes an economically responsible solution can be found that will respect the essential character of these important parks.

2. 6 Madison Street in the Susan B Anthony Neighborhood, Rochester
This two-and-a-half-story brick house, unused for more than 20 years and one of the few vacant properties in the Susan B Anthony neighborhood, awaits rehabilitation.

3. King’s Daughters and Sons Building, Dansville
The c.1860 three-story brick building served variously as the Dansville Seminary, the town’s first hospital, and an assisted living facility. It is now vacant and suffering internal damage but its location makes it a prime candidate for residential reuse.

4. Hamlet of Childs, Orleans County
Childs boasts a unique historic character – the Tillman’s Historic Village Inn and Fair Haven Inn, several pre-Civil War wood frame and brick houses, and the National Historic Landmark Cobblestone Museum. Planning and zoning practices are encouraged to enable sensitive new construction and pedestrian-oriented infrastructure and design.

5. Adaptive Reuse of historic houses of worship
This thematic listing reflects declining church membership across the region and elsewhere resulting in limited resources to maintain these buildings. New uses must be found. Representing this theme are: the Historic Parsells Church, Rochester, Trinity Church, Geneva, Logan Community Center, Hector, and the Wesleyan Church, Seneca Falls.

The Landmark Society is proud that since Five to Revive began only one listed building, the Hotel DeMay in Greece, New York was demolished. Threats to at-risk buildings like Geneva’s Parrott Hall have been greatly reduced (see sidebar). In an upcoming 2020 article the magazine will feature the Lehigh Valley Railroad Roundhouse in the Village of Manchester listed in 2017.


Saved!

Parrott Hall in Geneva was one of The Landmark Society of Western New York’s Five to Revive in 2018, the year it was scheduled for demolition. The striking Italianate-style building with its ornate cast iron veranda was the home of Nehemiah and Louisa Denton, successful agriculturalists who moved to Geneva in 1852. Thirty years later the mansion on West North Street, along with 125 acres and outbuildings were sold to New York State to establish the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Over its history significant contributions were made in its laboratories to the history of botany, including advances in carpology (study of fruits and seeds), agriculture, horticulture, plant pathology, and dairy production.

Denton House later became Parrott Hall, named after Percival John Parrott, an entomologist and Experiment Station director from 1938 to 1942. It was used by the state until 1968 and in 1971, due to its historic and architectural significance, was the first property in Geneva listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) took it over in 1975, but by the 1980s maintenance proved inadequate. Plans to renovate it as an historic site were not realized.

“I’ve walked by Parrott Hall every work day for 39 years,” says researcher Bruce Reisch of Cornell AgriTech, the new name for the Experiment Station. The professor of grapevine breeding and genetics’ Hedrick Hall office overlooks Parrott Hall. “I could not stand idly by,” says Reisch when the building was threatened. With others he established the Friends of Parrott Hall, a non-profit organization, in 2017. Thanks to a coalition formed between the Friends, The Landmark Society, the Preservation League of New York State, and the City of Geneva, the building was saved.

By 2018, the city of Geneva secured a $400,000 Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) grant from the NYS OPRHP to support initial stabilization and restoration of Parrott Hall. A 10-year license agreement was issued by OPRHP and a Memorandum of Understanding among coalition members was signed. The grant will fund a temporary patch over the hole in the main roof; full roof replacement; stabilization of interior stairway and framing; rebuilding the veranda; exterior masonry and paint work. A feasibility study, not yet funded, is planned. One option for Parrott Hall is as an outreach site for agricultural and food sciences.

The Five to Revive recognition, according to Reisch, demonstrated “this is really moving forward.” Many people, especially in Geneva, have responded to the appeal for donations and members of the Parrott family have joined the Friends’ board. To find out how to donate, or to see historic photos of Parrott Hall, visit friendsofparrotthall.org.


For more information on The Landmark Society of Western New York, the 2019 Five to Revive properties, and the 2013-2018 listings, visit landmarksociety.org or call 585-546-7029.

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