Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 25, 1957

Is it me, or does the idea of burying a time capsule at the New York State Fair seem like a bit of an oxymoron? I mean, how nostalgic can it be to unearth a decades-old time capsule when the top pop groups of the era are most likely playing at Chevy Court or the Grandstand? I know, I know, the person who started a blog to lament the loss of Syracuse past disrespecting the 162 year old fair is a bit of an oxymoron itself, but to me, growing up, it always seemed what the Fair was passing off as tradition came across more like lack of imagination. I suppose if Syracuse--or my life--had been hard-charging and chaotic for the other 50 1/2 weeks of the year, then I could have appreciated the sameness of the Fair experience as a constant, like classic comfort food, but as Syracuse itself seemed static and stuck in (post-urban renewal) time during my childhood/teenage years, the Fair came across as a celebration of the safety of routine.

Plus, it signified the end of summer, and that always sucked.

In 1957, though, the Railroad Committee of Central New York had change on their minds, and decided to have at least one new exhibit for 2007 - the opening of a time capsule. According to an August 25, 1957 article in the Post-Standard, the Committee expected to receive predictions of American life and rail transportation in the year 2007 from President Eisenhower, New York Governor W. Averell Harriman, and leaders of New York State industries and government. To make certain that the capsule was not lost, the rail committee would "place a marker and moving hooks on the cement encasement."

As far as I know, this time capsule was not unearthed at last year's Fair (Bowzer's Ultimate Doo Wop Party notwithstanding). Perhaps this is because, unlike the last time capsule discovery (which has since been duly noted by the Onondaga Historical Association), it's rather questionable whether this time capsule was even buried. There are no further mentions of the capsule in any newspaper. Also, the article specifically states that predictions were "expected" from various leaders. As the 1957 fair began five days later after the publication of this article (August 30-September 7, 1957), shouldn't they have had this information by August 25?

It's probably just as well that it wasn't dug up (or even buried), because what a midway buzzkill it would be to have to hear predictions of high-speed and maglev trains criss-crossing the country at speeds up to 300 mph. On the other hand, train travel was well on the decline by 1957, as the Interstate Highway System had been authorized the year before, and the automobile was the main means of passenger transport. The trolleys in Syracuse had been gone for fifteen years. The Cold War was in full swing: the capsule itself was made of Pyroceram, so that "neither termites nor hydrogen bombs [would] be a threat to destruction." Given that August 1957 was a mere three months prior to the Sputnik launch, and that the theme of the 1957 NY State Fair was "today's youth--tomorrow's industry" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 29, 1957), it's quite possible that the leaders of the time saw grander transportation visions, such as:
  • "vertical landing and takeoff of all vehicles" (A prediction for transit in the the 1970s by Metropolitan Development Association president John Searles, The Post-Standard, January 27, 1969)
  • A downtown Syracuse heliport, to make possible rapid transport to downtown from Hancock Field, as "it seems a safe prediction by 1970, local helicopter service will be possible between Syracuse and such nearby communities as Rochester, Oswego, Watertown, Utica, Binghamton, Ithaca, Elmira, Geneva, Canandaigua and others."(Councilman Williams S. Andrews, quoted in the Syracuse Herald-American, April 18, 1965)
  • "Underground or overhead railed mass transit systems or improved buses, with flexibility to run on tracks or normal highways." (John Searles, with more predictions for transit in the 70s, The Post-Standard, January 27, 1969)
  • A statewide network of monorails, establishing "rights-of-way throughout the state, following major highway and railroad routes." The system, as proposed by Utica warehouse operator Gale A. Lytle, Sr. and Syracuse engineer John J. Barry, would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with shuttle buses running from downtowns and suburban areas to monorail stations. Lyle believed that the high-speed system would serve 80% of the New York population, and could travel from Buffalo to New York City in a little over three hours. There would be two major routes: one connecting Albany to Buffalo (and Canada), and the other would be a "scenic route" that would run through the Adirondacks from Utica to Montreal using the old Pennsylvania railroad right-of-way. Lyle and Barry thought that the monorail could be completed in two to three years, using highway contractors working on highway projects that would be cancelled in order to build the monorail. (The Post-Standard, June 17, 1971; Syracuse Herald-American, February 17, 1974)
  • A station-wagon rigged with railroad wheels, riding the Erie Lackawanna tracks from the State Fairgrounds through downtown and out to Jamesville during the evening commute, as part of an experiment for the importance of commuter rail transit spearheaded by Democratic candidate for city Common Councilman-at-Large Lee Alexander. Reporters rode along in the station wagon (substituting for a rail car) for "a ride so easy it was dull." Alexander expressed concern that the "Onondaga Interchange," then under construction, would only be the beginning of a city covered with highways and traffic jams. According to Alexander. Erie Lackawanna officials expressed a willingness to lease the tracks, and money was available under the National Transportation Act. (Syracuse Herald-American, October 16, 1966).
  • "Budd cars", available for loan from manufacturers, used on an experimental basis on the New York Central and Erie Lackawanna tracks. In a direct request to City Council President Roy D. Simmons, Councilman-at-Large Lee Alexander asked that a special Council committee be named to study the the "transportation crisis," as "a mass transit system capable of moving thousands of people through the city comfortably and efficiently...[was a] necessary factor for the survival of metropolitan centers such as Syracuse." The cars could be purchased via federal government funds specified for such a purpose, and inexpensive parking areas could be established in the suburbs, allowing commuters to ride the train for a reasonable fare into downtown. Alexander further stated that "a city's failure to provide a mass transit system compels the use of autos as the only means of transportation. If the auto remains the only available means of transportation, then we can expect greater reductions in our tax rolls as more and more space is devoted to highways and parking lots." (The Post-Standard, January 4, 1967, Syracuse Herald-Journal, February 13, 1967)
  • As "an insurance for the future," doing studies on the steps that need to be taken for acquiring the existing railroad rights-of-way and holding them in case they are ever needed. (The mass transit committee of the Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, Syracuse Herald-American, January 29, 1967)
  • Purchasing abandoned railroad rights-of-way and saving them for future use. If not used for transit purposes, rights-of-way could be used as "hiking trails, bicycle and bridle paths and for other recreation purposes." (A request made by seven state senators to Governor Rockefeller, The Post-Standard, March 24, 1967)
  • Reestablishing the trolley routes, but with electric trackless trolleys - buses with electric motors that receive their power from overhead wires, as the original Syracuse trolleys did. County Legislator John J. Haley believed that with increasing gas prices, people would be driving less, and diesel costs would be prohibitive for buses. New water-powered electricity generating facilities under construction in Canada would mean cheaper electricity for Syracuse, and capital costs of building the overhead wires could be supported by a Federal grant through the Urban Mass Transportation Administration. (The Post-Standard, February 27, 1980)
  • A light rail system from northern Oswego and Onondaga communities to downtown Syracuse (Centro chief Warren Frank, discussing the future of transit in Syracuse, Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 19, 1980)
  • A monorail or "series of gondolas" that would travel between the Carrier Dome, Hotel Syracuse and downtown. Under Centro chief Warren Frank's plan, the monorail could start travel through the Hotel Syracuse (similar to Disneyworld's monorail), as well as fifth floors of the Carrier Tower and MONY tower. Stops would then include the Civic Center and the War Memorial, before moving on to the hospital complex on Adams Street, and the Carrier Dome, "perhaps into a lobby." Several skybridges would also be built across Warren Street, to tie into the skybridges crossing South Salina Street. Eighty percent of the system would be built with federal dollars, and the rest with state and local funds. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, March 20, 1979)
And even if the ideas weren't similar to these, you have to think that if all the President, Governors, and leaders of industry could come up with was Amtrak and OnTrack, they wouldn't have bothered with the state-of-the-art time capsule. Civilization is destroyed due to a hydrogen bomb, and a failing/failed rail system is what would be left as a blueprint for transportation to any possible future generations?

Exactly fifty-one years after the time capsule mention, the Post-Standard once again printed an article regarding rail and the New York State Fair. In Sean Kirst's column on August 25, 2008, several Syracusans discussed their hopes and dreams for Syracuse with Kirst at this year's Fair. Once fairgoer lamented the loss of OnTrack, which he felt "with a little more imagination, could have been a tool to energize downtown." Democratic candidate for Congress Dan Maffei expressed a wish for a high-speed rail line between the Upstate cities and New York City. While Mr. Maffei's campaign slogan is a "A New Congressman, A New Direction," the wish for a high-speed line between the cities, is, unfortunately (as you can read above), not very new at all. But perhaps this time, the new direction can be this: before the speeches, before the studies, head to the Center of Progress at the New York State Fair. Not the building with the Ginsu knife and shower cleaner demonstrations, but the true Center of Progress: the location of this time capsule, if there's the slightest chance it is there. Unjaded by fifty years of mass transit rejections and failures, perhaps these buried predictions can get us on the right track again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

August 23, 1981

There's a fine line between euphoria and mania, and the American media has certainly crossed it with the Michael Phelps phenomenon. Eight gold medals in one Olympics is an amazing feat, but why does this mean that Michael Phelps is suddenly the Greatest Olympian and/or Athlete Ever? How are we to compare what Michael Phelps has done in the pool to what Tom Brady does on the football field, or Tiger Woods on the golf course? And how can we compare a sport that allows for one athlete to win eight medals, when the majority of Olympic sports only have one opportunity for one medal (including the ten-event decathlon)? Have we reduced the measure of athletic greatness to the amount of hardware and magazine covers an athlete receives? Are we simply saying that the greater the spectacle, the greater the achievement?

What is indisputable is that every Olympics needs its narrative, and Michael Phelps has certainly provided it for this games. Given that Syracuse is also currently searching for a storyline, perhaps we should also take a moment and ask, what is the measure of greatness for a city? Arenas? Bruce Springsteen concerts? Arenas that can host Bruce Springsteen concerts? While we all may have a hungry heart for The Boss and similar big-name events, we also occasionally bite off more than we can chew. Case in point: the NFL exhibition game between the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles in the Carrier Dome, August 23, 1981.

1981 was a banner year for sports in Syracuse. Not SU sports necessarily (SU football had a 5-6 record, leading to the resignation of seven-year coach Frank Maloney), but the Carrier Dome was transforming Syracuse into a nationally-recognized sporting venue. By August 1981, Syracuse had hosted a Sugar Ray Leonard-Larry Bonds welterweight title fight (attended by 21,000 and broadcast on HBO), the National Sports Festival and the Empire State Games, not to mention record-setting crowds for SU football and basketball. So when it was announced in March 1981 that the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles would be playing their third (of four) preseason game in the Carrier Dome, the news seemed to be earning Syracuse a reputation as, in the words of a Post-Standard editorial headline on July 16, 1981 headline, a "Sports Fans' Paradise." The Eagles were the reigning NFC champions, having lost to Oakland in Superbowl XV the past January. The Saints, unfortunately, had earned their nickname "the Aint's" the season prior, having lost 15 of their 16 regular season games. But the offseason had brought a new coach, O.A. "Bum" Phillips, as well as the top draft pick, 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers. There were stars on both sides of the field, including Eagles QB Ron Jaworski, Saints QB Archie Manning, Eagles cornerback Herm Edwards and coach Dick Vermeil. For 12 (endzone) or 16 (sideline) bucks, Syracuse had an incredible opportunity to see the NFL live in action, or so thought industrialist and philantropist J. Stanley Coyne, who underwrote the matchup as a charity game for ARC. For all ticket sales above the cost of upfront expenses, the profits would go to ARC. A tally of these expenses:
  • Guaranteed payment to Philadelphia Eagles: $150,000
  • Additional payment to the Eagles if the stadium sold out: $25,000
  • Guaranteed payment to New Orleans Saints: $150,000
  • Travel expenses for both teams: $70,000
  • Payment to Syracuse University (for dome rental, ticket-handling, busing and promotional expenses): $127,000
  • Miscellaneous expenses (advertising, etc.): $40,000
  • Syracuse Herald-Journal realizing on March 26, 1981 that having $562,000 in upfront costs for a charity game would require a minimum attendance of 35,000 to generate at least a $10,000 donation to ARC: priceless
What's striking is that Coyne, an entrepreneur who started his business during the Depression, entered into this obvious losing proposition. While the National Sports Festival could be considered a loss leader due to the long-term investment and exposure, the same could hardly be said for a one-time game that was intended to raise money for a charity. Disappointing developmentally disabled children in front of a national television audience doesn't exactly sell a city to the nation. Perhaps Coyne had been inspired years earlier by the Cerebral Palsy Clinic games of the late 40s/early 50s (organized by attorney Lionel Grossman), when near sell-out crowds of 22,000 attended NFL exhibition games at Archibold Stadium, including the final 1953 matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and then-national champions Detroit Lions. Given the increase in Syracuse population in the thirty years since, as well as the increased popularity of the NFL, Coyne may have assumed that the Dome would easily sell out 50,000 seats. Coyne flew Bum Phillips up to Syracuse for two press conferences, flew newspaper reporters down to New Orleans for a series of pre-game articles, and commissioned sculptor Buck Warren to carve a 25-foot high, 7 1/2 ton rose to carve out of California redwood as a gift to the Rose Bowl, to be presented during the Eagles/Saints halftime. Coyne did present this sculpture to the director of the Rose Bowl at halftime in the Dome, in front of Mayor Lee Alexander, County Executive John Mulroy and a grand total of 28,001 ticketholders.

If Syracuse's loss had only been a half-empty stadium on national television (NBC) for all of the country--save for the blacked-out areas in Central New York--to see, then it really wouldn't have been any worse than the 36-7 beating the Eagles gave the Saints. Think of it this way: if 1981 was Michael Phelps' 2004 Athens' games, then this would be the bronze disappointment compared the gold-medal performances of the Bonds-Leonard fight, the National Sports Festival, and the Empire State Games. But the players in this sport treated the bronze in a manner similar to wrestler Ara Abrahamian, stomping off and placing blame in a public forum, much to everyone else's discomfort and unease. Feeling bad that ARC would get no money from this charity game, Benedict LeStrange, executive vice president of Coyne International Enterprises, hit up representatives from the Eagles and Saints for $10,000 donations each at a cocktail party the night before the game. After calling team owners', each team complied. Coyne himself wrote ARC a check for $5,000. Coyne told reporters he "couldn't understand" why attendance was low, stating that "The public has been hollering for a pro team...we had two great teams and a great stadium. I don't know why it didn't fly." (The Post-Standard, August 24, 1981). LeStrange echoed the statement, saying "This town is maybe not ready for professional football. Maybe we built too big a stadium." (The Post-Standard, August 22, 1981). Coyne also blamed NBC for changing the game from a Saturday night (August 29)--which he believed surely would have brought a sell-out crowd--to a Sunday afternoon (although NBC paid the Coyne foundation $50,000 prior to the game for this switch, and August 29 would have fallen during the State Fair). Dome publicity director Mike Holdridge faulted the National Sports Festival for "draining dollars" away from the game, as the festival had "saturated the Syracuse sports market for the summer" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 24, 1981). Syracuse Herald-Journal editorial writers agreed, contending that "the abundance of first-quality sports attractions in Syracuse this summer just depleted the average fan's budget." (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 25, 1981). The editorial writers also criticized the Coyne foundation for setting such high ticket prices, as well as the New England Patriots, for pulling out of their original agreement to play the Eagles (even though the Patriots paid a $25,000 fee to the Coyne foundation for breaking the agreement). Sports columnist Arnie Burdick maintained the loss of money was due to waiting to July to sell tickets to the general public, allowing only season ticket holders to purchase tickets prior to this time (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 24, 1981). He also questioned why Coyne agreed to such an "unfavorable, 'can't-win' contract," including not getting any percentage of the ancillaries (concessions, parking, program, etc.). Syracusans as a whole were taken to task in a number of articles and editorials prior to the game for not contributing to charity by purchasing tickets, and thus causing harm to Syracuse's status for hosting future exhibition games. And yet in all of the finger-pointing, no one ever stopped to ask one simple question:

Why was Syracuse hosting an NFL exhibition game between the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints?

In 1953, the last year Syracuse hosted an NFL exhibition game, football was not widely televised. The Super Bowl was still 14 years away. Exhibition games (which numbered six in the years prior to 1978) in non-league cities were a means to promote the sport, as well as earn money for the team. By 1981, the teams were primarily doing out-of-town exhibition games as moneymakers (the Eagles were supposedly offered $450,000 to play in Los Angeles the same weekend as the Syracuse game, but honored their original commitment). Of course, if money was made after the upfront costs, these profits would benefit the city (or charity), and the city did get national exposure (more that 40 newspapers and 30 radio stations were at the Dome for the Eagles/Saints game). In recent years, preseason games are not only primarily held at one of the playing team's venues, but are also scheduled such that no team has to travel extensively. (An exception to this, of course, was the pre-season game between Buffalo and Pittsburgh in Toronto, part of the $78 million deal for Buffalo to play 5 regular season and 3 preseason games in Toronto over the next 4 years. It should be noted that the August 14 exhibition game only drew 48,000 attendees, with over 15,000 tickets being given away for free.) Even in 1981, exhibition games were known for being played mostly by second and third-stringers, players that would be cut at the end of pre-season and never to be heard from again. The Eagles/Saints games was a slight exception in that it was the third pre-season game, which usually features more veteran players (Manning and Jaworski played until the third quarter). But exhibition games are somewhat reluctantly attended at home stadiums, so why would there be 50,000 Syracusans who would want to see Philadelphia and New Orleans? Only 150,000 wanted to see the National Sports Festival, and that included 33 sports over six days. SU students, which were obviously a large part of sell-out dome crowds, had just returned to campus. And if the main selling point was to see NFL players up close and in action, well, the New Orleans Saints held open practices in the Dome for the two days prior to the game, complete with autograph sessions, which anyone could attend for free (and over 500 did).

Yet beyond the matter of bad planning, there's another underlying issue of even greater concern. In an August 20, 1981 letter to the Post-Standard by William Hanbury, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hanbury wrote that if the Eagles/Saints event was successful, there would be a chance of hosting even more exhibition games in the future, starting with Cleveland and Buffalo in 1982. These exhibition games would "contribute to Syracuse's continued growth as 'Sports Town USA " (August 20, 1981). By using a phrase like "Sports Town USA," does Hanbury sound like he is aiming for Syracuse to be a city that carefully recruits and selects sporting and other significant events that benefit both host and guest, or a theme restaurant where big name athletes make an appearance once or twice a year, and overpriced, generic hamburgers are the stars of the show for all the rest?

On February 19, 1967, a letter from Noreda A. Rotunno, Professor Emeritus, Landscape Architecture at Syracuse University, appeared on the Syracuse Herald-American Opinion page. While it had been written in response to an earlier editorial regarding a new city hall design, she offered this closing advice:
I sincerely hope that in the rebuilding of our downtown Syracuse, and, in fact, any development within the city, we do not approach it as we would a circus, with spectaculars along the midway and barkers proclaiming that we have the largest glass building, the largest pile of concrete cubes, the greatest forest of concrete piers or more "spaghetti roads" than in any city in the state.

It behooves us to weigh carefully each decision on any project and to relate this decision to what we presently have and what we anticipate having in the future.

All of our new developments must not only be beautiful, functional and economical in themselves, but must be compatible with all the characteristics that we like to believe Syracuse represents, economically, socially, industrially and culturally, and at the same time be complimentary to the natural beauty of the area.

Such developments, buildings, building complexes and outdoor areas must go beyond our present level of appreciation, but should not be "too far out" for the sake of publicity.

The day after Michael Phelps won his 8th gold in prime-time glory, Stephanie Brown Trafton, a third-place finisher in the Olympic trials, won one gold medal in the discus competition, the first US woman to do so since 1932. Stephanie herself wanted to be like Mary Lou Retton, until she grew to 6' 4", and had to find another sport to suit her strengths. While she may have won a gold just as her idol, Stephanie Brown Trafton will not be appearing on a Wheaties (or Corn Flakes) box, nor will she be an inspiration to thousands of little girls throughout the country to take up discus throwing. Let's be honest: after the closing ceremonies, chances are the American media won't mention her name again. But for those in her discipline, and all those who follow the unglamorous, rarely televised, but most ancient of sports, she is the story of these Games. A story that may never be a bestseller, but will also never be lacking for an audience.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

August 18, 1975/August 13, 1976

(Please note: the comments setting has been corrected!)

I am a child of Syracuse's overmalled '80s. One look at photos of me from those years and it would be quite evident: my outfits matched the styles of the day, regardless of how silly or absolutely wrong they appeared. Should the girl who was always shortest in her class by a foot have worn oversized sweatshirts that fell to her knees? No, she should not have, but did she own several in every color of the neon rainbow? Yes, she did, because that is what we did in Syracuse in the 70s and 80s: we spent so much time --good times--at the malls that we had to bring part of it home with us. You bought an outfit knowing that it would be out of style in another three months (and therefore never to be worn again), but you didn't care because not only was it your parents' money, but for that moment of time, you were on top of the trend (which, for Syracuse, meant a year behind New York, LA and the other big cities).

Given this, I understand why Syracuse has a history of attention deficit disorder-type behavior. When a city has continually placed its faith in retail, to the point of having seven major malls by the end of the 80s, it is no wonder that it started to adapt behaviors like the shoppers themselves. Yet instead of having a closet full of stone-washed jeans and shaker knit sweaters, Syracuse has amassed a collection of "studies." Just as I one time bought pink neon telephone earrings, Syracuse once dropped $50,000 (federal funds) in 1979 to study building a monorail from SU to downtown. I didn't question slouch socks, and apparently neither did Onondaga County when it spent $23,500 ($12,000 covered by the state) in 1966 to study recreational facilities (including the possible relocation of the Burnet Park Zoo to the northwest section of Onondaga Lake, between Route 690 and the Thruway). And while we will examine all of these in due time (the plans, though maybe the fashions as well), let's start with the study that has experienced more comebacks than jelly shoes: The SyracUSA report.

News of the SyracUSA study first hit the newspapers in late 1972. A December 28, 1972 Post-Standard editorial outlined the $100,000 study, commissioned by the Metropolitan Development Association, and prepared by the architect-planning team of McAfee, Malo, Lebensold Affleck and Nichol, and economic consultants Barton-Aschman and Hammer, Green & Silver. John R. Searles Jr., executive vice president of the MDA, referred to the study as a "call to action...positive steps to turning the tide for downtown." The main points of the study, as listed in the Post-Standard editorial, are as follows:

1. Convert Salina Street downtown into a transit mall for buses only, giving priority to pedestrian traffic and thereby making the main shopping center of the region more attractive.
2. Renovate Clinton Square by re-routing Erie Boulevard to the north and south of the Square in a one-way pair.
3. Build housing downtown for families of all incomes.
4. Complete the Civic Center.
5. Build a structure near the Civic Center for parking and other commercial and entertainment uses.
6. Favor the pedestrian by breakthroughs between adjacent stores and attractive weather proof underground or overhead walks.
7. Run a pedestrian-oriented minibus on downtown Salina Street.
8. Institute an East-West Way to provide easy access from the University complex to downtown.
9. Building the proposed Transportation Center.
10. Save old attractive buildings.
11. Give long-range consideration to the opportunities for outstanding developments in the Warren-Washington Street, Onondaga-Salina Street, and Clinton Square sectors.
12. Give long-range consideration to the Southwest sector - beyond the tracks.
13. Establish a SyracUSA Corporation, to believe in downtown, keep it going, and put it all together.
(The Post-Standard, December 28, 1972, p. 4)

Looking at the report in this form, the plan doesn't seem like something that should be resurrected, especially when you consider that variations of many of these ideas were eventually carried out, with unfortunate results. Skybridges (number 6)? The Salt City Trolley (number 7)?. Yet a Post-Standard article written when the final report was unveiled nine months later, on September 19, 1973, discusses these ideas in the context of the bigger picture for downtown:

"The chief focus of the study is to give the city an 'image' or identity that is exciting and unique - termed in the study as 'SyracUSA'...[the study] advises stressing the city's historically interesting assets, such as its Indian heritage, the Erie Canal, old buildings and even the trains that once plied Washington Street...functional areas [should] be highlighted through creative developments, such as reconstructing an Erie Canal atmosphere (with water) at Clinton Square, and making Onondaga Creek into an all-weather park and amusement area."
(The Post-Standard, September 20, 1973)

Report author Fred Lebensold, an architect who also designed Place Bonaventure in Montreal, Quebec, said at the presentation that the study was less about construction than conviction: "Lebensold emphasized the study is the infusion of a downtown spirit...downtown is psychological and physical-- and the attitudes with which people regard it give it meaning." (The Post-Standard, September 20, 1973). As mentioned in an earlier post, Lebensold later stressed the importance of uncovering the canals, and architect Paul Melo encouraged the glass roof/canopies over streets. John Searles wished to turn Onondaga Creek into an area similar to San Antonio's Riverwalk. But, unfortunately, what Lebensold, Malo and Searles didn't fully take into account was that this was a plan that was being presented to a downtown that still couldn't see beyond department stores. Rather than requesting a further study of the canals or the canopies or the creek, the city thought it could "infuse a downtown spirit" in a much more direct and simpler way.

Syracuse held a sidewalk sale.

Now, to be fair, the SyracUSA Festival, held August 18-24, 1975, was more than shops opening their doors to pedestrians on a closed-off four-block strip of South Salina Street. In fact, as it was promoted, SyracUSA Festival Week was "the biggest Festival/Shopping Spree/Carnival/Sale-a-thon/Fun Fair/Celebration since the Canal went through!" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 17, 1975, p.22). (Once again, you have to wonder, if a 10-day street festival was the most fun since the canal went through Syracuse, what would happen if the ACTUAL canal ran through Syracuse again year-round, for the rest of time, as suggested by the ACTUAL SyracUSA report?) The festival's stated purpose was to "reaffirm downtown as a people's place for meeting, buying, setting the fashion place and just having fun" (The Post-Standard, August 15, 1975, p 12). As one can imagine, if you provide a parade, ferris wheel, carnival games, hot air balloon, movies, a petting zoo, bands, fashion shows, arts and crafts booths, flea market vendors and, yes, free parking, crowds might gather in downtown Syracuse for ten days. Harold H. McGrath, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce Downtown Promotion Committee (which sponsored the SyracUSA festival), said mid-way through the festival that "we've proved people will come downtown if there's something to come down here for, and that's what we wanted to prove" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 21, 1975, p. 31). Well, true, but the same could be said about the Fairgrounds during the State Fair. If visitors aren't flocking to the Fairgrounds on the Tuesday after Labor Day, why would the city expect any differently for downtown after the festival? Mr. McGrath seemed to realize this, stating "this is just a start, not our last hurrah," and pointed out that the Downtown Committee had several other events planned to lure people downtown.

While McGrath did not name any planned festivals at that time, we know that in fact many festivals have been held downtown since SyracUSA--New York State Blues Festival, Taste of Syracuse, Winterfest. If you build it, they will come, but they will also go as soon as the stages/booths/tables are dismantled. After the second SyracUSA festival in 1976, several merchants complained that not only was there no noticeable increase in sales, but the street fair actually turned away their usual customers. A "Warren Street jeweler" said that "the carnival atmosphere was an injustice to intelligent shoppers" (The Post-Standard, August 24, 1976). One Dey's merchandise manager openly wished that the festival have "less honky-tonk and more charm and sophistication." These thoughts were also echoed by "Shopper" in a letter to the editor printed in the Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 28, 1976:

"To SyracUSA promoters: The way to make downtown attractive to shoppers is not to fill it with carnival noise and screaming lower life....If you would use the money wasted on such projects and continue the subsidized three-hour free parking to several days a week, shoppers would come downtown to spend money...You had better do something soon or no one will patronize downtown. SyracUSA was almost a fatal illness this time, bury it, and realize you have to appeal to decent, intelligent shoppers who appreciate an attractive downtown to go to and spend their money."

The Downtown Committee did in fact bury SyracUSA festival after 1976. The SyracUSA report, however, lived on, creating several other spin-off studies, such as the $48,200 Transitway study (to create a more detailed plan regarding a Salina Street pedestrian mall), a $4,500 study about skybridges (paid to Fred Lebensold), and even the monorail study was seen as a modification of the report's proposed link between Drumlins and Burnet Park (The Post-Standard, November 17, 1978, p. 13). And while perhaps we should be grateful that we didn't end up with a people-mover downtown, we also don't have any more people downtown, either.


When it came time to buy an outfit for my high school yearbook photo, I skipped the floral prints and acid wash and opted for plain, blue blouse. It wasn't particularly cutting-edge or fashionable, but my thought was that plain, blue blouses had always been on the racks at the mall stores, holding their own through all the other silly trends. Future generations could not point and laugh at a plain, blue blouse and say it looked dated. Granted, I'm only sixteen years out from my experiment, but so far, my theory has held true.

Therefore, it's a bit of a shame that Syracuse, with its similar shopper mentality, has never stopped to look at what sells throughout the seasons. It's quite possible that the "Warren Street jeweler" quoted above is the same Warren Street jeweler that has not only been around for 118 years, but one of the few remaining retailers downtown. Instead of throwing a literal dog and pony show on Salina Street back in 1975-76, perhaps some of the city officials behind the SyracUSA festival should have wandered one street over and asked the handful of shoppers at that jewelry store what brought them there. Chances are the answers would be an engagement ring, a wedding gift, an heirloom to last for time. Which is, to say, exactly what was said in the heart of the SyracUSA report: if the redevelopment of Syracuse focuses on the historical legacy of Syracuse, then it can never go out of style.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

July 31, 1985

The Galleries. It's like Syracuse's very own New Coke or Crystal Pepsi - what else can you say that hasn't been said before? Is there not a point when making fun of such an easy target actually makes you more pathetic than the target itself?

I mean, what can you say--with a straight face-- about Mayor Lee Alexander's statement comparing the construction of the Galleries to the building of the Erie Canal (The Post Standard, August 1, 1985)? Would this be the same canal that the city of Syracuse paved over when the canal became obsolete? And the same canal that Fred Lebensold, architect of the Civic Center, implored the city to unearth ten years earlier in a Clinton Square redevelopment plan? The same canal that Lebensold said must be uncovered and "return[ed] to its historic prominence in the Square area"? (June 24, 1975)

And, really - isn't it just going for the cheap laugh when I remind you that the Galleries project took six years to get from initial idea to construction phase in large part because the city couldn't find a major tenant? And that, over Jack Daniels on a fishing trip at Wolf Island in 1983, Executive Vice President of the Metropolitan Development Association Irwin Davin suggested to County Executive John Mulroy that perhaps the Onondaga County Library could be the anchor tenant? (Herald-American, July 28, 1985) Would that be the same library that was already located downtown and apparently didn't bring in enough traffic to make a difference? The same library that had ten other branches in the city and twenty throughout the Syracuse suburbs? The same library that had $35,585 in outstanding overdue fines (countywide) in July 1987? A $35,585 amount that was only a rough estimate, as "overdue books and theft [were] so common, it's hard to keep track of the actual loss"? (Syracuse Herald-Journal, July 20, 1987)

And am I just taking the low road when I quote Galleries developer Stewart "Bud" Andrews, who stated that the Galleries would hold its own against the suburban shopping centers because "it's not where you do your grocery shopping?" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, July 31, 1985) Would those be the same suburban shopping centers that survived precisely because of the existence of a supermarket? The same suburban shopping centers that realized food is a better anchor than books?

And what point is served by again bringing up Robert Congel's (and Mayor Young's) assertion that the "Oil City Mall"--whose plans were first announced in July, 1987, three months before the Galleries opening--would be a complement, rather than competition, to the downtown shopping center, as it would "revive Syracuse's urban core...extend[ing] the city's central business district to Onondaga Lake"? (The Post Standard, July 11, 1987) And, to that end, Congel wanted to enter a joint leasing agreement with the Galleries, requiring any tenant in the Oil City Mall to also open up shop in the Galleries? Would this be the same agreement that would--according to Congel--work splendidly because the Galleries and the Oil City Mall would be "two different markets"? (Syracuse Herald Journal, July 17, 1987) Two different markets in the same extended downtown?

And shouldn't I rise above recalling Syracuse officials' steadfast belief that the Galleries would turn around downtown just as a similarly-named Galleria supposedly had done in downtown Louisville, Kentucky? (Syracuse Herald-Journal, July 31, 1985) Would this be the same Galleria that was also built by a group of Canadian developers (Oxford Properties) and that, contrary to overenthusiastic pr claims from the Louisville Chamber of Commerce to the Syracuse MDA, never took off? The same Galleria that was was purchased by the City of Louisville from the Canadian developers in 2001 as it had become nothing more than empty storefronts and a closed food court? The same Galleria that was then sold for a buck to the Cordish Company of Baltimore, who performed a 70 million dollar renovation of the mall by knocking down the exterior sides, but keeping the glass atrium, allowing for both an open-air pedestrian mall as well as the ability for restaurants to provide outdoor seating rain or shine? The same glass roof that had also been proposed as part of the 1973 SyracUSA report (Syracuse Herald Journal, October 18, 1973), to be constructed over South Salina Street? Or the related "canopy system" that was suggested by Syracuse architect Paul Malo to the Syracuse Chamber of Commerce on November 15, 1973 as a relatively quick and inexpensive way to revitalize downtown? A canopy system that Malo insisted would be much cheaper and less hassle than an "enclosed air conditioned mall" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, November 16, 1973)? As in $240,000 (1973 dollars) compared to the Galleries' $48 million?

And is it particularly shameless to mention that on the first day of the Galleries' construction, instead of distributing a normal press release, the developers handed out a coloring book instead? (The Post-Standard, August 1, 1985) A coloring book that included pictures such as a kid scratching his head, along with the caption "What do you suppose is going to be inside the Galleries? Circle the one you think is right: shops, restaurants, a tower for a princess"? The same coloring book that was created, according to author Art Rath, because he "figured if [he] wrote it down to the level of kids, maybe it would get adults to get the message"? Would these be the same kids who went to the Galleries shortly after its second grand opening--when the library finally opened nine months after the rest of the mall--and felt an overwhelming sense of embarrassment? These same kids who loved their suburban malls at the time -- even the equally empty Fairmount Fair--because they all had their own unique charm and character? These same kids who understood that the schoolyard drama of forgetting who you are and copying the cool boys and girls in a misguided effort to become popular always ends in miserable failure? These same kids who would have circled "tower for a princess," because that would have been far more realistic than expecting a mall in a paved over downtown with a library as an anchor and no grocery store in sight not to mention a soon-to-be 150+ store mall three miles away and a failed replica model 700 miles away to be the ultimate answer in turning the city around?

So, yeah, picking on the Galleries makes me kind of pathetic. But no more pathetic than this: on July 31, 1985, a crane took a wrecking ball to the old McCrory's building at 435 South Salina Street to begin construction of The Galleries of Syracuse. Even after several swings, the wall would not break. It had been built to last.