Friday, September 19, 2008

September 14, 1952

It's a shame, isn't it? Just when a problem in Syracuse is at its worst, a movie title has to come out and remind us of the glory days. Bob Costas announced on Football Night in America last week that "hard to imagine...back in the fifties and sixties, the 'Cuse was a...powerhouse," only to be followed minutes later by an ad for the film with the title across the screen, driving the point home. The only relief is that this movie title is going to disappear rather quickly once it opens, especially when "The Express" muscles its way through the crowded box office in a few more weeks. That's right: while Syracuse celebrating the star-studded premiere of the Ernie Davis biopic in the shadow of the embarrassing Syracuse football program, others of us were discovering how the downtown parking dilemma might have been influenced by a Liverpool street named Lakeview Terrace*.

On September 14, 1952, a special National Home Week section in the Syracuse Herald-American announced the opening of a model home in a new housing tract just off of Old Liverpool Road. Sold by Fazio Real Estate, the homes were the most recent built by Attilio Giarrusso, who had developing the area since the forties. The 208 acres of land, which had once been a central location of salt production in Syracuse (and named Galeville after Thomas Gale, who was once the largest manufacturer of solar salt in the United States as well as the last man to manufacture salt from the brine of Onondaga Springs), had been sold to the Melvin brothers in 1941, who in turn sold 90 acres to Ono-Lake Homes--a four-person enterprise headed by Giarrusso--in 1942. According to a February 15, 1942 Syracuse Herald-American article, during the first phase of construction, 500 one-family "Victory Homes" were built on the tract for a total cost of $2,500,000. The $4,450 homes could be purchased with a $450 down payment, with the remaining $4000 mortgage (insured by the Federal Housing Authority) payable at $33 a month for 20 years. The houses were to be on "lots not less than 50 by 125 feet" and "on the first floor of each house [would be] a living room, two bedrooms, kitchen with dinette and a modern bathroom." The land, which had been most recently used for "farm purposes," was to "be laid out in winding drives, with lots of various shapes... ten different house facades [had] been chosen, which, with different paintings, [would] give variety to the homes." The contractors had long-range plans to build up to 1,400 homes on the 90 acres, and there was no doubt that all could be sold, as Syracuse had a housing shortage of at least 2,500 by the mid-forties (Syracuse Herald-American, May 19, 1946). Ten years later, the area was growing even more rapidly with the opening of the General Electric plant at Electronics Park, so Giarrusso offered more luxurious housing options. Built on "the landscaped slope above Onondaga Lake Parkway," the Lakeview Terrace ranch homes were 70 feet wide, 28 feet deep, on a lot 160 feet wide by 100 feet deep. According to an October 26, 1952 Syracuse Herald-American ad, the features of the Lakeview Terrace homes included:

  • Large Living Room with Fireplace
  • Three Bedrooms
  • Glass Tiled Bathroom
  • Hot Water Baseboard Heating
  • Custom Birch Cupboards in Kitchen
  • Full Basement with Fireplace
  • Flagstone Patio
  • Two-Car Garage

All this could be yours for $27,500! ($227,353.40 in 2008 dollars)

Now Giarrusso had been correct in predicting the demand for homes in the area, but $27,500? How was it that when the same October 26 real estate section advertised houses in Fairmount Hills priced from $9,800 to $12,500 and Fayetteville for $12,500, a ranch home with a view of polluted Onondaga lake was fetching twice as much as others for sale in the Syracuse suburbs? Were "Custom Birch Cupboards" the granite countertops of the day? Perhaps it was due to the other fact mentioned in the September 14 ad: an announcement for "The New Galeville Shopping Center."

Galeville had long had a grocery store, but a suburb wasn't truly a suburb until it had its own "shopping center" (i.e. strip plaza). The ad itself states "a convenient shopping center for this rapidly growing community is badly needed." Not only did Attilio Giarrusso and Anthony Fazio plan to build a 25 store shopping center on a parcel of land opposite the entrance to Lakeview Terrace, but they also offered this extra bonus to potential home buyers and shoppers: a 1000-car parking lot.

Now, you didn't need any electronic wonders from General Electric to realize that the approximate distance from the furthest parcel of land on Lakeview Terrace to the site of the potential shopping center was 1/10th of a mile. According to Google maps, that's a three-minute walk. Or, if driving to the 1,000-car parking lot, a staggering 47 seconds.

The American Dream, as it was being sold to thousands of young Syracuse couples in 1952, was a home that would be a 47-second drive away from a shopping center. True, I do believe this proximity will eventually lead to a revival of inner ring suburbs in light of increasing gas prices, but this was hardly the thought back in the 1950s. In fact, while the site of the future Galeville Shopping Center was caught up in a court battle with Galeville Grocery in early 1953 (Arthur Tucci, owner of Galeville Grocery, obtained a court order to stop work on the center, claiming that part of the property was a right-of-way; the judge later denied Tucci's request for a permanent injunction), construction began on another shopping center one-half mile (ten minute walk) down Old Liverpool Road. The Liverpool Shopping Center opened on November 5, 1953, complete with a Market Basket supermarket, Carl's Drugs and relatively measly 300-car parking lot.

So when Syracuse has been considering 3 minutes too long to walk for fifty-five years, it's no wonder that parking situation in downtown seems terrible. Even if, say, there were actual stores and attractions downtown, it has been ingrained in the Syracuse (and American) psyche for over a half-century not to walk three minutes when a 47 second drive will do. And while Galeville Grocery apparently has been holding strong since 1888, the truth is that most stores that offer 1000-plus parking are never going to offer any sense of history of the city, or more important, identity. Could an orange carpet premiere have been held at any theater in Syracuse other than the Landmark? I mean, would you really want the takeaway image of Syracuse to be a orange carpet rolled down through the Food Court and up the escalator to the movie theaters at Carousel Center?

It's unclear to me whether the Galeville Shopping Center ever came to be, or at least how it was originally conceived. A September 11, 1955 Syracuse Herald-American article mentions that one of the buildings in the "group store development of Attilio Giarusso" had been bought by contractors Frank Malvasi & Fred Vicari, who in turn leased it to the Lakeview Recreation Center. The 12-lane bowling alley burned to the ground ten years later, on December 30, 1965. Malvasi & Vicari also leased a plot of land on the corner of Old Liverpool Road and Beechwood Road to Sun Oil Company in late 1955 (The Post-Standard, December 4, 1955), and there is a Sunoco station operating on the site to this day. Liverpool Shopping Center is now known as Liverpool Plaza, with a Family Dollar in the former Market Basket location. And my Google Maps Street View shows that the homes of Lakeview Terrace - as well as the many "Victory Homes" throughout the surrounding neighborhoods--are still there as well. So when those residents grab some snacks from their Custom Birch Cupboards and sit down in their Large Living Rooms to watch the Syracuse football game this week, they may be so upset that they want to throw their television set in their one of two Fireplaces. To which I suggest: try a three-minute walk instead! Not only will you advance more yards than the team has for the entire season, but you can burn off steam much like the salt kettles that once defined Syracuse, long before football ever did.

*If it wasn't clear enough, I am referring to the title of the film only.