Sunday, June 21, 2009

June 25, 1910/June 25, 2009

"I'm going to glue rhinestones on my eyelids, bitch!" — Adam Lambert, Rolling Stone, issue dated June 25, 2009

Yes, we're back to Adam Lambert. When I wrote about my own obsession last month, little did I know that the existence of this obsession would itself turn into an obsession. Countless articles and blogs have been written about the strange, peculiar hold that Adam has on previously unassuming women in the thirties and up age range. There are the Cougars for Adam, of course, as well as happily married mothers for Adam (and their ever-popular Babies for Adam), grandmothers for Adam. We are a nation that filters all real life discussions via reality shows, so plenty of theories have been presented, ranging from androgynous power to embracing our inner outcast (and the simple explanation that he is an amazing talent). One explanation that I find interesting—no surprise—is that it all relates to our past: "According to [psychoanalyst Dr. Gail] Saltz, buried deep inside all of us is the childhood desire to be able to have everything and anything, whenever you want. So part of our fascination with Mr. Lambert is that we may want to be like him...[Lambert] is the poster child for having it all."

Adam Lambert is, as one blogger says, [a master] of both feminine and masculine traits: people pleasing smile and emotional connection, but utterly strategic, articulate and focused. The blogger goes on to state her belief that "easy mastery of both male and female skills is a hallmark of advanced evolution."

So perhaps it is no wonder that when I think about this guy:

I am also reminded of this one:

First, it should be said that there was no question as to what team he batted for, as "he was the best second baseman the Syracuse High School ever had." (Post Standard, January 3, 1904)

Nor did he wear guyliner or nail polish:
He is a plain dresser and while neat in his personal appearance his clothes do not indicate that he spends much time studying the latest fashion plates. One of the most familiar features of the last local campaign...was a rainy-day coat which many young men of half Mr. Fobes' means and social prominence would have scorned. (Post Standard, January 3, 1904)

His vocal talents were not encouraged:
This time it was different. He could not sing himself into the mayor's office. It would not have been considered quite correct even if it were possible. It would have been almost a violation of political etiquette. (Post Standard, November 8, 1903)

And though I can't be certain, I'm going to take a guess and say that a psychedelic experience with certain funguses didn't lead to his decision to run for mayor in 1903. Rather, much like Adam's "knack for quickly assessing the best way to work everybody he comes across," Mayor Alan Fobes "like[d] to meet men face to face and study their characteristics for himself." (Post Standard, January 3, 1904). While he may not have referred to it as being "unrepentant about flirting with both sexes," Mayor Fobes knew the power of "that famous smile of his, which one of the men who managed the Democratic campaign said won him more votes than all of Police Justice Thomson's speeches won for him." (Post Standard, January 3, 1904)

And both knew the importance of taking risks and wowing crowds with the results.

I should note that I realize comparing mayors from the early 20th century to the early 21st century based on a few newspaper articles alone is an endeavor perhaps as ridiculous as comparing a 1909 mayor to a 2009 American Idol contestant. And yet, how can we not, when this is one of the more remarkable buildings constructed during Mayor Fobes' time in office:

As compared to this, under the current mayoral administration:

This alone makes Fobes—or, really, anyone who didn't support this monstrosity—automatically worthy of praise. But North High School was just one of Fobes' many achievements:

(click to enlarge)

While the above is a campaign ad, (limited) research shows that not only do Fobes' listed acts appear true, but in some cases merely scratch the surface. When the ad states that "Mayor Fobes has gone further than anyone before him to protect the city's valuable water supply from possible contamination," he's not exaggerating: from throwing on "high rubber boots and old clothes...[and] wad[ing] through the slime and water of Onondaga Creek under the Erie canal yesterday afternoon on a trip of inspection" (Post Standard, July 27, 1904) to "enjoy[ing] the experience of riding through a portion of the Fourth ward tunnel sewer" under construction (Post Standard, May 1, 1906), Mayor Fobes routinely toured Onondaga Creek and growing sewer system:

Onondaga Creek is not suited to navigation. The scenery is not charming, and the odors are not inviting. Yet the Creek Commission and several other city officers made the trip from Kirk Park to Onondaga street yesterday afternoon. in a miniature scow...During the first part of the voyage Mayor Fobes, Commissioner Edward Joy, Engineer Beech and Inspector Maloney took to the bank of the stream, but later all but Mr. Beech took their chances on the craft. (Post Standard, August 6, 1904)

(And just to be clear about the traveling condition of Onondaga Creek at the time:

People who reside or have places of business in the vicinity of Onondaga Creek say they cannot recall when the creek was in as bad condition as at the present time. The stench arising from the sewerage, which has settled in stagnant pools, is being complained about blocks away from the creek...There has been so little fresh water in these streams that they resemble open sewers. The conditions show forcibly the need of intercepting sewers, the plans for which are nearing completion. (Syracuse Herald, Aug 11, 1908) )

Fobes seemed to be a man about town during his mayorship, inspecting school bathrooms ("'The sanitary condition of the closets at Porter School,' said Mayor Fobes after his return, 'is very bad, and I would be in favor of putting in a new flushing system in place of the dry air system...I think also that the closets should be heated'"—Post Standard, February 5, 1904), city sidewalks ("Mayor Fobes has turned his attention to the care of the sidewalks throughout the city and the number of negligence actions brought against the city on accounts of accidents alleged to result from defective condition of sidewalks"—Syracuse Herald, March 29, 1904), and the quality of coal purchased by the city ("'The city is paying for first class coal for use in the schools,' said the Mayor to a Herald reporter. 'And the city is entitled to good coal. I shall see the dealer who furnishes the coal and talk with him. He ought to furnish better coal, and I am going to tell him so.'"—Syracuse Herald, February 3, 1904). One year into Fobes' first term, a Post-Standard editorial noted the changes in the city:

No one having even casual knowledge of affairs at the City Hall can fail to be impressed with the present quiet and decorum of all official procedure as compared with conditions that existed under the old McGuire regime...Now all is changed and the business of the municipality, whether in larger or smaller affairs, whether in the Mayor's office or in the departments, is carried forward on businesslike lines—quietly, quickly, sensibly and efficiently. And the crowning feature of the situation is that everybody having pride and unselfish interest in the city's welfare is satisfied and gratified at having things as they are now...The municipal work of Syracuse as a whole has never been as well done as it is being done at the present time, and the people of Syracuse never got as much for their money as they are getting now. (Post Standard, January 25, 1905)

Honestly, as you read through pages of the Syracuse newspapers at the time, you start to think that if you weren't plagued with scarlet fever (diptheria, typhoid, tetanus, etc.), drowned in the canal (lake, river, pond, etc.) run over by a train (trolley, car, horse, etc.) or subject of any of the other thousands of gruesome death stories that dominated at least three-quarters of each edition, the first decade of 20th century Syracuse was a pretty rockin' place to be:

The picnic season, which ordinarily does not open actively until the first week of July, is now in full blast...At the office of the Beebe system the general passenger department has been obliged to devote almost exclusive attention to the pressure of business of this character, so great has been the demand for special travel to the several resorts along its various lines.

The opening of the Valley Theater on Monday last, a week ahead of the regular time, has made the pretty little hamlet nestled between the hills south of the city the Mecca for hundreds of pleasure seekers, who find the two hours of vaudeville entertainment at the al fresco playhouse, sandwiched between two trolley lines, a pleasant way of spending a warm evening.

Syracuse persons are especially fortunate in the picturesqueness of the country immediately surrounding it, and in the number and the diversified features of the resorts— lake, river, sylvan and pastoral— easily accessible for a day's outing or for an afternoon or evening's rest and recreation. Suburban trolley lines are constantly revealing new possibilities in this regard, solving the problem of how to spend a pleasant summer for the tired business man and others who are unable to take any extended vacation trip.

Boarding a car late in the afternoon when business is over, one can reach inside of an hour any one of a score of pleasant resorts, where dinner can be obtained and a couple hours spent in quietude or in various forms of amusement...Long Branch, Baldwinsville, Onondaga Valley, Skaneateles, Edwards Falls, South Bay, Frenchman's Islands, North Syracuse, Fayetteville, Manlius, and Jamesville are among the places which offer pleasing possibilities for dinner outings. (Post Standard, June 25, 1910)
Syracuse was on a major upswing in the early 1900s ("The Census Bureau, in a bulletin issued today...puts the population of Syracuse June 1 [1903] at 114,443 as against 108,374 in 1900"— Post-Standard, April 8, 1904), and Fobes placed an emphasis on the importance of unity necessary as the city tried to achieve star status:

Of all the subjects which might be assigned [for a speech at the North Side Citizens Association dinner], "Our City" is perhaps the easiest, because the most familiar. Well called the Central City, located in the very heart of the richest state in all the rich United States, it is served by the greatest railroad In the country. It is within a short distance of the greatest seaport of the continent. It is within striking distance of one of the greatest of inland lakes and even now work is beginning upon a canal, one of the engineering models of the world, which will lay at its feet the raw product of the vast West...

Although I am a North Sider it is not as a North Sider that I must face the problems that come to me for solution. I said many times last fall that there should be in the determination of public policies no North Side or South Side, East Side or West Side, but that every section of the city should be treated fairly and justly, having in view the interest of Syracuse and not of any particular section of Syracuse. (Fobes speech reprinted in Post Standard, May 19, 1904)
These days, it seems that the city administration and related groups tend to view Syracuse as the sum of its parts: surely everyone can find something that appeals to them in the 60 or so images crammed into this 30-second video. A century ago, Syracuse considered itself one entity: every element of its being contributed to its overall look and presentation on the world stage. When you have limited time and means to do this, like Adam Lambert in the few minutes before his finale performance with Kiss, you glue rhinestones to your eyelids. Or if you're Mayor Fobes, competing to make a name for Syracuse in a rapidly changing United States, you focus on the emeralds before your eyes.

July 8, 1910
Syracuse: An American Idyll?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 9, 1997

Dear Syracuse B-4,

I've been reading your blog for a year now, and I sure could use your advice!

I am a hamlet about five miles outside of the center of Syracuse. In my youth, I was a sight to behold, if I do say so myself. If you don't believe me, here's what was written about me at the time:

[The village] serves as a center for three classes of people. There are the real farmers, who stretch out into the country for miles. There are the Indians, who come to the village in droves for soda-water, and there are the city folks who have built expensive homes on the upper road and who live there the year round solely because they like the village...It is neither a real country village nor yet a city suburb, but it smacks a little of each." (The Syracuse Herald, September 1, 1918)
People were so eager to see me that Syracuse actually extended a trolley line to make me their final stop! Trains ran every half hour, and on summer days, every 15 minutes. (Post-Standard, May 11, 1902) And once the city residents had the opportunity, they came to visit in droves:

The grove at the Springs attracted great crowds yesterday, who partook of the cold spring water with eagerness. In fact the people could not get to the new resort fast enough, and it is believed that the number would have been augmented had there been the two switches in place at the terminus so that more cars could have been run. (Post-Standard, May 19, 1902)
You have to understand: by this time, I had been discovered. Everyone wanted a piece of me; the paper said I was a community "progressing by leaps and bounds" (Syracuse Herald, August 14, 1911). But before this, back when I was just the outsider to Onondaga Valley, I met a gentleman—let's call him "Hine." Hine became completely enamored with 20 acres of my farm land and decided to settle down with me! He built a red brick Italianate home right along South Salina Street. After he passed, his children stayed in the house and were of such great assistance to me (and Syracuse): for example, after the Syracuse Common Council refused to give the Syracuse Amateur Hockey Club (composed mainly of WWII veterans) a place for skating in the city, Hine's son—who then worked as Town of Onondaga supervisor—turned some of my land into a skating rink, and opened it up to all the kids in the area as well (Post-Standard, Nov 29, 1947)! I don't recall them making any fuss when their new neighbors, McDonald's, moved in next door in early 70s. Or Kmart or Fay's in their backyard shortly thereafter. Even when I started to age and lose my luster, Hine House just stood there faithfully, a reminder of my glory days.

But as much as Hine looked the same, I did not age gracefully. Buses replaced the trolley line in June 1940, six months before the final end of all trolleys in Syracuse (Syracuse Herald-American, June 30, 1940). P&C had split by the early '90s; Kmart left in 1995. My longtime neighborhood drugstore—let's call him "Ned," sweet, quirky Ned—abandoned me in 1995 as well. But there was Hine House, looking every bit the same as it did in 1847. Hine and his pals "Hutchinson" and "Gridley" would actually throw open their doors every so often for historic home tours. Not so much historic town tours, as apparently Hine was one of the few connections left to my past. Granted, I may have let myself go over 100 years, but did I rip up the trolley tracks? Did I build the suburban shopping malls? Did I create the exurbs that replaced my longtime reputation as the last stop on the line?

Needless to say, I was feeling rather low and vulnerable when a new suitor—let's call him "Aldi"—came to town a dozen years ago. He was nothing like Hine—no charm, no character— just a concrete box selling discount groceries. But I heard through the grapevine rather quickly that he was interested in me. Usually his type goes for the younger ones—Cicero, Clay—the ones that have taken away so much from my existence. But this time, there he was, asking about me! Wanting me!

He had his conditions, though: lose Hine. Knock him down, pave him over, forget he ever existed.

An 1847 landmark...would have to be demolished under a proposal made by Aldi Inc., the no-frills supermarket chain.

The company's plans surfaced during the past week as Aldi began seeking permits from the town of build the store. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 9, 1997)

Now, Hine wasn't a threat, of course. Aldi could have moved in the old Green Hills Plaza, where Kmart and Fay's sat vacant, or Ned's old place, or the empty P&C. I mean, I had so much other space available for Aldi, but he only wanted the one place where Hine had always occupied:

The ideal location, [Louis] Kibling [director of real estate for Aldi] said, was between Route 173 and Green Hills Plaza. The Hine site is beyond that, but only by a little.

Kibling added that he did not choose a site with the idea of causing a major uproar.

"If it is (not wanted)," he said, "we'll take our money and go where people want us." (Post-Standard, July 24, 1997)

So he wasn't Mr. Right, but he was obviously Mr. Right Now, and I needed him:

"I've been thinking about this for weeks," [Onondaga Town Councilor Suzanne] Belle said. "The area certainly needs a shot in the arm, certainly needs revitalizing. Perhaps this can be the start."

Town Supervisor Thomas Andino said he was aware the community was concerned about traffic and the house, but added, "I'm looking at the property down there, and it appears this property will not alter the character of the neighborhood."

Councilor Charles Petrie agreed, saying, "I don't see any options."

Councilor Donald Hamilton said, "It would help the tax base of the town of Onondaga."

He added that he visited an Aldi store in Cortland and found it to be clean and inexpensive.

"On the day I was there, they had 10 loaves of bread for $1. I was amazed," Hamilton said. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, Sept. 16, 1997)

So, yes: 150 years of history with Hine and I traded him for an amazing 10-cent loaf of bread.

I tried to save him. I thought maybe we could move him to one of the spots Aldi had deemed unacceptable—I mean, Hine wouldn't care, being as he was all about the house, anyway. Aldi said that would be fine, as long as I paid for it:

[Louis Kibling] said Aldi would allow a community group to take possession of the Hine house and move it, if the group provided proof it could pay the cost of moving it. Kibling said he would accept proposals for 30 days. (Syracuse Herald-Journal, Sept. 1, 1997)

Outraged residents who knew of our long relationship tried to save Hine, claiming he was, of course, historic. Before the Aldi plans were approved, the Town of Onondaga Planning Board was required to respond to an environmental impact statement which asked, "Will construction affect any site of historic interest?"

Board members unanimously approved a document that concluded the proposed Aldi Inc. supermarket...would not have a negative environmental impact.

On the advice of planning board chairman Marc Malfitano, board members answered "no" but added, "The home on the site is of interest to the community but of no historic significance." (Post-Standard, July 24, 1997)

Now, Mr. Malfitano may have had an interesting interpretation of homes with "historic significance," as one month after making this statement, his own home dating back to the late eighties—the late nineteen-eighties—was included on the Onondaga Historic House Tour (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 21, 1997). But board members also consulted with Town Historian L. Jane Tracy, who later said "of course, it's of historic interest and it is on Onondaga County list and the town's list of historic buildings. But, we can't find any reason to say it would even be eligible for the state registry." (Post-Standard July 24, 1997) Of course, maybe they could have found a reason if they actually contacted the appropriate office for such designations, as a concerned citizen finally did:

Kathy Madigan of Ruhamah Avenue wrote to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Mark Peckham, a program analyst, wrote back, saying "Based on our review of these materials, the 1847 house and its dependencies appear to be eligible for listing on the state and national registers of historic places."(Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 28, 1997)
The Office said "the two-story brick house is significant because it is an example of a traditional mid-19th-century farmhouse, detailed in the Italian village style with gabled roofs and an arcade front porch." (Post-Standard, September 19, 1997). But the Planning Board had already heard what they wanted to hear a month earlier, and Planning Board Attorney Kevin Gilligan stated "the letter does not change the board's decision about its historic status but is something to consider." (Syracuse Herald-Journal, August 28, 1997)

Hine may have been nothing more than a Gothic Revival, but what about the land beneath? The environmental impact question asked if construction would affect any site of historical interest:

The archaeologist who is president of the Preservation Association of Central New York told the Aldi Corporation something it didn't want to hear Thursday.

The old farm where it wants to build a new part of a documented village of the Onondaga Nation and may have to be surveyed before the project goes forward...

[This] discovery prompted Onondaga Nation Chief Paul Waterman, whom [Preservation Association of CNY representative and chairman of the anthropology department at Syracuse University Douglas] Armstrong had contacted, to meet with Armstrong and [area] residents.

"I'd like to do all I can to help you," Waterman said. "It's part of our culture there." (Syracuse Herald-Journal, November 14, 1997)

How could it be that Onondaga Town Board forgot about the Onondagas, and that I lived next door to the present-day Onondaga Indian Reservation? Town code enforcement officer Ron Ryan stated "We had no documentation on the Onondaga village." (Syracuse Herald-Journal, November 14, 1997) Did they need the Aldi's built to sell them a map?

Well, you couldn't really expect a store that "specializes in canned produce, snacks, paper products and frozen foods" (Syracuse Herald-Journal, June 9, 1997) to care much about culture: by November 23, 1997, within a span of ten days, every last trace of Hine—the home, smokehouse, icehouse and barn that stood respectfully on a former Onondaga Indian Settlement for over a century—was gone.

So now I've been with Aldi for 12 years, and I guess he's okay. He sells discount groceries to shoppers, which is more than Hine ever did. What did Hine do, anyway? Remind people of a past that is long gone? I mean, that just makes people feel bad, right?

But my problem is that nothing has changed. Truth be told, giving in to Aldi just gave me a reputation of being somewhat cheap, as three months later my Town Board approved construction of a Save-A-Lot in the old Fay's location, and one year later, a Family Dollar store into the old Kmart space, with Town Supervisor proclaiming Charles Andino proclaiming "That's means more economic growth for the Nedrow area." (Post-Standard, November 26, 1998). And then came a Dollar General in the former P&C! Yet, there is no economic growth, no shot in the arm. What exactly did I think Aldi was going to do for me? Bring more big box stores? Dueling drugstores? My true heyday was when I was a summer picnic area: empty wilderness people came from city on trolley to enjoy. Now I'm empty for entirely different reasons, and shunned for it. And all the while, my one link between past and present is gone.

What should I do now?

End Of The Line

Dear End of the Line,

Perhaps if you were going to pin your future hopes on loaves of bread, you should have held out for a bakery. They are cute, comfortable, and the extra care and expense that goes into the product is what makes them cornerstones of a community. Why buy into a town where you can get the bread for nearly free?

That said, you are still a hamlet with much to offer: affordable houses, park, a main thoroughfare leading straight to downtown, a grocery store within walking distance (on sidewalks!) that's local and independent to boot. Do you know how much some people—say, those living in metropolitan areas along the East Coast—would have to pay to get all these amenities? About as much as downtown Syracuse is charging for their renovated condos!

Both you and downtown Syracuse want to bring the magic back: the youthful vitality that you once had, when there could be a "record-breaking day for the street railroads of Syracuse. From 10,000 to 15,000 people rode on the cars of the three roads, beginning in the morning and continuing through with heavy traffic until late at night" (Post-Standard, May 19, 1902) Downtown Syracuse thinks that the way to achieve this is to attract a bunch of young, hip, and apparently, wealthy folks to buy condos with historic exteriors and rather generic-looking interiors, and use the extra cash they have left over after the $365,000+ purchase (or $1,450/month to $1,600/month rent) to eat, drink and shop downtown as well. And if they can't find the retail business they are looking for downtown, well, they should scrape together a few more bucks and hours of their time and open it themselves.

You want change? Well, so do millions of those young people that you are desperately trying to recruit. They don't want the same apartment living: shared walls, less privacy, rules and restrictions. This is not to say they want a circa-2007 McMansion in the exurbs, either. This is where you come in. Though you were once considered the end of the line, you are now an inner-ring suburb, with a fairly urban experience. You are walkable, you have both green space and areas for commercial growth. You have economical houses—circa 1920s-1950s—with yards for dogs and barbecues, not how-TruGreen-is-your-lawn competitions. Enough young people move into your town, and you become the reason for a new trolley or light rail system. Just think: your condo friends can take it out to your home for a breather after single-handedly saving downtown.

Let me leave you with a little story. Once upon a time, there was a girl—let's call her "Syracuse B-4"—who lived not too far from you. She rode a bus from her house every morning to you, and your elementary school. It was there that she first learned about local history: the Onondagas, the early settlers of Syracuse, a tale about how you got your name. Now she rode through the capital of the Iroquois confederacy every morning on the bus, and she fed the ducks at Webster Pond countless times, but the naming tale seemed a little contrived. Yet when she sat down to write this response to you, the girl came across the very account she had been told, time and time again, in a 1918 Syracuse Herald article written mere months after you had received your official name:

But to get back to the name of the village, ask George Ash how Rockwell Springs came to be Nedrow.

"You see we got a postoffice here (George, by the way, is also postmaster) and there were so many Rockwell Springs around the country that the Post office department wouldn't let us have that name. So we sent down the name of Worden, after the man that one owned all this tract of land hereabouts. But there was too many Wordens in the book, and they told us we would have to get another one or go without the post office. So we just spelled the name Worden backwards and see what you get? That's it, Nedrow. And a mighty pretty name, too. It may not mean anything to outsiders, but we know what it means in the town, all right." (The Syracuse Herald, September 1, 1918)

What it means is this: the first time, you aimed for historical significance. When that failed, you just went with a simple, yet unique, alternative. Ninety-one years later, here you are Nedrow. Ready for your second chance, again.