South Salina Street between Erie Boulevard and West Onondaga Street was once not only the main north-south artery of downtown, it was among the busiest streets in all of Syracuse. Anything you wanted to do, you could do here. The street was lined with several major local department stores and numerous smaller stores, movie palaces and fine restaurants.
For decades, Centro has used this intersection as Common Center, where all Centro bus lines converge. In the 1990s, Centro built large metal and acrylic canopies at the northwest and southeast corners of the intersection as shelters for waiting passengers. They were provided with large digital clocks and video monitors to show bus schedules. Today, both have been eliminated. The clocks frequently malfunctioned despite having no moving parts. Centro, no longer wanting to bear their maintenance costs, removed the clocks, leaving posts that end abruptly with mounting plates.
The city wants Centro to relocate Common Center out of the traffic pattern, describing the intersection as congested and chaotic. Critics of the plan liken it to rearranging deck chairs while the Titanic sinks. Removing Common Center from its longtime location may also eliminate the relative liveliness of the area, negatively impacting the businesses surrounding it, including much of the 300 block of South Salina, which the city historically considers the commercial heart of Downtown. An alternate location with a smaller traffic stream but comparable convenience is extremely difficult to find downtown.
Just beyond Kmart was a narrow building, visible in the 1966 picture above as a black triangle above the Kmart roofline. After its last tenant, a furrier, moved out in the late 1980s, Greenwood Real Estate purchased and promptly demolished it, creating an impression one Syracuse columnist compared to a missing tooth in the architecture of the block. Robert S. of Syracuse speculates that Greenwood wanted to distinguish Jefferson Center as a modern, high class structure distinct from the older structures populating the rest of the block. That would be ironic given the fact Jefferson Center started life as a Kmart. More likely, Greenwood understood that demand for downtown space at the time was virtually nonexistent, and that its stated plans for converting it into artists' studios was too costly.
For nearly two decades since, the narrow lot between the buildings has been a narrow parking alley (and frequent outdoor bathroom for downtown's indigent population) and the rough, unfinished wall of the building north of the alley remains an eyesore. The wall may also contribute to the continuing absence of any businesses willing to move into that building. Despite having created that exposed wall with their demolition, Greenwood has no interest in tidying it up because it is not a Greenwood property. It was last advertised for lease by Paramount Development, the company owned by Eli Hadad.
Recognizable stores on the 400 block include Fleishman's furniture, McCrory's, Bond Clothes and Fanny Farmer chocolates. Fanny Farmer had a downtown retail presence at various addresses here and on Jefferson Street from the 1930s through the 1990s. All of these stores fell to make way for the Hilton Tower expansion for the Hotel Syracuse and later the Galleries of Syracuse. Mutual of Omaha had a street clock on the corner of the McCarthy Building in the right foreground. The final, six story Park-Brannock store replaced this building in 1946.
The first, hand-tinted phtograph is looking north at the intersection of South Salina and Fayette Streets around the turn of the century. The brown, Gothic Revival structure on the right was the First Presbyterian Church and stood where the Rite Aid (F.W. Woolworth building) stands today. It was built in 1850 for $60,000 ($1.33 million in 2005 dollars). The steeple reached a height of 185 feet at its peak. It's unclear whether the steeple was added or removed in its later years. The church was demolished in 1905 and a four story building occupied the lot for a period of years between the demolition of the church and the construction of Woolworth sometime around 1930.
In the 1950s, Syracuse businesses downtown jumped on the Modern Architecture bandwagon. Many older buildings were covered with minimalist facades made from aluminum, steel, plywood, concrete or stone. This picture of Salina is from virtually the same vantage as the one above. The most striking difference is the McCarthy Building. The white marble panels and narrow slits of windows covered the original Beaux Arts face of the building.
On the left is the Witherill Building, originally built as the Pike Block. The Witherill's store closed in 1980 after the death of . The white cladding was removed in the early 1990s, along with that on other buildings on Salina Street, when City Hall offered substantial financial incentives in a bid to restore Downtown's historic architecture. It was only partially successful. While the Witherill Building's near-original face was bared (the large second floor windows were added in the 1920s), its upper floors remained unoccupied, empty windows gazing down at Common Center for many years while a grimy sign from former owner Kirnan Real Estate declared that the renovation was "coming soon." The building is currently owned by Paramount Development and the upper floors are still vacant.
The McCarthy Building, at the northeast corner of Salina and Fayette Streets, was considered one of the finest buildings in the city in the 19th century, now restored almost to its original design.
South from Washington Street, circa 1910. To the far left was the Onondaga Savings Bank building, now M&T Bank. On the far right was Wieting Block with boarding and office spaces above and companion to the Wieting Opera House. The taller, darker brown building immediately to the left of the Wieting Block was the Everson Building.
Everything on the right part of this picture, up until the beige building at left center (the Wilson Building) was demolished by 1970 in the interests of "urban renewal." Today, the Atrium (originally the E.W. Edwards department store) and One Lincoln Center would dominate the right half of the photograph.
The Onondaga County Savings Bank was chartered in 1855. Its main branch went through four locations. The second and fourth were actually on the same location. Its second was inside the Syracuse House. The first section of the Gridley Building was built specifically to house the bank. Years later, the bank needed to expand yet again, so the Syracuse House was torn down to build the current building, which was finished in 1897. In 1968, the bank shortened its name to Onondaga Savings Bank. In 1987, it shortened even further to Onbank. M&T Bank, which began as Manufacturers & Traders Trust only four years before this building was constructed, acquired Onbank in 1998. Seven years earlier, M&T had purchased the assets of the defunct Goldome Bank.
Before One Lincoln Center was built, the Kirk Fireproof Building (aka Kirk Block) stood on the northwest corner of Salina and Fayette. With a design very similar to the McCarthy Building across Salina Street, the two buildings formed a handsome pair of bookends to Salina Street.
Planned as the beginning of one of Syracuse's grand urban renewal schemes. One Lincoln has been the the sole occupant of the block since its construction. Occasional discussion of building a matching "Two Lincoln" tower on the parking lot sharing the block remains idle chatter since the market for Downtown office office space is too weak to support a new office building.
Created in the 1990s, Perseverance Park is deteriorating quickly. Many of its granite blocks have edges that are chipped and blackened by skateboarders "grinding" on them.
The 300 block of South Salina Street has very few tenants above the ground floor storefronts. They exist only in the larger buildings like the Loews building (Landmark Theatre) and Jefferson Center. Many of the upper floor spaces are not usable other than for storage. Some of the oldest spaces are not even wired for electricity. Access to the upper floors on the eastern side of the street can only be gained by back doors on Bank Street. Despite its lone, narrow lane and mere two-block length, City Hall decided that its previous name, Bank Alley, was inappropriate. Like many schemes for downtown, it was a purely cosmetic change.
The prospects were so bleak for the 300 block that only three years ago, the city wanted to demolish most of the buildings on the eastern half to make way for an Excellus parking garage. That scheme, like the vast majority in downtown, has since collapsed.
As recently as 1990, there were two major bookstores downtown, locally owned Economy Books and Waldenbooks. Today, there is only one small used-book dealer, Murphy's Downtown Books. Radio Shack, a downtown presense for decades, also left in the late 1990s. Major fast food franchises such as McDonald’s and Arthur Treachers found downtown unprofitable and simply closed. Burger King moved from their location in the Wilson Building to the Galleries, only to find that location unprofitable as well, departing long before the Galleries food court was converted to office space. Only Subway has opened to slightly reverse that trend.
The Wilson Building is unoccupied, now owned by the city after years of neglect by its former owners left it with bad plumbing, a nonfunctional elevator and copious back taxes. The final, unfortunate tenants who were evicted had to move out their furniture down through the stairwells. The first bidding process for the building netted interest only from Eli Hadad, who was disqualified because he owed substantial back taxes on the buildings he already owned. The city also insists that any developer of the building be willing to create a passageway from Salina Street through a blind alley to South Clinton Street. Linda M. of North Syracuse said, "I don't know what they're thinking. You wouldn't get me to walk through a back alley just to save a few steps." (The "long route" on Fayette Street that the city wants to spare pedestrians adds approximately 100-120 feet.) Bill C. at SU notes that the shortcut would take pedestrians off streets, potentially hurting businesses that would benefit from passing foot traffic.
Between the demolition of the First Presbyterian Church and the construction of Woolworth's, a four-story commercial building stood on the site. Among its ground floor tenants was Schraffts.
"Schrafft's was ... an institution of middle-class comfort. Its first ''store'' (as even the restaurants were called), offering candy and confections, opened in 1898 on Broadway in New York City, thanks to Frank G. Shattuck, who had been the top candy salesman for W.F. Schrafft & Sons. It lost money until his sister Jane was recruited from Syracuse to create a brief menu. ''It was a much more genteel time then,'' his great-grandson Frank M. Shattuck said. ''Everyone wore hats and hand-made suits. And if you were a lady, it was safe to sit at the soda fountain and drink gin from a teacup.'' The New York Times Magazine.
Various angles on Salina Street.
Downtown was once the entertainment center of Syracuse. The Loew's State, the Paramount, the Empire, BF Keith's (aka RKO Keith's), the Astor, the Strand and the Crescent provided numerous options for entertainment Downtown, featuring vaudeville acts, live theater and motion pictures. Today, the Loew's State, renamed the Landmark Theatre in 1977 when it was saved from the wrecking ball, is the sole survivor. Keith's billed itself as "The most magnificent theatre in all the universe." The last three pictures above show the opulence and splendor of Keith's and its competition, long since replaced by suburban cookie-cutter multiplexes.
Considered by many to be the very best movie palace ever built in Syracuse, the Loew's State is the only one that still remains, its contemporaries and competition having all succumbed to the wrecking ball. The Hotel Jefferson once stood on the site. It and neighboring buildings made way for the glamorous theater in 1928. But after less than a half century, The Loew's was being dragged down by the malaise that gripped downtown. By the mid-1970s, demolition was an imminent threat. In 1977, Syracuse Area Landmark Theatre purchased it and saved it from an ignominious demise. But its recovery is far from assured.
Despite nearly 30 years of fundraising, the Landmark Theatre has not been able to complete its planned renovations. A curved marquee that once graced the main Salina Street entrance has long since seen its role taken over by a flat, monotonous replacement. The newer marquee has not been well maintained, its bottom festooned with peeling paint, many of its panels discolored and uneven, and numerous broken and burnt out bulbs. Beneath it, the restored box office booth remains closed. In June 2006, the state promised $6.4 million to help restore the theater, another admission that the private organization has failed in its mission and that government assistance is necessary. In fact, one of the earliest acts after the 1977 rescue was to have the theater declared a landmark so it could be immediately eligible for government funds. It appears to be the rule in downtown that almost everything needs government assistance in order to be done, from the various giveaways (former Dome Hotel sold for $30,000, Mizpah for $27,500) to government funds used for purchasing buildings (Wilson Building sale and renovation to be funded by the same state appropriation) or expanding them ($8 million of public funds to expand the Warren Parking Center to retain private and highly profitable company Excellus) to operation of the heavily subsidized Ontrack ($8 million of state funds through 2004).
The Downtown office space market has been so fallow that the Landmark Theatre announced in 2001 that it would convert three entire floors of vacant office space above it to residential apartments. As of this writing, the Loews Residential Suites are planned to be available in the spring of 2006. The storefronts by the Salina Street box office were empty for most of the last two decades until a Cricket store finally filled it in 2006.
The Syracuse Walk of Fame at the front entrance, unveiled to much hoopla in 1992, almost instantly faded into obscurity. It was planned to honor Syracusans who had gone on to become celebrities in show business. Owing to reasons that may include lack of interest from Syracuse residents, visitors and potential honorees, new brass stars have not been added since 1995 and the walk that was supposed to stretch up Salina Street was halted at 19 stars. For comparison, the Hollywood Walk of Fame has over 2100 honorees as of 2006.
The 500 Building at (naturally) 500 South Salina was originally called the Chimes Building because it had chimes on its top floor. The chimes have been removed and today, tenants of the 12,000 square foot penthouse suite could see all the way up Salina Street.
Before the Chimes Building, Florence Flats apartments occupied the site at the corner of Salina and West Onondaga Street. It was another sign of the vibrant nature of downtown living. Very few large apartment buildings exist in Downtown today.
The former Goldberg’s furniture store and warehouse at 476 South Salina is boarded up. With big retail in downtown dead, the long, narrow, window-less structure is unlikely to find a new tenant in the foreseeable future. (Charles B. of Camillus notes that "big" is a relative term, given that even the largest potential retail space downtown is dwarfed by suburban megastores today.) Goldberg's continues to operate four stores but none of them are within Syracuse city limits.
Dey Brothers once reigned in downtown retail. The main building on South Salina was designed by Archimedes Russell in 1893. The Renaissance Revival architecture was covered over with a stone facade in the 1960s. Dey's and the Addis Company made a last ditch attempt at survival by merging into Addis & Dey's, but the combined company went bankrupt in 1992.
Dey's also took over and expanded into 411 S. Salina, the building that formerly housed Brown-Curtis-Brown, a furniture and carpet retailer.
The joined complex of Dey's buildings was eventually renovated into Centennial Plaza, beginning with the removal of the stone facade.The renovated building was originally planned to have Niagara Mohawk's call center as a primary tenant. Niagara Mohawk downsized and withdrew its call center, although it continued to pay rent on the 130,000 square feet through March 2005. As of January 2006, Centennial Plaza had a 70% occupancy rate, with 77,000 of its 250,000 square feet available for lease.
The Hotel Syracuse was shut down in mid 2004 after 80 years of service. For most of its life, it was Syracuse's grandest hotel, hosting luminaries like Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Charles Lindbergh, Bob Hope, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and John Lennon back when such celebrities actually visited Syracuse. But as downtown declined in the 1960s and 1970s, its owners found it difficult to keep the hotel filled. It went through a succession of owners, from James Spaulding and Joseph Murphy to Danny Coleman (who would own it for only 11 days) back to Murphy, then Michael A. Bennett and finally Allegro Properties. Of those owners, both Spaulding and Bennett have since served prison time for financial crimes and Coleman declared bankruptcy in the face of tax evasion charges. In its final years, it was hemorrhaging millions of dollars. The hotel filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in August 2001, owing $18.4 million at the time with assets of $19.1 million. It was the second bankruptcy for the hotel, its first being eleven years earlier.
The hotel was finally sold to Gmul Investments for $10.35 million in September 2005 after much wrangling and suspicion since Gmul was referred by Eli Hadad. Gmul intends to build 70 condominiums priced up to $450,000 in the 1981 tower and divide the old hotel into 100 apartments and a 155-room business hotel. The complex will be renamed Symphony Place at Hotel Syracuse Square.
Syracuse’s hotel occupancy rate is lower than the national average, yet the city wanted a new hotel built adjacent to the OnCenter convention center, which is also struggling. Many experts say the plan will fail like almost every other scheme that has come out of City Hall in the past two decades. Other cities that have built hotels adjacent to their convention centers have yet to see a good return on those investments. Syracuse will probably not be an exception to the rule as it is not a convention destination. Conventions are sited where a company has its headquarters or gets the bulk of its business. Syracuse has neither. The new $65 million hotel would have sealed the fate of the Hotel Syracuse. A county-commissioned study has shown that today's downtown can only support one hotel of that size and developers will not renovate the old hotel if a new hotel will siphon off convention attendees. Smaller events -- the only ones Syracuse can attract, hotel or no hotel --can only fill 50-60 rooms per night, not enough to fill the new hotel. Businesses downtown would not benefit from the new hotel. If conventioneers are expected to balk at walking slightly more than one block to get from parking to their hotel, they will not walk a few blocks further to get to a dismal downtown. At best, the convention center and hotel would have become an insular, self-contained community cut off from the rest of downtown and Syracuse. Convention centers are like sports stadiums. While always trumpeted as economic primers, they seldom have a positive impact on the surrounding community. Aside from the Regional Transportation Center, the area around P&C Stadium is as barren as when MacArthur Stadium used to host the Syracuse Chiefs. Sean Kirst confirmed what residents and neighbors have been saying for years. "The stadium went up in a place where it's basically had no economic effect - zero - on the neighborhoods around it. Years later, the county finds itself wrestling with the SkyChiefs about the way the ballpark is operated, why attendance lags, why the place feels so sleepy all the time." (Post-Standard 2/24/06) Despite being touted as an urgent imperative through much of 2003, the Oncenter hotel has yet to make any impact on Downtown, much like the other "salvation" project linked to Syracuse, DestiNY USA.
Across Salina street, the former Addis building is also vacant, its display windows lifeless for more than a decade after a last-ditch merger with Dey’s failed to save both companies. Michael Bennett and the Bennett Companies bought the building in 1994 with plans to turn it into luxury condominiums. Those plans were derailed by Bennett's bankruptcy and conviction in a Ponzi scheme.
The 400 block once held BF Keith's Vaudeville theater, Childs' Place and the original Clark Music House, All of the buildings down to 444 South Salina were torn down to build the anchor store for the Sibley's department store chain. The May Department Stores Company acquired the struggling Sibley's in 1986 and soon closed the downtown location. The Sibley's name was eliminated when it was merged with May's Kaufmann's in 1992, its only remnants a painted sign atop the building that's invisible to passersby and fading script on the Salina Street canopy that overhangs a long-closed entrance. The Kaufmann's name is planned to be phased out in 2006, to be replaced by Macy's, owned by May's new corporate parent, Federated Department Stores. In 2005, the dreary pedestrian mall through the Sibley’s garage was permanently closed.
Among the buildings that stood on the 400 block before the Galleries opened in 1987 were McCrory's, Grants and Three Sisters. The Galleries, despite its high cost, brought no more businesses than the buildings they replaced. In fact, for many of its early years, the Galleries had serious problems filling its commercial space. The situation has since changed, with Flaun Management closing the second floor food court in February of 2004 to create more office space. Behind the Galleries on Warren Street, the Dorset Apartments were demolished to create yet another parking lot.
On Salina just south of downtown was the Arena. Like the Alhambra, this was a multipurpose facility which hosted events such as conventions, ice skating, hockey, boxing and concerts.
In the 1910s, the 100 and 200 blocks of North Salina Street just north of James Street brimmed with activity. Shops lined the street and people easily outnumbered cars. Today, virtually every building in this postcard is gone. The vista has become an empty wasteland of parking lots. Pedestrians are a rare sight on these sidewalks except for workers from nearby buildings dodging traffic to get to and from their parked cars, not surprising considering the lack of destinations - such as the long-vanished shops - on this stretch of the street.