The Amos Block was built on the site of the Empire State Mills Building in 1878,
and may have incorporated the remains of that earlier property. Immediately
adjacent to the Amos Block were warehouses, wholesale establishments, and light
manufacturing companies, while space in the building itself was allocated for
wholesale grocery businesses at street level, and storage on the upper stories.
Steam packets loaded and unloaded freight on the canal side, while the elaborate
Romanesque facade on West Water Street enticed passersby to patronize the
wholesale grocery businesses inside.
Jacob Amos, whose surname appears on the parapets of the building, served
as mayor of Syracuse for two terms (1892-1896). During that time he
concerned himself with improving the appearance of the city. The
installation of sewer systems, street paving, and the completion of
Syracuse City Hall were among his principle accomplishments. Jacob Amos
was also a businessman. Aside from owning and renting out space in the
Amos Building, he also owned a flour mill, a portion of which survives
today on Walton Street, south of the Amos Block.
The Amos Block was
J. Lyman Silsbee, a prominent Syracuse architect who also designed the
Syracuse Savings Bank and the White Memorial building. In the Amos
Building, Silsbee abandoned the Gothic for the Romanesque. The Amos Block
is the only known Romanesque structure in Syracuse designed by Silsbee.
Following his work here, Silsbee moved to Chicago, where he worked with
Frank Lloyd Wright, and specialized in designing residential buildings in
the shingle style.
The commercial structure, with its distinctive Romanesque facade, was
sited next to the old Erie Canal where it became an important component of
the developing downtown business district during the last quarter of the
nineteenth century. The block, which measures approximately 55 feet by 145
feet, is comprised of a full basement and four stories with an additional
half-story is located above the center portion. The seven separate street
level bays are most easily delineated on the West Water Street or southern
elevation. The six westernmost comprise a single homogeneous architectural
unit commonly known as the Amos Building. Silsbee designed the facade in
1878, incorporating an earlier, smaller structure. In the process, he
added a half-story to the two center bays, erected the two western bays,
and altered the roof line of the two eastern bays. The easternmost portion
of the block, which is detailed somewhat differently than the main block,
dates to about 1910, and exhibits narrow rectangular openings and a
cast-iron front on the first story.
The exterior of the first story has early twentieth-century rusticated
concrete block facing while the second, third and fourth stories exhibit a
variety of Romanesque style openings in different groupings accented by
variations in surface texture, with brick corbelling at the cornice line.
The two center bays rise to a parapet gable, effecting an interesting
verticality to the otherwise horizontal orientation of the building. The
east and west elevations are plain brick bearing walls. Adjoining
buildings on either side have been demolished in recent years. The north
facade – which more people drive by today -- is also
plain because the elevation faced the canal.
In the 1970s this old
commercial block, then empty and dilapidated, was scheduled for demolition
as part of the Chandler Plan – the name for the doomed project that would
have turned much of Clinton square into the urban version of a highway
interchange. The Amos Block was saved, and it is now listed on the
National Register of Historic Places. In recent years it was best known as
the home of Syracuse Suds – the most visible of the city’s recent
breweries. In 1999, Syracuse Subs moved nearby to the former Neal & Hyde
building on Franklin Street, and now the Amos Block sits empty once again.
The Syracuse Downtown Committee and others are working hard to find a new
use for the building.