January 26, 2003
David Ramsey, Staff writer
Russ King, a toddler, walked into the East Fayette Street office where
his father, Harry, and grandfather, Melvin, spent their days dreaming up
designs for buildings. This visit was special. This visit still lingers in
his mind 70 years later. It was 1932, and the Kings had created a
headquarters for the Syracuse Lighting Co., a forerunner of Niagara Mohawk
Power Corp. The Kings had sought to deliver a shiny, bold, modern
structure to advertise the wonders of electric light.
They had crafted a model that rested in the middle of the office. As
Russ stared at the model, he was instantly smitten.
He was not alone in his affection.
King was there at the building's birth. Today, 71 years after the NiMo
Building first thrilled Central New Yorkers and after his own long career
in architecture, Russ enjoys standing in front of his father's and
"It was not the kind of building that you see every day," he says.
"It's great to see the building come back to its original form. It's a
After a 1999 renovation, the NiMo Building again stands as a glittering
reminder of the Art Deco age in American architecture. In the 1930s,
lights brightened the structure in white light, serving as a proclamation
of the wonders of electricity.
Syracuse nights grew a bit less shiny in the 1940s, when worries of
World War II bombing raids caused the night lights to be shut off. For
decades, the NiMo Building gradually lost its glimmer.
Howard Brandston led the effort to bring light back to the Syracuse
night. He also had worked with the relighting of the Statue of Liberty and
the lighting scheme of Malaysia's Petronas Towers, the tallest buildings
in the world.
Brandston considered the intent of the original designers and added
modern technology, complete with 894 fluorescent lamps, 659 incandescent
lamps, 110 metal halide lamps and 2,010 feet of blue, green, red and white
Dietrich Neumann works as an architecture professor at Brown University
in Providence, R.I. He is an internationally recognized authority on
exterior lighting and specializes in buildings created during the Art Deco
"The NiMo Building," Neumann says from his office at Brown, "is a great
example of what is called the architecture of the night."
As lighting became available to more consumers, electric companies
rushed to find ways to display the wonders of their product. Structures
such as the NiMo Building, Neumann says, became "permanent
What strikes Neumann is the contradiction of the building. The NiMo
Building opened in 1932 during the height of the Great Depression, a time
of hunger and desperation and pessimism.
Yet here was this bright, modern creation that glowed even on the
darkest of nights.
"The building served as a distraction from the squalor and poverty you
would see during the daytime. It provided a kind of fairy-tale
illumination suggesting some kind of unreal other reality," Neumann says.
When the building opened, it clashed with most of downtown. This
building, sporting gleaming stainless steel from Crucible Steel, served as
a siren call for the future.
Today, the structure retains its ability to surprise. At night, the
NiMo Building shines like a big birthday cake, its lights reaching across
the western end of downtown, its glow visible to those enjoying a dinner
or drinks in Armory Square.
Jonathan Massey works as assistant professor of architecture at
Syracuse University. He was surprised and thrilled when he first
encountered the NiMo Building.
"I really was struck by its exuberance," Massey says. "It has all the
articulation and the kind of grandeur of a much larger building."
"It acts like it's the biggest building in town."
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