October 14, 2002
Section: Local
Edition: Final
Page: B1

Failing History

List of Endangered Historic Sites Loses One

Luis Perez, Staff writer

A list of Syracuse's 12 most endangered historic sites and structures, which will be published this week, is already minus one.

In what local preservation officials are calling a worst-case scenario, a suspicious fire Oct. 6 damaged the Nathan Breed house on West Street beyond repair. The city demolished the house last Monday. "That building should have been saved," said Don Radke, chairman of Syracuse's Landmark Preservation Board.

The Breed house was a rare example of the High Victorian Italianate style common in the late 19th century that has all but disappeared. The owner, Edward Lyon, had promised to make repairs but never followed through.

The list of endangered properties compiled by the Preservation Association of Central New York includes some structures that preservationists fear will suffer the same fate as the Breed house. "Demolition by neglect," one called it. Other buildings on the list could be lost to development that doesn't take into account their historical significance, they said.

The properties on the list suffer from numerous problems, including abuse and neglect by owners, poor maintenance and inadequate policies to protect them, said Sam Gruber, a member of the preservation association board.

All have been identified as historically significant by local, state or federal officials. There have been high-profile efforts to save some of them, such as the Hotel Syracuse and the Mizpah Tower, which was part of the failed Avenue of the Arts proposal.

Others, such as a Gothic cottage at 1631 S. Salina St. and the George Whedon House at 366 W. Onondaga St. that sits behind the Breed lot, have been largely abandoned.

Still others are in danger of being demolished, such as the Conrad Loos Building on Butternut Street and the Second Olivet Baptist Church across the street from the Breed lot, by owners who want to build something else.

"We chose not just any endangered building, but those that have been recognized as having contributed value to the city and that can contribute over again," Gruber said.

Each one is a landmark that, if lost, would leave a vacuum and contribute to the decline of its neighborhood, he said.

"It's like pulling a plug out of a bathtub," Gruber said.

Preservation association officials hope that highlighting the plight of these places will help save them. They point to other historic buildings that have been saved as the result of public awareness.

The Harriet May Mills House at 1074 W. Genesee St. was saved from being turned into a carwash after preservation officials began working with a group to redevelop it, said Beth Crawford, vice president of the preservation association. The home of the famous women's activist and suffragist is being refurbished to house women recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol.

"By making the public aware, maybe we can spur development," Crawford said.

Preservationists also argue that saving these historic sites and buildings can spur economic development.

"Imagine Syracuse today, imagine downtown today, without Armory Square," Gruber said. "Imagine downtown without Hanover Square."

Both of those districts were scheduled to be demolished, he said. The success of saving those areas is why preservationists don't give up.

"We have to keep a sustained focus because if you don't, you get a situation like the Nathan Breed house, where we have a disaster," Gruber said.

To preserve these buildings and sites, a concerted effort by private individuals and government officials is needed, said Robert Haley, vice chairman of the preservation association board and a local architect. Government should provide incentives, such as tax breaks, and see these buildings as a resource, he said. That doesn't always happen, he said.

"It's a matter of leadership," Haley said.

Copyright, 1993, The Herald Company