In late 2001, the Berkeley Park Historic
District became the first residential subdivision in the city nominated to the National
Register of Historic Places. In 2003 it was also designated a
locally protected historic district under the Syracuse Landmark
This description of Berkeley Park is
adapted from the National Register documentation.
Berkeley Park is a
forty-one acre residential subdivision designed in 1911. The boundaries of the
coincide with those originally laid out by the architect and developer,
Clarence S. Congdon. The northern boundary
is Stratford Street; the eastern boundary is the rear property lines of the
residential lots on the west side of Ackerman Avenue; the southern boundary is the north end of
properties belonging to Morningside Cemetery and the City of Syracuse; the
western boundary is formed by Comstock Avenue.
Located on a drumlin, the subdivision was
designed to follow the natural contours of the land and capitalize on the
views provided by the elevation. There are 137 properties within the
historic district, of which 126 are "contributing," or from the original
period of development.
The City of Syracuse
straddles an east-west line that separates two physiographic regions: the
Appalachian Foothills to the south and the Ontario Lake Plain to the
north. The Berkeley Park subdivision is located in the Appalachian
Foothills part of the city on a gently sloping drumlin atop a raised
geologic formation. The low point of the neighborhood is the southwestern
corner along Comstock Avenue, at the base of the
drumlin. The terrain rises gently from Comstock Avenue to Circle
Road, steeply from there to the southern end of Berkeley Drive and crests
about mid-block between the southern end of Berkeley Drive and Windsor
this point the land slopes down
gently to Ackerman Avenue to the east and to Terrace Road on the north.
From Terrace Road to Dorset Street is the
steep face slope
of the drumlin; the land then slopes gently to Stratford Street to
On this hilly site, no two blocks are
entirely at the same elevation and only Dorset Road is essentially flat.
All the other streets curve and/or climb and descend. By working with the
natural landforms presented by the topography, sinuous roads were
developed which result in irregularly shaped lots. The undulating
terrain -- with curving, climbing and descending streets -- and the
relative density of the residential lots and the rich vegetation --
combining street trees and private plantings and gardens -- make the
Berkeley Park subdivision seductively complex: full of visual surprises
revealing a near perfect integration of terrain, architecture and
vegetation. The design incorporates terracing, elevated sidewalks,
public stairways and shared alleys and drives. Cast iron handrails provide
pedestrian protection along public stairs and steep sidewalks.
Period street lamps line all but two streets within the subdivision.
The developer did not,
however, rely just on the original layout to define this landscape; he put into place “protective provisions” that established this as
a residential subdivision solely of
with minimum lot frontage, designated set backs, prohibitions
against barns or garages built in or near the front yard, and minimum construction costs for the houses.
The most distinctive entrance to Berkeley Park is at Ostrom
Avenue south across Stratford Street onto Berkeley Drive. There is a
visible change from the urban grid street pattern to the north to the
curvilinear street pattern of the subdivision; the increased size of
individual lots and larger size and architectural design of the houses
enhance this difference.
Berkeley Drive, the widest and only
through street in the subdivision, is a boulevard from Stratford Street to
Acorn Path and contains a central median planted with deciduous trees and
lawn. It is the most dramatic street in the subdivision, climbing
steeply to the south, and dominated by additional steepness in the
residential lots to its east, which begins south of the intersection with
the heavily wooded Terrace Road. No other street in the subdivision has as
much topographic change as Berkeley Drive. At the first intersection south
of Stratford, it meets with Dorset Road at the east and Circle Road at the
west. Facing south, one is presented with the sweeping upward curve of
Berkeley Drive and the sinuous downward curve of both Dorset and Circle.
At the top of its rise Berkeley Drive meets Acorn Path from the west, and
turns ninety degrees to the east where it first intersects Windsor Place
before turning gently southeast to join Broad Street.
Path, perhaps originally conceived as a through street within the
subdivision, is a unique byway that is part limited-access street and part
pedestrian sidewalk. Its extreme east and west ends are open to vehicular
use while its central portion is devoted to pedestrian circulation. The
eastern section meets Berkeley Drive and provides common access to
numerous lots situated at the top of the steep western slope of the
drumlin, while the western portion serves lots at the base of that slope
and joins Comstock Avenue. At its center, Acorn Path is a public sidewalk
aligned along the steep mid-slope of the drumlin; where it rings the
cul-de-sac of Circle Road, it is separated from the street by planting
strips in excess of forty percent.
which terminates in a cul-de-sac,
has a very different character than Berkeley Drive. The street width is
much narrower and some of the houses are
smaller than those on the larger street. Ostensibly having no through-traffic
(although Acorn Path does provide an outlet to Comstock Avenue), Circle Road is the most secluded street in
the subdivision. With its grade lowest at the
midpoint and its alignment following the sinuous form of the drumlin, it
is impossible to discern the entire corridor from any vantage point; the planting strips with their street
trees and the dense vegetation of the residential lots enhance this effect. Although this sense of mystery and variety are present on all of
the streets in the subdivision, it is most
evident on Circle Road.
Dorset Road runs east
from Berkeley Drive and Circle Road, and at its
eastern end turns ninety degrees
north to intersect with Stratford Street. The
location of many handsome houses and the proposed site for the original
community building (120 Dorset Road), Dorset Road
has a subtle curving nature than is strongest at its turn towards
Stratford. Its relatively flat grade and recent loss of mature trees (due,
in part, to a devastating1998 Labor Day storm)
somewhat diminish the sense of mystery inherent in this alignment.
Terrace Drive, on the
other hand, with its curvilinear form, dramatic topographic change and abundant vegetation of adjacent lots,
provides a great deal of interest.
Despite its non-contributing houses,
Terrace Drive is defined by the same large lots, extreme slopes and
extensive vegetation that characterize all of the subdivision. The properties on the north side of Terrace
have wonderful views within the subdivision and out into the surrounding neighborhoods to the north. On its south, Terrace
Drive has a steeply sloped wood of four parcels which are unfit for
construction (and currently are associated with
100 Windsor Place) but add to the very sylvan character of the
Windsor Place climbs
south from its intersection near the eastern end
of Terrace Road, crests about mid-block and slopes gently toward
its intersection with Berkeley Drive. Although
lacking the curvilinear alignment found on the previously mentioned
streets, Windsor Place still provides interest and a degree of mystery due
to its elevated location—resulting in both
filtered and open views of the city to the north. Due to
vegetation, these are somewhat veiled during the summer
but during the winter are more open.
Comstock Avenue and Stratford Street have the same straight alignment of
Windsor Place, but lack its high elevation. Comstock Avenue, forming the
boundary of Berkeley Park at the western base of the drumlin, is a primary
north-south city street. It is wider than the streets within the core of
the subdivision, as well as those in the older adjacent neighborhoods.
The lots are generally level, with some having gentle grade changes at the
rear—at the north end of the street sloping down and at the south end
sloping up. Both street trees and period street lighting line the
corridor. Vegetation within the residential lots, and that of Oakwood
Cemetery to the west, enhance the park-like character of the subdivision.
Stratford Street is at the northern base of the drumlin and is aligned
with the older grid of streets just beyond. Here the lots are somewhat
narrower and have less deep front yards, resulting in a greater density
than elsewhere in the subdivision. Nevertheless, mature vegetation within
both the public planting strip and private lots is consistent with that
throughout Berkeley Park.
Changes to the Design
Congdon amended the
original subdivision design a number of
times in the first few of years
of development. The first major change was to connect Berkeley
Drive with Broad Street at the southeast corner of the subdivision. The
map showing this change is dated September
1, 1911. In December of 1912, Congdon designed the shared drive on
Windsor Place that serves lots 19, 20, and 21 on Berkeley. These lots are
located on the east side of Berkeley Drive at the top of the drumlin.
From Berkeley Drive, they are accessible only by climbing many stairs from
the level of the sidewalk, which itself is also elevated, in part, from
the roadbed. The shared drive allows for vehicular access to the lots
from the rear. In October of 1916, two similar shared drives
were developed between Circle Road and Berkeley Drive. One was accessed
from the eastern portion of Acorn Path,
the other from between lot 26 and 27 on Circle Road.
In 1914 the firm of Rich and Putnum,
landscape architects, constructed terrace
walls and planted shrubs in Berkeley Park.
The following October, nearly two hundred mature trees were planted in the
An aerial photograph of the area taken sometime prior to 1924 shows mature
trees in the median of Berkeley Drive and lining the streets. The mature silver maples found throughout Berkeley Park
probably date from this planting. (The
devastating 1998 storm destroyed a great number of mature trees in
Berkeley Park, as elsewhere throughout the city).
streetlights are located at equal intervals along Berkeley
Drive, Circle Road, Windsor Place and Comstock
Avenue. The lampposts are cast iron
(c.1910s-1920s) topped with a cylindrical lamp with a flat aluminum
Contemporary cobra neck lamps mounted on
wood poles, are situated on Dorset Road
and the north side of Stratford Street.
Terrace Road has no streetlights.
placed on the development of the subdivision by “protective provisions,”
as well as the example Congdon provided
with the houses he designed, helped create a neighborhood of picturesque
early-twentieth century revival style homes. Prominent local architects
Ward Wellington Ward,
Merton Elwood Granger
and Dwight James Baum all designed houses in Berkeley Park.
Forty-five percent of the properties in the subdivision were developed by
1924, and eighty-nine percent were developed by 1934. Only twelve
residences were built in the post-Second World War period. There is a
consistency of high-quality architectural
design that further emphasizes the subdivision as a distinct and separate neighborhood.
this combination of vegetation, topography, circulation, and residential
architecture that make Berkeley
Park a cohesive cultural landscape that
exemplifies early-twentieth century American
Berkeley Park is a distinctive example of an early-twentieth century
residential subdivision. Well-planned subdivisions were highly unified, with
uniform streetscape treatment and strict control over the size, location and
design of homes. A hierarchical street system integrated the subdivision with
the surrounding community while at the same time maintaining exclusive privacy
for residents. The ideal residential subdivision provided complete
infrastructure services, large open spaces, facilities for quiet outdoor
recreation, a cohesive architectural appearance, and relief from the hustle and
bustle of the city. Berkeley Park remains an outstanding and highly intact
representation of early-twentieth century landscape architectural design.
With the development of the public trolley system, settlement beyond
Syracuse’s urban core could be realized and the farmland to the east of the
downtown area soon opened to development. The first true subdivision in Syracuse
was The Highlands, developed by Maurice Graves in 1872 on a hill southeast of
the urban center. University Heights followed this subdivision to its south and
east. That development began along University Place, proceeding south to Popular
Avenue (Strafford St.) and east from Comstock Avenue to Sumner Avenue. In 1902,
ninety acres of the original 105-acre parcel was sold to the University Heights
Land Company. This new company, controlled by W. F. Rafferty and partner Maurice
Graves, expanded with the addition of Clarence S. Congdon as a third partner.
In 1911, Congdon purchased from his partners forty-one acres south of
Strafford Street, which was being held by the company for further expansion of
the Heights subdivision. The proposed expansion is shown in a 1908 map of the
city. Congdon, a Syracuse University trained architect, radically altered the
initial design for the area. Rather than adhering to the grid pattern found in
both The Highlands and University Heights, he designed the subdivision to work
with the natural contours of the parcel’s dominant topographic feature, a
drumlin. Congdon worked closely with his former partners to secure sewer service
to the area and, when it became a reality in 1911, the development and promotion
of Berkeley Park began in earnest.
Berkeley Park was conceived and developed by Congdon as an exclusive
residential subdivision marketed to the middle and upper middle class. Congdon
designed it to appeal to both established and young professionals seeking the
“best” Syracuse had to offer. When planning the subdivision, Congdon took into
consideration the desires of the affluent middle class to escape the growing
problems of city living- overcrowding, noise and pollution. The Berkeley Park
brochure promised “…no flats, no factories, no saloons, no noise, no smoke, no
Public infrastructure was completed; municipal water and sewer and electrical
and telephone service were all provided. Congdon took an extra measure to
preserve the visual quality of the subdivision by placing all overhead service
at the rear of the lots to eliminate unsightly wires along the streets; in some
cases, water and sewer lines also were located here. The hierarchical and
curvilinear street system set the subdivision apart from the surrounding older
neighborhoods, yet still provided smooth connections to these established areas.
Berkeley Drive was constructed with an eighty-foot width, much wider than
adjacent Strafford Street or Ostrum Avenue. With its center median, it appeared
grander than the established streets to the north and, with its curving
alignment, much more private. On this hilly site, no two blocks in the
subdivision were laid out entirely at the same elevation and only Dorset Road
and Stratford Street were essentially flat. By working with the natural curves
presented by the topography, Congdon developed sinuous roads that resulted in
irregularly shaped lots. The design relied heavily on terraces, elevated
sidewalks, public stairways, and shared alleys and drives. Cast iron handrails
provided pedestrian protection along public stairs and walks, and streetlights
lit the subdivision. In 1914, Congdon hired the Syracuse landscape architecture
firm of Rich and Putnam to build retaining walls and install vegetation. The
design called for the retention of the mature oaks growing in the southwest
corner of the parcel and, in 1915, nearly 200 additional substantial trees
(10”dbh) were planted throughout the subdivision . An early 1920s aerial
photograph shows mature trees lining the streets and in the median of Berkeley
Drive. Congdon originally included a common green area within the subdivision,
to be located in the extreme southwest corner; however, early on — and no doubt
as demand for lots increased — this area was re-designated for building lots.
Similarly his plans for a social club, at a two-acre site on Dorset Road, were
soon set aside and that land also was offered for development.
Congdon did not, however, rely solely on the original layout and these
installed features to define this landscape; he also put into place “protective
provisions” to control potential future trends. These provisions, or deed
restrictions, limited construction to only single family homes — and only one
per lot, with established minimum lot frontages, designated set backs,
prohibited barns or garages from being built in or near the front yard, and set
minimum construction costs for houses.
Congdon not only served as subdivision designer, developer and real estate
agent, he even designed and built several of the first homes in Berkeley Park.
In December of 1916, Congdon joined with George Bartlett, Grover Bartlett and
Edwin Tanner to form Haverling Builders, Inc., of which Congdon was president
and manager. The purpose of this business venture was to “engage in the building
of artistic houses in Berkeley Park.” The first house to be built by Haverling
Builders was at 107 Circle Road — Congdon is credited with its design. With the
minimum construction cost for any house established in the protective provisions
(and it varied, depending on the street, from $3,500 to $5,000), the tone was
set for the quality of architectural development in the subdivision. Many of the
homes are architect designed. Prominent local architects Ward Wellington Ward,
Gordon Wright, Merton Elwood Granger and Dwight James Baum all designed houses
in Berkeley Park. The majority of all the subdivision houses were built by 1928
and executed in the picturesque early twentieth century revival styles. By the
end of the 1930s, ninety percent of all the current houses had been built. (Of
the remaining ten percent, most were built in the late-1950s and early-1960s,
and only a few houses were built after that. One religious property was
constructed in the 1980s on two parcels never before developed).
Congdon’s design and development acumen was matched only by his prowess in
real estate. His aim to attract Syracuse’s established and rising academic,
professional, business, civic and political leaders to Berkeley Park was
realized within fifteen years of launching the subdivision. By then, Berkeley
Park boasted a broad array of local notables as its residents—drawing in large
part from the administration, faculty and staff of nearby Syracuse University,
New York State College of Forestry and University Hospital (today the State
University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and State
University of New York Upstate Medical University, respectively). Many of the
city’s most prominent families resided here, with children and siblings of early
residents eventually building or buying their own home within the subdivision.
Similarly, colleagues in many well-known and successful Syracuse businesses were
also neighbors in Berkeley Park. Throughout its history, the subdivision has
remained an enclave of single families that generally make a long-term
commitment to the neighborhood — with a number of properties having had as few
as three owners in over eighty years.
Berkeley Park is an excellent example of an early twentieth century
residential subdivision design in that it had — and is still comprised of — a
spatial organization associated with the romantic traditions of planned
residential neighborhoods initiated in the mid-nineteenth century and
popularized into the 1930s. Its meandering streets and public sidewalks provide
ample access while offering interest and intrigue. Its vegetation accentuates
the park-like character of the broad lots, provides enclosure and privacy, and
enframes distant views as well as neighboring houses. And its buildings serve as
attractive compliments to the sylvan nature of the underlying topography,
abundant vegetation and numerous visual and physical sequences.