~ "Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County" ~

"We seem to have been very discriminating in Onondaga County -- we have consistently chosen from among the best when tearing down or mutilating the buildings which our generation inherited!"

By the early 1960's nearly all of the grand homes of James Street had disappeared and historically significant buildings elsewhere in the city were also beginning to fall.  It was within this context that the New York State Council on the Arts sponsored a project that would be "An appraisal of the architectural character of a region and an assessment of buildings that should be preserved as our cultural heritage."

The resulting book, researched and written by four Syracuse University architecture professors, was called Architecture Worth Saving in Onondaga County (New York State Council on the Arts, Syracuse, 1964). The effort was directed by Harley J. McKee, a nationally renowned preservation scholar. Two of McKee's books, Recording Historic Buildings for the Historic American Buildings Survey and Introduction to Early American Masonry, are still standard reference texts in use throughout the country. McKee was assisted by Patricia Day Earle, Paul Malo and Peter Andrews. Although out of print, the book remains available in local libraries. 

Architecture Worth Saving highlights more than 60 area buildings, listed here at the bottom of the page. Click on each to learn what has happened to it since 1964.

Buildings included in the project were categorized under four major headings. These were:

  1. Particularly Distinguished Buildings. This category includes buildings which were, first of all, beautiful. But inclusion in this section required that they also satisfy at least one of several other criteria:

    • A unique building or of a kind rarely encountered.
    • The first of its kind; the oldest building of its type.
    • Fine interior detail and craftsmanship.
    • The work of a notable architect.
    • The best work of a given architect.
  2. Representative Buildings. These buildings provide particularly faithful representations of the architectural styles of the day.

  3. Buildings of Historical Interest. Buildings in this category figured prominently in local historical events, or incorporated materials or methods novel for the time.

  4. Adaptive Uses. The authors here point to historic buildings that had outlived their original purpose but might be saved through useful adaptation to new functions.

"Architecture Worth Saving" is quoted extensively throughout Syracuse Then and Now so much so that we've used the abbreviation "AWS" for second mentions of the book on any given page.

Selected Passages from
"Architecture Worth Saving"

Below are some introductory remarks from Architecture Worth Saving regarding the treatment of architecture in Onondaga County and Syracuse in particular. These words remain as poignant today as they were forty years ago.

"Although newer buildings deserve appreciation as well, they are more likely to receive it in the normal course of events; it is the older ones which are under the most imminent threat of demolition in the course of urban development, by gradual deterioration and general oblivion, unless they are pointed out for special attention.

"A special comment about commercial buildings like the [Syracuse Savings Bank Building, White Memorial Building, Robert Gere Bank Building] and the old Onondaga County Savings Bank, is appropriate. When they were built they ranked among the very best in the state -- indeed, in the region. We must keep them to lend distinction to our downtown streets, for unfortunately their modern counterparts cannot claim to rank among the finest.

"We are preserving things of cultural value for future generations as well as for ourselves; we cannot predict what they will appreciate but we should be cautious about destroying buildings which were once valued, which now temporarily happen to be out of fashion. Destruction is final.

"It is important...for each region to recognize and preserve its own architectural inheritance.  That of Onondaga County has a character not duplicated elsewhere, whose loss would be felt far beyond the boarders of the county.

"We seem to have been very discriminating in Onondaga County we have consistently chosen from among the best when tearing down or mutilating the buildings which our generation inherited! This tendency can best be seen in the city of Syracuse, where whole streets and districts have been the victims of private neglect and public indifference, which, had they been given proper care, could still be among the most useful and attractive parts of the city.

"An introspective look at these lost pieces of fine architecture suggests the terrifying thought that in spite of all our egoistic bragging today, we may not be worthy of our inheritance. By destroying fine things and replacing them with ugly ones we make the world worse, not better. If we cannot create beauty, we should at least help preserve that which was given to us."

Part 1: Particularly Distinguished Buildings

Part 2: Representative Buildings

Part 3: Buildings of Historical Interest

Part 4: Adaptive Uses

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