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Today, September 14, in Rochester History: The Seneca Hotel Opens

September 14th, 2012

The Seneca Hotel, 26 S. Clinton Avenue, south of E. Main Street on the east side of the street. The stores in front, left to right, are Laurabelle's Greeting Cards, Ringclear Hosery Co., and Rochester Cleaning & Dyeing Co. [PHOTO: Rochester Municiple Archives]
On September 14, 1908 a new 300 room hotel with ballroom, several dining rooms and meeting rooms opened its doors – right smack on the same spot where Windstream (Paetec) is constructing its new building today.

The following article was published in the New York Times on Monday September 14, 1908…

ROCHESTER’S NEW HOTEL
The Seneca, a Beautiful and
Modern Hostelry, Opens To-day.

The Hotel Seneca opened in 1908 with 300 rooms, a ballroom, several dining and meeting rooms. [IMAGE: Vintage Postcard, Rochester Public Library]

ROCHESTER, Sept. 13 — Rochester’s new hotel, the Seneca, will be opened tomorrow in time for the State Democratic Convention, which meets here Tuesday. The hostelry in size will compare with the Hotel Astor in New York external link. Its architecture is in a general way French Renaissance. It is constructed of brick of brownish hue, trimmed with gray terra-cotta.
The hotel has a frontage of 130 feet on Clinton Avenue, and is only a couple of blocks from the city’s Convention Hall. It runs back 200 feet to Cortland Street, and along the side has the advantage of a private roadway 30 feet wide.
The main entrance to the lobby of the hotel is from this private street. This provides a porte cochere, which affords protection to those alighting from carriages in inclement weather.

The main lobby of the Seneca Hotel. [IMAGE: Vintage Postcard, Rochester Public Library]

The decoration of the spacious lobby follows the Renaissance style, with wainscoting of French marble, wall panels of greenish brown, ivory columns with Oriental caps in dull old gold, and ceilings suggestive of old illuminated Spanish leather book covers. Cornices and brackets are in old gold. Throughout the entire ground floor, in the various dining rooms and buffets, elaborate and rich decorative schemes are carried out.

The Ladies Dining Room. [IMAGE: Vintage Postcard, Rochester Public Library]

The mezzanine floor of the hotel contains about one-half as much space as the hotel covers. The ballroom, on the second floor, which will also be utilized as a banquet room and convention hall, will seat from 700 to 1,000.
The management of the Seneca is in the hands of H.M. Gerrans and E.T. Osborn, hotel men of New York, Buffalo, and Detroit.

By the early 1920s a 10-story addition would be added to the Seneca (shown below), making it Rochester’s largest hotel with over 500 rooms. By comparison, today’s largest hotel—Riverside Radisson—is only 460 rooms.

By the early 1920s a 10-story addition was added, making the Seneca Rochester's largest hotel with over 500 rooms. [IMAGE: Vintage Postcard, Rochester Public Library]
According to a menu from the hotel’s Crystal Dining Room, one could enjoy a filet mignon for $1.89. Holy inflation!

The Seneca Hotel (right) on Clinton Avenue with the Temple and Lyceum Theatres in the foreground. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
An out-of-towner looking for stuff to do while staying at the Seneca would find no shortage of shopping and entertainment in this neighborhood. They had Sibley’s, B. Foreman Co., and McCurdy’s department stores. There was the Century, Temple and Lyceum Theatres. There was even a Wegmans. All within one square block! Or jump on a streetcar and the entire city was at your fingertips.

The Seneca Hotel near Main & Clinton, 1935. Lots of shopping and entertainment in this little neighborhood. [SOURCE: Rochester Public Library]
Compare all that there was to do in 1935 (above) with the giant office complexes that are here now…

The Midtown Plaza crater. Former site of Seneca Hotel. [PHOTO: Google Maps]
And we wonder why no one comes downtown anymore?

Delegates to the New York State Republican convention gather in the lobby of the Seneca Hotel. Posters show support for various candidates for nomination. c.1924 [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
This was the meeting place of choice for New York’s power brokers. Shown above, delegates to the 1924 New York State Republican convention gather in the lobby of the Seneca Hotel. Posters show support for various candidates for nomination. Some of the more visible posters read, “We can win with Judge Tompkins for Governor”, “Guy B. Moore for Governor”, “For Secretary of State, Charles W. Taft”, “Bill Hayward’s Headquarters”.

Albert Stone, photographer for the Rochester Herald newspaper, sits on a plank as Hotel Seneca is being constructed. c.1907 [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]
Many of the photographs on RochesterSubway.com were taken by this man (above). Albert Stone, photographer for the Rochester Herald newspaper, sits on a plank as Hotel Seneca is being constructed. He’s 130 feet above the intersection of South Clinton Avenue and Main Street looking through a camera at the street below.

Manger Hotel's Hearth and Embers restaurant shortly before the building was demolished. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
In 1957, the Seneca became the Manger Hotel. The image above is the Manger Hotel’s “Hearth and Embers” restaurant taken shortly before the hotel closed for good. In 1969 it was razed to make way for Midtown Plaza.

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This entry was posted on Friday, September 14th, 2012 at 8:02 am and is filed under Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “Today, September 14, in Rochester History: The Seneca Hotel Opens”

  1. Karen Dau says:

    The Seneca Hotel was built on the former site of the Universalist Church, which was completed in 1847 and razed in 1907 (for the hotel).

  2. @Karen, thank you. That’s interesting. Here’s a photo of that church. That’s when the congregation moved into the church designed by Claude Bragdon (on Clinton and Court St.)

  3. Rich Rolwing says:

    Regarding the reason stated above for the hotel’s demolition–Hadn’t Midtown Plaza already been up and running for about seven years in 1969? Or are we talking about some “further expansion” of same in that year?

  4. @Rich, that’s a good question. That info came from the library’s description of the photo and a few other random web sites that set the demolition date around 1968. It’s possible the new Seneca Building was built after the mall had opened. Still searching…

  5. Rich Rolwing says:

    I’m really glad I stumbled on this article. I hadn’t been to the site for a while so I guess should always take a quick browse around (especially in the Rochester History section) whenever I’m here to look for new articles that may have been added in the meantime. I’ve always found the Seneca/ Manger Hotel one of the most intriguing buildings of old Rochester. I guess it has to do on the one hand with its endearingly (imo) plumpish design and with how it was so snugly shoehorned into that space–the latter being an impression that was only pleasingly heightened when I found out that “slab-ish” (yet still attractive) structure of such a contrasting architectural style (strangely modernistic?) seemingly sprouting out of nowhere nearby was actually a subsequent (thanks to the article I now know late ’20s) addition to the hotel. Talk about an un-selfconsciously eccentric pleasing “variation” to the skyline/cityscape!

    To conclude with an oservation more in line with the gloomy reality that intruded on this urban and architectural idyll–I seem to remember reading somewhere that in an interview the last owner of the then Manger actually stated that the decline and ultimate superfluity of hotels like the Seneca/Manger was aided in large part by the growing realization that the motel (yes, the lowly motel!) was poised to more practically meet the needs (auto-determined to some extent, no doubt) of those individuals in need of shelter while away from home. If true to any extent, this was a short-sighted supposition that led to an unfortunately disproportionate long-term indifference to and ultimate denial of the significance of the place of the hotel in the urban landscape, at least in Rochester.

  6. @Rich, those are great points. This was sort of a david vs goliath story I suppose. Who’d have thought the Seneca Hotel would be brought to its proverbial knees by the “Friendly Motel”…

    The Friendly Motel located on Rt 104 five miles west of Rochester, NY.

  7. Mike Allentoff says:

    Having worked at Scrantom’s Seneca Terrace in Midtown starting in the mid-1970s, I can tell you that the Seneca Building was added to Midtown in the very late 1960s/early 1970s to provide more office and retail space for Midtown and to connect with the new Lincoln First (now Chase) Tower. It was named the Seneca Building in honor of the hotel. Manger Hotels, which in later years ran the Seneca, had plans to run the Midtown Tower Hotel in its place, but I don’t think they ultimately chose to participate. They also felt the hotel could not compete with the “modern” hotels like the Flagship Rochester (now the Rochester Plaza) and the Holiday Inn (now the Radisson. The later construction of the Seneca Building is the reason that its more modern frame could be reused for the new “Windstream” building.

  8. Susan Danielsson says:

    While looking through some old family silver, I discovered a souvenir spoon with Hotel Seneca on the front and Rochester NY on the back. Naturally my curiosity took me to google and I found this interesting article. I have no idea who of my ancestors visited the Seneca or when. But it is interesting to know some history of this little spoon.


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