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Deep Inside Rochester’s Big Old Sibley Building

November 18th, 2013

The Sibley Building, Rochester NY. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This former department store (Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Company) is truly massive. Rochester’s Sibley Building external link weighs in at over 1.1 million square feet (23 acres of floorspace) – easily the largest building in Monroe County.

WinnCompanies external link out of Boston now owns the property and plans to spend up to $200 Million over the next five years to bring it back to life as mixed-use space. Holy smokes, do these guys have their work cut out for them. You may have noticed new windows and awnings along Main Street? Some 2,000 windows have yet to be replaced.

Last week the UofR Urban Explorers Club went on a tour through the maze of hallways and spaces, from the dark sub-basement all the way up to the two massive water tanks on the tower rooftop…

Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Co. around holiday time, 1938. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
Before we begin, here’s a look at department store around holiday time, 1938. At one time you could get anything here. Clothing, shoes, hats, belts, handbags, cosmetics, fine jewelry, sportswear, household items, decorations, coins and stamps, electronics, cameras, portraits, groceries, baked goods, etc. There was a pharmacy, ice cream shoppe, sidewalk cafe, a gourmet restaurant; even a deli and butcher shop. See the old store directory here external link.

Sibley building atrium and clock. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It’s a much different picture today. Fairly empty with a few scattered reminders of the glory days.

Sibley building clock. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Like this clock. A plaque beneath it reads:

A SIBLEY TIMEPIECE
“Meet me under the clock” were the instructions that generations of shoppers used for their rendezvous at Sibley’s downtown department store. The four-sided timepiece originally hung from the first floor ceiling in front of the current escalators. The original clock has been restored, inverted and mounted on the steel pole for future generations to admire as a piece of past Sibley department store history.

“Inverted” means that the clock was mounted on this pole upside-down – the clock faces had to be removed, flipped right-side-up, and reinstalled.

Above the clock, the 5-story glass-enclosed atrium installed in 1990 is not original to the building. This atrium was cut open to let sunlight light in. Helicopters were used to lift the glass panels into place.

Sibley building atrium. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
WinnCompanies has also started to repaint some areas of the building. These are the very early signs of a rebirth.

Sibley building escalators. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
According to a news article on September 23, 1936 these were the very first escalators in western New York. On Sept. 30, 1936, hundreds of shoppers looked on as Mayor Charles Stanton pulled a cord which started the 1,500-foot, five-story conveyance system. All ten escalators cost $250,000 to install and could carry 8,000 people an hour.

WinnCompanies has just completed the restoration of ONE of the nickel-brass escalators at a cost of $200,000. All ten would cost just over $2 Million to renovate.

These escalators have been running nearly non-stop since 1936. Rather than replace the inner workings with all new mechanics which might last 20 years, they say it made way more sense to restore and reuse what is already there. And there’s no reason why they shouldn’t run for another 80 years.

Sibley building elevators. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
There are a total of 22 elevators in the building. The ones on the ground level in the main lobby are surrounding by green Italian marble. Sibley’s renovated the main floor and had a Grand Reopening on November 2, 1942. They hired an artist to create these relief sculptures to be displayed above each elevator. These first two represent the progress of Main Street over the previous 75 years.

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

The next two celebrate local achievements in engineering and agriculture – harnessing the power and energy of the land and Genesee River…

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

…to fuel industrial growth, productivity and spur enhancements in education, culture, energy, architecture, etc.

Sibley building elevator relief sculpture. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Also not sure who the artist was.

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Today there are still a few tenants hanging on, including MCC (for now) and a Rainbow clothing store.

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
We take a peek inside a set of double doors off the atrium. This is the southwest (Main and Clinton) corner of the building. It’s being used temporarily as an arts studio for city kids.

Inside the Sibley building. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This space will eventually be occupied by a restaurant and/or cafe.

Hallway to Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Now we head to the back of the building down several zig-zaggy hallways to the loading docks.

Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Shipments of goods from all over the world would be received at these giant loading bay doors.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Boxes of goods and other items would be sent down these shafts to the basement levels to be distributed and displayed throughout the building.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This is where the baked goods were once made, down this ramp. But we didn’t get a chance to go down there.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Instead we head up these stairs, where the shipping & receiving manager hung out. In its heyday, Sibley’s delivery room shipped nearly 10,000 packages daily.

Sibley building, shipping & receiving. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It’s quite dark in here. But we see a few chairs, shelves, some old Sibley’s boxes, and empty packs of cigarettes. CORRECTION: Those are Sibley’s bags, not boxes. I didn’t touch them so I wasn’t sure. But they looked super-thick like boxes!

Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Sibley building loading docks. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Sibley building freight elevator. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Now we’re going to jump onto a freight elevator and rumble on up to the sixth floor.

Sibley building freight elevator. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
These elevators are old-school!

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
We step off the elevator on level six, into a huge empty space which used to be the Tea Room/Tower Restaurant kitchen.

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The floors are covered wall to wall with white tile (or what was once white).

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This place could use some elbow grease.

The Tower Restaurant kitchen at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
These two service doors were for wait staff.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The doors lead into this fancy restaurant known as The Tower Restaurant (I’ve also heard it referred to as the “Pompeian Room”). It served nearly 130,000 meals a year.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It was renovated sometime during the late 70′s or early 80′s. A dance floor and fairly dated gold paneling was installed.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This grand buffet was designed and built specifically for this room. It’s shown in the original 1904 architectural floorplans.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
A little side room used to store extra furniture was once a private dining room.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Another side room off the main dining room, again for private functions.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The ceiling covering has lost its desire to hang on. So far the chandelier is still hanging tough.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This door takes us outside onto the roof.

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
WinnCompanies plans to make this into a green roof deck for future tenants.

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
They also plan to restore the clock tower. And there’s the glass atrium to the left.

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

On the roof just outside The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Nice views from here, but they’re even better from the top of the 12-story tower. We’ll see those later on. Let’s go back inside.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It’s so dark in here sometimes I forget to look down and notice the nice floors. This is outside the ladies’ powder room…

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The ladies’ powder room.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
And this door leads to the ladies’ bathroom. Shall we?

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Nice color scheme. The sign on the back wall reads:

“Every effort is made to keep this lavoratory as clean as possible for you. We will appreciate your cooperation in helping us maintain its cleanliness.
Thank You”

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
And this is the men’s lounge. I don’t have any photos of the men’s bathroom. It was a rather small space for my lens and not as interesting as the ladies’ room.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Outside the men’s room and just past the guest elevator was this weird space. It has been reported that this was the kids’ Barber Shop? Anyway, there was a neat series of folksy murals on the wall, painted in the 1950’s by Lindus Vilimas from Sibley’s own Display Department…

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
“Pleasant Valley of the Genesee”

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
“On the Great Trail”

Mural in the Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
“Upper Falls” …and there is a fourth one buried just behind the temporary wall on the right. I couldn’t squeeze my camera in there.

The Tower Restaurant at Sibley's department store. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Alrighty. Let’s go back downstairs. Our host wants to show us the basements. But not on this elevator.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
We take the freight elevator to the upper basement. There is sub-basement beneath here we’ll see later.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It’s a maze of dark hallways.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
And storage cages.

Boilers in the Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The building is heated with steam and toasty warm down here. These are two enormous boilers. The pipes down are clanging away like mad. Take a listen…

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
There’s a ton of great junk down here. I could have spent days digging through it all but the group is moving fast. I start to fall behind.

Sibley's department store basement. Pneumatic tube system. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
I don’t know what this room is. The Super Mario Bros. room maybe. OR, this could be the room that powered the pneumatic tube system for the building. Thirty-five miles of pneumatic tubes sent transactions from the sales counters to the “tube room” where change was counted out or the purchase was put on a charge account. Nearly 1,000 such transactions took place each day. Each one taking less than 40 seconds roundtrip. Who needs a computer anyway!

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Some kind of dark mystery room I don’t want to venture into.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Piles of old wooden doors.

Sibley's department store basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This reminds me of my first apartment. I don’t get too comfy though. This place is starting to freak me out.

Sibley's basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
We make our way past several elevator bays that open up into a wide open space.

Sibley's basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This area used to be where all the “bargain basement” deals were. Sort of the Sibley’s version of Filene’s Basement, though Sibley’s version probably came first.

Sibley's department store, 1940. [PHOTO: Rochester Public Library]
I’m not certain, but I imagine this old photo from 1940 might be somewhere down here in the Bargain Basement.

Sibley's basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Stairs. But we’re not going up just yet.

This looks like it could have been a cafeteria – for employees maybe? Could also have been the phone-order department. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
After several twists and turns I have no idea where we are now. This looks like it could have been a cafeteria – for employees maybe? Could also have been the phone-order department. Operators here would handle nearly 10,000 calls each week. Phone orders at Sibley’s made up 5 percent of total sales.

To the SUB-basement! [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Ok, now let’s go even deeper. To the SUB-basement!

Sibley sub-basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Uh oh. It’s intensely dark and claustrophobic when finally I realize I made a wrong turn and have to head back. I’m completely removed from the group at this point. The clanging pipes are drilling into my cranium.

Sibley sub-basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Back on track now. This area was sort of strange, spatially. It was probably a 50,000 square foot space. Huge. But it felt just the opposite because of all the support columns everywhere. Like being deep inside a thick forest.

Sibley sub-basement. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Every wall and column has writing on it.

I notice a classic rock theme to much of the graffiti down here. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
I notice a classic rock theme to much of the graffiti down here.

Supermang. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

This area was for wrapping and packing. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Remember the chutes from the loading docks upstairs? I think we may have found the bottom of one. This area was for wrapping and packing. How do I know? Because the threatening sign says so…

I wonder what else went on down here besides wrapping & packing? [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
I wonder what else went on down here besides wrapping & packing? Some good times, I’m sure.

Ok, at this point I can’t hear any of the voices from my group. I’ve fallen way behind and need to kick it into high gear to catch up before I get trapped down here.

Sibley Tower lobby. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Eventually we come back up and come to the main lobby of the tower. The tower was built in two phases with floors 7 through 12 added in 1924. By 1939, Sibley’s would be the largest department store between New York City and Chicago.

Notice the fancy mailbox. This is connected to a Cutler mail chute, invented and produced in Rochester, NY. This one was in working order through at least 2000. It may still work but it’s currently not in use. Maybe because there are only two tenants in the tower now?

The 11th floor of Sibley Tower. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The tour now takes us up to the 11th floor. The elevator lets out into one long hallway with tons of these glowing doors. I have this incredible urge to open up each one to see what’s behind them.

We take a walk to the temporary WinnCompanies office. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
We take a walk to the temporary WinnCompanies office.

Great views of midtown from here. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Great views of midtown from here. Lots of neat renderings and floor plans showing the new renovated Sibley building. From left to right: the office & retail lobby elevators, building exterior showing the green rooftop deck, and the residential (tower) lobby.

These are the original original plans (from 1910). They are printed on silk. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
These are the original original plans (from 1904). Hand drawn on silk and with famous local architect J. Foster Warner’s signature on each one, each page looks like a work of art and is worth as much as $1,000 per page to collectors.

From these windows you can see out to Lake Ontario on a clear day. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
From these windows you can see out to Lake Ontario…

From these windows you can see out to Lake Ontario on a clear day. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
…I mean, if it were a clear day.

Here's the view looking down Main Street and East Ave. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Here’s the view looking down Main Street East (on the left) and East Ave. (on the right). Holiday lights are being hung on the Liberty Pole today.

I love these doors. Each one has a teeny mail slot. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
We’re taking another walk down the hall to see some more stuff. I love these doors. It feels like we are on the set of “Mad Men”. Each door has a teeny mail slot. At some point our mail must have gotten larger because some of the doors have been modified with a larger one. These will all become high-end apartments. Because of the historic landmark status of the building, WinnCompanies cannot alter the doors or hallways in any way. The doors will have to open into a vestibule with another, more secure door inside.

My very first full time job was working for an internet service provider called EZnet, here in the late 1990's. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
HISTORICAL NOTE: My very first full time job was working for an internet service provider called EZnet (late 1990′s before the dot com bubble). Behind this glass door was where I designed my first professional web site – for the company that made Jolt Cola.

Dentistry by Dr. Robert I. Morris. Closed Thursday Afternoons. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Alright, here’s a slightly more interesting door. Dentistry by Dr. Robert I. Morris. Closed Thursday Afternoons. This guy had some serious work ethic.

Dr. Morris hasn't been here in years. This place is frozen in time. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Looks like Dr. Morris hasn’t been here in years. This place is frozen in time. There’s a series of three or four really cramped patient rooms.

Let's see those pearly whites. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Let’s see those pearly whites. “CHEESE!”

Gas masks. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Gas masks. But the chair is missing from this room.

A Capmaster and a Toothmaster. All kinds of paper files are still in here too.  [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
I wonder what these were used for? A Capmaster and a Toothmaster. Somewhere around here are the Keymaster and Gatekeeper.

Kodak dental film dispenser. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Kodak was everywhere!

Now we jump on yet another elevator to head up to the 12th floor.

Another cool lobby. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
For some reason the elevator took us down to the 1st floor before taking us up. But we got to see another cool lobby.

12th floor. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Alright, here we are on 12.

12th floor. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
At one time Sibley’s had fur storage vaults up here on 12. A D&C article in 1939 noted these vaults contained “thousands of valuable coats on miles of racks.” In addition to the vaults were “high pressure blowing machines for cleaning the furs before storage.” We didn’t see any of that. Just lots of open space with nice views.

Nice view of the clock tower and Main Street West. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Nice view of the clock tower and Main Street West. While we’re up here let’s venture up to the roof…

While we're up here let's venture up to the roof... [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

While we're up here let's venture up to the roof... [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Here's a view of the old central post office. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Here’s a view of the old central post office.

This giant metal structure once held a Sibley's department store sign. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
This giant metal structure once held a Sibley’s department store sign.

That’s the Temple Building and the Liberty Pole peeking up above the roofline.

That's the Midtown webcam. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
A webcam was installed here by the City to capture photos of the Midtown construction across the street.

WinnCompanies plans to install a green rooftop deck up here as well. This one would be for the apartment residents. There might even be a disposal chute for doggy waste. Neat-o.

In the center of the tower is a big open space so that interior offices can have a little daylight. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The tower is actually shaped like an irregular triangle. In the center is a big open space so that interior offices can have a little daylight. WinnCompanies also plans to install a rooftop patio down in there.

Have you ever wondered what's inside there? Let's check it out... [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
You may have noticed this little brick building way up on top of the big Sibley’s building tower. Well, it’s not so little from up here. Have you ever wondered what’s inside there? Let’s check it out…

On the first level we have all the elevator mechanicals. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
On the first level we have all the elevator mechanicals.

On the first level we have all the elevator mechanicals. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Going up one more level. This would technically be the 14th floor. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Going up one more level. This would technically be the 14th floor.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Up here we find not one, but two huge water tanks. Originally created to use gravity and provide enough pressure for both the fire sprinkler and domestic water systems in the building. Today these 30,000 gallon tanks lie mostly empty and dormant, the ultimate pigeon roost.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
These photos don’t even come close to conveying their true size.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
They kind of look like giant atomic bombs.

Giant water tanks on top of Sibley's tower. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]

Mural billboard on the back of the Sibley's tower. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
And there she is. Sibley’s, the former pride of Rochester retail. From top to bottom. Rochester is excited to see the updates WinnCompanies will bring to the old girl. Follow their progress on Facebook external link or their website external link

Related Video:

Related Story:

Drunken Hijinks and Homicide in Rochester’s Sibley Building

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This entry was posted on Monday, November 18th, 2013 at 7:50 am and is filed under Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Urban Development, Urban Exploration. 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.

94 Responses to “Deep Inside Rochester’s Big Old Sibley Building”

  1. Patty Uttaro says:

    This is an amazing photo essay! That building is a treasure, and I can’t wait to see what Winn does with it. The Sibleys holiday window displays were a highlight of my childhood and i have often wondered what happened to the props they used in those displays. You didn’t happen to fund a stash of them in that basement, did you? :-) i had actually heard a story several years ago from a former Sibley’s window dresser who was in her 90′s at the time, who told me all the window dressing supplies were stored in a huge old barn somewhere in Monroe County after Sibleys closed. I expect they are all gone now.

    Thanks for shaing this!

  2. Kevin says:

    Rochester Subway nails it again! Best Rochester website by far!!!!

  3. Wait until you see what Larry Moss of Airigami is doing in the lobby come the 1st week of Feb 2014 – giant balloon sculpture for the community to enjoy! Jack and The Beanstalk!

  4. Lisa says:

    Every weekend my dad would drop my mom off at Sibley’s then walk me down to Eastman for my violin lesson. As late as 1982, I remember baked goods and a candy counter. One of my odder recollections is that there was a full wig department for ladies with clerks who would help customers try on wigs and style them. I also recall breakfast with Santa – which I believe was in that ballroom with the giant buffet. And I don’t know if it was Sibley’s or McCurdy’s, but I remember rather extravagant dioramas of “Christmas Around the World” set up in a hallway of glass cases.

    On a side note – have you ever been in the McCrorys’s building? I drive by and wonder if the lunch counter is still in there …

  5. Phyllis Schirano says:

    I see that the tour did not include any of the rooms on the Damon Campus. My office was the CFO office and had a bank vault. There still is a conference room still intact right next to my office. It is a must see.

  6. @Patty, I didn’t see any window dressings or mannequins or anything like that. But those basements are so huge I wouldn’t be surprised if there is stuff hiding down there. This tour zipped through the building in just over 2 hours, but we could have easily spent a full day exploring.

    @Phyllis, you’re right. This tour took place on the weekend outside of MCC hours. If I can get in there to take pictures I’ll update this post.

  7. Erik Stoneham says:

    Thank you for the photos. I have taken classes at MCC Damon campus and always wanted to “wander” around a bit. It must have been truly a wonderful experience.
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. Dave Gottfried says:

    Wow – absolutely fantastic. How can others of us get notified when these kinds of walk throughs are going to happen?! I would have LOVED to toured this building!

  9. @Dave, you can trying contacting the UofR Urban Explorers. Their Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/193692150712132/

  10. Pam says:

    Fantastic! I worked in the third floor in the children’s dept for a short time in the 70s. At that time I had no appreciation for where I was and took no notice of this great old building. How I wish I could go back and walk thru there again. Thanks for the tour.

  11. Donnea says:

    I have tears in my eyes. I love this, it brings back many nice memories for me.

  12. skb says:

    My college internship was at EZNet. I loved going into that building, and always wondered about that dentist office! Nobody ever went in, and nobody ever came out.

  13. David Kavanagh says:

    Thanks for this! I love seeing inside old buildings and wish I had time to explore them first hand. I remember going to Sibley’s at christmas time back in the late 80′s
    I also had an EZnet account back in the day…

  14. Dan says:

    It looks like at least some of the old animatronics from Sibley’s holiday window displays (which I recall seeing on a school trip in the mid 1980s) made it to “Christmas Past” display in Buffalo in 2010. See a video here: http://broadwayfillmorealive.org/2.0/2010/11/buffalos-christmas-past-comes-alive-the-broadway-market/

  15. @Dan, amazing! I wonder if there is room in the $200,000,000 budget to buy those animatronics back :-)

  16. Tom says:

    My fathers Jewelry store was there in the mid 80′s to early 90′s. I always loved going down there at Christmas time to see the lighting of the liberty pole. Great article.

  17. Muzzlehatch says:

    Good thing they never imploded this place as they did Hudson’s!

  18. Todd Finzer says:

    Here is a cool photo i took there a few weeks ago. I work for Premier Signs and we installed the new awnings over the street level windows
    This was a wonderful documentation you did. Love the pics! I shared this with some Sibleys relatives whu have a store in Phoenix AZ.

  19. @Todd, were you going to attach a link to your photo?

  20. Thanks Todd! “Upstate NY’s Store of the Century” Nice!

  21. Linda Wagner says:

    Loved the coverage of the tour. Many good memories were brought back. What a fabulous building!

  22. Renee says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this tour on your website! I have lots of memories about Sibleys as a kid when my mom and/or my friends would shop downtown on Saturdays! I miss the window displays that lit up Main Street, especially during Christmas. I really enjoyed the photographs included with your narration. Thanks again for sharing this!

  23. Pam says:

    “Ditto” to Renee’s comment! We’d ride the bus downtown, and shop for hours! So much fun! The malls, not even Eastview, are as nice as Sibley’s and McCurdy’s/Midtown were back in the day! So classy, it made you feel like royalty when you shopped there… I really miss that.

  24. Gregg Morris says:

    Dr. Morris (my dad) did indeed have a strong work ethic. He was closed on Thursday afternoons, but he was open on Saturdays in order to accommodate patients who couldn’t come in during the week. I can’t tell you what those instruments were for, but I can tell you he had a small lab in the back of the office. He opened a dental office in Sibley tower in the early 1950s (the original was not 1168, he moved to that office in the 1960s). He shut the office down and retired at the age of 86 in 2006. At that point, he was one of the last working tenants in the tower building. He has since passed away.

  25. @Gregg, first, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. I wasn’t kidding about the work ethic… “Closed Thursday Afternoons” was something that immediately struck me. That dedication is not something we see too much of today. He must have loved his work and his patients.

    I’m always so amazed at how many puzzle pieces come together in the comments of this site! Thank you for helping to give some dimension to this story.

  26. Carl Binger says:

    Thank you very much for your time and effort in posting. I appreciate your hard work to bring us good photos.

  27. Joe Bailey says:

    My GrandFather worked in the Bakery, Mom used to bring us up to see him and we would get cookies! His name was Joseph Ange.

  28. Lynne Howell says:

    My husband Kevin worked in the Wrapping & Packing and Shipping departments at Sibley’s during high school and through college (late 70′s/mid 80′s).

    His handiwork can be seen in pictures number:

    #70 – Superman (he says someone else drew the mustache later :)

    #72 – His hand written sign on yellow post.

    Thanks for the memories!

  29. Ha! That’s great, Lynne! Ask your husband what kind of “unauthorized use” went on in that area ;-)

  30. Jeff Morris says:

    I’m Gregg Morris brother and that was my Dad. I remember when I was a little boy visiting my Dad’s office. In those days late 1950′s early 1960′s they still had an elevator operator for the tower building even though the elevators were button driven. His name was Dave and he always greeted me “How’re you doing young man going to visit Doc?” I once asked my Dad why they had an elevator operator when we could press the buttons ourselves? He explained that when they upgraded the elevators rather then fire anybody they let them work until retirement and Dave was the last one. Could you imagine that in today’s corporate environment?

  31. Jeff Morris says:

    Just one more comment Sibley’s had a fantastic Christmas display the best in the city

  32. Ivan Ramos says:

    priceless tour! thank you…

  33. Rich Sarkis says:

    What a lucky group! I used to work there in the late 90′s myself, at MLS Online (suite 1135) which had a close association with EZ-Net. It was a beautiful place to work. It takes me back! I’m hopeful for a resurrection for that beautiful building into something awesome.

  34. Muzzlehatch says:

    The bakery’s orange crullers were the best!

  35. Katie says:

    What a great photo essay – I feel like I was there! I remember being in the building as a child and especially remember the bakery.

    I want to clarify one point: you say “Because of the historic landmark status of the building, Winn Companies cannot alter the doors or hallways in any way.” National Register designation in and of itself does not prevent changes to buildings. If the owners are being told they can’t change doors and hallways, it’s because they are seeking rehab tax credits based on that designation, and therefore have to follow a set of federal standards that protect important historic features. If they were not receiving tax credits or other state/federal assistance, the building’s National Register status would not impose any restrictions whatsoever – owners can and do change and demolish National Register listed buildings all the time with no penalties as long as they use their own money. So it would be more accurate to say, “Because they are using state and federal rehabilitation tax credits, Winn Companies…”

    It seems a nitpicky point, but there is a lot of misinformation out there among people who either hope National Register listing will save a building or fear listing will keep them from doing what they want.

  36. That’s an excellent point Katie! Thank you!

  37. Kay says:

    It’s so sad that most of the “focus on Rochester” stuff is about decay and decline, with the ever-present “maybe *this* will turn things around”. :(

  38. Kay, don’t get discouraged. This web site tends to focus on history and “old stuff” as a theme. But believe me, there is A LOT of good stuff happening around town. I can’t cover it all here.

    This project in itself is a very positive story. I mean $200 MILLION is being invested in this property alone. That is HUGE. And it’s not “might” or “maybe”… it’s happening.

  39. cindy says:

    I worked here for 15 years? Loved looking at this pics. How do I go on this tours with you?

  40. Nolee Feiock says:

    I can still vividly remember the Christmas display, the tunnels that contained life-sized replicas of people in Victorian dress, all kinds of celebrations by the gift-filled tree. I remember Bill Benet’s father playing the kazoo just outside the entrance every year too.

    My sister and I also attended the monthly meeting of Polly Pigtails in the basement somewhere. They served us breakfast, there was a show and prizes for girls ages 5-12 and sometimes they even had a fashion show. It was such fun!!!!!

  41. Linda Haddad says:

    I was one of Dr. Morris’s patients! As you sat in the chair you could see all of downtown. Sibley’s was a magnificent store. Christmas was so beautiful- yes, with the kazoos also. It is a shame that stores are not like this anymore. Downtown has changed so much. I miss the good old days!

  42. Laurie Eisele says:

    My first job was at sibleys. I got hired the day I turned 16 -back in 1973. I worked on the 4th floor in the toy department . Seems like so long ago ….

  43. David Emanuele says:

    I worked for Sibleys for 18 years and 12 of those years were in this building. I did work in the “Budget Store” for a few years and I recognize most of those photos. The sub basement was used to store fixtures and every once in awhile I would have to go down there to retrieve one. It was very scary. You were not sure if you were going to see any four legged creatures. Around 1980 the store went through a major renovation and uncovered these magnificent mahogany columns in the mens area that had been painted over several years earlier. They were still there when the stored closed in 1990. My office was on the second floor over looking Clinton Ave.

  44. Jason Haremza says:

    Wonderful post, as usual. Thank you for the virtual tour.

    Can anyone pinpoint when exactly Sibley’s closed?

    The D&C is not indexed and I’d like to research the media coverage at the time of the end of downtown retail in Rochester. Or I should say, the end of the era of downtown department stores in Rochester.

  45. @Jason, someone just sent me an email to answer your question…

    “Our last day at work was March 3rd 1990. We had to stay until the last day or we would loose our severance.”

    Not sure if March 3 was the date the store closed to the public, but this is probably not far off.

  46. Carl says:

    I loved shopping at Sibley’s! The electric sign on the roof was illuminated day and night, and could be seen for miles down East Avenue. I even worked there for a few years.

    By the way, the main restaurant at the top of the building was the Tower Restaurant. The Pompeian room was the private dining room off to the side. That’s why you’ve heard references to both names.

  47. Buzzie Valle says:

    Amazing photos and tour description. To shop at Sibleys was such a treat. The frosty’s, the Christmas display’s, playing “princess” with my sisters in the ladies lounge(!) Took me back to a comfort zone that I haven’t thought about for a long, long time. Thank you

  48. Dawn says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful tour! I moved to Rochester in 1980 from the Albany area for my first job. I was SO impressed and excited to have a real department store and downtown in which to shop – I seem to remember that some of the ladies having lunch upstairs were still wearing hats and white gloves! I’ve saved my last ‘Sibley’s’ shopping bag as a rememberance, and I also remember the very lovely goose down pillows I bought that carried the Sibley’s label. Speaking of which; at the George Eastman House I saw at least one ‘Sibley, Lindsey. and Curr’ hat box in his mother’s closet. A wonderful part of Rochester history, I am glad it will have a new life!

  49. Tom Fawkes says:

    Sibley’s had its own fleet of delivery trucks with uniformed drivers.
    In the ’50′s you could order items from ads in the 2 daily newpapers & they would deliver by truck.
    There was a kind of take-out deli/ grocery dept. that sold hard to find items like shucked oysters & fancy baked goods.
    It was a special destination that made you feel good to visit.

  50. Tom Fawkes says:

    Thanks for your photos & text. It was a treat to see your visit to a great store and to learn about the new project by Winn Company.

  51. Susan Marano says:

    Love this! 1168 Sibley Tower Bldg, that was my father’s dental office: Dr. Robert I. Morris, DDS. He was one of the last hold-outs on the 11th floor. Thank you for sharing!!!!

  52. Just added a video at the end of this story, from WHAM 13 news that aired the first day of Sibley’s going out of business sale…

    http://www.clipsyndicate.com/video/play/3743052

  53. Mike Hotra says:

    Hi, great website and great pictures. My grandmother was John Sibley’s secretary in the 1930′s and 1940′s and tells some great stories of going on a date with his driver (whom she broke off dating to marry my grandfather.) She also tells a story that “Mr. Sibley” had a bazooka tube somewhere in his office and kept a round (not clear weather live or dud) for it in his office safe.

  54. Jason Haremza says:

    Is there any written material out there about the history of the company? Maybe something written for the 100th (1968?) anniversary? All I’ve come across is dribs and drabs on the internet, nothing particularly comprehensive.

    Based on all these great memories and stories, I think the story of Sibley’s is as great and worthy of recording as the story of Macy’s or Wanamaker’s or Field’s.

  55. David Emanuele says:

    I actually have a Executive Recruitment book that was produced in 1975 titled “Merchandising Careers At Sibley’s” It talks about opportunities in a retailing career at Sibley’s.

  56. Beth Morris Puno says:

    Dr. Morris, my Grandpa!! I just wanted to note that I too have very fond memories of Sibley’s (the clock!) and visiting his office. Although I did not grow up in Rochester, I spent a portion of every childhood and adolescent summer there and it is dear to me. I’ve celebrated 4th of July with sparklers running around the backyard in Brighton, and I’ve made smoothies for thirsty patrons of the Park Ave. Festival. It helps to have great family and friends who live there too. With love, from California.

  57. Sharon jackling Degroot says:

    Thanks for putting such a great pictorial together of Sibleys – great memories!
    We always used the clock to meet, went to lunch InThe tower and I was a patient of dr Morris – wow what a trip to the past.
    Good for Winn restoring a building which I never realized was so large

  58. Hello Everyone! I have just read all your comments and thoroughly enjoyed each one. Thank you for sharing your wonderful memories and for supporting our efforts to restore The Sibley Building. We are just as excited as you are to see this historic landmark once again be the heart of our great city.

    If you would like to share any stories directly with us, we would love to collect and share them with all Rochestarians. Also if, as some of you have expressed, you would like to be part of a building tour, send us an email. You can reach us at SibleyBuilding@winnco.com and again, thank you for your kind comments. We definitely share your excitement!

  59. Cathy says:

    Wow, these pictures gave me chills. Worked in the offices on the fifth floor for a few years back in the 70′s. Sibley’s was the place to be, miss it a lot. There are no department stores that come close, and it was a beautiful building.

  60. Domenic says:

    Great pictures, wonderful memories.Worked there one year (1957)

  61. Shelly d says:

    Wow!!!! How awesome was this piece, brings back such memories! Just want to say thanks and very well done!!!

  62. Mike D says:

    My mothers first job was a Sibleys as a teenager. Unfortuately she passed away a year and a half ago and would have loved seeing this story and the great photos. I can’t remember what dept. she worked in but I do remember her tell us about the tubes going to the cash office. I could spend weeks poking around and exploring there.

  63. Chris says:

    Very cool! I remember going there as a kid for the breakfast with Santa and walking through the Christmas scenes. Oh and now that I think about it, I remember the noise from all the Kazoos in that Christmas/Winter Wonderland area. Good times!

    I worked at Frontier downtown later in life and we’d walk through there to a few different lunch places.

    Been a while and moved out of state 10 years ago, but great memories!

  64. Dolores King says:

    I was very pleased and surprised to find the link to this website. I worked for Sibley’s from 1979 until 1986. For most of that time, I was the Director of the Ward Gallery on the 4th floor. (My last name was Mayer at the time, for those of my co-workers who might remember me.) We put together 16 exhibits a year, including the Scholastic Art Show, and many annual exhibits of community arts groups.

    I also was given the task of organizing the “memorabilia” that had been collected of the history of Sibley’s. We designed and installed an exhibit of this memorabilia on the sixth floor, at the entrance to the Tower Restaurant.

    It was a privilege and a pleasure to work for Sibley’s, and especially for Margaret Thirtle, the Senior VP of Sales Promotion. During her time, the store was involved in so many wonderful projects that touched the lives of the Rochester community, and also those in Syracuse and Buffalo.

    FYI, there is a publication that came out on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the store. A copy may be in the local history division of the Rochester Library. I have no idea what happened to the archives once I left. When the company was sold to May Co., there was no commitment to the history or the memories of the institution. That was a sad day. I am encouraged to see that the new owners of the building are committed to bringing some of that history back to Rochester.
    Good luck in your endeavors!

  65. Dan Hines says:

    Concerning Phyllis Schiran’s comments. I would love to see the CFO’s office. My great uncle Robert Christ worked for Sibleys starting in 1905. He worked his way up from clerk to credit manager and then to treasurer. I am assuming that he worked in the cfo’s office. On January 16, 1943, he left the office early, not feeling good. He died at home later that day.

  66. Hi Dan Hines: Where was the CFO’s office, on the 4th floor? Send us an email to discuss at sibleybuilding@winnco.com

  67. Rozanne Jenny Pfister says:

    I worked at sibleys from 1978-1990, most of that downtown. Many old department stores in major cities have great history/photo books about them, why not Sibleys? The pictures from the tour brought back so many memories! Surely there must be more pictures and memorabilia someplace? There will never be another sibleys. It is an amazing building. I wish I had looked around even more and taken pictures, but who knew it would ever end? I loved it so much. As for dr Morris, one day I had a dental emergency at work, and I went to see him! After that he became my dentist until I moved away. Seeing that door in the picture took me right back. Wow. I hear Margaret Thirtle is in the Friendly home, still doing well. I don’t live in town anymore, but maybe someone in this comment chain can write a book and chronicle more memories before we are all gone. It deserves to be preserved. I am so happy the building is being renovated. Some cities imploded these grand ladies. Tragedy.

  68. Hi Rozanne:

    Great comments, thanks! We have been in touch with Margaret,through her family and hope to meet with her soon to hear her stories, sounds like a great lady.

    Book? Definitely on our radar. Would you be willing to share more stories? Please reach out to us at sibleybuilding@winnco.com so we can discuss this. If you know any Sibley Alumni who are still local, please ask them to reach out to us too. Perhaps we can hold a “reunion” and tour the building once more before our renovation work begins in earnest.

    Thanks for sharing!

  69. Rozanne Jenny Pfister says:

    That would be so great! There are some sibley Facebook groups where people are still in touch. I would bet if you publicized a reunion tour you would get a huge response from near and far. The building closed in early 1990, so we hit 25 years really soon.

  70. Rozanne:

    Yes 25 years in January, time flyies. Do you know the exact date Sibley’s closed to the public? We heard it was in January 1990 but don’t know the day…

    We have found one FB page called “Former employees of Sibley’s in Rochester, New York” but it only has 10 members, are their others? Please email links to us at sibleybuilding@winnco.com, thanks!

  71. Pat says:

    That was one fantastic store. Spent a lot of time in there and I most say a lot of money too (at least for those days). You knew you were going to get something grand when you saw a Sibleys box on birthdays or Christmas. Wish it was still there.

  72. Liz Daugherty says:

    Oh we were just talking about Sibley’s in the winter. Going through the winter village and then lunch in the restaurant. What a treat for a little girl. I just loved going there. Then in high school would meet my cousin there and have the world’s best frosties and take the bus home together. Thank you for the memories – I miss the life we lived, but have very fond memories that I hope never fade.

  73. sharon says:

    The machines in Dr. Morris office are amalgamators. They were used to incorporate mercury into the amalgam pellets. When totally mixed, the amalgam was placed into the prepared tooth to produce “silver” fillings.

  74. Brenda Voorhees says:

    I worked at Sibley’s downtown (Interior Design Studio receptionist) from 1976-1979. What a time we had! Thank you for a walk down memory lane!

  75. @Sharon, thank you! Mystery solved. When did they stop using Mercury in fillings?! Must have been more recent that I thought.

  76. Gregg Morris says:

    I think I can answer the mercury-in-fillings question. Mercury was used in silver fillings pretty much until silver fillings went by the wayside in favor of plastics. But fear not, the mercury used was metallic, not organic, so not a health hazard.

  77. Janet Patlow says:

    A book about Sibley’s would be wonderful. Some of us aren’t computer-savvy; besides, a book is tangible. You can hold it and turn the pages. You can’t do that on a computer! Thank you for the nostalgia. My grandfather was the Sales Promotion Manager for Edwards, but of course we also shopped at Sibley’s. Sibley’s was unique, a way of life gone forever. Going downtown to shop was what we used to do. The malls just don’t compare. They’re sterile. Sibley’s had a soul.

  78. Barbara Conn Maul says:

    Worked in toys one Christmas season helping folks get on the train and in the Interior Design studio in the early 60′s. My favorite memory,though, was seeing the Christmas windows the day after Thanksgiving. Thanks for all the pics and renewed memories.

  79. constance love gomez says:

    I began working for Sibley’s part-time in 1959 in the Buffet Restaurant on the Main floor. Did my senior paper from RIT on the opening of Midtown Plaza. Later became a Buyer for Sibley’s, seven stores. Retired, from Sibley’s, in 1971. Would like to see a book about Sibley’s.

  80. JoeV says:

    I worked part-time at Sibley’s downtown store from 1952 to 1954 on the 4th floor as a stock boy while going to school. This great tour brought back many wonderful memories. My earliest memories are of Christmas 1941 when my parents purchased a wooden musical chapel in the toy department which still works and my first Lionel train set in 1947. Our family shopped there regularly and always stopped in the grocery/bakery department to pick up goodies. I sincerely hope that Winn Companies will continue their effort to restore this downtown treasure with a commitment to its historical value.

  81. John Davis says:

    I worked in the tower restaurant untill it closed
    it was such an elegant place to work the restaurant manager was dietrich Schnauffer the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back. Enjoyed working the breakfast with santa shows. Worked on weekends for all the beautiful weddings that were held up their. I would love to be a part of any future tour of the building thanks!

  82. Susan Pauly says:

    Thanks for Sharing! This was great, I modeled for Sibley’s as a child from 1971-1984 I would do fashion shows. I would also get to stand in the windows as a “live mannequin” I remember wearing a white fur coat at one time. I also remember that they would host what they called Galas. One was in 1976 in celebration of the bicentennial. I was a little pilgrim girl. Every day for two weeks very large group of us we would parade through the store at lunch time. We also did a tribute to movie, I was part of the Sound of Music. Does anyone remember these galas or have any pictures?

  83. Nicholas Merenda says:

    Back in early 2013, I worked for a moving company that was hired to move a library on the 12th floor of the Sibley building. The ramp area that is blocked off was being used as a storage area for the library’s books, mostly on pallets. Nothing too extraordinary down there. We of course used the freight elevators. On the freight elevators there is a box containing light bulbs that would illuminate upon arriving at each floor. Most of those bulbs were missing. When I was operating the car I was leaning against this panel, and because the wiring was still there kept getting shocked!! Anyway the 12th floor is like a time capsule to the 1930s! Upon using the bathroom I was half expecting a guy (can’t remember the term) to hold a hand towel for me and provide me some cologne!! I’m am leaving Rochester at the end of the month for the Air Force. I would never take residence in Rochester again because I don’t like where the city and state is headed. I would however someday be thrilled to come back and explore these beautiful time capsules this city has to offer.

  84. Barb says:

    Are there any pictures of Sibleys Christmas windows from back in the late 50′s ????? What happened to all those awesome decorations?? That was such a big part of my young life.

  85. Bill S. says:

    Loved seeing the pictures that bring back so many memories. I worked at the Tower Restaurant back in the mid 80′s under Dietrich Scnauffer as well. He was a joy to work with! After the Tower closed he went on to manage Top of the Plaza at Midtown. Bruce Ikefugi was the front manager for the wait staff – he went on to become an attorney currently practicing in Buffalo. As I recall, the side room near the kitchen was used at lunch by an insurance company for their employees. The Tower Restaurant also had a catering business that went off site for private affairs including weddings and Geva dinners before plays.

  86. Robert McIntosh says:

    Loved the photo journey. Sibleys was my first job. I was there when they closed. One of my last days was in a previous posters office visiting with Divisional Merchandise manager David Emanuele.

  87. joe V says:

    I understand that a reunion of Sibley employees will take place in July 2014. Can someone provide the particulars and how to get my name on the list?

  88. Ed T. says:

    I remember going to Sibley’s as a small child. The bakery was phenomenal. There was an elderly woman who worked behind the bakery counter. She was a very sweet person. She saved all the broken butter cookies and gave them to the kids while parents were purchasing baked goods. This woman had a “kid cookie club” going long before Wegmans! And talk about high quality baked goods – no bakery can touch it today. When viewing the photos of the bargain basement level, the photographer mentioned there was an area that looked like a cafeteria. I recall there being a luncheon counter somewhere near the bottom of the staircase going down. Anyone else remember this?

  89. Joe V. says:

    Yes there was a cafeteria at the foot of the basement stairway. Had lunch and dinner there many times. It was a great place to eat and shop the basement bargains.


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    About the Rochester Subway Poster...

    ¤ Parkleigh [ ...map it ]
    ¤ Poster Art [ ...map it ]
    ¤ Rochester Public Library Store [ ...map it ]
    ¤ The Center at High Falls gift shop [ ...map it ]

    ¤ Rochester Subway Poster Press Release
    ¤ Article by Otto M. Vondrak
    ¤ Design by Mike Governale

    More About The Rochester Subway

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    ¤ Rochester Subway (Wikipedia)
    ¤ The End of the Line - Rochester's Subway, DVD
    ¤ Abandoned Subway Photos (Opacity.us)
    ¤ Walking the Rails (YouTube Video)

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