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A Tower to Rival Eiffel’s Designed in Rochester NY?

March 9th, 2015

A Great Tower of London designed by an M.T. Otis in Rochester NY.
By Mike Governale

The Atlantic’s CityLab recently posted external link some late nineteenth-century designs for a Great Tower of London. The first one in the stack was a 1,355 foot sky scraping behemoth designed in Rochester USA…

The design was submitted to a design competition for a tower that would rival Eiffel's in Paris.
In 1889 the 1,000-foot Eiffel Tower had just been unveiled at the Paris Exposition. And although the Brits said they thought it hideous, they wanted one of their own. So a design competition was launched which drew 68 proposals external link from around the world, all of them at least 200 taller than Eiffel’s.

The tower by Otis was to be 1,355 feet tall. 355 taller than Eiffel.

The design from Rochester was attributed to an M.T. Otis. But just who this Otis person was has me scratching my head.

Maps of Rochester are littered with references to an Otis, but that would be General Elwell Stephen Otis external link. General Otis commanded American forces in the Spanish-American War. Rochester even had an arch and an official “Otis Day” (June 15, 1900) for him.

Could M.T. Otis have been some relation to Elisha Otis and his famous elevator company? Otis Elevator Company did have offices in Rochester at 527 East Main Street, but I couldn’t find a connection there.

Emily Morry, Historical Researcher at Rochester Public Library was able to find a George T. Otis in the city directory of 1890. And as it turns out, George was an architect, and had a firm named “G.T. Otis and C.F. Crandall” located in the Ellwanger and Barry Building. Hmmm… G.T. but no M.T.

Perhaps the M.T. Otis in the catalog of design submissions had been a typo? That would be some insult added to injury after his design for the Great London Tower didn’t even get picked. Then again, the London tower never was built either so, humpf.

The Y.W.C.A. building on North Clinton Avenue may have been designed by the same Otis of Rochester. At least this one was actually built.
If it’s any consolation, George did get the opportunity to design Rochester’s Y.W.C.A. building on North Clinton Avenue and it DID get built in 1912. Aaaand then it was replaced by a much larger building in 1951. Doh!

• • •

UPDATE: Matt Denker correctly points out that these designs may have been from some other “Rochester USA” not necessarily NY. The search continues for the real M.T. Otis.

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This entry was posted on Monday, March 9th, 2015 at 10:13 am and is filed under Architecture, Rochester History. 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.

7 Responses to “A Tower to Rival Eiffel’s Designed in Rochester NY?”

  1. So there was an M.T. Otis who filled a number of public service positions in New England. I wonder if it was Rochester, NH?

  2. You just blew my mind.

  3. I have to admit that I checked up on Rochester, MN, first. It being the second most famous Rochester, but to no avail. I mean, I don’t have a passage saying M.T. Otis from Rochester, NH designed the tower or something, there just happened to BE an M.T. Otis there, where there is really no record of one in Rochester, despite pretty good records of people about town from this time period. Food for thought, I guess!

  4. Ruth Nederlk says:

    #30 School on Otis St in Rochester NY was Named After General Otis .

  5. Dave Gottfried says:

    Check it out… claims “NY” http://greattower.co.uk/list.html

  6. Christopher Brandt says:

    From “Architects and Architecture of Rochester” written by Carl and Ann Schmidt in 1959…

    “George T. Otis recieved his training in the office of Charles Coots. In 1879 he formed a partnership with a fellow draftsman, Charles Crandall. The partnership was dissolved in 1892 and he practiced independently until 1904. Mr. Otis designed the old Y.W.C.A. Building on Clinton avenue North.”

    I know the tower drawing says “M. T. Otis,” but George Otis is the only Otis listed in the book, and he practiced during this time (plus his middle initial is the same).

  7. Kevin Yost says:

    Taitlyn’s Tower was to be built in 1920’s St. Petersburg, Russia, but was not to be because they did not have enough steel production. Would be nice if a small sculpture resembling it were built in either Rochester Martin Luther King, Jr. Park or the green space that is to be on the Midtown Plaza site. It would resemble freedom and liberty, not communism.


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