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Remembering the Old Rochester Monroe County Airport and Murals

August 23rd, 2015

Do you remember the mural at the old Rochester Monroe County Airport? A reader asked if we could share photos of it. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
By Mike Governale

I received an email last week from George Conboy, Chairman of Brighton Securities. He asks, “Have you seen anywhere a photo of the transportation mural that was behind the long ticket counter at the old airport? I remember it as a vaguely Art Deco theme of general transportation with an emphasis, of course, on air transport.”

Mr. Conboy explained that he used to fly a lot during the “glory days” of air travel back in the 1960s when he was a kid. “I just liked that old mural. I used to see it all the time and it has always been in my mind.”

This is a great question. I had been told of this mural before but have never seen it myself. Photos of it online are practically non-existent, so this one will require some digging…

This is the terminal was built on Brooks Avenue in 1953 and contained the mural in question. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
First, let’s take a look at the airport terminal Mr. Conboy is talking about. It used to be known as Rochester Monroe County Airport, and in 1953 the building shown above was built on Brooks Avenue external link to replace a few smaller ones on Scottsville Road external link.

The red-brick, single-level passenger terminal is a pretty typical example of post-war modernist architecture but was a state-of-the-art facility in 1953. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
The red-brick, single-level passenger terminal is a pretty typical example of post-war modernist architecture. The style would be familiar to most suburban grade-schoolers today. But at the time this was a very exciting improvement, and undoubtedly a state-of-the-art facility.

An acre or more of concrete permitted planes to taxi right up to the terminal. Parking for cars was, of course, ample with plenty of open space to expand. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
An acre or more of concrete permitted planes to taxi right up to the terminal. Parking for cars was, of course, ample with plenty of open space to expand.

Visitors could have a bird's-eye view of the airfield from an observation platform located on the roof. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
Visitors could have a bird’s-eye view of the airfield from an observation platform located on the roof (seen just left of center in the photo above).

From inside, huge picture windows provided great viewing of the planes as they landed and departed. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
From inside, huge picture windows provided great viewing of the planes as they landed and departed.

If you weren't in a rush, a restaurant called Horizons offered fine dining to the public and passengers awaiting their flights. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
If you weren’t in a rush, a restaurant called Horizons offered fine dining to the public and passengers awaiting their flights.

This iconic brick clock tower high above the terminal reminded passengers just how much time they had to buy their tickets and board their planes. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
And this iconic brick clock tower high above the terminal reminded passengers just how much time they had to buy their tickets and board their planes.

But what about the mysterious mural? We still have no idea what that looked like or where it was. Well, with the help of a few friendly librarians at Rochester’s Central Library, I found this…

On June 21, 1953 the brand new terminal was dedicated. This brochure was given to guests in attendance at the ceremony. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
On June 21, 1953 the brand new terminal was dedicated. This brochure was given to guests in attendance at the ceremony.

The brochure contains a floor plan of the new Rochester Monroe County Airport terminal. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
Inside was a floor plan of the new building, AND… drumroll please…

And a two-page spread detailing the murals. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
A two-page spread detailing the new airport murals.

The murals traced the history of transportation in North America from the horse-drawn vehicles of the pioneer days to the 1950s era of aviation. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
The murals traced the history of transportation in North America from the horse-drawn vehicles of the pioneer days to the 1950s era of aviation.

I'm not entirely sure if the images shown here are of an artist's concept sketch, or if these were photographs of the actual finished mural. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
I’m not entirely sure if the images shown here are of an artist’s concept sketch, or if these were photographs of the actual finished mural. But the description does read:

The technic used is designed to harmonize with and complement the beautiful furnishings and color scheme in the Administrative Building. This technic is an adaption of calligraphic line combined with careful and restrained use of solids, all in five colors which repeat the colors used in the furnishings and other elements of decor.

So I think this was only a sketch, but the finished piece was probably pretty darn close to this.

Some of the vehicles and scenes depicted include a packet boat gliding through Rochester on the Erie Canal, the old trolley line to Sea Breeze, the Wright Brothers
Some of the vehicles and scenes depicted include a packet boat gliding through Rochester on the Erie Canal, the old trolley line to Sea Breeze, the Wright Brothers “flying machine,” and the Empire State Express steam locomotive setting a record speed of 112 mile per hour external link in 1893.

The murals were created by Marjorie Lapp, Elmer Lapp, and Walter O'Brien for Clifford P. Hayes of the Hayden Company. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
The murals were created by Marjorie Lapp, Elmer Lapp, and Walter O’Brien for Clifford P. Hayes of the Hayden Company. Hayden Company was a highly regarded cabinet and furniture manufacturer based in Rochester from 1847-1955. The company also handled the interior design and furnishings for the terminal.

Click on the panels below to see larger views of each…

Horse and horse-drawn wagons. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
Horse and horse-drawn wagons.

Waterways and the Erie Canal. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
Waterways and the Erie Canal.

The trolley line to Sea Breeze and the bicycle. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
The trolley line to Sea Breeze and the bicycle.

The early days of the automobile. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
The early days of the automobile.

The railroads. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
The railroads.

Aviation. This panel was over 100 feet long. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
Aviation. This panel was over 100 feet long.

Inside the terminal, an outline of the mural can be seen on the wall above the doors. [IMAGE: Rochester Public Library Local History Division]
As far as photos of the mural inside the terminal building, this was all I could find. This photo was taken in 1953 a little bit before the terminal opened. To the right of the big picture windows, and behind the pile of boxes, there is a set of doors. Those doors led out to a great covered porch with a view of the airfield. On the wall just above the doors, an outline of the mural can be seen.

Looking closer, this would be the
Looking closer, this would be the “railroad” portion of the mural.

If anyone reading this has a photo of the mural or the old airport itself, please drop a comment below or email info@rochestersubway.com.

• • •

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This entry was posted on Sunday, August 23rd, 2015 at 8:39 pm and is filed under Architecture, Art + Culture, Rochester History, Rochester Images, Transit + Infrastructure. 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.

15 Responses to “Remembering the Old Rochester Monroe County Airport and Murals”

  1. Here’s a more recent aerial photo of the terminal (after several additions) from 1984. The view is from Brooks Avenue looking south toward Scottsville Road. Click for a larger view…

    [Posted with permission from the photographer, James C. Kruggel]
  2. Carl says:

    I remember the murals pretty well and always enjoyed looking at them when I visited the airport as a child. They were definitely a lot cheerier than the depressing stuff that’s in the airport now.

  3. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to add about the murals. However, the aerial shot in the comments section shows several airplanes from Empire Airlines, a Utica-based airline that my father flew for. They were very active in the 70’s and 80’s until they were purchased by Piedmont in 1985.

  4. Bob Luckey says:

    The 1990’s were marked by a transformation of drab-looking upstate NY airports into modern state-of-the-art gateways. Rochester-Monroe County Airport became Greater Rochester International; Greater Buffalo International became Buffalo-Niagara
    International; Albany County Airport became Albany International; and then there was Syracuse-Hancock International.

  5. James C. Kruggel says:

    Thank you, Mike, for offering this terrific posting. I remember the old airport terminal and the mural well. As a young child, I would stand in front of the vast window before the restaurant and look at Mohawk Airlines planes with the gold Native American head logo on the tail. My parents would take me to Horizons for dinner. It was a few steps up from floor level, so it helped your view.

    I have scanned that very same brochure the librarians found for you at the Rochester Public Library! It’s a local-history treasure. Unfortunately, I never took a photo-essay of the old terminal when I was visiting it in high school all the time in the 1980’s, to collect timetables. The photo you posted is the only really good photo I took. I have all the postcards you have posted, plus some others.

    It’s good that Monroe County put the old Midtown Plaza clock in the new terminal, along with the mini control-tower that used to stand just northwest of the old terminal by the fence. These touches of history connect our beautiful and functional new terminal to the old, and to Rochester’s past.

  6. And thank YOU Jim, for sharing your memories and you great photo with us here!

  7. Chris Stone says:

    It’s a bit ambitious to call your airport “international” when you only qualify on a technicality: a few flights a day hopping across the lake to Toronto.

  8. @Chris Stone – sadly, we don’t have 747’s departing for Heathrow on the hour. That said, we do have customs and immigration facilities to handle cross border flights and that’s what defines an international airport. Scheduled service to Toronto is one piece but there’s also a reasonable amount of general aviation requiring customs.

  9. Chris Stone says:

    That’s fine. Calling it an “international airport” just seems to me to be an illusion of grandeur. Albany’s even worse: there’s no scheduled international flights there.

    I don’t see anything wrong with being a “regional airport”: small, low-key, no hassle.

  10. Ben G. says:

    A guest speaker at an urban planning class I took at UB had a very interesting idea regarding the airports for Rochester and Buffalo. He was an advocate for increased regionalization between our two cities and recommended building a large airport in Batavia. The current airports in the respective cities would act as park-and-ride hubs for a high speed rail line taking passengers to the larger combined airport.
    I’ve always been intrigued by this concept. The high speed rail line could be used for general inter-city travel in addition to serving air travel customers. Imagine being able to enjoy a Sabres game or a show at Shea’s (or likewise, a concert at Eastman theater or a Rhinos game for Buffalo residents) and hopping on a bullet train that gets you home in half the time (and without the hassle) of driving.
    The speaker made the point that, through further and more comprehensive regionalization, the two cities would raise their national profiles and be viewed as one large region with over 2 million residents as opposed to two separate mid-sized metro areas.
    A bit unrelated to the topic but the conversation on what constitutes an “international” airport brought that class to mind. Food for thought at least…

  11. Dana Miller says:

    Great story about the airport and the mural. As young teens we used to ride our bikes from the 19th Ward to the airport, and then just walk around inside to see the planes and passengers. Never had any concern about security, or anything.

    Really had to believe given where we are now.

  12. @Ben G – a regional Batavia airport with rail connections is an interesting idea conceptually (there is an airport there now, by the way) and thinking more regionally between BFLO and ROC has some value. Making our region more like Dallas/Ft. Worth or Minneapolis/St. Paul gives us a scale that we don’t currently have as individual cities. The flip side of that is that it seems to encourage lower density sprawl between the two metros in the absence of a big population boom. As it is, you could almost double the present population within the City of Rochester to equal it’s peak in the 1940s. I don’t have similar statistics for Buffalo but I would imagine it’s largely the same.

    @Chris Stone – Perhaps the international moniker is a bit too aspirational. I’m all for the convenience a smaller airport represents. Ask anyone living in North Jersey what time they’re going to leave for Newark Airport and I bet it’s pretty early. I think there are other airports with lofty aspirations though:

    Columbus, OH: Port Columbus International Airport
    Portland, ME: Portland JetPort
    Wichita, KS: Mid-Continent Airport

    Don’t get me started on misleading names like Rockford Chicago International Airport which is 85 miles west of Chicago.

  13. Jeff Brooks G. says:

    This is fantastic! Thank you so much. I vividly remember the ticket counter mural. The Rochester Monroe County Airport was magical. I regret not photographing the interior and exterior of this beloved structure back in its glory days. Captivated by the Monroe County Airport—for me as a kid it was Shangri-La—I looked forward to going there any chance I could get with my family. The Monroe County Airport was where my family and I embarked for spectacular journeys to such exotic destinations as the Bahamas and Europe. Or for domestic hops to Boston (via Mohawk Airlines BAC One-Elevens) visiting relatives, or a longer excursion to Los Angeles on an American Airlines Boeing 707.

    Our airport was a fun place to be even if you were staying home in Rochester. The Café Avion was an upscale restaurant with delicious fare—you had to dress nicely—which offered a splendid view of the planes being serviced for flight and taxiing to the gate or to the runways. I recall my brother wandering over to the restaurant’s bar to watch Joe Namath on television quarterbacking for the New York Jets (on another occasion, I distinctly can see quarterback Jim Plunkett wearing the then red home jerseys of the New England Patriots).

    After Sunday dinner at the Café Avion, we all had a splendid time outside at the end of the runways, eyeing airliners as they swung around lining their sights to land, then screaming (jets) or rumbling (turboprops) overhead. In those days before exhaust restrictions and technological improvements, you could see the soot on the white tails of the United 727s. Many of us actually miss the earth-shaking thunderous roar of nascent jets as they raced down the runway, leaving a shroud of smoke on the ground and climbing into the sky with a long black smoke trail before vanishing.

    I remember seeing the legendary soccer great Pelé browsing at the Monroe County Airport gift shop, the place where I often purchased aviation-oriented models and books. I remember seeing former Monroe County Republican Committee Chairman Richard Rosenbaum walking proudly and laughing, briefcase in hand, with a colleague as they were about to board a plane.

    The concourse, that led to the main terminal, had a pretty turquoise tile wall which bolstered the mood of even the crankiest customer. The United Airlines ticket counter was off to the side, away from the other two airlines (American and Mohawk) on the west-end of the terminal. There was a certain coziness about it over there. Before the overwhelming security of nowadays, you could walk about the windowed corridors and closely observe the guy semaphoring aircraft.

    Those were good times. I joined family and friends at Rochester’s Monroe County Airport. It was more than a cherished airport… it was home.

  14. Stephen C. Insalaco Jr. says:

    This is a fantastic web site. I remember the old Rochester Monroe County airport. I remember standing inside the terminal building looking outside through those large windows at the aircraft. I specifically remember standing next to the break wall inside the terminal building, shown in one of the photo. I also remember taking a field trip to the airport in the 2nd-grade, and being seated on the inside of a twin-engine convair airliner. That single event alone, made me fall in love with airplanes. Now I’m a pilot and an airplane owner.
    Stephen Insalaco
    J-Six Ranch, Arizona

  15. Stephen C. Insalaco Jr. says:

    And oh yes, I remember the American Airlines Boeing 707 in the Astrojet colors, and the Allegany BAC 111s, and the unique sound that they made in the air.
    Stephen Insalaco


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