Many years ago, I used to work on the 12th floor of Sibley Tower, offices in a lovely old building with a beautiful view of downtown. I could see McCurdy’s across the street. I could see the Liberty Pole. I could see Luke and Laura and the cast of “General Hospital” when the soap opera was filming in Rochester. (I don’t smoke, but I took a lot of “cigarette breaks” that week so I could sneak downstairs to watch.)
Last week, I spent some time downtown taking pictures of the Spiegeltent as it was being assembled as part of this year’s Fringe Festival coverage.
[this is a link to my blog or I can repost the whole thing on RS. Up to you https://notesfromthefunnyfarm.wordpress.com/2016/09/08/notes-from-the-fringe-2016-the-spiegeltent/]
Just for old time’s sake I went for a walk around the neighborhood where I spent many hours trudging from the parking lot to the office building. Last year, when I was downtown for Fringe, I’d been surprised at how little I recognized just a few blocks from where I worked. I never knew there was a residential neighborhood off Main Street, for example. I guess you only see what you’re looking for, and 20 years ago I was only looking to get in and out of work as quickly as possible.
But today I had time to walk down memory lane.
Standing at the corner of Franklin Street and Liberty Pole Way, I was struck by how different the skyline looks from when I worked downtown. There’s a giant hole where McCurdy’s used to be, and while I’ve driven by many times over the years, it looks particularly different, sadder maybe, when you’re on foot.
Maybe that’s just nostalgia talking. I remember as a kid coming downtown at Christmas to see the window displays at McCurdy’s and Sibley’s, to have breakfast with Santa and walk through the Magic Corridor, finishing off the holiday adventure with a ride on the monorail in Midtown, the Clock of Nations showing off it’s multicolored international scenes on the hour. (The clock is now at the Rochester International Airport, and while there were plans for it to move to the Golisano Children’s Hospital, it’s still at the airport and it seems likely that’s where it’ll stay.)
I remember the gleaming cases of merchandise in Sibleys, the giant clock in the middle of the main floor that provided a common meeting place for friends and family out shopping together.
Unless you experienced it, you can’t imagine how beautiful downtown used to be, family-friendly and bustling with commerce. I’m not that old (although I recently qualified for an AARP membership, which I’ve declined, thank you very much) but I understand now why elderly people reminisce about the “good old days”.
But on this day, I’m outside. I always loved the old Rochester Savings Bank at the corner of Liberty Pole and Franklin Streets and 20 years ago, I walked by it every day. But as I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for local history, today I took some time to really look at the details and imagine citizens visiting the bank to do business.
Years ago, I worked at a bank in the suburbs. I was, without a doubt, the world’s worst bank teller. But it was an interesting time to be in banking. Banks were starting to install ATMs in the lobby and tellers were charged with trying to convince people to make deposits or withdrawals using the new “check card”. Corporate type folks told us that eventually bank tellers would be obsolete as lobbies would be staffed only by a loan officer and several ATMs, and Saturday hours and extended hours on Fridays would be eliminated as banking became more and more automated.
Funny, isn’t it, how we predict technology will replace humans, and instead we find that they can coexist quite nicely? (I wrote about this on my blog, if you want to read more musings.) https://notesfromthefunnyfarm.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/50-thoughts-on-turning-50-12-technology-doesnt-always-win/
Anyway, a right turn on Franklin Street and a short walk brought me to the parking lot where I used to fork over a significant amount of my paycheck for the privilege of coming downtown to work. That short walk from lot to lobby seemed much longer back then, probably because I was always late, often caught in traffic in the Can of Worms. I could hear the time clock ticking away in my head and my goal was to hustle as fast as I could to the elevators.
Today, though, I noticed that if I simply turned my head to the right I could see a beautiful church across the street from the parking lot. Maybe I always knew it was there, but I certainly never appreciated it.
It’s St. Joseph’s Church and I wanted to explore more but I’d only had enough money to feed the parking meter for 40 minutes, and that time was almost up. I started walking back towards my car, and that’s when I saw this interesting sculpture.
I crossed N. Chestnut to get a better view. I didn’t see a plaque with information (not that I was looking, to be honest) so when I got home, I did some research and found that this is a sculpture garden entitled “Threshold of the Dawn” by David Stephanus. It’s dedicated to the memory of Alan J. Underberg, founding chairman of ViaHealth and was installed in 1999. It’s beautiful and haunting, and the Lutheran Church on the corner of Pleasant Street and North Chestnut was the perfect backdrop for a photo.
As I walked up Liberty Pole Way, I passed a building I’d seen on last year’s Remote Rochester tour. My eye had been caught by the rounded windows and interesting front door, and today I was surprised to see the banners announcing that it’s the home of Updegraff Management.
So here’s a little story: Back in June, I was at a writing conference in Pennsylvania and met a woman named Roberta Updegraff. She’s lives part time in the Bahamas and the rest of the time in P.A. But her son lives in Rochester and – drumroll – owns Updegraff Management. So I knew the company was downtown, but I didn’t know where. Just one of those happy coincidences that leave me struck by how small the world really is, and how often we cross paths with people in the strangest places but always at the right time.
I stopped to take a photo of the building to send to Roberta – “Hey, look where I am!” – and then I noticed garden planters made of pallets, in front of the building. It was an art installation by land artist Pietro Furgiuele.
The planters were a lovely surprise and added charm to the (slightly litter strewn) area. Next door to the office building is a church, the doors open, the chapel available for some spiritual reflection and prayer for anyone who wanted to stop in. Small but beautiful pieces of life you probably pass by every day.
By now it was hot – and I mean hot, hot, hot – and I was sure my parking meter was almost expired. Parking meters really hamper your ability to enjoy exploring downtown during the weekdays, and I thought about how much I’d missed when I was downtown every day. I decided to take my time and hope I didn’t get a ticket.
As I made my way back to Main and Gibbs, I was taking time to admire the Eastman Theater, when I noticed a park on the adjacent corner. It’s Eastman Place, and what a beautiful oasis right in the heart of downtown, with trees and benches, and people eating lunch outside. I have no idea how long that’s been there or how many times I’ve driven right by it, but I was reminded again that you really can’t appreciate how beautiful the city is unless you’re on foot. And taking your time.
I finished my wanderings with poutine from LePetit Poutine food truck, which was parked near my car. If I’m being honest, the word “poutine” always sounded slightly obscene to me and that’s probably why I’ve never tried it. But in the spirit of adventure, I gave in – french fries, gravy, cheese curds, a sprinkle of thyme. It was delicious and the perfect way to end my afternoon of wandering.
And the best news? When I got back to my meter it read “00:00”. Either I timed it perfectly – the red “expired” flag hadn’t popped up yet – or some kindly soul put a few quarters in the meter for me.
Hopefully you’ll take some time to meander around downtown while the weather is still so nice. Parking is free at the meters after 6 PM in the evening and on weekends, but read the notices on the meters just to be sure.
For the complete Fringe schedule, visit the festival website.
You can read more on my blog about the assembly of the Spiegeltent.
Notes from the Fringe 2016: The Spiegeltent
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