Before the late 20th century, Syracuse was a thriving metropolis on a building binge. Architecture from of all periods and styles, with deep cultural and historical context, defined the thriving city. But a massive demolition period in the ‘50s and ‘60s bulldozed many of these architectural masterpieces. Thankfully, some of the key structures prevailed. Syracuse architecture professor Randall Korman shares his insights on some of the most important and iconic below.
The Syracuse Savings Bank building has stories to tell, Korman says. In the nineteenth century, the Bank building was a larger-than-life advertisement for the wealth and opportunity of the city. It was an architectural gateway and the tallest building in Syracuse. The Savings Bank handled all of the money coming through Syracuse and as a result, needed to be sufficiently large and administratively developed. It features Victorian architecture with aspects of the gothic style and complex details, finials, and rooflines. “It is a building celebrating its parts and it’s a building where when your eyes land on it, they stay for a long time because it draws you in. You want to investigate every portion of it,” Korman says. In addition to pure function, the Savings Bank’s purpose was to represent the aspirations and ambitions of the city. “They want the user that comes there to be impressed with the authority of the bank, by the cultivation that it represents, and the fact that it’s a place where you feel secure in leaving your money.” — Eliza Weinreb
If there’s one building in Syracuse to see, it’s the Niagara Mohawk. It’s a true work of art (deco). This twentieth-century landmark is what Korman refers to as the preeminent example of art deco architecture in the U.S. The building boasts seven stories of geometric patterns, grand vertical stone panels, and black glass. Soaring high above the city is the Niagara Mohawk building’s characteristic 28-foot high metal sculpture of the winged “Spirit of Light.” Aside from the architectural beauty, the NiMo building acquired its iconic status because of its historical significance. “After the First World War, we asserted ourselves globally in a way we never had done before. This (building) speaks about American excellence and American capacity economically, culturally, and architecturally,” Korman says. The best time to catch a glimpse of the NiMo building is at night when spotlights and brightly colored panels of light illuminate the dark sky. It is a true representation of Syracuse electricity and energy. — Eliza Weinreb
Artistry and craftsmanship define the Ward Wellington Ward homes in Syracuse. Ward was an architect who came out of the arts and crafts movement in the early twentieth century, inspired by European art nouveau. It’s estimated that two thirds, of the over 200 homes that Ward designed, are located in Syracuse. The homes are highly detailed. They are cozy, handcrafted quirky cottages. Most notable is the woodwork on the exterior and stained glass windows designed by local artist Henry Keck. Korman says they are human-scaled and meant to be lived in, “They exude a certain kind of informality as opposed to other kinds of housing types…with formal organization.” — Eliza Weinreb
The Everson Museum of Art stands alone as the most modern civic building in Syracuse. With its clean lines, hammered concrete, and squared faces, the exterior juxtaposes its open and vibrant interior. With a grand fourier and an immense spiral staircase that leads to galleries circling the building, the Everson was dubbed “a work of art for works of art.” Built in 1968 as the first museum of I.M. Pei, a Chinese American architect who went on to design the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington D.C., designed the Everson to help put Syracuse back on the map. “As an attempt to bring culture back to Syracuse as a way of jumpstarting what would be a redevelopment process that would revitalize the city,” says Korman. Its austere exterior compliments the works within and offers a public space that echoes the energy of its guests. — Megan Callahan
It’s grand. It’s theatrical. And it’s the only building of its kind left in Syracuse. As one of many theaters designed for a booming population of theater-goers, the Landmark Theatre and all its glory, has stood the test of time–and a depression or two. In full Classical Revival style, the Landmark’s boisterous interior, designed by Thomas Lamb in 1928, compliments its autonomous façade. With its neutral exterior and illuminated marquee, the Landmark is inviting without being overbearing. “When you get there you really feel like you’ve gone somewhere. Theaters are supposed to transport you out of your ordinary life and into somewhere, so the architecture is designed to do that,” says Korman. It seats close to 2,000 people and is supposedly haunted. So even if you aren’t into theater, entertainment, or architecture, there are always ghosts. — Megan Callahan
With a steeple soaring 200 feet into the air, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church isn’t over-compensating for anything. Its Gothic-Revival design, by Henry C. Dudley, has aged gracefully since 1884. St. Paul’s rock-faced gray limestone is dotted with small windows and simple buttresses. It’s clean, lofty, and has maintained a large parish since its opening. The parish was only the third congregation to create a building in Syracuse and first built a wooden church on East Genesee and Washington streets. It outgrew two buildings before moving to its current home on Warren and East Fayette streets. The building earned inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to weekly services, the church houses Symphoria concerts, yoga classes, and literacy programs for Sudanese residents. — Megan Callahan
City Hall, with its soaring bell tower, rugged stone exterior, and Romanesque design, could be mistaken for a church. But instead of white dresses and tipsy groomsmen, it hosts neighborhood watch meetings and public hearings. City Hall, designed by Charles Erastus Colton to emulate the Trinity Church in Boston, catches the eye of even the least architecturally inclined individual. Once a main landmark in the city, which sat directly across from the Erie Canal, City Hall has seen Syracuse through many ups and downs. Finished in 1893, it withstood many renovations and even lost its bell to a scrap metal shortage during WWII. “It’s an odd, cranky building,” says Korman. But who wouldn’t be a bit cranky after 100 plus years of Syracuse winters. — Megan Callahan