Fixing A Hole

Now that I’ve lived downtown for three months, it was only a matter of time until I started exploring my immediate surroundings at the Midtown hole. Thanks to a shitty economy and even worse planning, Midtown has hit bottom after a 30-year slide from innovative (one of the first indoor malls, and a thriving business district until the late 70s) into desolate (rising crime and falling population) to promising (new construction, or at least demolition of the old, closed mall), and finally to stagnant, in its present half demolished, completely unbuilt stage.

This was Midtown (and the rest of the Rochester area) in 1963:

This is Midtown last week, looking out over where the mall once was.

While the construction site itself is moderately active and well secured, the Hole is surrounded by vacant, abandoned and underutilized structures on almost all sides. Starting at Main and Clinton, the Sibley Tower building is at about 30% capacity, Bank of America (ugh) is fully active, Action for a Better Community and the Cadillac hotel are partially active, the Elm and Richford buildings are completely abandoned, and the Seneca tower is a gutted steel wreck.

My first successful exploration here was the Elm street tower, a completely vacant, city owned 14 story tower, which looks out directly on the hole, toward the Midtown hotel

All of the interior floors were stripped down to incredibly boring plain concrete. About the only thing this place is good for in its present form is a graffiti gallery (anyone want to help out?!)

On the 13th floor, a very artistic leak created this

While the elevators were long past working, the buttons and lights still did!

Next door, much to our surprise, yet another abandoned building was wide open for the taking. This one (the white eyesore at Chestnut and Broad) was once the Richford Hotel, a member of the first budget hotel chain in the US, once located directly next to the Greyhound bus station. This property has had a forty-year curse on it — since the hotel’s closure in 1969, it has been the ruin of many a financier, driving its last five owners into bankruptcy on failed plans to rebuild into offices, apartments, offices again, a luxury hotel and condos. It, too, was ground down to the basic concrete, with one exception: this random art piece on a 9th-story wall.

I had a few theories what this could be; while it seems too old to be graffiti, could it have been original to the hotel? I think not; the decoration was too childish, almost, the way it seemed to be a page out of a giant wall-sized coloring book. Yet it makes even less sense to have arrived during any of the renovations. None ever saw any tenants, and half-colored pictures of red rainbows would hardly sell office space.

Despite a 40-year closure, this building still had working machinery and electricity in the basement, and it was probably only a matter of opening a few valves to heat the entire hotel.

Next, we tried to get onto the construction site to climb this, after it seemed like the last workers had left. The attempt was thwarted by the police mobile battalion stationed right behind it… too bad, since this looks like a perfect chill roof (or near-roof on rainy nights), besides the view from the top!

Finally, we stopped by Sibley, getting onto the lower roof with little difficulty (it’s a popular enough spot for MCC-Damon students anyway), then climbing a long access stair to the tower roof (a less popular spot, I would assume) through a trap door. The view was less than I expected, especially after seeing it twice already at the other Midtown roofs.

Getting downstairs, though, was the challenge. To our frustration, we found ourselves in a fire exit where the only options that were unlocked were the main concourse directly behind the security guards (when the building had closed almost an hour before), and a most likely alarmed door to the outside. After a few panics, we figured out our escape: set off the alarm, then run UP into the stairwell. Sure enough, security stormed through the exit door, and chased the would-be escapees. As soon as the guard left, we left through the concourse, only running into a window washer. All in all it was quite an adventure for never going more than a block from home!

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