Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Where is Brian Ulrich when you need him?

I just learned that Midtown Plaza -- the very first downtown indoor mall in the US, dedicated in 1962 -- in fair Rochester, NY will be demolished within the next year or so. This past weekend, I hung out with Brian Ulrich in Boston. I went to his talk at Montserrat and showed him our AD AGENCY show that his work is also in (both of which tackle ideas of consumerism, see some pics here). We had a great time and he's back safely in Chicago after a rough travel day, but I ask you: Is this a coincidence?

Brian, someone, anyone, will you go to Rochester and document this? Heck, with shades of Flint, MI in Roger and Me, and now with its large Kodak brownfields, where is Michael Moore? I will be paying a visit when I go home for Christmas and taking my own humble snapshots. The mall has seen a decline in the last decade, but it still holds such a soft place in my heart.
To explain Midtown more: As a child, this was a magical place. During the holidays, they set up a Magic Mountain (much like as in A Christmas Story) and a monorail (which, as you can read here, is quite rare), decorated displays, and threw up a HUGE tree. This was THE place to see Santa.

The centerpiece the rest of the year was the Clock of Nations (the picture above is a rare one with people from Rocwiki), which is a large clock that opened on the half hour to reveal moving dolls from different countries. The department store across the street hosted the Scholastic Art Competition on the top floor. I participated in this in middle and high school. I remember going to a fancy indoor cafe and it used to have one of our favorite grocery stores, Wegmans. In his early engineering days, my father was even involved in its construction. For many years, it actually seemed to work. Consumerism also seemed a little less brash and crass and community just a tad more important - but maybe this is just my nostaglia (not to mention being too young to notice). Now, the marionettes no longer move and the displays are gone. The large department stores have long since vacated and many stores are closed or just plain random. Few people go there. This year, my friend decorated 2 windows near the Liberty Pole and attended the last Midtown Christmas celebration. Many came for its last hurrah.

Next, some history: Here is a flickr group started the same day as the demolition announcement, some great memories on a mall blog, and wikipedia's history. You MUST watch this fascinating socio-economic take on Midtown embedded below. The segment is from a 1963 Jam Handy industrial film short, "Rochester: A City of Quality," interestingly sponsored by RG&E, the Rochester Gas and Electric company.

The New York governor announced this October that Midtown will be destroyed, making way for the new PAETEC (a telecommunication company) headquarters with 1,000 employees. This company, I might add is already based in the Rochester area, and I assume already has a building. You can read more from the newspaper.

The demolition ALONE will cost over $50 million and the state will help to subsidize the new construction. I know jobs are good, but it is only adding 500 jobs, maybe. The enterprizing folks who do live downtown have no where to buy groceries and not much do to after 5pm. How is this good for the city? There is so much potential. Has every use and option really been exhausted for Midtown?

I say, Bah Humbug!

(For those interested, after watching the below video, "Rochester: A City of Quality," you can watch a parody of it: "Rochester: A City of Poverty"


Matthew Nash said...

Oh, that is a shame. Like you, LKB, I have really fond memories of the Midtown mall. We used to take field trips there to ride the monorail, and I even remember the Scholastic Art competition -- although I think I was too young to enter and they stopped it before I was of age.

I have long recognized that Rochester is on the decline, and never been able to really compare what I see when I go home now (strip malls, diminishing farm country, raw poverty) with what I remember from my childhood. Thanks for posting this stuff, to remind me that it actually was a bit more special back in the day, and that it is not just my nostalgic imaginings.

Matthew Gamber said...

What a place! What a marvel solution to the latter day industrial economy of Rochester. All of those malls of the future are forever locked in their present time.

Remember, Michael Moore doesn't run the camera. You should collaborate with a photographer. Your story is great, coupled with your experience of the place. Are there any photographers you know to work with who have a similar experience to that mall?

LKB said...

It was a special place! I remember going there and thinking, wow, downtown is so FANCY. I remember going to every store (when there were stores) to find an Alf doll for my brother and eating in the elegant department store. It was there I bought a sweater featured on the Cosby Show, oh how fancy! (and yes, I am so dating myself).

Matt, perhaps it has to go low before rising. I just keep questioning their decisions. Seems so counterintuitive. I know that Buffalo has a pretty good art scene and has revived somewhat.

The other Matt, perhaps Bruce can give me a quick 4x5 lesson! Or, maybe Polaroid is just the medium for this topic, nostalgic, from that era, and produced in the other photo town.