Director's Note: A Good Plan vs. A Terrible Precedent

Submitted by Bruce Barnes,

As I wrote in the last issue, developer Morgan Management is seeking approval to build apartments on the site of the Monroe Voiture veterans’ club at 933 University Avenue, immediately east of our historic property. The immediacy and grave impact of this proposal demands our attention. Despite vocal opposition from neighborhood residents, community groups, and George Eastman House, the developer is proceeding with a revised application to demolish the club’s historic structure and construct a four-story apartment building with 102 units—only eight fewer than they originally proposed.

The property at 933 University Avenue is in the East Avenue Preservation District, the first and most important in the city.

  • Since the District was formed in 1969, only three principal structures have been demolished—all prior to 1983.
  • Since 1975, only 98 residential units have been built—the proposed project would more than double this number.
  • Since 1975, only one structure over two stories has been built: the threestory Elaine Wilson Hall, set far back from East Avenue, behind Bausch Hall at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.
  • Since 1975, only one apartment building has been constructed: non-profit DePaul Community Services’ 22-unit two-story assisted living facility, well hidden behind two circa 1900 houses on University Avenue.
  • Notably, in 2010, the Rochester Preservation Board denied a prior application by DePaul to demolish the two houses and build a 36-unit three-story building and a 16-unit two-story building.
  • In the 1980s, Eastman House’s gallery and archive building was strictly constrained to protect the District.

Almost all of the existing Monroe Voiture structure at 933 University Avenue is historic, including the single-story portion that extends toward University Avenue. Designed by prominent architects Thompson, Holmes & Converse, it was the home of John Hill Kitchens (a descendant of Nathaniel Rochester) and Isabella Bonbright from 1926 to 1945. Permitting its demolition and the construction of apartments would be a terrible precedent that would undermine future preservation.

Working with architects Bergmann Associates, we have developed an alternative plan (see left) that would protect Eastman House and the District and better serve the Greater Rochester community. This plan would better connect Eastman House with the revitalized Neighborhood of the Arts—currently cut off by our historic fence along University Avenue—and create a more logical relationship between our visitor parking and our museum entrance. The plan includes a new ARTWalk sculpture and a community vegetable garden, reviving Mr. Eastman’s tradition and engaging Eastman House with our neighbors in this healthful activity. Most important, the plan would protect the viewshed and environs of our National Historic Landmark.

This alternative plan will require that we reach an agreement with the Monroe Voiture to take ownership of their property in exchange for our repair and maintenance of their historic building. We can protect Eastman House and have the opportunity to pursue this course only if the Preservation Board or the Planning Commission denies Morgan Management’s application.

Given economic pressures for development, we will succeed only with vocal public opposition. Please go to 933university.org to learn how you can help us oppose this apartment project by expressing your opinion to the Preservation Board, Rochester city officials, and the press. As a National Historic Landmark, Eastman House is protected under state and federal law, so you should be heard even if you do not live within the city. We also urge you to attend the Preservation Board meeting on May 8 and the Planning Commission meeting on May 20—both at City Hall. Strong attendance will signal broad opposition.

Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
May/June 2013 Bulletin

Tuesday, July 5, 2016