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It’s a much a part of Rochester as – as cameras! It’s a landmark! A public service that must be preserved.

– George Eastman

The Kodak founder was talking about St. Joseph’s Church. He would drive by every morning and check his watch against the clock tower. Disgusted by the grime that had built up, he said he’d pay to clean it if necessary.

St. Joseph's seen from East Ave., Main St. and Franklin St. around 1920-1930

Built in 1843 and home to German Catholics, only the facade was left standing after a devastating fire in 1974. The Eastman anecdote was in the application to put the remains on the National Register of Historic Places. A city historian wrote a fascinating essay about the church in 2001.

What remains of St. Joe’s is hauntingly beautiful. But the little park is inaccessible to the public, despite a sign outside saying otherwise. It’s gated shut with signs warning to keep out. The courtyard is scattered with litter.

I visited the park after I toured SUNY Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center right next door. The college is moving out soon. An official explained St. Joe’s is generally open only by appointment because it became a place for the homeless and drug users to hang out. It’s been gated for some time.

That makes me sad. That section of downtown has clearly seen better days. There are a lot vacant lots. Sibley and Midtown are undergoing revitalization, but for now, they remain challenges. The St. Joseph’s Garage is offering monthly parking for only $35.

It would be nice to see, after all these years, something done to spruce up the Franklin St. area. Use St. Joe’s as a centerpiece. I could see an elementary or high school moving into the Brockport building. Perhaps it could become housing.

St. Joe’s deserves to be more than a curiosity. It should be enjoyed.

12 Responses to Forgotten Downtown Icon

  1. Thank you for this. I used to wander around this little church from time to time, wondering what its story was. Reminds me of the little monument next to the abandoned bus station on Andrews, too. Used to be the center of life in Old Rochester in the days of Nate. Now its basically another homeless sleep-over location.

  2. Several years ago, the Landmark Society was looking for public input on how best to use this historic site in a way that would be relevant & valuable to the community — which is hindered by its current gated status and state of upkeep.

    Also several years ago, I was hearing a lot of community discussion about developing new housing — really, what amounted to a new city neighborhood, in the area of DT near St. Joseph’s and the REOC. The REOC building has never been, architecturally, a gracenote. Looking forward, unless someone has a great idea for a reuse for the building, it might be better to take it down as part of the process of developing that new DT neighborhood. A neighborhood for which St. Joseph’s could be a centerpiece symbol and gathering place — in keeping with the ancient meaning of “landmark.”

    I believe the Design Center has done some conceptual work on this — they would be a good source of what has been or is being considered.

  3. March 10, 2012 at 10:42 pm tony mittiga responds:

    the little park on Andrews St holds the bust of Frederick Schiller, a 17th Century German poet, and philosopher. It is another remnant of the Rochester that started disappearing in the 1960’s. After St Joseph’s burned, in a fire set on purpose, or by accident, by a burglar, the City Dept of Comm. Devel. undertook stabilizing the building shell to be used as a pocket park. There were high hopes at the time, but, not too many years passed before it had to be kept locked to keep out inebriates, and other disorderly persons. Too bad for the rest of us!

  4. March 11, 2012 at 12:18 am Ruth Russell responds:

    Who forgot it? Drive by it all the time. Last time I stopped I was helping supervise a downtown tour with Pack 68.

  5. Tony,

    Thanks for the info! Very interesting.

  6. Yes – Forgotten… Thanks for bringing our attention to it… There’s so much in this city that has fallen from grace.

  7. March 12, 2012 at 11:58 am mike86 responds:

    Thanks for reminding me of my mis-spent youth. When you could legally drink at 18 (long time ago) I would leave a local bar at 4AM (“officially” closed at 2AM) after playing pool for hours. Since it was Sunday morning it was time to be a good Catholic and attend mass so I was thankful I could attend the 5AM in the old, full size St. Joe’s before I went home.

    It was a beautiful church in its day and really unfortunate that it burned.

  8. March 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm Adam B responds:

    I live nearby and walk by there and Schiller Park all the time. Those two green spaces would be great bookends to a neighborhood built on top of all of those useless surface parking lots in the area, as well as the land where the old bus station and adjacent buildings were torn down.

  9. March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am jeanne y responds:

    I loved that Church. It was stately and beautiful and really different from Sacred Heart Cathedral. So sad when it burned down.

  10. May 27, 2012 at 8:13 pm Jimmy Combs responds:

    Ok first they need to destroy the UGly suny building and then they need to go back to the old street grid. That should help the area

  11. Pingback: Tale of Two Great Parks…Combined Into One Bad One » The Rochesterian

  12. I look out my window everyday and see the beautiful reamins of this building. One day we went and checked it out closer – can’t get inside – and feel like there are spirits lingering there….

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