What’s Next? Future Historic Preservation in Geneva

July 17th, 2020

By John Marks, Curator of Collections

May was Historic Preservation Month. As with any “history month,” it should serve to focus attention on a topic but never limit discussion to one month. Let’s look at some future preservation issues in Geneva.

The biggest step is to discuss what is historic? It depends on who you are and what you consider important. My Geneva – where I go, who I know – is different from other people’s Geneva, and so is the idea of what should be preserved.

Two White Greek Revival Houses With Columns

92 (right) and 96 Pulteney Street

In the 1960s there was a push to document significant buildings in Geneva. Some were included in the city’s Historic Zoning code, others were documented in the book Treasures of American Architecture . The criteria focused on architectural merit and age. Most of the buildings were from the 19th century, with a few from the early 1900s. Two Greek Revival houses at 92  and 96 Pulteney Street are on the city’s historic list. I’m fine with the selections, but many buildings were left out that I think are significant.

I – white male, near 60 years old, professional historian – shouldn’t be the sole “decider” of what is historic. There should a larger discussion about what buildings and sites are important to people. It can be a whole neighborhood, a school, a store, a church, or a gathering place. What are the stories connected to the places?

Preservation issues are evolving over time. Fifty years old is the first criteria for considering a building historic (others are cultural significance and architectural design). Are the downtown banks built in the 1960s ugly intrusions, or are they examples of a period worth saving?

White Church With Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church Sign

Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church

The proposed reuse of Trinity Episcopal Church has been controversial. However, it is just one of several churches facing dwindling congregations and rising maintenance costs. What other churches are facing these issues? Is there a “one reuse plan fits all” solution? (My instincts say no.) The pandemic has proven that buildings can close but church still continues with online services. Will technology have an impact on the future of church buildings?

Having such discussions and documenting stories is part of preservation planning. Too often, preservation activity centers around a threatened building or site. An ad hoc group forms to save the building but is reacting to plans already in motion. Win or lose, the group disbands after the issue is done. A sustained group can educate, advocate, and be part of future projects.

There are regional preservation groups like the Landmark Society of Western New York and Historic Ithaca . They provide online and in-person resources but they can’t do the work in every town. The Landmark Society is working to recruit affiliate preservation groups that can advocate and educate in their towns.

Further Reading:

Geneva’s municipal code has a Traditional Urban Design District (TUDD) for the downtown area. It has guidelines for design and construction that will ensure any new buildings blend in with downtown.

The Historic Zoning code

There are three past examples of church reuse on Main Street. Photos and information were part Every Building Tells A Story: Architecture In Geneva.

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One response to “What’s Next? Future Historic Preservation in Geneva”

  1. Jack Bryan says:

    The old North Presbyterian Church is a gem inside, but may not be known to many. Upstairs it has a large meeting room with gorgeous woodwork and some remaining examples of its early gas lighting. The sanctuary appears little changed and I was told the balcony has never been renovated. Criteria need to capture buildings that may be also be underappreciated or used for other purposes, but their history and construction represent a Geneva that needs to be retained. Seeing Geneva from a diferent part of the country, I can tell you that you have a gem that’s history is worth preserving as part of the community growth.

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