Greater Strathmore: A Brief Historical Perspective
Syracuse’s Greater Strathmore neighborhood reflects residential tastes from the late 19th century through the 1920’s, showcasing the eclectic styles of Late Victorian, Colonial Revival, and Arts & Crafts architecture.
The personality of the neighborhood took shape from the creativity, prosperity and civic concerns of Syracusans at the beginning of the 20th century. Industrialists, entrepreneurs, attorneys, artists, engineers and inventors located here, among many others. Their homes reflected quality, local versions of popular national residential designs.
In the 1890’s, residential development of Syracuse had spread out from the city’s core, aided by the construction of electric street railways. To the southwest, this growth followed major streets like South Avenue, West Onondaga and Bellevue Streets, moving toward South Geddes Street.
This area had been farmland through much of the 19th century. Its elevation above the city proper had also caused it to be used as a site for early water reservoirs after the Civil War. Eventually, a major reservoir was built on the western edge of the neighborhood in 1894. Today, Woodland Reservoir serves as a second park for the neighborhood, boasting much of its original 19th century architecture and some of the best views available of the city.
In the years just after 1900, Summit Avenue was already attracting stately residences and some construction had begun on Robineau Road homes. These sites offered the advantage of the neighborhood’s attractive topography, which provides attractive views east toward downtown and the hills south of the city.
Lots along adjacent Stolp and Crossett began filling in and the ongoing landscaping of nearby Onondaga Park, especially between 1911 and 1915, was creating an increasingly attractive neighborhood. In 1919,a new residential development named STRATHMORE “By The Park” was formally opened in the area immediately southwest of Upper Onondaga Park, centered on Strathmore and Charmouth Drives. Most homes had yet to be built, but construction was soon underway.
Colonial Revivals, Tudors and stylish Arts & Crafts homes appeared. They spread east, north west and south of the Park, the core of today’s Greater Strathmore Neighborhood. Leading local architects like Ward Wellington Ward, Merton Granger and Melvin King designed for neighborhood residents. Even the Elmwood Engine firehouse, added at the edge of the Park in 1913 to serve the growing neighborhood, was designed by Thurber Gillette to reflect residential Arts & Crafts forms. Today, its presence helps reflect the historic quality of the park. The firehouse’s preservation and re-use as a community center remains a goal of neighborhood residents.
Onondaga Park, itself, had been given birth by the 1894 opening of the Woodland Reservoir on South Geddes Street, three blocks to the west. Woodland made the area’s old Wilkinson Reservoir obsolete and in 1898, the 71 acres surrounding the latter was acquired by the city to form Onondaga Park. In 1903, a large wooded area known as the Olmstead Grove was added, expanding the Park and creating a popular picnic area at its southeast corner that is still in use today. Wilkinson Reservoir was reconfigured in 1911 and renamed Hiawatha Lake, the landscaped centerpiece of today’s Onondaga Park.
From 1915 to the mid-1950’s, Onondaga Park was known for its major flower beds and the entire Lake was used for swimming in the summer and ice-skating in winter. It lost some of its luster in the 1960’s and early 70’s as the landscaping aged and maintenance costs escalated for the city. A renewed effort to improve and enhance the historic landscape of the Park began in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It became a joint public-private effort, with the Onondaga Park Association working together with the city to raise funds and focus volunteer efforts toward the Park. A high point occurred in 1987 when the Syracuse City Council dedicated the entire Park as an official Syracuse Historic Preservation District. Since then, the bandstand has had major renovations and several plantings have been added. Both Upper and Lower Onondaga Park remain the focus of neighborhood involvement and activity.
During recent years, people were also re-discovering the outstanding historic architecture that surrounds the Park and helps define the distinctive character of the neighborhood. The Park’s paths, lake, bandstand, basketball courts, picnic pavilion, playground, pool, tennis courts, plantings and trees provide recreation and relaxation for thousands. The surrounding houses provide important links to the craftsmanship, the artistry and the people of our past.
The neighborhood’s annual Strathmore House Tour is one of the most popular in upstate New York. It helps foster preservation of the Park, and the maintenance of the neighborhood’s irreplaceable architecture. IT also draws the neighborhood together as hundreds of volunteers work together to foster a spirit of pride within the area.