As it appeared in August 2007
As the site appears now
A LOSS FOR ALL: LOCAL CONSTRUCTION FIRM, CITY RESPONSIBLE FOR INAPPROPRIATE DEMOLITION OF HISTORIC BYINGTON MILL BUILDING
During the week of September 22, 2007, a demolition crew leveled the office wing of the 1910 Byington Mill building (also known as Frisbie & Stansfield Knitting Co. and J.A. Firsching & Son) at 419-423 Broad Street in Utica’s Scenic & Historic District. This action occurred despite an existing City law requiring all property owners in the District to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Scenic & Historic Preservation Commission before commencing “any exterior alteration, restoration, reconstruction, demolition, new construction, or moving of a landmark or property within an historic district.” This certificate is to be obtained in addition to, not instead of, the City-issued demolition permit. One is not considered valid without the other.
The City of Utica Codes Department ignored that standing law and instead issued a permit to allow demolition of the historically and architecturally important office wing. Cobblestone Construction, which purchased the building for $1 from the City in 1999, then sent in a demolition crew to level this architectural gem.
The same error was made by the Codes Department in 1994, resulting in the ultimate loss of 2 Rutger Park, one of the most important 19th-century residential structures in the United States. In response, two lawsuits were filed (one of which is still pending) and the Common Council adopted a stronger code to prevent it from happening again. But, here we are, fighting the same battle more than a decade later.
This Should Not Have Happened
Located in the oldest and most historic section of Utica, the mill and its office wing are part of an elite group of buildings that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of the highest distinctions an individual property can achieve in the United States. The demolished office wing was further distinguished through its architect, Frederick Gouge. Called the “Dean of Utica Architects,” he designed many local landmarks including Commercial Travelers Insurance Company, St. Francis De Sales Church, the Colgate Gymnasium at Colgate University, Doyle Hardware, the New Century Club’s Auditorium and many buildings at Hamilton College, from which he graduated in 1870.
Additional parking was cited as the reason for the teardown. Yet, within one block there are a half-dozen empty lots which could have been used. Furthermore, the significant portion of the demolished office wing was only approximately 20 feet deep, with a newer, non-contributing low-rise building behind it, which could have been removed for parking while still maintaining the office wing itself, which was in good overall shape.
What makes this event even more tragic is the fact that a developer was in negotiations to make an offer to the owner of the Byington Mill building that could have led to its restoration and conversion into another viable enterprise contributing to the revitalization of Utica.
Full Disclosure and Transparency
This is outrageous. The Landmarks Society and area residents are appalled that this irreplaceable part of Utica’s history was senselessly demolished. We call for full disclosure and transparency from the Codes Department and Mayor Julian to determine the events leading to the demolition. There must be a thorough review and accounting from all involved, including the enforcement of all applicable penalties and disciplinary actions.
Mayor Julian must reverse his previous decisions and initiate meaningful, permanent changes in the office of the Codes Department. Utica must have a computerized database of properties in the Scenic & Historic District, and officers who regularly enforce existing ordinances. Comprehensive staff training is also needed and must be required for employment in the Codes department, just as it is in other departments.
The Common Council Must Act
We call for our elected officials to demonstrate leadership and vision, and to immediately issue a moratorium on ALL demolitions, except those that present an immediate public health or safety threat. This moratorium should remain in effect until proper processes are in place to safeguard our irreplaceable buildings.
The City Code needs to be strengthened to include more aggressive, specific penalties for illegal demolition within the Scenic & Historic District.
Additional checks and balances must be required for all demolition in Utica. This includes creating a comprehensive review process for all demolition applications, to allow time for proper professional review and comment BEFORE a permit is issued.
Legislation must be enacted requiring all demolition permit applications to be circulated to the Scenic & Historic Preservation Commission, and checked against the official District map for verification that the property to be demolished is not within the District or otherwise significant to our urban fabric.
The Scenic & Historic Preservation Commission Must Act
We call for the Commission to take a lead role in the resolution of this issue and to use all the powers granted to it in the Code to enforce the above recommendations. These actions must be taken without regard to any outside political pressure or influence.
Develop, Don’t Destroy
The demolition trend has now been taken to an alarming new level with the unpermited and callous destruction of a nationally recognized landmark. This trend must be stopped -- and it must be stopped now. These buildings should be developed, not destroyed, or all that will remain will be parking lots with no reason to park in them.
Byington Mill (Frisbie & Stansfield Knitting Company) (added 1993 - Building - #93000458)
Also known as J. A. Firsching & Son Building
Oneida County - 421--423 Broad St., Utica
(6 acres, 1 building)
Architect, builder, or engineer: Gouge, Frederick H.
Frederick Gouge - Called the “Dean of Utica Architects,” he designed many local landmarks including Commercial Travelers Insurance Company, St. Francis De Sales Church, the Colgate Gymnasium at Colgate University, Doyle Hardware, the New Century Club and many buildings on the Hamilton College campus, of which he was a graduate in 1870.
Architectural Style: Early Commercial
Area of Significance: Architecture, Industry
Period of Significance: 1900-1924, 1925-1949
Historic Function: Industry/Processing/Extraction
Historic Sub-function: Manufacturing Facility
As it appeared in 1993
The official Scenic and Historic District map, showing the location of Byington Mill