ROCHESTER, NY- With Halloween behind us and election time upon us, neighbors and preservationists in Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony neighborhood are finding that a powerful ally from the spirit realm in the form of Susan B. Anthony herself has joined their efforts to save a local historic church from being demolished and replaced with a dollar store. I recently had a chance to communicate with the dead (via her Facebook page) to find out what Rochester’s most acclaimed suffragette is spinning in her grave about.
Ms. Anthony, I understand there have been some recent developments in your old Rochester neighborhood that have peaked your activist interest. What is going on?
The developments are not new. They have been happening over a long period of time. They have just now hit their tipping point. A developer by the name of Marvin Maye has been purchasing buildings along W. Main St. for a number of years now. He demolishes buildings and builds new structures in their place. Recently he purchased at auction 660 W. Main St. This is a church from 1859 commonly known as Westminster Presbyterian Church. He wants to demolish the building, build a Dollar General, and lease the space to Dollar General, Inc.
The neighborhood wants to save the church and are upset with Marvin Maye on a number of levels. The community has had a longstanding problem with drugs and crime in the area and Marvin Maye does little to prevent crime on his parcels of land. We also know that dollar stores statistically bring more crime to a neighborhood and cause longstanding problems for communities. The third is that it is a church from the 1850s that is the only meeting place or potential community space in the Bull’s Head/Susan B. Anthony area. We don’t want our history demolished for a small chain store that will hurt our community even more.
Is your neighborhood pressed for available development space? Is there any other place someone could put a national chain store?
There are other spaces on W. Main St. where a Dollar General could be built, but Mr. Maye does not want to move its location. He wants to build it at 660 W. Main St. so that it can connect to another plaza he owns which features a Skip’s Meat Market and a liquor store. There is a Victorian house (also a historic landmark) next to the church. That house, if Maye has his way, will be covered on all three sides by Maye’s buildings.
Is your neighborhood in desperate need of a dollar store?
No it is not. There are five “dollar stores” in the immediate area. When developers move in and buy up all the land it makes it difficult for the community itself to determine its own destiny. The building of a lot of dollar stores is proof of that. They are retail’s lowest common denominator.
Does the church have to be demolished? Couldn’t a dollar store simply open up in the church building?
The Dollar General company has specific requirements for size and structure of their stores. The church is considered too small and not box-like enough for their tastes.
Doesn’t the City of Rochester have a process to protect historic buildings?
It does, but it is a poor system. Rochester looks to the state and federal government when it comes to historic places. If they (state and federal) consider something a historic place then the city will consider it a historic place as well. The church was listed as a potential historic place in the 1980s. The developer, Marvin Maye, had that designation removed so that it would be easier for him to demolish the building. The state evaluated the building from photographs and said because it was missing the altar and stained glass windows (two of the most valuable things in historic churches) it could drop it from the state list. Rochester wants development–any development–regardless of the longterm cost to the community. They don’t want to make it harder on Mr. Maye for fear that down the road when a big company wants to move in that preservation laws will make things more difficult for them.
If the demolition is to be prevented it will be done through the actions of regular people protesting the potential loss of their history. We have an obligation as people to be active participants and prevent this from happening.
Have you considered raising an army of undead suffragettes to help?
I already have Buffalo Bill Cody, Frederick Douglass, and Sitting Bull on my side. I’m thinking I may also need an Emma Goldman, but that is all to draw attention to the idea that our history cannot just live in cyberspace. Sure we can take pictures of it, but if it doesn’t exist in real life then what good is it. If this church is destroyed it will be like it never existed. We have tried to hold onto the legacy of Frederick Douglass for many years, but his house burned down in Rochester and many of his artifacts are elsewhere. D.C. now has more of a claim to his legacy than Rochester, where he lived and was buried. Once our history disappears it is gone.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Ms. Anthony. See you at the polls.
Thank you, and if anyone wants to find out more information they can visit me on twitter @suzie_b_anthony or at firstname.lastname@example.org