Today a premier child advocacy center, tomorrow a possible casualty of I-81

Pictured is 601 East Genesee Street, sometimes listed as 610 East Fayette Street. Known as Reid Hall, the building was built in 1914 and designed by Earl Hallenbeck. According to local historian, Samuel Gruber, Hallenback is an often forgotten architect of Syracuse who designed several Syracuse University buildings including Archbold Stadium, Carnegie Library, Sims Hall, Lyman Hall and Slocum Hall, among others.

This three-story brick structure was originally home to the Syracuse Free Dispensary, a medical clinic that treated low-income patients. In 1917, the dispensary began an association with Syracuse University College of Medicine and later served as the Upstate Medical Center’s outpatient department, before moving services into the State University Hospital. In 1958, Syracuse University would begin using it for classrooms and offices before slowly moving programs out of the building in the 1990’s. It later became home to the Central New York Charter School for Math and Sciences before they closed in 2005.

In 2011, the McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center moved into the historical building. Established in 1998, McMahon/Ryan is the region’s premier child advocacy center, serving nearly 300 child victims and their families each year. The organization is dedicated to ending child abuse through intervention and education. They offers a safe, child-friendly process for abused children and their families, supported by a committed, professional team specializing in the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse.

Today the building and its occupants find themselves squarely in the middle of the Interstate-81 discussion, a conundrum it has faced before. Sitting squarely next to I-81, the property was lucky to survive the original highway construction project in the 1960’s.

The inner city highway was the brainchild of New York State and leaked to the Post-Standard in 1958. The plan was immediately rejected by the city and its residents. Then mayor, Anthony Henninger, believed he had caught wind of the idea soon enough to persuade the state to change course. He told the local paper that such a highway would completely “imprison” the valuable downtown district and would prevent any further growth within the city.

Other local officials soon joined him. Carl Maar, president of the local Chamber of Commerce said he wouldn’t support a “Chinese Wall” between downtown and the university. City Engineer, Potter Kelly, opposed anything that would result in an “evaluated highway.” Roy Simmons, president of the Common Council, doubted that the state could “jam an elevated highway plan down the throats of Syracusans.”

An editorial in the Post-Standard on April 13th, 1958 pleaded for then Governor Averell Harriman to protect the interests of Syracuse.

Post-Standard April 13, 1958

Ultimately, the state was unwavering and construction began on the highway a few years later.

Currently, we are faced with a similar decision and the future of Reid Hall is again in jeopardy. As many are aware, the NYSDOT is considering two plans to update I-81 as it applies to Syracuse, either replacing the highway under new regulations or creating a community grid.

Under new regulations, the highway must be widened; therefore, if the viaduct is rebuilt through the center of the city, the building will be demolished. If a community grid option is chosen, the building could be saved.

Recently, Sen. John DeFrancisco and other local politicians have asked the DOT to re-evaluate a third option, a tunnel. This option had previously been dropped due to reports revealing that a tunnel would be the most destructive of any option, citing one study that showed construction would require the demolition of 34 buildings within the city of Syracuse. The tunnel has also been reported as the most expensive option, nearly doubling the cost of a community grid in most cases and would require the most long-term maintenance beyond initial construction.

Time will tell which option is chosen and if Reid Hall can survive a second time around.

This November, Rebekah Castor of NCC News Online, spoke with Linda Cleary, Executive Director of McMahon/Ryan, regarding the pending I-81 project. You can hear that interview below.

  • Trevor

    I had no idea there was a battle over 81 when it was first constructed. My instinct is that the grid pattern would be best. It’d be a shame to lose buildings like this, but seems like it’d be better overall. Living thousands of miles away now, I’m curious what it “seems” like the decision will be regarding 81.