I was watching the TV news a few minutes ago. Channel 10, I think. (How smoothly the local stations blend with each other.) It hardly needs to be added that I wasn’t expecting to be inspired. At least it was a nice lull before dinner.
Then an image came up that made me look twice. Not an accident scene or anything like that. It was nothing more than an old brick building – the town of Chili’s Stagecoach Inn, right at the corner of routes 33 and 259.
You may have heard about a developer’s plans to build a Walgreen’s big-box drugstore on the site the inn now occupies. More precisely – and here I’m extrapolating from other corner parcels that have been taken over by CVS or Walgreen’s or another chain – the plan must be to “convert” the land under the old inn into a parking lot, with the store itself set well back from the roadway. (The generous set-backs mandated by contemporary building codes bear witness to how smelly, noisy, and dangerous modern public highways and streets have become.)
It’s good to see a Chili-based group coalescing to save the inn. The latest news reports say the group will ask the developer – the Illinois-based Maude Development company, according to the Democrat and Chronicle - to adjust their site plan so the inn can remain standing. Maude Inc. is not tipping its hand. And Chili town government is basically out of the picture: the town board has okayed the deal, and the building has no landmark or historic status –though at the age of 190, it should automatically qualify for some protection.
You might have heard Charleston, SC, mayor Joseph Riley speak here a few months ago. Riley has led a very preservation-minded mid-sized city for quite a few years, and more than most civic leaders he understands the currency of older architecture. On Bob Smith's WXXI show, Riley was asked to comment on Rochester's Renaissance Square concept, in particular the plan to demolish several old buildings (one of them dates back to 1855) at the corner of East Main St. and Clinton Ave. I don't recall Riley's exact words, but in essence he said that in Charleston, any 150-year old building would be preserved as a matter of course.
Things are different in our backyard, where despite years of consciousness-raising, the old "urban removal" philosophy still makes the occasional strong showing.
On March 17, I wrote to town supervisor Tracy Logel about the Stagecoach Inn. She responded quickly, and I give her credit for that. But basically she gave the issue a pass. She said the building’s owner didn’t seek any protective designation for it. And she commented more generally that people are “granted the right to buy and sell” what they own. “By law we cannot stop [the developer],” she said.
This story isn’t done yet, though. I’m hoping the good folks in Chili will organize effectively and stop the destruction. They don’t have much time, but to judge by the news, they’ve got lots of energy.