What Would Sue Say?

Paraphrasing comedian Steven Wright: You can’t preserve everything. Where would you put it?

And maybe there are a few things that didn’t deserve creation to begin with, never mind preservation now.

Currently, in Rochester, NY there is discussion about the Bevier Memorial Fine Art Building, located downtown. Most recently, the daily newspaper reports, is a proposal to convert the art exhibition and academic building into apartments.

Once a part of the Mechanics Institute (RIT’s previous name) campus, the building was created thanks to the generosity of Susan Bevier, a New York City art collector who summered in Rochester. On her death, she bequeathed both her art collection and a sizable amount of money to Mechanics Institute (MI) to construct the building; depending upon which source one consults, the dollar amount was $50,000 to $300,000 (in 1903 dollars).

Suppose you were handed that much money. What would you do? MI’s trustees did the same thing: they panicked. And then they dilly-dallied, scratching their heads at this “art gift” to a MECHANICS institute.

Finally, in 1911, noted architect Claude Bragdon’s design for the building was erected and art students flooded in.

It was there that Frederick Walrath created, worked and taught. Today, Walrath Pottery (1908-1918) is among the most coveted studio ceramic work of the Arts & Crafts period.

The Bevier building has already been through renovations over the years. Intended initially to house exhibition spaces, classrooms and studios, office space has been installed. Bevier, in other words, is not in pristine, untouched condition.

And for years, the building sat unattended and neglected at its corner on Spring and Washington Streets. For a while, a gaping hole was present in the roof, later covered with an attractive blue tarp. (It has since been re-roofed.)

Does this building merit preservation? To what extent should its original character be preserved and retained? The façade is still in original condition and the outdoor lanterns at either side of the front door are appear to be original to the structure.

How much would it cost (and who would pay) to preserve the building, rather than cut it up into apartments? And then to what use might it be put and for who?

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