“She’s not the girl she used to be / She’s not the same at all” – The Flashcubes
Yesterday I went back to that place you can’t go home to again. Not that I hadn’t revisited Syracuse many times over the passing years; it’d only been about three years since I was there last, and I’ve always kept up a little bit with the local news. As much as I know that no place stands still, that time marches on and people and buildings with it, it was still something of a shock to go back to the streets I called home thirty years ago and suddenly take in how much has changed since those sweet summer mornings when I was dropping off newspapers in the morning and deciding how to waste the afternoon.
The occasion was elder daughter’s first college tour. I had business in the Salt City and she had the day free so even though she wasn’t really giving much thought to SU (after all, her parents went there), she agreed to take a look. So even though I’ve been up to Piety Hill any number of times since I moved away 20 years ago, I was seeing the place through an odd combination of her eyes and my memory, the shiny and the new overlaying the memory of a more ramshackle, charming place. And where before I’ve noticed a new building here and there along the edges of the campus, what I saw yesterday was that it’s almost entirely different. The classic old buildings are still there, the Quad still looks pretty much the same, but there are so many new buildings everywhere. Classic views of the campus, photos that I took (along with thousands of other freshman photo students with their K1000s), no longer exist.
This view of Crouse College aligned with the globe lamps at the edge of the Newhouse plaza? The plaza is gone, subsumed by Newhouse III (which also created some interesting changes though its connections to Newhouse I.
This classic view of the Crouse-Irving Memorial Hospital clocktower (classic view, lousy photo) from the Newhouse Plaza was first blocked by the pile of bricks that was the management school (and they somehow managed themselves into yet another brand new building, leaving the pile behind for the admissions office. Then the view of the pile was blocked by Newhouse III.
The Holden Observatory, here dreamily reflected in Heroy Hall through a vaselined filter, is now maybe a 100 meters closer to the edge of the hill, shunted aside to make room for Eggers Hall (Maxwell II), which was built to spoil the public administration students who succeeded me.
You may not be surprised to learn that the typewriter lab is gone. Apparently they weren’t wi-fi ready.
When I arrived in Syracuse in that summer of ’78, the landmark buildings of the campus were surrounded by an assortment of old wooden frame buildings that were in use as offices, small dorms, the campus record shop, and of course that rickety mess that was The Daily Orange. They lined the avenues leading up to the campus, around Comstock Avenue, down below the stadium. Some were still private residences or student rentals. Nearby apartment buildings of newer vintage (say, the turn of that other century) had also been adapted into offices and dorms. Their shabbiness and human scale was part of the character of the campus. They are all gone, replaced by shiny new buildings or parking garages or nothing at all, but they are all gone.
And yet, through her eyes? “It’s a really nice campus.” And it is. She was excited by the bright, brilliantly equipped labs in the Life Sciences complex, a mammoth linear complex that has seemingly fed on the corpses of the old offices on the hill along Comstock and keeps on growing. And she was pleased to learn that there is now a cafe in nearly every building. Seriously. (There was a Legal Seafood dining room in Newhouse). For anyone who remembers that there were exactly two places on the Quad to find coffee (the beloved People’s Place, still there, and the little place tucked into the corner of HBC), this can come as quite a shock. There is coffee and food everywhere. There are places to sit everywhere. There are flaming lockers (again, a shock to someone who had to find a place to stash a motorcycle helmet and winter gear during grad school).
Beyond the campus, we went down to Armory Square. Twenty-six years ago, blushing bride and I were going to be among the very first denizens of Armory Square (well, the first who lived indoors, anyway), believing that that gorgeous little collection of warehouses (where they were still packing chickens and milling woodwork) could become the happening neighborhood to live in. Timing didn’t work out and we ended up elsewhere in the city, but slowly and surely that vision of Armory Square as a vital, walkable little set of destination shops and restaurants has come true in spades. You can no longer buy Tingley Rubbers or Randy Sneaks there, but you can find lovely crafts, hip fashions, and a good cup of coffee. That was change that was good to see, especially as, one block away, the old main downtown strip on South Salina Street has descended further and further.
Happily, there aren’t any photos of what I looked like back in 1977 or so, when I was a bright young person seeing my college future for the first time. But this is what that looks like in 2009: