Travel through the streets of Rochester and you’ll find some extraordinary architecture. From California bungalows to English Tudors, French colonials to Victorians, the Flour City is home to so many beautiful dwellings. WXXI takes you on a private tour inside some of these exquisite house in Great Homes of Rochester.
Greater Homes of Rochester
Charlotte Whitney Allen House from the episode “A House of Steele and Ice”
Charlotte Whitney Allen was rich, bright, independent, a lover of good talk and of even better friends. The Oliver Street home built for her as a wedding present far outlasted the marriage. Through it into the garden came a steady stream of interesting people, most often at the stroke of 4 every afternoon, the time Charlotte dubbed The Chilled Glass Hour. The house and the garden reflected Whitney Allen’s personality. The garden, designed by world famous landscape architect Fletcher Steele, had everything except what Charlotte loathed: namely, flowers. House and garden survive today in the hands of someone keenly aware of its interesting legacy.
The “Mushroom” House from the episode “The Mushroom House that isn’t”
Sometimes compared to an alien spaceship, the misnamed Mushroom House in Powdermill Park remains a national landmark. And the innovative spirit that gave rise to it in the 1970s continues through new and remarkable renovations in the early part of the 21st century.
Strong-Tood House from the episode “The best investment of buggy whip money”
Henry Strong took a room at a boarding house after his home burned down. Already well to do from his buggy whip factory, he nonetheless took an interest an idea posed by the son of his landlady. Strong’s 19th century venture capitalism helped get a little business called Eastman Kodak off the ground.
Hartford House and The Homestead from the episode “Rochester’s Royalty”
The family was among the first Europeans in the Genesee Valley. It has since generated two generals, a senator, a congressman, and an ambassador. All of that is still evident in the two very different estates that bracket Geneseo, two magnificent mansions still owned by the Wadsworths.
Sibley Watson Library from the episode “Rochester’s Renaissance Man”
He was, by turns, the visionary publisher who introduced T.S. Eliot to America, the groundbreaking medical researcher whose work still resonates today, avant- garde movie maker, wealthy patron of the arts, and silent recluse. James Sibley Watson remains one of the great untold stories of the Flower City as is what’s left of the family’s huge estate: a pretty, band-box of a building that seems plucked from Florence or Rome.
Sibley Mansion from the episode “Buy Alaska. Stop. Great Investment.”
Hiram Sibley could have stayed in his early career as Monroe County Sheriff but his mind was working on a far different problem: how to unite the many small, often warring telegraph companies. He bought one, then another and soon there was Western Union. And in the course of trying to tie in Europe and Russia, Sibley saw what he thought was an even better investment. He told his good friend, the Secretary of State about it. That’s why his friend got the scorn for what some called Seward’s Folly, Alaska.
More Greater Homes of Rochester
The Patrick Barry House
The booming frontier city of Rochester wasn’t even a decade old when the Erie Canal helped bring two hard working immigrants named George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry. They discovered a climate perfect for starting what would become the largest tree and plant nursery in North America. As that nursery grew, both men built stately homes that served as signposts of their success. Patrick Barry’s would also house a family that would grow to 10 children. When the last of those died in 1951, the newest generation of Barrys donated Patrick’s home to the University of Rochester. The university took the greatest care and hired the most gifted of restoration experts to bring the century old structure back to life. Its 13 foot ceilings and 11 foot doors now gleam next to ornate woodwork and period furniture. The home has since served as the residence of several U of R provosts and presidents.
The Harris House
Like Ellwanger and Barry, Edward Harris brought little other than a quick intelligence and a love of hard work with him to Rochester. He arrived as a dirt farmer but after a year of night school, he passed the bar and opened his own practice. It would become one of the signature law firms in upstate New York. By 1865, Harris built an elegant Italian villa on several acres of farmland that lay well to the east of a growing Rochester. Later, other equally regal mansions would be built on the road that passed by Harris’ front door, East Avenue. Harris sold the home in 1892 when he mistakenly thought his wife wanted something newer, more modern. Subsequent owners included the wife and daughter of Western Union co-founder Don Alonzo Watson, socialite and rose scholar Harriet Hollister Spencer, and current Harris-Beach partner Beth Wilkens. Now, a new generation has moved in. Mark and Kathy Cleary bring with them at least one important link to the generations previous: a determination to use their new home as a home and not a museum.
The Katz-Bernunzio House
Abram Katz also celebrated his wealth by building a home on East Avenue full of soaring spaces and different, expensive wood. 2 years later, he watched from his front porch as work began on a home for his newest neighbor, George Eastman. Katz had done well in the city’s clothing and banking industries and was a leader in the religious community his father had helped found, Temple B’rith Kodesh. When he died at a relatively early age, Katz was lauded in local newspapers as a “well known financier-philanthropist” who had often and generously entertained friends at his East Avenue home. That home became apartments after Katz’s wife sold the building in the 1940s. It would be another 50 years before John and Julie Bernunzio threw caution to the winds and began to remake it into both a home for their young daughters but as a haven for their growing business. To visit the Bernunzio’s, one must only want a ukulele, banjo, or other vintage stringed instrument. People from around the world do want such things and so now take what becomes a very pleasant journey.
Pearl Waite had a great idea. His wife even gave it a name: Jell-O. What Pearl didn’t have was the time and business sense to properly pedal that idea. He sold it all to Orator Woodward for $450. When the Woodward family sold the trademarked name again, it was worth 66 million dollars. Orator Woodward didn’t live to see that windfall. His family, squabbling and fractious, enjoyed it in many, very different ways. The youngest son, Donald Woodward used some of it to build a house for his wife on dozens of acres with a commanding view east of the town of LeRoy. Divorced soon after, the Woodwards had little time to appreciate the three-story mansion with the in-basement pool, enormous central hallway and richly wooded ballroom. It would become, instead, a rehabilitation home for children with cerebral palsy and then a summer rest house for the Sisters of Mercy. In the last decade, yet another owner lives and works from here: the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy. Mercedian Friars date their order’s beginning to the year 1218. The latest generation of Friars calls Mercygrove both home and US headquarters. On its ample grounds and through its wide inner spaces, the Mercedians say they have found the perfect place to find their inner peace and to help others do the same.
The Tackle-Yates house
Veterans of the Revolutionary War campaign of General John Sullivan gaped in wonder as they marched through the fertile Genesee Valley. Unlike their homes in stony New England, there was rich, black soil unmarked by anyone other than the Seneca. Many of those veterans were first in line when the land opened up in the 1780s and 90s. Some of them named a their new settlement after their old home in Middlebury, Vermont. In that town, a village called Wyoming began. And south of it, veteran Alexander Tackles built what at first was a nice, unassuming farm house in the lee of a tall hill. Later generations made the home into something far more, an U-shaped wonder with a floating staircase, expensive imported wallpaper, breathtaking entryway and 84 windows. When the home finally passed out of the hands of the Tackles family, it was to a couple who had no intention of buying anything that was old, north, and constantly demanding of money. Brock and Pamela Yates had it made in the late 70s and early 80s. Brock’s career as a writer now included a Hollywood credit to his name. The story of his cross country, no rules race had been made into Cannonball Run. California beckoned. But California was also expensive. The Yates decided that they had indeed fallen in love with the abandoned house south of Wyoming. 2 decades and much remodeling and restoring later, it is a showcase still in progress.
Even More Great Homes of Rochester
California meets Rochester
Bungalows, originally meant as a small but beautiful means of coping with the East Indian sun, are most often associated with California. They reached their height of popularity at the time as the Arts and Crafts movement in America. A builder who saw both come alive in a Pasadena bungalow took the exact plans to copy in his hometown back east. That bungalow was voted Most Beautiful Home in Rochester in 1916, several years after the builder ran out of money before ever getting to live in his dream. The current owners, Jim and Marie Via, have brought the original passion for the rough, hands on beauty of the Arts and Crafts style into the ongoing, authentic restoration of the bungalow.
Tuscany in Mendon
Architect Rodney Skirment had never had a client spend 5 years researching the perfect place and style of their dream house. The style was inspired by the classic lines of 16th century master Andreas Palladio. For several reasons, the dream house that became a real life, 3-story Italian villa has passed on to Robert and Jill Klimasewski. They have made their own mark from the playful rooster theme in the fully equipped Tuscan kitchen to the soaring center space that dominates the home. It is a new home but one destined to be a classic.
Children return to East Avenue
East Avenue, for more than a century the address of Rochester’s rich and powerful is lovely still but has come alive to a sound not heard often for a generation: young families have returned. Among those, the Coves. Colleagues wanted to lure Dr. Christopher Cove back to Strong Memorial from Cleveland. Initially reluctant, he and his wife, Lisa, changed their minds almost instantly when they stepped inside a sprawling English Tudor on the corner of East Boulevard. The Coves’ 3 sons now have the run of a home most often associated with a very different family, the Eisenharts. The longest term residents of the Tudor mansion were once among the most powerful and philanthropic in Western New York.
Salt of the Earth
Warsaw, New York was once the salt capitol of the nation. There was money to be made there, money the Humphrey family earned from real estate, banking and other business interests. The family is still in banking and is still in the house that that first bloom of money built, a stately 1880s Queen Anne that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored over a 14 year period. In each room is a different elegance and wood. In each, a different mood enjoyed in different seasons.
The House with the Light On
Travel down Main Street in Canandaigua and you have seen it, the commanding presence that beautifully combines several styles and eras. Its also the place where, sparked by tragedy, a light shines on for a son who will never come home.
Great Homes of Canandaigua Lake
WXXI Reveals Great Homes of Canandaigua Lake!
This program invites viewers into six beautiful homes that all have one thing in common – a spectacular view of the fourth largest of the Finger Lakes. Called “the chosen place” by the indigenous Seneca people, Canandaigua is an upstate treasure and one of the most enviable lakeside locations in the country.
The tour begins with an Italian villa that brings a “little bit of Florida” to the shores of Canandaigua. Filled with the work of local artisans every visit uncovers a new detail. From the owner’s original tile design in the kitchen to the faux palm trees on the walls, this spectacular family retreat greets and entertains visitors every day.
Then on to the “The Castle”, built in the 1800s. The rich, pristine pine paneling warms each room from floor to ceiling. One of several cottages on the property “The Castle” has been in the owner’s family for generations. It enjoys a rich history that includes many of the “rich and famous” of Rochester’s past.
The third home featured was built by a couple who builds homes for a living. They chose to build a year-round home on their lakefront property and brought their many years of experience to the project. The result is a home that blends into its environment, while including top of the line components in home furnishings and mechanics.
The fourth home featured in the program is one designed with a strong Newport, Rhode Island influence. The Ohio builder who fell in love with Canandaigua Lake while attending a conference in Canandaigua built his “dream house” during weekend visits. In a sad twist, he died just 14 months after the house’s completion. The family that watched him build the home, never imagined it would one day be theirs. Today it is a family retreat enjoyed by generations.
House number five is a historic home that was built by Senator Lapham. Today’s owners maintain its original architecture while adding present day conveniences.
Finally viewers will learn more about Canandaigua’s historic Stone Cottage which remains today virtually the same as the year of its construction in the late 1800s. It is a true “lake cottage” built with stone and “tree beams” culled from the hillsides of Canandaigua Lake.
Rose Hill Mansion
Edmund Lyon House
The Landmark Society of Western New York
Rochester History — Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County, NY Local History
Genesee County History
Genesee County History Department
The Library of Congress: Prints & Photographs Reading Room
Historic Preservation Consultant
Charlotte Whitney Allen House
Hartford House and The Homestead
Hillside Inn (permanently closed)
Edmund Lyon House
Rose Hill Mansion
Patrick Barry House
Patrick Barry Short Bio
The Arts and Crafts style house
The Webpage of the Roycrofters
The Tuscan style house
Andreas Palladio Inspired Buildings
The Queen Anne style house