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'Five to Revive' spotlights trees, landmarks, and a cabin hideaway

Image shows a one-story, wood-frame John Wenrich Cabin at Wesley Hill Nature Preserve in the towns of Richmond and South Bristol, Ontario County.
Provided photo
Landmark Society of Western New York
John Wenrich Cabin at Wesley Hill Nature Preserve in the towns of Richmond and South Bristol, Ontario County.

Downtown’s Hotel Cadillac. Mt. Hope Cemetery’s Old Chapel. The former Willard State Hospital campus encompassing 400 acres on the shores of Seneca Lake.

All are part of the Landmark Society of Western New York’s Five to Revive list released Wednesday.

The list has been a yearly occurrence since 2013. Often it highlights properties known, and in dire need of saving. But it also has listed everyday, taken for granted things like the neighborhood hardware store, the front porch and this year, the city’s tree canopy.

And sometimes — like this year — it puts the spotlight on a lesser-known hideaway. Like a cabin in the woods in the Wesley Hill Nature Preserve in South Bristol.

“You're kind of transported back in time,” said Caitlin Meives, the Landmark Society’s preservation director. “And you can really imagine, you know, these three artists coming together and building this little wood cabin in the middle of the woods as like a sanctuary.”

The cabin dates back to 1926. It was built by John Wenrich and two other artists as a kind of retreat.

“It really is very peaceful,” said Meives, who was a guest on “Connections with Evan Dawson” on Wednesday, after the list was released. “There's a stream in the in the preserve as well. And it's just, it's idyllic.”

Rehabbing the one-story, wood-frame structure is nothing like tackling the multi-story Hotel Cadillac.

From the archive: Plan to make former Hotel Cadillac into accessible housing comes into focus

But unlike the hotel, which has a developer lined up that is awaiting word on financing, the cabin is owned by a nonprofit.

“The Finger Lakes Land Trust,” Meives said. “Who, by the way, has been an excellent steward of all this land. You know, it's not their mission, nor do they have expertise to deal with buildings.”

The mission for the land trust is just that, to protect the region’s forests, farmlands, gorges, and shorelines. And that’s where the Five to Revive list comes in, attracting public interest, and possibly the expertise and the funding to do the work.

“We try to put properties on the list that have, I think, a good chance of becoming rehabilitated,” Wayne Goodman the Landmark Society’s executive director, said in an interview. “We look at the catalytic impact that revitalization of a resource might have for the adjacent neighborhood or district. ... And this year, I think that the process really yielded, I think, probably the most varied and impactful list maybe that we've had.”

What follows are excerpts from the Landmark Society’s announcement, explaining the significance of each selection:

Cadillac Hotel 2.jpg
Max Schulte
The Hotel Cadillac is also on the Five to Revive list.

• Hotel Cadillac, city of Rochester

"Built in 1915 as the Fine Arts Building, which provided studio space for artists, it was enlarged and converted to a hotel in 1927. The unique Art Deco style façade dates to a 1938 remodel. ... (It) is one of the last major buildings in the East End neighborhood that hasn’t been rehabilitated.

"For the last several decades, the Cadillac has been operated to provide short- and long-term shelter for a range of at-risk populations, leveraging the public housing voucher system. Proceeds from this venture were rarely invested in building upkeep, and over time the building steadily deteriorated, resulting in substandard housing conditions. In 2018, the hotel was closed, and residents were forced to vacate. Several stalled attempts at redevelopment followed, but the building has remained vacant with the state of interior deterioration becoming critical."

• Mt. Hope Cemetery’s Old Chapel, city of Rochester

“Located opposite the historic entrance and gatehouse at Mt. Hope Cemetery, the Old Chapel was built in 1861-62 as a chapel and mortuary. This limestone building was designed in the Gothic Revival style by father and son architects, Henry Searle, and Henry Robinson Searle, and has a 1912 crematory addition.

Image shows Mt. Hope Cemetery’s Old Chapel inside the northern-most entrance adjacent the fountain.
Provided photo
Landmark Society of Western New York
Mt. Hope Cemetery’s Old Chapel inside the northern-most entrance adjacent the fountain.

"The Old Chapel is a highly significant building in one of the oldest municipally owned cemeteries in the nation. Despite its architectural splendor, the building has remained unused since the 1970s."

• Urban Tree Canopy, city of Rochester

“Rochester’s identity is closely intertwined with both its original urban design and its rich horticultural history. Its streets, neighborhoods, and green spaces were planned during a period when American cities were emulating the tree-lined boulevards of Paris and wooded residential neighborhoods of England. … Urban trees foster a host of public health and community benefits, including increased property values, cooler summer temperatures, crime reduction, and improved mental and physical health.

“Since the second half of the 20th century, many of our city streets have been designed or retrofitted at the expense of the tree lawn and the pedestrian experience, with the mindset that the automobile is dominant. .... Advocating for protection of the existing mature tree canopy in our neighborhoods is not enough. It is imperative not to overlook the lack of trees in many of Rochester’s neighborhoods, particularly those in the city’s northeast quadrant. This quadrant has historically been home to Rochester’s lowest income and most vulnerable residents."

Image shows the Willard State Hospital, a multi-story brick structure located in the towns of Romulus and Ovid, Seneca County.
Provided photo
Landmark Society of Western New York
Willard State Hospital, in the towns of Romulus and Ovid, Seneca County

• Willard State Hospital, towns of Romulus and Ovid, Seneca County

“The former Willard State Hospital was established in the 1860s on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. …. After the New York State Office of Mental Health closed the hospital in 1995, campus ownership shifted to the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS), who adapted some buildings for their program purposes while allowing others to fall into a state of disrepair. In November 2021, DOCCS announced that it would be closing its Willard State facility and vacating all buildings by March of 2022, with ownership transferring to the Empire State Development Corporation. The sudden announcement did not include plans to secure the buildings for future use.

“Today, the Willard property encompasses approximately 400 acres, including a mile of valuable Seneca Lake shoreline. Despite the loss of several architecturally important buildings, about 70 buildings still stand. … The scale of the redevelopment activities and investment necessary to bring large complexes like this one back to life is challenging. But the potential, long-lasting, beneficial impact of these efforts is also great."

• John Wenrich Cabin at Wesley Hill Nature Preserve, Towns of Richmond and South Bristol, Ontario County

“The John Wenrich Cabin is a small, one-story wood frame cabin accessible via foot trails through the Wesley Hill Nature Preserve, a 390-acre preserve located in the Bristol Hills and owned by the non-profit Finger Lakes Land Trust. The cabin was built in 1926 when three artists—John C. Wenrich, James Havens, and Colburn Dugan—bought a 90-acre piece of paradise as a place for peace, quiet, and contemplation.

“The Wenrich Cabin highlights a challenge that many land conservation organizations face—how to approach and treat historic structures that may come along with their land acquisitions, when these assets are often outside an organization’s primary focus and expertise.”

Brian Sharp is WXXI's business and development reporter. He has been covering Rochester since 2005, working most of that time as an investigative reporter with the Democrat and Chronicle. His journalism career spans nearly three decades.