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Restoration of the Children's Pavilion

Rochester lost many of its historic structures in the 1960's. Among the losses was the Children's Pavilion in Highland Park. Unlike the other losses, the Children's Pavilion can be restored to its former glory as the centerpiece of the Park. Restoration of the Pavilion is the special project of the Highland Park Conservancy.

Frederick Law Olmsted is considered one of America's greatest landscape architects. The City of Rochester Parks Commission selected Olmsted and his firm to design the Rochester Parks System, including Highland Park. According to documents about the planning of the design for the Park, it was to serve two purposes:

  1. To provide a vista point overlooking the City and surrounding areas.
  2. To build on and promote the horticultural traditions of the City by providing scientific plant collections for education of both nurseryman and the public.
Drawing of Pavilion
Drawing of Pavilion

Pavilion in Summer circa 1910
Pavilion in Summer circa 1910

Olmsted wanted a viewing structure at the highest point in the Park so that visitors could enjoy a panoramic view of the Park and the surrounding City and countryside. Both Olmsted and the Park Commissioner George W. Elliott had lost a child to cholera, and they intended that the Pavilion would serve as a shelter for sick children who were visiting the Park. Olmsted firmly believed in the benefits of fresh air for all children, and the Highland Park Pavilion would create a park feature that provided enjoyment of the scenery and a gathering place that would benefit children's health.

The Pavilion was constructed during 1890, at a cost of $7,000. The funds to build it were donated by George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry, who had also donated 20 acres to form the Park. The Pavilion was round, with three levels, each one smaller than the one below. It had a central staircase and was 62' in diameter at the base and 46' in height.

The Pavilion was dedicated to the children of Rochester on Monday, September 29, 1890. The plaque over the west entrance read "Memorial Pavilion erected by Ellwanger & Barry, and dedicated to the Children of Rochester." The children were released early from school so that they, together with a crowd of several thousand adults, could attend the dedication ceremony.

The view on the day of the dedication in 1890 was quite different from today. The Pavilion is now gone, and many of the plants surrounding the place where it once stood are now fully grown. The land to the south of Highland Park was mostly field and meadow, and to the north one could see downtown Rochester and Lake Ontario in the distance. The design of Highland Park was nearing completion and, for the first time in Rochester's history, people had a clean, open public space in which to come together and enjoy fresh air in a natural setting.

With the dedication of the Pavilion, the City of Rochester inaugurated a new park system that is renowned not only among the residents of this community, but around the world. Highland Park is a legacy that was entrusted to this community for generations past and generations to come. The Pavilion crowned the Park. It drew people to the Park and became a destination for visitors. It gave children a safe place to play. It became a Rochester landmark.

Throughout the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, the Children's Pavilion and the Pinnacle area were the focal point of Highland Park. The Pavilion was the scene of countless concerts, festivals, pageants and community events. It was a gathering place for family reunions and picnics, holiday activities and weddings. It was filled with children eager to see how fast they could climb the stairs to the top.

By the late 1950's, deferred maintenance began to take its toll on the Pavilion. In 1961, the Pavilion was deemed unsafe and closed for repairs. However, two years later, the City and County approved its demolition.

Much has changed in our community, and in the world, since 1890. The children of our community, however, are still in need of clean, safe places to play. Our children and adults are still in need of places where they can gather as a community. The epidemics of poor living conditions, poverty, and disease that marked the late 18th and early 19th centuries appear to have been replaced by epidemics of violence, poverty and hopelessness. This is the time for the resurrection of hope and
community centeredness.

As we approach the second decade of the 21st century, we find ourselves needing many of the same things our ancestors needed in the last decade of the 19th century: a gathering place for family reunions; a venue for concerts, festivals and community events; a place for school groups to congregate as they study the flora of the Park; a place for children to play in the fresh air; and to learn to know and love natural settings of great beauty; and a special place for friends to visit.

Our Vision

Drawing of Pavilion

In June, 2001, following initial inquiries and preliminary discussions with residents and merchants in southeast Rochester, the Southeast Area Coalition, Inc. formed the Committee to Rebuild the Children's Pavilion in Highland Park. It worked with a local architectural firm to develop a feasibility study of the reconstruction of the Children's Pavilion in Highland Park.

The Committee to Rebuild the Children's Pavilion has now become part of the Highland Park Conservancy, Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization. The rebuilding of the Children's Pavilion is a special project of the Highland Park Conservancy, Inc.

The project to rebuild the Children's Pavilion is technically considered a "restoration", because it includes the replacement of a missing historic feature of Highland Park. Replacement does allow for incorporating slight changes to the original design, such as the inclusion of an elevator so that will be handicapped accessible, staircases that meet current building codes, substitution of building materials that meet current fire and building codes, and similar items. The new structure will replicate the original Pavilion in size and most materials. Its frame, stairs and second and third level floors will be wooden. The railing and balusters of the new Pavilion, however, will be built with aluminum and finished with a coating to resemble stained wood, to enable them to withstand Rochester weather.

The cost is estimated at approximately $3 million. In addition, we must raise an endowment fund to insure proper maintenance of the Pavilion for generations to come.

Because Highland Park is listed on the National Register as the part of the Mt. Hope-Highland Historic District, all plans must be reviewed the New York State Historic Preservation Office for compliance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

We have identified the primary benefits of reconstructing the Pavilion as follows:

  1. Restoration of the Pinnacle as a visual focal point and an important destination in the Park.
  2. Enhancement of the Park's value as an educational and
    cultural resource.
  3. Development of an appropriately scaled civic gathering area hosting seasonal programming within the historic Olmsted-designed core of the Park.
  4. Contribution to the area's economic development through the enhancement of Highland Park as an important regional destination.

In addition, we foresee child-centered events taking place with the Pavilion as the anchor. These could include a children's day-long festival, an all area school science day field trip, and Saturday classes for children and their families presented by the Conservancy or by the Cornell Cooperative Extension.

This project has had support from nearly every group and person with whom we have discussed it. It taps into one's passion for nature, for our wonderful park system, for historic recreation, and for a sense of community. It will increase tourism and its related spending; it will increase publicity and marketing opportunities for the City and the County; it will showcase the residential life surrounding the Park; and it will re-establish the complete vision of the Park's designer, Frederick
Law Olmsted.

We invite you to join us in this exciting venture.

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