Bringing Schiller Park Back to Life
Hidden away in the northeast corner of downtown Rochester, kitty-corner from the Harro East Athletic Club, is a nondescript little plot of land officially designated as "Schiller Park".
Here’s a look at Schiller Park looking north from Andrews Street. The former Central Post Office is in the background, across from the sunken Inner Loop. The focal point of the park is a bust of Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), one of the most significant figures in German literature (he wrote the Ode to Joy that Beethoven set to music in his Symphony No. 9).
Most Rochesterians probably don’t even know this modest park exists. Fewer still are likely aware that Schiller Park is all that remains of what was originally a lush urban oasis called Franklin Square. Once a focal point of Rochester’s German community, here is what Franklin Square looked like several decades before the construction of the Inner Loop sliced through it...
It was a pretty little park, and also quite a bit larger. As you can see on the 1925 map below, Franklin Square ran all the way from Andrews Street to Cumberland Street.
Here’s another perspective of Franklin Square, taken by the Army School of Aerial Photography in 1919:
The construction of the Inner Loop tore a destructive path through the northern half of the park, separating it from the surrounding neighborhood, and greatly diminishing its place among the city’s cherished greenspaces. In 1964, the fragmented space was renamed Schiller Park, after the bust of the legendary writer was re-located there from nearby Anderson Park.
Here’s what Schiller Park (formerly Franklin Square) looks like today...
Not only is the park a fraction of its original size, it is walled off on two sides by empty lots, and on a third side by the Inner Loop. All that separates the park from its inelegant surroundings is an unkempt chain link fence… a chain link fence! Only the side facing south to Andrews Street invites entry to the park.
But perhaps worse than that, the present-day Schiller Park has been largely left to rot. Here are some recent photos that show its current unfortunate and unseemly condition. In fairness, these were taken on a dark April day, after a long winter of neglect. But the evidence is clear; Schiller Park is not being maintained at a level deserving of its history, its namesake, or its city.
Looking south from the Inner Loop edge of the park
The park is littered with trash and debris
This picnic bench is the only place to sit in the park
Two rows of hedges frame Schiller’s bust
The view looking west from the park down Andrews
Parking meters line the eastern edge of the park
The Inner Loop marks the northern edge of the park
Throughout the park, sidewalks are in disrepair
The view looking east towards the stately Harro East
The western edge is a city-owned storage lot
Could this be the worst city park border in America?
As you can see from these pictures, it’s pretty depressing what the park has become, especially in contrast to its former glory. But while Schiller Park may never regain the size and significance of Franklin Square, there is a great opportunity here. There is a way to restore much of the beauty and grace of the original ideal, and turn this little park into a featured highlight in what the city of Rochester refers to as the St. Joseph’s Park neighborhood.
In fact, a revitalized Schiller Park could be the perfect compliment to the recently re-activated St. Joseph’s Park itself, whose dramatic hollowed church (below) towers over the neighborhood. Two historic parks, relatively close together, which could serve as beautiful bookends to a portion of downtown Rochester ripe for renewal.
St. Joseph’s Church was built in 1843
The church’s shell is the park’s centerpiece
Photo Credit: Richard Margolis
So how can Schiller Park become a bright spot, rather than a blight spot? How can it be transformed from an embarrassment of urban neglect, to an embracement of urban ideals?
Well, the first step is to resolve to take action. For over 50 years now, Schiller Park has been relegated to little more than an afterthought. Its decline has been the specific result of a lack of vision and care by the city. However, when we decide to value this park (and this neighborhood), we are presented with a wonderful challenge…
Schiller Park can become whatever we want to make of it!
It’s a clean slate. And there’s really nowhere to go but up. So we’re provided with the unique opportunity to turn this park into a gem of our choosing. When seen in this light, what a rare and exciting prospect that can be!
Of course, there are two paths we could go to realize this change. We can pressure city hall to make an investment in maintenance and improvements. Or we can take a grassroots, organic approach and rally up the collective resources of Rochester citizens to bring Schiller Park back to life. The first path (asking government to solve the problem) takes time, money and patience. The second path (let’s call it Do-It-Yourself) requires people, passion and purpose.
Being the renegades we are here at Downtown ROCs! (and lacking the patience to wait out any city-driven solution), we're choosing the “DIY" approach.
We are going to reinvent Schiller Park NOW. Not later.
...And we invite your participation.
Send us an email to [email protected] if you would like to be part of this exciting initiative. We are moving fast with this project, and your help will make a real difference. Reach out today, and let’s do this together!
To get the ball rolling, we have developed an initial 7-point plan for a Phase I of this effort:
- Thorough initial litter cleanup (then maintained)
- Sweeping and weeding of sidewalks/brickwork
- Planting flowers in two large concrete planters
- Trimming the hedges that obscure the statue
- Replacing the broken picnic table with benches
- Addition of flower pots at entry points to park
- Installation of solar-powered and LED lighting
We will also be petitioning the city to do its share, such as repairing the sidewalks and cement planters, as well as repainting the hydrant and bike lane markings on Andrews. We’re also pursuing the removal or replacement of the parking meters on the eastern edge of the park, as well as seeking permission to paint or “wrap" several rusted street sign posts.
This is just Phase I. A second, even more ambitious phase is being imagined, incorporating the ideas and input of stakeholders, including neighborhood residents, businesses and property owners.
At Downtown ROCs!, it is our belief that a city prospers from it’s core outward. The success, vitality and beauty of downtown Rochester—in all its nooks and crannies—is critical to the viability of the entire city. And the viability of the city is in turn critical to the health of the entire Greater Rochester community. In other words, it all starts downtown.
This is the vision of Downtown ROCs!. It is a vision we invite you to share with us, as we tackle projects that make living, working and playing in downtown Rochester a rich and rewarding experience. Connect with us today to get involved.
You can follow the progress of the Schiller Park revitalization project on our Facebook page at fb.com/downtownrocs.
Or, more specifically, join our “Friends of Schiller Park" Facebook Group.
Franklin Square was a popular gathering place for Rochester’s German population
By Mike Gilbert - April 14, 2018
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