The great thing about covering events like the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival? I get to meet the most interesting people, and often we stay connected.
And that’s how I found myself high above the streets of Rochester yesterday, in a construction bucket on the side of the Powers Building.
I met artist Scott Grove and his wife Nancy last week at the festival opening; Scott did some of the pieces in the Spiegelgarden. We got to talking about the myriad talents Scott has, one of which is historic restoration for old buildings. He’s currently working on the Powers Building, and he invited me to check it out.
So I did.
This won’t be a post about the history of the Powers Building – I can do more of that later. Today, I just want to give you a quick peek at my adventure, how Scott cares for the historical integrity of the building, and some of the little treasures I found that beg more investigation for another day.
(Quick note: please pardon any typos. I’m exhausted from covering Fringe and my brain is operating at half capacity. But I had to share these pics before I got tied up with other stuff.)
I probably should mention that I’m not a huge fan of heights. I know how tall the Powers Building is and I wasn’t exactly sure how high up we were going, and yet when he asked if I wanted to go up in the bucket, I didn’t hesitate. You only live once, right? What’s the worst that could happen? If I fainted and fell out of the bucket, it would at least be a good story.
When I got downtown, I could see Scott and his assistant Mark in the bucket, checking out the State Street side of the building. Once a year, Scott inspects the cornices, moldings and every other piece of the facade. Then he goes back to the studio and makes the pieces that need replacing, and comes back again to install them.
They were about two stories up, far lower than I’d expected. Phew. But I thought I’d better potty before I went up in the air, so Mark took me inside the building. As you can expect, we detoured so I could snap a few pictures and he could give me a little tour.
Back out, I was ready to go. Scott asked me one question: “Do you trust me?” Oddly enough, I did. I’ve only met him once but so far he hadn’t given me any reason not to trust him.
Scott and Mark managed to put me in the safety harness. There are a lot of weird straps that go here and there; there’s no easy way to strap yourself in when you’re as uncoordinated as I am, so I just stood there and let them do it. One reassuring thing: the harness was then hooked to the bucket, so if I did faint and fall I’d dangle like an aerialist rather than splat on the ground below.
Scott explained that the bucket was going to sway a lot. He explained that the giant wheels of the machine were firmly rooted to the ground, and as long as they didn’t lift up, we were solidly stable.
And then we went up. And up. And up. “I’m assuming you want to go as high as possible,” he said. Um, maybe not. I told him to go as high as he felt safe taking me.
It was a little unnerving. The bucket swayed, and jerked, and turned, and dipped. But I clung tightly to the bars and watched the horizon, rather than the ground, so I really didn’t know how high we were when we stopped and the bucket turned so we were facing the building.
It’s one thing to see the finishings on an old building when you’re standing on the ground looking up. It’s another to have them right in your face.
I didn’t know that on the front part of the building they’re made of concrete; in the newer additions they’re made from cast iron. Mark had explained to me that as buildings got bigger and taller, cast iron allowed buildings to be built without the weight that concrete would add.
Scott explained that using small holes in the moldings he can scope from the inside to check their structural integrity. A piece of molding that falls off a building is heavy and can be dangerous, and on old buildings it’s not unusual for that integrity to become compromised. That’s why when you’re dealing with historic buildings like this offense is the best defense.
Scott’s extensive resume of talents and experience includes construction, welding, working with fiberglass, sculpture (and clowning, and photography, and on and on). Unlike someone experienced only with roofing or construction, he has the ability to remove an original piece, cast a mold, and then recreate the pieces in more lightweight and durable fiberglass. It’s specialized work, and he does a beautiful job.
We were up there for maybe 15 minutes. It was a great adventure and outside my comfort zone but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Maybe I’m not afraid of heights any more, because when Scott said he has to go higher in the building this week to inspect the bell tower and and invited me back for that adventure, I readily said yes … after first asking, “Are you going up via the outside in a bucket or up through the inside of the building and onto the roof?” (It’s the later. Phew.)
Before I left, I went back into the building to get a closer look at the Griffins in the foyer. There are two on display, and they used to flank the entrance to the building – and they’re actually gas lights. On the top of the Griffin’s head is a small hole that used to house the gas jets. Super cool.
Security guard Mike Russo, who told me he’s encountered the ghost of Daniel Powers while making his rounds, showed me a photo he took of the staircase that reminded him of “Vertigo”.
Then he sent me to the first floor to see it myself. If you lie down on your back, you get this amazing photo.
There are so many fascinating things to see in the building, and I haven’t even touched on any of the history – or ghosts. Those are stories for another day.
You can find links to all of my posts from the Fringe here.