Monthly Archives: October 2009

Happy birthday, Fairmount Fair

Onondaga County’s second oldest “mallspace” is 50 years old today. It opened on October 28, 1959. It may also be the only area shopping center that has a band named after it. (That’s actually not so weird: back in the ’60s, live bands did play there occasionally.)

Fairmount Fair was originally part of the large estate held by the Geddes family from 1796, but was sold off sometime in the early 20th century to the Terry family. Old topographical maps reveal that a horse racetrack once occupied the spot. By the time housing development began in earnest in the mid-50’s, it was a vacant lot where blackberries grew. In 1956, Eagan began developing the space for an open-air shopping plaza to be anchored by an Acme grocery. This was being done in tandem with their “Terrytown” housing development just above on the hill (where shoppers for the mall would be incubated in “Soylent Green” fashion).

Above is a view of Fairmount Fair in its earliest days. This view looks west toward Onondaga Road (where Target is today) and you can see the Acme grocery, as well as a fountain which later was included in the enclosed version of the mall better known to children of the ’70s and ’80s.

Fairmount Fair (still sporting its original name, though not its original signage) seems to be doing quite well in something like its third or fourth rejiggering since the dark days of the Syracuse area mall crash, (where the older Shoppingtown is currently being ignored by its owner, Macerich). It’s been through some bad times: drug deals sometimes went down in the parking lot, and the old mall building was reported to be sinking during the ’90s.

It’s not a place where someone would think to build a new mall today, but its small footprint (it is hemmed in on all sides by roads, streams and unbuildable topography) has probably contributed more than anything else to its longevity as a retail space. It’s not a space that can be overbuilt into sprawl. Fairmount Fair also benefits from a plum location bang off the Route 5 exit. It’s also one of a vanishing breed – a thriving shopping plaza that many local residents can walk to, on actual sidewalks.

There don’t seem to be any formal plans by current owners Benderson to note the anniversary – but in a way, none are really needed. It’s no secret that of Benderson’s two west surbuban properties (the other is Camillus Commons), Fairmount Fair got the better facelift and the cooler stores. It is certainly entering its sixth decade in style.

The socioeconomic ramifications of Fairmount Fair, of course, are also fascinating and I’ll leave those for another post (and another chapter in my ongoing Compleat History of Fairmount) – in the meantime I recommend SyracuseB4 for further reading.

An observation on bread and circuses

Whatever activities a hierarchy undertakes initially to bond a population to itself… often thereafter becomes de rigueur, so that further bonding activities are at higher cost, with little or no additional benefit to the hierarchy. The appeasement of urban mobs presents the classic illustration of this principle. Any level of activities undertaken to appease such populations – the bread and circuses syndrome – eventually becomes the expected minimum. An increase in the cost of bread and circuses, which seems to have been required in Imperial Rome to legitimize such things as the accession of a new ruler or his continued reign, may bring no increased return beyond a state of non-revolt.

–Joseph Tainter, The Collapse of Complex Societies

The Champlain Bridge crisis


There’s a real crisis unfolding right now in upstate New York — one that state and federal authorities can do something about using stimulus money. The bridge over Lake Champlain at Crown Point, which was scheduled for repairs by 2013, has deteriorated to the point where officials suddenly stepped in this week and declared an emergency shutdown. This has stranded thousands of New Yorkers and Vermonters at home, and they face the prospect of not being able to get to work each day and losing their business. It’s a regional disaster.

I love the Champlain Valley and especially the whole Crown Point area, and I’ve been back and forth across the bridge many times. The bridge (which was featured in the movie What Lies Beneath) is an imposing white structure that dates from the 1920s, spanning the narrow lower reaches of Lake Champlain. Driving across state borders is usually a dull affair, but the long, high-sloped bridge makes the passage between New York and Vermont sort of magical.

Here is the best little diner in Vermont, just a stone’s throw from the bridge. Word is they’ve already had to lay off some of their employees.

View Larger Map

I don’t want to live in a world without the Bridge to Vermont, but the citizens of the Champlain Valley can’t live without it. The nearest alternative crossing is the Ticonderoga ferry, ten miles away and outrageously expensive for daily use. Let’s hope the state and federal governments quickly get their act together and get a temporary bridge or ferry service available.

Updated: From the press release about the state emergency declaration from the governor’s office:

NYSDOT is designing repairs and developing a timeline for re-opening. A signed detour is in place that will divert motorists on U.S. Route 4 through Whitehall, New York, and on Vermont Route 22A and 17, a distance of about 100 miles.

That is just insane! Why was this bridge allowed to deteriorate?!

Wave effect

Must Hiram Monserrate resign? Must he be fired? It would be another sign of the apocalypse if running Monserrate out of town would result in a domino effect of girlfriend-hitting, paparazzi-punching and intern-interfering elected public officials also being toppled. That might be, like, giving people like Liz Krueger, Dave Valesky and ordinary New Yorkers dangerous power or something.

Actually, the people with the real power would be those Senators named to the committee to consider Monserrate’s booting. This committee will be announced in Albany tomorrow.

These waves of popular opinion that never crest, have in the past simply just appeared to melt away harmlessly. I don’t believe that’s true, and I even think that if Monserrate is ejected as an example to others, it’s too little, too late. I think the uncrested waves are still under the surface and building into some kind of massive undertow that will only become apparent years from now.

I admit I’m just finding it very, very hard to care about any of this stuff any more. I’m not feeling the urgency, because it’s all just blending into one pointless dream of good government deferred. The New York Times is still flogging “Throw all the bums out,” but it seems no matter what you do, someone else has more money and influence than you. I don’t even know who the hell Monserrate’s constituents are. For all I know, they are just cool with the idea of slapping their girlfriends around. Why do these scumbags keep getting elected? They’re obviously making someone all tingly for some reason.

But, here’s my feeble attempt to help at least one wave crest:

Fire Monserrate

In memory of a perfect day

A few weeks ago I talked about the September wildflowers being a prelude to the “big October show” of the leaves. Last year around this time, I took my mom to Green Lakes State Park for a Saturday walk around the lakes on a really splendid sunny day when the leaves were at peak. Took a lot of photos. This year I wanted to do it again, so I’ve been waiting and watching for the leaves to turn and the weather to be cooperative. However, it’s now occurring to me that some days and experiences you just can’t repeat. Some days are just destined to be singularly golden.

I wouldn’t mind getting some nice pictures from a different park this weekend, but in the meantime, why not continue to worship perfection? Here again (with some newly added items at the end) is my ode to the greatness that was October 11, 2008.