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Walnut Park Historic District


Looking northwest toward Walnut Place, Walnut Park Historic District, Syracuse, NY, National Register

Photo: Looking northwest toward Walnut Place, Walnut Park Historic District, Syracuse, NY. Photographed by user:Lvklock (own work), 2009, [cc-by-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed June, 2013.

The Walnut Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination documnent.[1] Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Walnut Park Historic District is located on University Hill overlooking the city of Syracuse to the immediate northeast of the Syracuse University campus. The Walnut Park Historic District consists of Walnut Park, a three-block linear park space and twenty large freestanding structures, eleven on Walnut Place and nine on Walnut Avenue. The twelve-acre district is bounded by Waverly Avenue on the south and Harrison Street on the north and by the rear property lines of structures on Walnut Avenue and Walnut Place on the east and west respectively. Boundaries were drawn to include properties which face on the Park with the exception of Waverly Avenue and Harrison Street where properties are modern and out of scale or extremely altered. The Walnut Park Historic District is surrounded by modern development as the university continues to expand. Two structures on Walnut Avenue at the extreme north end of the park (701, 703) are situated on large parcels of land which extend to Comstock Avenue. The other structures, all situated on smaller plots, are equally set back from the park. The facade lines and spacing are somewhat consistent across the length of the park creating an even rhythm with few interruptions. There are three non-contributing structures in the Walnut Park Historic District at 809 and 905 Walnut Avenue and 112 Walnut Place.

The park itself creates the image of a community "village green." Laid out in 1870, the park is a simple, rectangular green space bisected by city streets in two places. Once landscaped with large shade trees, the unfortunate Dutch Elm blight swept through the park in the 1950's. Most of the trees were replaced in 1972 through the efforts of students who raised over $1,000 for new plantings on the park. These trees are now beginning to reach maturity, restoring the atmosphere originally enjoyed on Walnut Park.

The seventeen contributing buildings in the Walnut Park Historic District were all constructed between 1897-1930. They consist of large, freestanding residences between two and three stories in height. The majority of the structures were constructed of brick, some with stone or stucco trim, and there are several examples of wood-frame construction with clapboard or shingle siding.

Stylistically, most of the residences were designed in the various revival styles popular at the turn of the century. There are many examples of the Georgian Revival (104, 200, 206, 210, 310 Walnut Place) and several examples of the Colonial Revival (208, 308 Walnut Place, 803 Walnut Avenue), with most of the remainder exemplifying the Tudor Revival (306 Walnut Place, 803, 901 Walnut Avenue), Jacobethan Revival (701 Walnut Avenue), and Chateauesque (703 Walnut Avenue) styles.

Several buildings clearly reflect the transition from the eclectic architectural styles popular in the decades immediately preceding the development of Walnut Park to the more restrained, classically inspired designs of the early twentieth century. The house at 304 Walnut Place, constructed in 1899 is characterized by the asymmetrical placement of porches and windows and a variety of surface planes and textures; however, its decoration is classical in derivation. Another example of transitional design is at 907 Walnut Avenue. On this structure, constructed in 1906, an exterior shingle covering (especially the undulating rhythm of shingles used in the front gable) and projecting semi-circular turrets recall the Shingle style of the 1880's, while the symmetrical plan, full-height multi-paned windows and fluted pilasters are features associated with the Georgian Revival.

Other structures, constructed earlier, were altered after 1900 with the addition of the more popular neo-classical design features and decorative details. Examples are at 210 Walnut Place, renovated to its present appearance in 1920, 308 Walnut Place, which received a front addition in c.1915 and 300 Walnut Place, updated with the addition of a portico in 1923.

The Walnut Park Historic District is unified by the regular siting of the residences around the park, the similar size and scale of the buildings and their generally symmetrical plans and uniform setbacks. In addition, although the styles of individual buildings vary, the Walnut Park Historic District as a whole is characterized by the use of classically inspired design motifs and decorative details: columns, pilasters, Palladian-inspired windows, pedimented gables and dormers, doorways with transoms and sidelights and Adamesque swags distinguish many of the residences in Walnut Park, contributing to the visual coherence and distinctive architectural quality of the neighborhood.

The buildings in the Walnut Park Historic District are all now related to Syracuse University. While the majority of the structures are now fraternity and sorority houses, others serve such functions as the Chancellor's Residence, the Student Activities Center, and the Catholic Chapel. Although a few have been poorly maintained, most of the buildings are extremely well preserved. In the case of the Alpha Phi Sorority House at 308 Walnut Place, a complete interior restoration to the original likeness is expected to begin in the summer of 1983.

While the character of surrounding areas has changed with university development and expansion, the park has had few direct intrusions. It remains as a preserved microcosm of the general character once associated with the entire University Hill area.

Significance

The Walnut Park Historic District is significant as an outstanding example of a cohesive late nineteenth-early twentieth century planned residential neighborhood in Syracuse that retains a high degree of historical and architectural integrity. The Walnut Park Historic District includes seventeen large, freestanding residences grouped around a three-block-long public park adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. Development was initiated by George Comstock, a prominent citizen who deeded the park to the city in 1870. Comstock's influence restricted development around the park to the wealthy, leading to construction of elaborate, architect-designed residences by some of Syracuse's most prominent citizens. Some of the earlier residences reflect the influence of nineteenth-century architectural styles such as the Queen Anne or Shingle styles; however, after 1900 structures were built or altered in the popular revival styles of the period including Colonial Revival, Georgian, Jacobethan, Tudor and Chateauesque. After 1900, the Walnut Park neighborhood became significant for its association with Syracuse University as both the university administration and numerous fraternity and sorority groups acquired residences around the park. Between 1920-1930, the Greek groups were responsible for the last architecturally significant development around the park. Today, Walnut Park's residences survive virtually unaltered, several retaining original interior furnishings and decoration, recalling both the neighborhood's original development as an exclusive, residential enclave and the long association with Syracuse University that continues to the present day.

Prior to 1870, the land which now comprises the campus was owned by George F. Comstock, a local banker and community leader who was influential in the relocating of Genesee College from Lima, New York to Syracuse, New York as Syracuse University. Originally, the land including the Walnut Park area was part of the Onondaga Salt Springs Reservation, but was sold by the government in 1830 to Aaron Burt. In 1872, George Comstock established Walnut Park and deeded it to the city of Syracuse with an agreement that it would be improved by appropriate plantings and landscaping and would then be "maintained in suitable order and condition...as a public park."

In the following decades, the slow but steady expansion of Syracuse University spurred other construction on University Hill. The properties surrounding Walnut Park, still owned by Mr. Comstock, were subsequently sold as individual plots. A local newspaper reported of Walnut Park that "a beautiful town is springing up on the hillside and a community of refined and cultivated membership has been established near the spot which will soon be the center of a great and beneficent educational institution." At the same time, Mr. Comstock insisted that only members of the upper class who could afford prestigious houses would be offered property on Walnut Park. As a local newspaper reported: "Those who bought their lots of Judge Comstock very early know well that he would not allow a house built unless it reached certain proportions as to price." Consequently, the University Hill soon became the fashionable living place for the socially elite.

In 1899, one of Syracuse's most outstanding citizens, George H. Bond, was among the first to build a home on Walnut Park at 304 Walnut Place. A prestigious lawyer and founder of the firm of Bond, Schoeneck, and King, Mr. Bond's achievements included: graduate and trustee of Syracuse University, founder of the University Club of Syracuse, National President of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, President of the New York State Bar Association, member of the New York State Board of Regents, and District Attorney for Onondaga County. Exhibiting characteristics of both, the Bond House marks the transition from the Queen Anne style of the previous decade to the Georgian Revival style of the following decade. The elaborate ornament, variety of surface planes and textures, and asymmetrical placement of porch and bay windows are qualities associated with the Queen Anne style. However, the orderly placement or ornament, choice of classical details, and overall symmetrical plan are characteristic of the Georgian Revival style.

The Reverend Huntington, a prominent clergyman and archbishop, constructed the house at 210 Walnut Place in 1897. The Huntington House later became an elite men's social club. The Denison family built the house at 300 Walnut Place apparently to enable them to entertain in a socially important area of the city.

William Nottingham, another prominent lawyer and trustee of Syracuse University, constructed the Jacobethan Revival style mansion in 1901 at 701 Walnut Avenue, designed by the New York City architecture firm of Brockway and Benson. The interior of the house includes such details as Gothic tracery on the living room ceiling, carved central staircase, leather-lined walls in the library, and a ballroom on the third floor.

Horace Wilkinson, founder and president of the Crucible Steel Company, commissioned Syracuse architects Gaggin and Gaggin to design the Chateauesque style mansion at 703 Walnut Avenue in 1905. The interior of this impressive residence was finished in a variety of woodworking: the library in cherry and ebony, the living room and stair in walnut, the dining room in mahogany, the octagonal breakfast room in golden curly maple, and a "Moorish room" reproduced exactly after a room in Casa Blanca. As a guest of the Wilkinson family, Theodore Roosevelt resided here for more than a month while engaged in a liable suit with an Albany publisher in the famous Barnes-Roosevelt case.

Adjacent to the Wilkinson House, 705 Walnut Avenue was designed by William Miller of Ithaca for A.E. Nettleton. Mr. Nettleton was founder of the Nettleton Shoe Company and was later president of the Paragon Plaster Company.

In the decade after the turn of the century, the buildings on Walnut Park became more directly related to Syracuse University. Purchased by John D. Archbold in 1915, the Nottingham House was deeded to Syracuse University for use as the chancellor's residence. In addition, "Fraternity Row," originally located on Irving Avenue, slowly began to relocate on Walnut Park. The Alpha Chapter of the Adlpha Phi Sorority purchased the house at 308 Walnut Place and renovated it in the Colonial Revival style with a front addition in c.1915. The Delta Delta Delta Sorority purchased the Denison house at 300 Walnut Place in 1923 and added a front portico and other details to transform the exterior of the building from the Renaissance Revival style to (appropriately) reflect a classically inspired "Greek" influence. In 1921, Sigma Nu purchased the Georgian Revival style private residence and within three years the Phi Mu Sorority purchased the house at 208 Walnut Place. At about the same time, Delta Gamma moved to the Tudor Revival style house at 901 Walnut Avenue and Pi Beta Phi purchased 210 Walnut Place.

Later, in 1937, Kappa Delta purchased the residence at 907 Walnut Avenue. This house, built as a private residence in c.1906, exhibits characteristic features of the Shingle style, including the use of exterior shingle covering, projecting semi-circular turrets, and undulating rhythm of shingles in the front gable peak. At the same time, however, the house includes characteristics of the Georgian Revival style of the following decade such as fluted pilasters on front facade, full-height multi-pane windows, and overall symmetrical plan.

The affluent alumni and national organizations of some Greek-letter groups provided their chapters with new, magnificent houses on Walnut Park thus adding to the distinguished architectural character of Walnut Place. The first of these was the Kappa Alpha Theta House at 306 Walnut Place, designed by Syracuse architect Marjorie Wright in 1928 in the Tudor Revival style. Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity built the neo-Georgian style house at 310 Walnut Place in c.1925. Gamma Phi Beta built its new house in the Colonial Revival style at 803 Walnut Avenue about the same time.

Throughout the years after World War II, Walnut Park remained virtually unchanged. Syracuse University began to expand north of the academic quadrangle near Walnut Park, yet there were few direct intrusions into the historic district. Some of the houses were purchased by the university in the 1970's for use as student housing, including 104 Walnut Place, 206 Walnut Place, 304 Walnut Place, and 310 Walnut Place. In 1967, Delta Phi Epsilon constructed a new chapter house at 905 Walnut Avenue. Designed by the Stamford, Connecticut firm of Sternbach and Rheaume, the neo-Classical style house harmonizes with the general qualities of the other houses on the park although it does not contribute to the significance of the Walnut Park Historic District.

Once the home of Syracuse's most affluent families, Walnut Park is today generally perceived as "Fraternity/Sorority Row." The traditional nature of the Greek organizations as well as the financial resources of many of the fraternity and sorority alumni corporations have made possible the preservation of the outstanding architecture of the park. Since 1955, the Wilkinson House has been owned by the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, which as preserved the house and its furnishings. The Alpha Chi Omega Sorority purchased the Nettleton house in 1940, which also remains well preserved. Once the Nottingham House, the chancellor's residence retains almost complete exterior and interior integrity including its original furnishings. The Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority House has remained almost unchanged and is furnished with much of the original furniture and carpets. In addition, plans for the complete interior restoration of the Alpha Phi house are expected to begin in the summer of 1983.

Walnut Park retains an outstanding level of architectural integrity. Because of its careful preservation and sensitive later development, the neighborhood makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the growth and development of Syracuse in the early twentieth century.

References

Boyd, Andrew, Map of City of Syracuse, 1873.

Galpin, W.F., Syracuse University: The Pioneer Days, Syracuse University Press, 1952.

Hopkins, G.M., Atlas of Syracuse, Philadelphia, PA, 1908.

Hopkins, G.M., Atlas of Syracuse, Philadelphia, PA, 1924.

Onondaga Historical Association. Files on Walnut Park, Montgomery Street, Syracuse, NY.

Syracuse-Onondaga Planning Agency, Onondaga Landmarks, Syracuse NY, 1975.

Vose, J.W., Atlas of Syracuse, New York, NY, 1892.

Harwood, John F., NY State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Walnut Park Historic District, nomination document, 1983, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Walnut Park Historic District Map

Street Names
Admas Street • Comstock Avenue • Harrison Street • Marshall Street • University Avenue • Walnut Avenue • Walnut Place • Waverly Avenue

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