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Commission set to revisit former Travelers Hotel

April 21, 2019 GMT

Discussion of potential landmark status for the former Travelers Hotel is set to resume Tuesday after a two-month delay.

Rochester’s Heritage Preservation Commission started discussing the status of the vacant hotel, at 426 Second St. SW, in February, but the discussion ended without a decision.

The Mayo Clinic-owned property is being considered for placement on a list of potential historic landmarks.

Potential landmarks are subject to an added layer of review if the owner wants to demolish the property.

Erin Sexton, Mayo’s director of community engagement, said in February that no specific plans exist for the property, but demolition is expected at some point.

The property has lingered in an uncertain status since the Rochester City Council approved an updated Heritage Preservation ordinance in 2017.

As a result, a demolition permit could have been issued at any point without added review of the building’s historical value, but Sexton said Mayo Clinic wanted to respect the process.

“We thought it was appropriate to come here and make our case,” she said.

Architectural historian Charlene Roice, of Hess Roice Historical Consultants, who was hired by Mayo Clinic to review the former Travelers Hotel, presented the case in February, saying she doesn’t believe the property warrants protection as a potential landmark.

“Architecturally, there has been quite a bit of compromise,” she told the commission, noting two separate buildings were linked to become the single hotel in the 1980s.

One of the original buildings, the Reiter Apartments, was built in 1920 by Julius Reiter, who was a five-term Rochester mayor and one-time vice presidential candidate.

The other building is the former Beverly Hotel, which was built 11 years after the Reiter by Billy Friedell, a former Ringling Brothers Circus musician who became a Rochester hotelier.

Roice acknowledges the buildings’ pasts come with connections to the characters that built them.

However, she said the connections to Reiter and Friedell were lost when the buildings were combined.

“If you are looking at the significance of the property, you have to look at the 1980s and onward,” she said.

Kevin Lund, a local historic preservation advocate, disagreed with Roice’s assessment, saying both of the buildings contain stories that are part of the city’s historic fabric.

“These buildings, as neglected and gray-washed as they are, are part of our story,” he said, adding that many people don’t realize their significance as part of Rochester’s history.

He said Friedell landed in the city after being injured in the circus and considered Rochester “the greatest city in the world,” which led him to plant roots with the construction of the Beverly Hotel.

“He is part of our fabric; he is part of our story,” Lund said. “That building reflects Billy Friedell. He is us, and I think we are charged with being good stewards of property.”

He said similar significance can be argued for Reiter, as well as for the people who stayed in the two buildings throughout the years, noting that part of the commission’s criteria for considering buildings as potential landmarks is based on the people connected to the buildings.

With both sides of the issue laid out, the commission ran out of time for its own discussion. The topic of the hotel building was postponed in March at Mayo Clinic’s request because Roice wasn’t able to attend that meeting.

The commission meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in room 104 of City Hall, 201 Fourth St. SE.