Oddchester: Secrets of the city
Best China plates stuck into the walls next to the adult bookstore? The invisible downtown cemetery? The park you’d never find on your own … even if you sort of knew where it was?
A few of our favorite secrets of the city.
BEST PARK YOU WOULD NEVER FIND ON YOUR OWN, EVEN IF YOU SORT OF KNEW WHERE IT WAS
It’s sort of like discovering Narnia. Especially if the secret entrance to Narnia was through an opening between the hedgerows of two neighboring houses. Also, if Narnia was 200 feet long by 40 feet wide and its entirety consisted of a perfectly manicured park (with a plastic slide, swings and some rocking animals) set in the middle of a circle of houses in northwest Rochester. It turns out this city-owned park not only has a name — Crescent Park — but has been in existence since the Elton Hills neighborhood was developed.
“That’s the park we tried to give away once,” former parks and recreation superintendent Roy Sutherland told us years ago. Neighbors at the time didn’t like all the late-night, youthful visitors to the park that exists just off their backyard property lines. But they also didn’t want to be responsible for maintaining the land, so the city kept it and added new playground equipment in the late ’90s. Now, the quiet, secluded park is used by young families on the block and the few who glimpse it between houses and are curious enough to risk walking right into what seems to be other people’s yards. The park is just north of Cascade Street Northwest and south of 29th Street, east off of 15th Avenue and can be accessed from 15th Avenue at the west end or from the north off of 29th Street. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Tumnus!
BEST CHINA PLATES STUCK INTO THE WALLS NEXT TO THE ADULT BOOKSTORE
The six ornate china plates embedded in the exterior brick walls of Downtown Book and Video — now called Downtown Intimates — are a throwback to the building’s previous use, when it was known as China Hall, a longtime business that sold fine china and restaurant china. China Hall was located on South Broadway in the late 1800s before moving to 220 First Ave. SW in the early 1900s. It was, according to local historians, “the” place to register for one’s china patterns. They also did a thriving business with restaurants, hotels and other organizations involved in food service. The business was owned for several generations by the Winkle family, who sold the China Hall Restaurant Supply Co. in 1990.
As for the bookstore, we’re glad its new name (Downtown Intimates) now makes it at least sound like an adults-only place. We’re guessing more than a few families were lured in by the Downtown Book and Video name, only to find far more lingerie and aphrodisiacs than they had expected. And with its updated storefront, it now at least looks like an adult bookstore. When we first moved here in 2000, the front of the building was painted with red, white and blue stripes and looked as if it could have been the temporary Libertarian Party headquarters. Which, of course, it wasn’t.
FAVORITE STARTING POINT
At the front steps of Residences of Old City Hall, set into the sidewalk on the south side, is a bronze monument marker for surveyors — one of the the original surveyor starting points for the city of Rochester. The address is 224 First Ave SW, and here is the easiest way to find it: Walk out the front door of Downtown Intimates (see above), take a left and walk for a few feet with your head down.
BEST INVISIBLE DOWNTOWN CEMETERY
Sure, it just looks like a cool brick wall, and it is — it was designed by longtime local architect Harold Crawford. The garden area of Calvary Episcopal Church (located right across the street from the Mayo Clinic at 111 Third Ave. SW) — with stone benches and tightly trimmed bushes — is a popular gathering place in the summer. But if you look along the inside wall of that brick wall, you will see a burial site — a columbarium where about 100 people have chosen to bury their ashes. “It might be eerie to some, but it is pretty inspiring,” the Rev. Nick Mezacapa told us previously (before his retirement). “It reminds us that life is short, and when death comes, it is part of the natural cycle of life.” Priority is given to members of the congregation, but spots remain all along the inside of the wall. “No one,” added Mezacapa, “is dying to get in there.”