The Building at 213 Genesee Street

by R. J. Richards

Tags: Historical, Slow, Transformation,

Desc: Fiction Story: This work is loosely based on an actual building in Syracuse, NY. Though most of the incidents depicted in the story were fictitious,as well as the address, they were actually happening all over the country at the time. The plot of the story becomes clear at the very end of the reading. Perhaps it will make some readers wonder.

It was done. A lot of hard work, planning, money and nearly a year of labor went into its making, but as Dave Logan looked upon his creation, he was pleased. The building was exactly as he'd envisioned it. As far as the architect could see, it was his finest piece of work. At six stories high, the structure dominated the small city, and he was certain there wasn't another like it anywhere in the world.

Oh, there were other pie shaped buildings in some of the larger cities across the country, but the narrow end of his creation was shaped like a lazy W with balconies going up the middle front of the building on each floor. The bottom of the structure was ringed with pillars while the front balconies were sported by tall, large pillars on each side. The roof was framed in little bowling pin shaped pillars also, and he thought their smoky grey color went well with the red brick walls.

The year was 1887, and the red brick structure sported every modern indemnity available, and Mr. Logan was certain that the building would be quickly sold and filled. But the city officials who'd gathered at 213 Genesee Street for the ribbon cutting ceremony looked at one another in doubt. To Dave, his creation was nothing less than a thing of beauty, but to others it was an ugly monstrosity dominating the middle of their developing city, and true to their misgivings, few people wished to occupy the structure.

Dave Logan was both bitterly disappointed and heavily in debt. He'd hoped his reputation would carry him through and would be turning people away as they clambered to live in his new building. It was only because of his reputation that he was able to get the financial backing he needed to build his creation in the first place, and now it threatened to ruin him.

Mr. Logan never built another project. His good reputation had been ruined, and the building at 213 Genesee Street quickly became known as Dave's Folly. A year later and desperate, the financially ruined man sold the still empty structure for a mere fraction of what it cost to a visiting businessman named Randall Callaway. He thought to turn it into a boarding house for young women. "A place for a girl to stay while working to begin her new life," he told everyone.

There were many such places across the country at the time but none in the small Central New York city. The town itself was a bustle of activity with the Erie Canal going through it as well as a north-south highway, and with all the people passing through, Randall thought it the perfect place for such an enterprise.

In spite of the building's hideous appearance, the boarding house slowly began to fill. As Mr. Callaway suspected, the need for lodging young women in their transition in life was greater than their feelings about living in such a repulsive building. Most only stayed a month or two and some for only a couple of weeks, but there were others who stayed much longer.

Randall placed a sign on the tall building that could easily be read by those coming into the city on the canal or the rail road that ran along side it, and often times it was the first place young women went when they arrived.

There were many new industries booming across America in the 1890s, and with the rapid technological advances in photography, pornography was one of them. Up until then, only the very wealthy could afford to purchase pornographic material, but now, lewd photos of naked, or near naked women, were easily mass produced and sold as post cards. The idea quickly spread from France to America where there were no postal laws prohibiting them.

A man known only as Dexter found that a boarding house such as the one in Central New York was the perfect place to find young women willing to pose for his camera for such purposes.

Most of the women who found lodging at 213 Genesee Street had jobs, and Randall Callaway had strict rules about when the doors were to be locked at night, gentlemen visitors and such, but Dexter quickly found ways around the rules. He often times met with the girls off premises or conned his way into their rooms during visiting hours. There were always at least a couple of women who needed money badly enough to pose for a few pictures, and some for much more than a few, at least until they could find more legitimate work.

Dexter always promised the photos would be used on postcards sold abroad or far off California, and no one in the east would ever see them. That's what he said, but postcards got mailed and made their way all over, and what the girls didn't know was that they were distributed from New York City and were sent throughout the country before they were even sold in nearby Canada or far off Europe.

The blow to the reputation of the boarding house was irreparable. The women living there were shunned as harlots by those living in the city, and it even ruined the lives of some who'd lived there in the past.

As one man said to his wife who was a previous resident, "And when will one of those postcards with your picture show up?"

No one wanted to be seen at the boarding house after that, and no new tenants came either. Randall was ruined. He quickly became the proud owner of a building no one wanted to live in, and his personal reputation was ruined also. No matter how much he denied it, and even though there was never any proof of his involvement, many people believed he'd actually perpetrated the whole business with the postcards.

A year later, Dexter was found dead in the south side cemetery. He'd been shot several times by the angry father of one of the young women whose picture had adorned several of the popular postcards.

By 1900, the building became known as Randall's Brothel, and the structure fell into disuse and remained so for nearly ten years when it was next purchased by a firm in New York City. They specialized in administrating exclusive girl's schools and thought there would be a market for one upstate. The trim was repainted, new light fixtures were put in and three months later, with the renovations complete, the doors were opened to its first class of students.

The school was to become one of the most prestigious finishing schools in the state and beyond. The best teachers that could be found were hired. The school master had years of experience both in America and abroad, and all began well.

It was the firm's reputation and the names that made up the faculty that attracted the first class of students, and the success of those students brought in those that followed. The girls themselves hated going to the ugly building that housed their school and dorm rooms, but even so, they excelled in their academics and looked forward to the day they would finally be able to leave the awful looking structure.

Everyone was making preparations for the graduation of the first class when the scandal hit the local papers. It seemed that one of the faculty members traded passing grades for sexual liaisons with several of the students. There was a formal investigation, and it was found that not only were the rumors true but more than one teacher was involved as well as more than a few students.

The damage to the school's reputation was insurmountable. Colleges began to return applications. The integrity of the school had been compromised, and the grades of all of the students came into question. The firm itself suffered also and was eventually forced out of business as its other schools closed one by one. No one trusted its schools, and people refused to send their daughters to one of them.

This time, the building which became known as the Deviant's Corner, remained boarded up until after the First World War. Then in 1919 the county poorhouse burned down, and the city and county officials held an emergency meeting to discuss what could be done.

At this time, an ambitious man named Percival Fields stepped up to the podium and suggested they use Deviant's Corner as the poorhouse. "That New York City Firm that owns it I hear is near bankrupt. I'm willin' to bet they'll be happy to be rid of the place for only a nominal cost. Hell, I'll even oversee the project myself!"

Percy's suggestion was met with immediate approval. The gavel slammed down, and a new beginning for the Deviant's Corner was sounded. Mr. Fields was all smiles. A quick solution to a difficult problem was just what he needed. He knew full well that something like this could eventually catapult him to the mayor's seat.

Percival liked speaking at the podium and continued, saying, "With its past as a girl's school, it won't need much fixin' up to turn it into the poorhouse." Then laughing loudly, he added, "Maybe with it being so ugly no one will want to stay there long and save us all some money!"

Within weeks, the thirty one year old building was operating as the county poorhouse, and everyone was happy except for the nearby merchants who were wary of being so close to the vagrants and other disreputable people who often stayed in a poorhouse.

Facilities such as those were not known to be particularly happy places, but the dismal mood of the new poorhouse surpassed anything like it elsewhere. The staff hated working there, and it was an added burden to transport its inhabitants back and forth to the fields where they grew their own food and kept the livestock. Still, true to Percival's joke, people dreaded living there, and those who were simple vagrants quickly moved on, but it was also difficult to maintain staff there.

.... There is more of this story ...

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Story tagged with:
Historical / Slow / Transformation /