Historic Structures

Powers Building, Rochester New York

Date added: April 21, 2010 Categories: New York Commercial Second Empire

The Powers Building, architecturally innovative for its day due to its scale and metal structural system, has been the keystone of Rochester's downtown commercial area since its construction in 1869-70. It was acclaimed as the first fire-proof structure in Rochester and at, the time the only building west of New York City equipped with elevators. The building stands as a monument to the Horatio Alger character of its owner, Daniel Powers. Its multiple mansard roofs and tower raised twice in four years reflect Power's determination to own Rochester's tallest building, the dream of his life.

In 1850, Daniel Powers first opened the Powers Banking Office in the Eagle Block, the same site of the present Powers Building. He was a director of the Industrial School of Rochester, the Rochester City Hospital, and building commissioner for the present City Hall. In his role as patron of the arts, he accumulated an art collection which was on display in the building for twenty-two years.

Beginning in 1896 Powers sold a portion of the building's first floor and basement to the Powers Bank. The remainder of the structure was sold to the Powers Commercial Fire Proof Building Company in 1897. In 1898 the Bank sold its portion to the Powers Commercial Fire-Proof Building Company.

The scope of the building can best be understood by the use of the volume of material that went into it. It measures 155' on Main Street, and 176' on State Street. There is an open court in the center of the building. In 1876 its ten acres of floor space could have held the entire population of Rochester, 80,000. The principal staircase contains 50 tons of iron and cost $20,000.00. The materials are mostly cast iron, brick, limestone and marble. There are 65,000 square feet of Italian and Vermont marble; 8,000,000 pounds of iron; 8,000 bricks; 80,000 yards of plastering; 12,000 wagon loads of sand were drawn for the mortar; there were originally 1000 tenants; elevators alone cost $40,000. In addition his private art gallery took up an entire floor.