Whether your a native of the greater Rochester area or you’re moving here from out of state, it doesn’t take long before you start flirting with the idea of renting in the East Avenue Neighborhood. Not only is East Ave a cultural hub of the city, but it’s also where Rochester’s earliest businessmen chose to locate their palatial homes. Eastman Kodak founder, George Eastman‘s mansion is one of the most spectacular and has been preserved as a present day museum. True to Eastman’s passion for photography and film, the Eastman House features film and animation exhibits, and houses the Dryden Theatre where rare movie titles are often screened for the public. As you stroll down East, mansions modeled after Bavarian chateaus and Tudor castles dot the tree lined avenue. While some of these gems remain single family estates, many have been converted into apartments and condos. In years past many fell prey to the wrecking ball, but their land has since been redeveloped with higher density towers and apartment buildings.
The apartment inventory in this part of the city has some of the most breathtaking units in the city. Renowned architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright and J. Foster Warner, who designed the Eastman House, spared no expense appointing rooms with hand carved fireplace mantels and inlaid hardwood floors. (J. Foster Warner’s own home was recently listed on Newdigs, but has since been leased.) These details, that were once reserved for the area’s elite, now find themselves in very reasonably priced apartments packed with charm and historic details. Some larger ‘owners units’ may be 2 or 3 bedrooms, and rent for $1500-$3000 per month, but there are plenty of units to be found for $700-$1200 per month. If you prefer ’professionally managed’ properties over architectural details in private homes, you may want to check out some of the apartment buildings like 1600 East Ave managed by Tri-City Rentals, or Regency House managed by The Cabot Group.
Life on East Ave is incredibly convenient. To the north of the East Ave neighborhood, is Neighborhood of the Arts. The neighborhoods blend together seamlessly from the grandeur of the mostly residential East Ave neighborhood, into the artsy hot spots along Art Walk, like the Memorial Art Gallery, Village Gate, and Starry Nights Cafe in the adjacent Neighborhood of the Arts. At the eastern most edge of the East Avenue neighborhood lies the ultimate convenience: the City of Rochester’s only Wegmans. Across from Wegmans lies another rare convenience, a 24-hour gym, World Wide Gym. The East Ave neighborhood is directly adjacent to the shop & restaurant-dense Park Avenue neighborhood, as well as the “East End,” which is known for being the city’s main nightlife hub and overlaps the Western end of East Ave neighborhood, and an Eastern slice of downtown Rochester. On several occasions during the summer, the club district holds the East End Fest where thousands of revelers come out to drink and enjoy live music. Local favorites like The Old Toad, The Blue Room, Mex, Monty’s Corner and Murphy’s Law are all located within a block of East Avenue and Alexander Street.
If nightclubs aren’t your thing, you can always drop by the Rochester Museum and Science Center at 657 East Ave or the adjacent Strasenburgh Planetarium. The planetarium also features a 12.5-inch diameter reflecting telescope, which is available for free public viewing on Saturday evenings, when weather permits.
During the cold winter month’s you’ll love the proximity (and short drives) to all the action downtown. In the Summer, East Ave turns into one of the more popular running/biking corridors, with VIP-like front-lawn access to festivals.
The Greek Festival kicked off at 11 AM today (June 2, 2011) and will last late into the evening (11 PM) every night through Sunday. Cancel your lunch and dinner plans for the next four days, because you won’t want to miss a single item that the talented Greek chefs are whipping together on East Avenue. Moussaka, souvlaki, patitsio, gyros, spanakopita – how will you even choose where to begin with this menu? Save room for melt in your mouth Baklava, or make room with a little Greek Dancing later in the evening. Stroll around the festival, while sipping your drink, and gnoshing a gyro. Take in the warm floral aromas of East Avenue’s colorful landscaping, while the sounds of Greece, played by a variety of Greek musicians, fills the air. You can even shop for Greek art in the boutique & art tent. Admission is free, making those who work in the southeast city especially prone to slipping out to the Greek Festival for a little lunch break and culture infusion this Friday. You could come every day this weekend to hear the music and dance with friendly festival-goers (or learn to dance traditional Greek dances at one of the dance lessons throughout the day.)
Today through Saturday (NOT Sunday), parking is available at Asbury Methodist Church. Gleason Works has kindly extended parking to the Greek Festival on all four days. Very limited handicap parking is available in the driveway area of the Greek Orthodox church.
As always, the festival is taking place at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, in the East Avenue Neighborhood, at 962 East Avenue. In 1967 this church published a book which I came across at the Rundel Library in downtown Rochester. Within the book is an excellent account of Rochester’s Greek history, and the history of the local Greek Orthodox Church. It is written that the first Greek settlers were George Lamprakes a street vendor from New York City, and James Zutes, a street vendor from Baltimore, who moved to Rochester in 1893 with the hope of improving their lot. At that time, there were no more than 3,000 Greeks registered in the entire United States. James Zutes started a fruit store at the corner of East Main & Front Street. Lamprakes opened the Olympia Candy Store at 10 East Main Street with a business partner, George Katsampes. Slowly, the Greek population climbed, when Zutes’ cousins arrived and opened a second fruit store on East Main Street in 1896, and yet another Greek man, Epaminondas (Peter) Rousos opened a shoe-shine parlor in the Powers Building, and later a food importing firm called “Maggioros and Rousos” at 42 Front Street with Harry Maggioros. More and more Greek immigrants trickled into Rochester, several per year, and finally in 1904 the first local Greek family was started when Nicholas Katsampes was born in Rochester, the first of Rochester’s first-generation Greek children. By around 1910, the community was large enough that they had started an organization called “Ethnike-Aroge,” and had begun talking about forming a local chapter of a Greek Orthodox Church to fulfill the spiritual needs of the community.
The church was not always located where it is presently on East Avenue. The first Greek Orthodox services (between 1910 and 1912) were held once a month in a room that usually served as a coffee house on East Main Street, over what was once Daw’s Drug Store, near the old Reynolds Arcade. The priest would travel from Buffalo to conduct the services. After that, it moved around from location to location in downtown Rochester, and then briefly to the old Cook’s Opera House on South Avenue, until finally settling in on Howell Street, which today runs directly alongside the Inner Loop. The 1912-era congregation was so passionate about setting roots into a permanent location, that one of the congregants, Sotirios (Sam) Lagarias put forth a check for $400 towards the church’s establishment, a remarkable sum at a time when most salaries for immigrant Greeks ranged around $5 per week. This first donation towards the local Greek Orthodox church began a drive that raised about $5000 to complete the remodeling and adornment required for the Howell Street location, and even desks for the church’s Greek school. The Howell St. location opened for use in 1920. It was during this time, from 1912 until 1920 that the Greek immigrants of Rochester really pulled together, and became a community.
Considering what was happening in their homeland, it was perhaps not only necessary for survival in their new home of Rochester that the Greek community pull together, but possibly necessary for their hearts as well. The First Balkan war had broken out in Greece in 1912, and though settled far away, the Greek immigrants of Rochester were, of course, deeply sentimental in support of their homeland. So much so that when a Greek man came the church’s State Street location to raise money for a cannon, the community was said to be so stirred by his speech and poetry, his high silk hat and chest full of medals, that many in the audience wept. The donations came so quickly for the cannon, that they could hardly write the names of donors fast enough, collecting $3000 in one hour. Some even took off their gold watches and gave them on the spot. Even after contributing so generously towards war efforts, and building their own church on Howell Street, the Greek community grew more and more prosperous in difficult times, thriving as entrepreneurs in the heart of downtown Rochester.
The local Greek community, though now dispersed to Rochester’s suburbs, used to be very tight knit in the heart of Downtown Rochester, and the Corn Hill neighborhood. In 1920, the community lived mostly in the First, Third, and Fourth Wards, which are better known as the Corn Hill neighborhood, and the Cascade District, Four Corners District, and East End District of Downtown Rochester. The local Greek Orthodox Church’s records say that “not only were those first families closely knit by national ties but their everyday experiences. It is interesting to note they resided within a small radius of one another in an area of well-trimmed lawns and tree-lined streets in what was then known as Rochester’s Ruffled Shirt Ward – the Third Ward.” Nearly 8% of the residents in the Fourth Ward were of Greek descent, and it was almost 5% in the Third Ward, and 3% in the First Ward (Corn Hill.)*
In 1937, after surviving the economic hardships of the Great Depression, the Howell Street church succumbed to a “mystery blaze,” which raged for two hours, halting all traffic on Monroe Avenue. The beautiful, painstakingly decorated church was completely destroyed, so they moved to a new building at 110 South Fitzhugh street in the Four Corners District, before the purchase of the current East Avenue lot in 1955, for a mere $9,378. Just down the street from the George Eastman House, and surrounded by a variety of Rochester’s most upscale, Tudor and Greek revival mansions, the church is situated beautifully, for what now seems like such a small (and wise!) investment. And luckily for the rest of us Rochesterians of all cultures and backgrounds who come from all over the metro for this once-a-year celebration of Greek culture, we also get to enjoy the conveniently central, ornately beautiful East Ave neighborhood.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, the church is offering “Religious Tours,” which are offered at the Greek Festival Friday through Sunday at various times, noted on the Schedule of Events. I wish the Rundel Library had more on the local Greek history, post 1967, because now that I have a much clearer view of what life was like for the first Greek immigrants in the beginning of the 20th century, I’m curious about how the population has become the large and vibrant community that thrives in Rochester today. Perhaps I’ll have to try one of the church’s “Religious Tours,” which promises to provide insight into the Greek church’s “architecture, history, practices and beliefs.” That way I’ll have something new to say when next year’s Greek Festival rolls around.
If you can’t make the Greek Festival this year, at least you’ll be able to sample some of the amazing Greek cuisine (because that’s the part of the festival you”ll miss the most) that the wonderful Greek community offers at many of Rochester’s excellent dining establishments throughout the year. RocWiki has a running list of restaurants that offer Greek cuisine. (And, since its a wiki that can be edited by anyone who creates a free account, be sure to add any restaurants that haven’t been listed yet!)
* Source: Research by WIlliam Bement, undated, Ethnic Groups documentation (Folder 1/2), Monroe County Library, Rundel Branch