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  • The City's Greenhouse operates under the Parks Grounds Division. There is a staff of (3) gardeners and a supervisor. They are responsible for approximately 125 planting sites located throughout the City. These sites vary and include traffic islands, park and neighborhood entrance signs, and planting barrels. Every year the greenhouse is responsible for planting approximately 50,000 summer annuals; 15,000 spring bulbs; 300 perennials; and 25 foliage plants are purchased yearly to be used for various events. The staff is responsible for growing a majority of the annual flowers from seed and for the watering and weeding of the planting sites. The greenhouse also supplies neighborhood groups with flowers to plant in neighborhood park locations.


    The Lower Onondaga Park & Greenhouse

    Excerpt from article written by Linda and Paul Pflanz for the Strathmore Homes Tour:
    Historical information for this report was provided by the authors' research, The Department Of Parks, Recreation and Youth Programs, former greenhouse supervisor Bennie Kuppel, Dean Biancavilla, the Onondaga Park Association Archives, The Onondaga Historical Association, The Syracuse Historic Landscape Resources Survey of 1989 by Walmsley & Co., The Syracuse Newspapers, and The Local History Division of the Robert P. Kinchen Central Library

    In the early twentieth century, the City developed a professional long-term approach to integrating open spaces. The land for Upper and Lower Onondaga Parks was purchased by the City on July 27, 1898 for use as a public park after Wilkinson Reservoir was rendered obsolete by the new Woodland Reservoir in 1894. A large tract of property was purchased in 1909 from William Kirk and shortly thereafter an additional parcel was acquired from Mrs. Matilda Kinne. This created a linear park system and greenspace corridor linking Upper Onondaga Park, Lower Onondaga Park, Kirk Park, Onondaga Creek Boulevard, and Elmwood Park.

    Lower Onondaga Park is a 15.6 acre park constructed between 1911 and 1915. The nationally known landscape architect George Kessler's influence is seen in the park. In 1906, David Campbell became the first Parks Commissioner and one of his early actions was to hire George Kessler as a consultant to prepare a park and boulevard system for the city. This followed a national trend by landscape architects such as Kessler and Fredrick Law Olmstead ( Central Park In NYC ) to create emerald necklaces in cities throughout the northeast and midwest. Although most of Kessler's plan was eventually put into place, political controversy slowed its progress and assured that it was never implemented in its entirety.

    When completed in 1915, Lower Onondaga Park epitomized the pleasure ground ideal currently in vogue. It was designed in a naturalistic style, with rustic stone bridge, pergola (pavilion), fountain and stone lined ponds at the eastern end. At the western end, a pre-existing lily pond was reconstructed and named Star Lake, which was provided with five fountain jets and its banks planted with a stately row of willows. Sadly, Star lake is no more, filled in by the City in the early 70's. Indigenous trees on the site were retained and augmented by extensive plantings of shade trees, evergreens, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Indeed, three sycamore trees originally on the site prior to park construction survive at the eastern end near the fountain. All this harkens back to the romantic landscape popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing in the nineteenth century, where natural settings were to be "improved" by man's manipulation.

    The stonework in Lower Onondaga Park is unique among Syracuse parks. Stonework is a unifying feature in our parks with structures, walls and steps, many of which came out of the WPA period of the 1930's. Lower Onondaga's stonework is much more rustic with jagged stones and deep joints that give the work a rugged, unfinished appearance and evidence a high degree of craftsmanship. This quality of workmanship is attested to by the fact that most remain today and the uniqueness make preservation and restoration all the more important.

    Almost immediately, the park's pleasure ground aesthetic was compromised. Enter the greenhouse designed in 1917 by Webster C. Moulton, a local architect. The greenhouse, known as the "Onondaga Conservatory" was a result of the influence of the City Beautiful movement of the time and was the first of several similar facilities the city intended to build in other parks to create a system of public conservatories accessible to all residents. The city's grand plan never came to fruition, however, as no other conservatories were built.

    Further departures from the park's naturalistic character were made over the years. The 1927 channelization of Onondaga Creek, and the creation of a rose garden near the greenhouse and formal gardens leading to the eastern end of the park and the fountain in 1935 are prominent examples. The formal gardens were in sharp contrast to the park's original rustic character and were a rejection of nineteenth century romanticism in favor of the order and geometric clarity of design of the early twentieth century much as the Arts and Crafts architecture was a reaction to the excesses if the Victorian design.

    Located in the southwest corner of the park, the greenhouse is not rustic as other park structures but instead is built in the then modern neoclassical style. Much of the exterior architectural details have been removed or covered over, but the façade when built was grand indeed, with classic pediments and columns guarding entrances and Palladian and fan windows adding decorative appeal. The interior still has most of its beautiful detail intact and a recent repainting brings it into sharp focus. The original design had a central gallery featuring high walls and a glass ceiling with three hothouses on the north side. A second gallery was planned behind (east) the first with three more hot houses to the north and six more (three for each gallery) to the south. None of this was built. Instead, over the years a hodgepodge of additions and a garage were constructed on the north side, obscuring the original design.

    Opened in 1920 in a more leisurely age before widespread automobile ownership, the greenhouse was a destination for city families to bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it. It was open daily year round to the public. Special displays were constantly changing, bands were brought in, school children toured and were entertained and educated about exotic growing things. There were hundreds of varieties of tropical plants, exotic flowers, rare flora, and in the winter, the park fountains were turned into ice sculptures. Banana trees provided treats for Burnet Park Zoo animals, although they objected to the taste of the fruit not grown in their natural environment. A California lemon tree over 50 years old still produces inedible, grapefruit sized fruit. Over the years, public use was curtailed to an annual Palm Sunday open house featuring a band and an organist, an "Easterland" with live bunnies and trained ducks sliding into a pool and a plant gift to all who attended. These ended in the mid 70's. It is now used to grow plants, mostly annuals, for all the city's parks.

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