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Historical Factories Will Be Put To New Use-D&C Article-April 19, 2014

Historical factories will be put to new use
Brian Sharp, Staff Writer

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A historic view of the High Falls building that most recently housed Rochester Plumbing Supply. (Photo: Provided by the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development Corp.) (Top Left)

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A historic etching of the Michelsen furniture factory at Avenue D and Conkey Avenue. (Photo: Provided by the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development Corp.) (Top Right)

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The Rochester Plumbing Supply Co. in High Falls. (Photo: Provided by the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development Corp.) (Bottom Left)

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A rendering of the Mills project in High Falls looking northeast on Factory Street. (Photo: Provided by the Urban League of Rochester Economic Development Corp.) (Bottom Right)

Two old factories — one on Avenue D, the other in the High Falls district — await renovation for housing as part of a combined $18.4 million project.

The two factories harken back to distinct eras of Rochester’s industrial past. Both properties are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The George J. Michelsen Furniture Factory, built in 1914, housed one of Rochester’s longest-running family businesses dating from the 1860s.

The High Falls complex, continuing The Mills development, is even older, dating from 1850-70 during the area’s build-up of flour mills.

The local furniture industry was small relative to other industries that dominated Rochester in that era. Flour production was the city’s largest industry.

Converting these old relics to housing is becoming commonplace, particularly downtown. Work on the combined Urban League of Rochester Economic Development Corp. project should begin this summer, resulting in 59 one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The “workforce apartments” are aimed at tenants with incomes between 50 percent and 60 percent of area median income, city records show.

Most of those will be at the former Michelsen factory adjacent to El Camino Trail and the Avenue D Community Center in northeast Rochester.

The former Michelsen factory, a vacant, four-story structure, is in good condition and represents about two-thirds of the total investment, said Carolyn Vitale, vice president and COO of the Urban League Economic Development Corp. It and the 1912 Hickey Freeman plant two blocks east along Avenue D are the two remaining examples of the early 20th-century industrial buildings in the neighborhood, records show.

Michelsen’s move from Water Street to Avenue D was part of a decentralization movement of the time. The factory located in a residential area for its proximity to the railroad.

Unlike many other furniture makers, the Michelsen factory survived the Great Depression and continued to make bedroom furniture at the site until the late 1950s.

The company was purchased in 1958 by another local furniture retailer, Mangurian’s, records show.

The Plumbing Supply building at Mill and Factory streets was only recently vacated, Vitale said.

In the mid-1950s, the city had 22 mills, records show, of which 12 were in the Brown’s Race (now High Falls) district. The buildings in question had various uses, including manufacture of woodworking machinery, foundry, tin shop and cornice works and, for a time around 1920, the Rochester Marshmallow Co. The current owner, Rochester Plumbing Supply, moved in soon after.

Construction predates the first Eastman Kodak Co. construction on the west side of State Street, which shifted the neighborhood focus.

Site plan approvals for both properties are underway, Vitale said. Financing is a mix of city loans, and state and federal tax credits.

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