Iconic Entrance Gets (Historically Accurate) Facelift

Strong HospitalBuilt in 1925 – on a Rochester street traversed by Henry Ford’s famous model T, when the average citizen only lived into their late 50s and a loaf of bread cost just nine cents – the original entrance to Strong Memorial Hospital has seen much in its 86-year lifespan.

Its four stately Doric columns, similar to those at the base of the Parthenon, made a dramatic statement at the entrance of an otherwise ordinary, 250-bed brick hospital. But they were important; those columns ushered a new generation of physicians into  one of the first U.S. medical schools to heed education expert Abraham Flexner’s revolutionary advice: To move doctors away from a lax apprenticeship model and instead place a keener focus on biomedical sciences and hands-on clinical training.

Reviving a Celebrated Entrance

Over the past eight decades, icy Rochester winters have taken a toll on the entrance, leading to chipping, falling façade. And though the expansion of the Medical Center complex eventually led to the relocation of Strong’s main entrance in 1975 (you can still get a sense for this historic entrance by paying a visit to the Miner Library’s Reading Room, largely unchanged from when it once served as the entrance’s main lobby), University and Medical Center leaders were eager to restore the entrance’s glory in a historically accurate manner. To help, they tapped the expertise of preservation experts from Boston-based architectural firm Goody Clancy.

placing the capstone“If you were just putting up a new brick wall, a brand new entrance, that’s one thing,” said project manager Stewart Leffler, with Campus Planning, Design and Construction Management. “But we’re taking great care to be as authentic and consistent as possible to the original construction.”

That means paying attention to minute details – like co-mingling salvaged 1920s-era brick with newer product, so that it blends in; selecting a mortar that features older-style pebble stones; and applying a high-tech coating that protects masonry while still allowing it to breathe and resist moisture and cracks.

In addition to rebuilding crumbling brick, workers are replacing the deteriorated middle panel (which reads “Strong Memorial Hospital”) of the three-part frieze over the four columns. While the other two original panels (reading “University of Rochester” and “School of Medicine & Dentistry”) were salvageable, the hospital’s middle panel was beyond repair, requiring a complete recast in solid concrete to recreate the look and feel of the original cast-stone.

The four columns themselves, still largely intact, only required cleaning and a protective coating.

Richard Burton, M.D., senior associate dean for academic affairs, deems the project a worthy investment.

“I came here in 1962, before the new hospital or research buildings were erected,” he recalls. “This single entrance – this single building – seamlessly connected medical education, patient care and research in every sense. It was a tribute to an exciting new era in American medicine.”

Masonry, frieze re-installation and cleaning will wrap up – and protective scaffolding will be removed – by mid-December.

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