Preservation with a Purpose: George Eastman Landmark Wins State Restoration Award

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- George Eastman built his dental dispensary in 1917 to become a leading institution in dental hygiene.

Now it’s the winner of a special statewide award; not for dentistry, but for preservation.

“This building, what it means to the community, and just the size and scale of such a large preservation project, I think this award is truly an honor," said Wayne Goodman, Landmark Society of Western New York executive director.

What’s now known as Eastman Gardens is one of only five sites statewide recognized for excellence in the protection and rejuvenation of New York’s Historic Landmarks.

However, the roughly $20 million project almost didn’t happen.

“The building was really close to being demolished," Goodman said. "It was a massive project. It’s probably one of the more impressive renovation projects that our region and community has seen in a long time.”

Uncovering the building’s original details meant digging through its past. It sat vacant for 37 years and was most recently used as a haunted house attraction.

“It was night and day," said Charlie Oster, Edgemere Development development director. "The ceiling was caving in, there’s fake blood, and ghosts all over. Really a pretty extraordinary conversion." 

Now it’s finding new life as Eastman Gardens, home to more than 50 apartments.

“It was more of a jigsaw puzzle in being able to try to get these apartments to fit in a building that was traditionally not set up to be apartments," said Brian Bellaire, Director of Construction at Home Leasing Services. "So you have some really unique apartments with a lot of historic character throughout the building.”

And those unique apartments are now affordable housing for seniors and physically handicapped people.

It’s preservation with a purpose; something the developer says all Rochesterians can appreciate.

“They should be feeling proud and resilient," Oster said. "George Eastman built this building 100 years ago to serve people that were underprivileged and might not be able to have the resources that the more privileged would have. And a hundred years later it’s been converted to something that’s doing the same thing: providing housing for people that need it.”

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