This blog is the story of how I think The Rochester became America’s Haunted House icon.
When Bunker Hill (and the surrounding neighborhoods- I’m using “Bunker Hill” to describe the area) was finally declared a slum (I’ll let you decide) and slated for demolition the CRA (evil “community development” money-grubbers) moved fast. They wanted to get the deal done and get their money before any more court actions were taken against them. Little did they know they were being sized up now by ordinary citizens who realized if they couldn’t save all of Bunker Hill they could at least save parts of it.
So, these houses stood, awaiting the wrecking ball (yep- they really used them back then). But some other people got involved, people who wanted to save some of them. These people formed committees and surprisingly the public sided with them! They saw the blatant over-reach of the CRA as un-American and they raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to move and restore several of the most prominent houses in the Bunker Hill neighborhood. The CRA became increasingly worried about their “image” and fought them tooth and nail- refusing to aquiesce and telling the public the houses were so unsanitary they couldn’t be moved.
One of the most famous was The Rochester, a grand Second-Empire (that means it had a Mansard roof) Victorian that had been home to the Armour meat-packing family. Other homes that were saved and moved (for a time- they were burned down a year later by vandals while they were waiting on a permanent piece of land) were Donegan’s Castle and the Saltbox. The Rochester outlasted them all. It truly was the last battle of Bunker Hill.
The first battles won and then lost were of “Donegan’s Castle” (one of my favorite houses). Here, on the left, at the turn of the century and then disassembled and moved around 1969? on the right.
Here together with “The Saltbox” another Bunker Hill house temporarily saved by moving to another location.
And here, after being torched by vandals. I think the hatred of this architecture ran deep in our nation at the time.
The CRA and other no-gooders did their best to thwart any sympathy from the community and tried their hardest to prevent any houses from being saved. I guess in the end they won, but the Rochester went on to become an icon.
Here the Rochester is being moved. I can’t imagine how many tons it weighed. I think it was moved at night, probably to avoid traffic snarls.
The Rochester was moved separately from the two houses that burned and sat on a lot by the railroad tracks for years awaiting its fate. The public raised money for it, but again and again were thwarted by the CRA and their cronies and citymen, as well as fussing agencies and committees who decided they didn’t want it after all, even though public monies for it were sitting in their coffers. The Rochester was even in court cases to determine what would happen to it. When the commission that “owned” the publicly-owned Rochester was sued, the public won. But the committee did not restore the house and did not use the public’s money to help it in any way. Instead, it sat on its lot by the Union Station for the next 9 years.
The top roof of the central tower is on the right on the ground. It probably had to be removed so the house could clear power lines when it was moved.
It became famous, a beacon for historical preservation; a second chance for a house down on its luck appealed to a lot of people. From 1970-79 it was located on the railroad property at Alameda and Bruno streets. It was there that it became “America’s Haunted House.”
I’ll be honest, I don’t really know what happened in those years, but I do know that our culture reflected that house and it became the de facto icon for creepy Victorian houses. Perhaps since it was owned by the public, but in house limbo, it was free (or cheap) to use for projects. Just look at this list I have compiled with this house as a prominent feature:
My very first, and favorite image of the Rochester, on the cover of one of my very favorite books. It was 1992 when I first read it and the cover and title where why I checked it out from the library! Artist Irene Burns might have seen the house in the news when she was illustrating this book in the late 60s. It came out in 1969.
The next time I saw the Rochester (I didn’t know its name for a long time.) It was around 2002 when I acquired John Maass’ wonderful treaty on the greatness of Victorians- “The Gingerbread Age.” When I put this picture with the front cover of my book I was shocked! Maybe Irene Burns just had this book when she did the illustration. It was published in 1957, over 10 years before “Go to the Room of the Eyes.”
Then, years later in 2011 I was watching Netflix (when it used to be good for old movies) and seeing the original 1960 “Little Shop of Horrors” for the first time. And. There. It. Was. This is a couple of screenshots of Seymour going into his Mom’s apartment house, then it was known as the Temple Street Apartments.
And it kept showing up! My daughter found it that same year when we were watching 1978’s “Return from Witch Mountain.” It’s cool to be able to see it from the side, but it’s looking very bad here. This is the house when it was moved to the railroad yard. It would be torn down only a year after the movie release, in 1979. Here are some more shots (even a night shot!):
Also I’m not 100% sure, but I think they did use part of the inside for filming! I’m pretty sure this next picture is a set though:
The real inside however looked like this:
Then I went digging. I searched for filming locations of the movie and there is was! The Temple Street Apartments! AKA The Rochester! And it took me to this wonderful blog:
Where I learned others had spotted it too here:
On a 1970 Crabby Appleton LP where it is still on Temple street, but has many broken windows. Maybe this was right before the move? There, at Big Orange Landmarks, I learned its real name and its fate, and I added where I had spotted it in the comments.
Then this year I happened to notice it while watching The Hardy Boys Nancy Drew TV show- its in the credits! The artist put windows on the front balcony, but the roof line is the same- I couldn’t get a very good shot of it.
Am I seeing things or is this house EVERYWHERE? Maybe it is…
You see, Dear Reader, there was a time before all this before I even knew what a haunted house was that I saw the Rochester. I bet you saw it too. Millions of children were schooled on what a haunted house looked like every Saturday morning as they watched the original Scooby-Doo. Here it is at the beginning of the 1970 opening sequence:
So in a way the Rochester was America’s haunted house. We all grew up on it and this image became synonymous with the other images until it just was. Strangely, the different house at the beginning of the 1969 Scooby-Doo sequence never did catch on. Here it is:
Well, that’s all I have. I will come back and update this if anyone has any more sightings. Please leave them in the comments if you do!