Hanover Square

About Hanover Square

Its proximity to the Erie Canal helped make this area the city’s first commercial district. It served as a key location for banks and businesses and as a transportation hub for railroads and trolleys. In fact, hundreds gathered here for a eulogy to honor President Abraham Lincoln on April 19, 1865, and a week later the funeral train passed through Syracuse, stopping for a brief time as tens of thousands gathered to pay their last respects. Today its bars, restaurants, and apartments attract young urbanites.

Main Character

The Suit

By Madeleine Fournier

Ed Koolakian’s upscale men’s clothing store, a fixture of the neighborhood for 47 years, is the oldest business in Hanover Square and still sells custom suits for $1,200 and

Ed Koolakian sits, leaning back in a straight-backed, wooden, kitchen chair, surrounded by the clothing empire three generations of his family built in Hanover Square. His father and grandfather opened Koolakian’s in 1957. At 68, dapper Ed looks like he could be a mannequin in the window of his store. He wears a fitted navy blue suit, light blue tie, and checkered button-down with tiny embroidered initials on the cufflinks. With horn-rimmed glasses and a sharp haircut, he serves as a serious, professional contrast to the cheery yellow painted walls of the store that frame the suits, socks, and ties he sells. He’s tall and thin, with steely grey eyes that occasionally turn to the custom-suit display at the back of the shop. Aside from the tinny sounds of a radio station playing ‘80s songs, the store is quiet.

“I can’t sell as much today,” he says, adding that he misses the hustle and bustle of Syracuse 30 years ago, a time when people considered suits everyday wear instead of their Sunday best. He grew up in town, and back when factory jobs still existed in large quantities, business boomed. “People were working downtown and everybody mostly dressed up. That was really kind of nifty. I had a lot of clients.”

The building Koolakian’s resides in, wedged between a hair salon and a martini bar, has stood in Hanover Square since 1957. Koolakian’s is the oldest business in Hanover, and the second oldest in downtown Syracuse. Before the store relocated, it had another location a few blocks east in the now-abandoned Verizon building. That was when Ed was 9 years old. Ed remembers that store. “They did a lot of fabric. They made clothing. They contracted with some manufacturers to make custom overcoats,” Ed says. “It would be really dressy — cashmere or wool, herringbone coats with velvet collars and things like that. That was before ‘57.” When Ed joined the crew, customers began opting for off-the-rack suits. “The custom was fading away,” he says.

As customers’ preferences changed, so did the store. During the custom days, the shop itself was around half its current size because the back half of the store accommodated tailoring and dry-cleaning operations. Now, Ed says, they expanded the shop and returned to doing more custom work. Custom suits earn him more profit than off-the-rack ones — the average off-the-rack suit is around $595, but a costume suite easily costs more than $1,200. “If a man comes in and says ‘I want to pick out a suit, what do you have for spring?’,” Ed says, “I respond with these.” With that, he pulls over a large, dusty binder thick with swatches and thread colors. The swatches, each an inch, feature different pastel patterns of plaids and checkered prints. As he shows the various spring swatches, he runs his withered, yet nimble fingers over the embroidery detail. “So I’ve got a lot of those,” he says. “We can really trim the garment out with a custom lining.”

Koolakian, who will has worked at the store for 47 years, graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport with a major in economics and a minor in business. In college, he worked at a ski shop in Dewitt on the weekends. “They had new and used equipment they wanted me to sell. So back at age 18, I was making a good living,” he says. “I had a partner, and I always had an interest in retail.” In 1970, there was room for Ed to come into Koolakian’s as a business partner, and he did.

Being a fixture in Hanover for almost 50 years means Ed has witnessed many businesses come and go (mostly failed bars). He remembers the State Tower Building, standing tall at the tip of the square, when it was fully occupied by lawyers, physicians, and stockbrokers. Now, it sits mostly empty and is being renovated for upscale lofts, which, Ed hopes, will bring business back to the square. But the bars don’t offer much hope for Ed, who believes they aren’t good for the area because they only attract customers on weekend nights. He also believes Armory Square’s growth has pulled people away from Hanover Square. “We need retail. Retail brings people down,” he says. “Get retail and you get families here. It could be a women’s store, a shoe store, even an antique store. I’d really like to see an antique store here.”

Dennis Connors, a historian for the Onondaga Historical Association and a friend of the Koolakian family, knows how much Ed cares for downtown Syracuse. He is a member of the Downtown Committee, a Syracuse group that tries to encourage revitalization and retention of downtown businesses, with Connors, and he actively tries to contribute to bettering the community.  “He’s been kind of a landmark. Him and the store are kind of a landmark itself,” Connors says. “They’re an anchor.”

Despite his role in securing the square’s landmark status, Ed says he’d like to retire eventually. But he has no plans to do so unless he finds the right person to take over Koolakian’s. “Do I want to work another 10 years?” Ed asks, mulling the question over as he repeats it. “No, I don’t. I mean, I’m over 65, and I know people who say ‘Oh jeez, why are you still working?’ I mean, I don’t want to retire now. But I’d like to have an exit strategy.”



Onondaga County Savings Bank

Chartered in 1855, the Onondaga Country Savings Bank boasted four separate branches by the late 19th century and originally was located in the Gridley Building. But it outgrew that space and moved to this newly constructed building in 1896, which sat adjacent to the banks of the Erie Canal. It is a prominent building in the Hanover Square Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has continued to house a series of banks, Including OnBank and now M&T Bank.

Building Profile

Gridley's Monied Past

By Madeleine Fournier

Syracuse’s first landmark building survived new owners, threats of demolition, and multiple renovations to earn its historic status.

The Gridley Building demands attention. At the corner of East Water and Salina streets, it sits at the tip of Hanover Square. Once the tallest building in Syracuse, its limestone finish and sloping wooden staircases continue to telegraph wealth and power despite the fluctuation in prosperity it and the neighborhood that surrounds it have experienced. At the basement level, underneath the Baroque-romanesque façade of high, arching windows and intricate detail work in the limestone resides the Prime Steakhouse, which opened in 2010. The upper floors of the building house a handful of law firms, and the interior resembles the setting of a gritty noir film courtesy its Art Deco signage and dim lighting. At the top of the building sits the four-sided clock — the official timepiece for Syracuse thanks to an ordinance passed when the building first opened.

Construction of the building began on May 2, 1867, and finished two years later. Originally, architect Horatio Nelson White — who was the architect for Syracuse University’s iconic Hall of Languages — created it as a new location for the Onondaga County Savings Bank, using limestone cut from Onondaga land. Because the building’s construction required the closing of a public right-of-way to the Erie Canal, the city requested the timepiece in exchange for ending that access. The 60-inch clock is back-lit, creating a stark contrast between the frosty panes and the gold-leafed hands and foot-long roman numerals. The clock, which was originally powered by gas, still works, thanks to a recent renovation by the city.

Nearly 30 years after the bank’s completion, the bank moved into a larger building just across the street. Francis Gridley bought the building in 1897, giving the structure its current name. He hired architect Archimedes Russell to redesign it for the new Salt City Savings Bank.

But despite its significant financial history and imposing architectural presence, the building almost faced the wrecking ball in the mid-1960s when Syracuse drafted a city-wide plan to demolish many of its frumpy buildings downtown and replace them with more contemporary structures. Called the Central Syracuse Illustrative Plan, the initiative proposed leveling both Hanover Square and Armory Square and populating the areas with the boxy, concrete buildings popular at that time. But the plan proposed more than an aesthetic change; city developers hoped the initiative would eliminate crime issues too. During this time, the area’s reputation for prostitution and excess helped earn it the nickname of “Hangover Square.”

In the end, Gridley’s interior architecture saved it. Dennis Connors, a historian at the Onondaga Historical Association, says the city nixed the demolition plans and decided to restore the outer facade of the building in 1974. After that, residents began to appreciate Gridley and its status as a landmark. “When I got here, the Gridley Building had just been saved,” says Connors, who at the time served as the director of the Preservation Association of Central New York. “We tried getting people to start thinking about Hanover Square as a place not to be torn down, but as a place to be restored.” The Gridley gained its landmark status in 1977, a little more than 100 years after its doors opened.



By Madeleine Fournier

Timeline loading graphic
Charles Dickens Slept Here

The Syracuse House, a first-class hotel in the downtown area, is built. It serves as the a key destination for many social functions and famous people such as Charles Dickens until it’s torn down in 1896 for the Onondaga County Savings Bank Building.

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The City’s First Massive Fire

A fire levels the original site of Hanover Square, along with much of downtown Syracuse. Six people are killed and more than 20 buildings are destroyed on both sides of the Erie Canal. Many consider this disaster Syracuse’s first fire.

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A Defining Stand Against Slavery

Hanover Square serves as the site of American politician Daniel Webster's "Syracuse Speech," which compares opposing fugitive slave law to treason. This speech propels Syracuse community members to free and assist escaped slave William “Jerry” Henry across the border to Canada.

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A Merged Newspaper Begins Publishing

The first issue of the The Post-Standard is published on January 1. This was the first issue of a paper created from the merger of The Daily Standard and The Syracuse Post. The new company buys a five-story, red-brick building in Hanover Square and prints papers there until 1971, when it moves to a bigger location in Clinton Square.

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The Start of a Legendary Family Buisness

The Koolakian family takes ownership of the Franklin Building and relocates their men’s clothing store, Koolakian’s, which still stands in the same location today. It’s considered one of the oldest downtown businesses still running.

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Historic Accolades

Hanover Square attains status as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places and the Local Preservation District. The buildings in the square represent more than 100 years of architectural advances. Hanover Square is the first district in Syracuse to be placed on the register.

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History Becomes a Parking Garage

The Larned building and the original Post-Standard building gain landmark status on November 9th. The Larned Building was designed by Horatio Nelson White in 1869 and offered office space until 1990, when it was converted to a parking garage — though it preserved its outer facade.

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  • 1820
  • 1834
  • 1851
  • 1899
  • 1956
  • 1976
  • 1979


A Helping Hand

By Chazz Inniss

Created by Brendan Rose, Syracuse’s first (and last) public artist in residence, “The Hand” represents art engagement and revitalization in Hanover Square.

On the corner of East Washington and East Genesee streets, “The Hand” — a sculpture of salvaged wood, metal plates, and concrete — stands nine feet tall and offers a stiff salute to those entering downtown. Its range of materials also mirrors the mix of architectural styles seen in the area that surrounds it (Art Deco, Federal, Second Empire, Neo-Classical, and Romanesque). Multi-disciplinary artist Brendan Rose, who earned a master’s degree in architecture from Syracuse University and served as the city’s first and last public artist-in-residence from 2011 to 2012, created it in 2008.

The 40 Below Syracuse Public Arts Task Force, an organization that works to build a culture of public art in Syracuse, commissioned Rose to create a vision for the future of public art in the community. “The original idea for ‘The Hand’ was to have it in Lipe Art Park, but it received so much positive sentiment from the community that in 2009, the city adopted it into its Public Art Collection,” says Kate Auwaerter, the public art coordinator from the Syracuse Public Art Commission. “His piece was to serve as a corridor between Clinton Square and Columbus Circle.”

The Public Art Task Force acts as a catalyst for the developing public art scene in the ever-evolving downtown neighborhood. The task force has funded numerous public art projects throughout Syracuse such as the creative bike racks that line the streets downtown and in the Westcott neighborhood. Rose, a lover of the outdoors, also constructed other pieces of public art throughout the city, like “Walt, the Loch West Monster” along the Onondaga Creekwalk, “Lovers’ Bench” adjacent to St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, and “Art Shark” at the Lipe Art Park on West Fayette Street. The “Art Shark” served as part of Rose’s master’s thesis for S.U.’s School of Architecture. Brian Conway, the chair of the graduate program at the School of Architecture, knew Rose as a student in the program. “He had a real passion for the connection between public art and architecture,” Conway says. “He wanted his work to spark a conversation and create dialogue, both positive and negative.”

Despite it’s large and creative presence, some residents of Hanover Square fail to notice the hand’s wooden wave as they enter the neighborhood. “I honestly didn’t even realize that was there until you pointed it out to me,” says Deanna Hillman, a resident of Hanover Square who works as a radiology technologist at SUNY Upstate University Hospital. With its mélange of materials, it easy for the sculpture to fade into the background of the neighborhood. But with the renovation of the State Tower building set to finish in 2017, many residents hope the hand will greet an influx of new residents and businesses to the area.


Three Questions

Sweet Talker

By Chazz Inniss

Jennifer Walls, co-owner of Sweet Praxis, takes pride in the female-owned businesses on her street.

The bake shop glows with bright-blue walls and white appointments, serving as a beacon to those in Hanover Square who yearn for something yummy. Sweet Praxis, owned by Natalie Evans and Jennifer Walls, offers desserts with a European flair (macarons, scones, and tarts). The two began Sweet Praxis (“praxis” refers to theory put into action) by selling their baked goods at the CNY Regional Market and other local venues. But the two longed for a brick-and-mortar store and liked the promise of this neighborhood. Walls, 32, also enjoys the area’s ability to attract a group of female entrepreneurs who own businesses along Warren Street and who call themselves the Women of Warren.

How would you describe this block?

We were drawn to the charming nature of all the historic buildings that surround the square. There are also many opportunities for public events in the space. The Hanover Square Association, which is basically a bunch of members from the community — mostly business owners — were successful last summer in doing music in the parks and plan to maybe do a pop-up movie night next summer. There is a huge opportunity to have an intimate community with the residents and other businesses. I also know the businesses are expanding. There have been some vacant spaces that have been leased out. They just opened a new restaurant down the street. It’s also a different character than Armory Square, it’s a little more grown-up and intimate. It feels a little more European to me, a little more old world.

What’s your favorite memory here?

There’s so much glass in our bakery, and you see all these people walk by and take a double take. Most people didn’t know we were here or knew what we sold. Seeing the expressions on people’s faces. It’s a pleasant shock and awe. There’s really no corner bakery in Hanover. The street we are on, Warren Street, has a lot of meaning to me personally. There are a lot of female-owned businesses on this street. We started calling ourselves the ‘Women of Warren’ because Otro Cinco is owned by a woman, and so is the florist down the block. It turns out the ‘Women of Warren’ was a reference to prostitution. So, we’re trying to rebrand that statement and make it more positive.

What future do you see for this block?

A diverse, mixed-use population. They are going to keep building up apartments. The buildings will have a mixed-use function, residential on top and business on the bottom. These types of neighborhoods flourish because there are different amenities like a bodega or a hair salon. These amenities not only bring out residents, but keep them there. They will thrive because the residents will support them. It creates a bustling environment, where there’s always someone around. It’s going to keep thriving, in terms of the hustle and bustle of it. I also just heard that the space next to Maxwell’s just got leased out to a restaurant like two weeks ago.


Beer Hugs

By Chazz Inniss

Block in Stats


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All data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, broken down according to the census tract in which the block is located.