North Salina Street

About North Salina Street

Welcome to the heart of Syracuse’s Little Italy community, which bustles with bakeries, cafés, restaurants, beauty salons, shops, and one center devoted to helping the city’s influx of refugees acclimate themselves to life in America.

Main Character

The English Teacher

By Bridget Hallinan

Cathy Garvey works to improve the lives of students in the Syracuse Area — whether it be second graders or, more recently, student refugees from Kenya.

In a bright yellow room, Cathy Garvey, 66, stands out in a soft, lilac sweater. The sea of desks and computers dwarf her 5’5 frame, but her voice carries easily over the din of her classroom. Fluorescent lights hum overhead while a baby cries—the mother hushes it gently and coaxes it to recite the alphabet displayed on the walls. Students whisper to each other in side conversations; however, the language varies from one pair to the next.  Arabic can be heard from the front of the room, and a debate in Kikongo (from the Congo) carries on in the back. Garvey shushes them before beginning her lesson plan.

“I eat beef, but I do not eat pork,” she reads from the easel, where small pictures of meat and fish feature hand-written labels. She repeats the sentence and urges her students to join her. In response the students deliver an earnest, but strained version of the phrase.

Garvey’s students—ranging from 18–68 years old—are refugees, and it’s her job to help them adjust to life in America as an ELS teacher at the Northside Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Her pupils hail from countries such as Myanmar, Syria, and Guatemala—and with 25 of them in the room, her class is a veritable cultural melting pot. Garvey says she loves connecting with her students and “getting to know them as individuals, learning about their culture and family in the process.” It’s one of the many reasons why she considers teaching these ELS classes to be her dream job. After her class ends she takes a seat in front of me and shares that she just reached her four-year anniversary at the organization. She has a kind face, framed by a neat bob of gray hair. A silver heart encased in a circle hangs around her neck.

“I wish that the people in the U.S., especially the ones who are negative about refugees, could just work here for a day,” Garvey says. “I think they wouldn’t look at them as refugees, they would look at them as people — individual people just like anybody else.”

As a former elementary education teacher, Garvey’s background makes her an ideal ELS instructor. Years spent working with children and teaching basic language skills have helped smooth the transition into her CYO classes. She’s also no stranger to working with refugees—Garvey previously home-tutored families within the Syracuse City School District. And through her church, St. Augustine’s in Baldwinsville, she helped provide transport and accompany people to their doctors appointments, in addition to donating food and toiletries. Whether it be helping to acclimate new families to the neighborhood or hosting large St. Joseph’s Day feasts each year, Garvey fosters a great curiosity for the world and genuinely works hard to make it a better place, says Julie Clayton, Garvey’s college roommate. Cathy has always been a very caring person and seems to really enjoy this position working with the refugee population,” says Clayton. “She has always been a very joyful, giving person and that is why I have always enjoyed being a close friend.”

Garvey’s mornings at the CYO always start out the same way. Each day at 9 am, Monday through Thursday, she goes over the prescribed curriculum—reviewing topics and vocabulary and pulling corresponding materials to use during class. With tools like flashcards and bingo at her disposal, Garvey encourages her students to speak with each other. Prompting conversation and supporting reading and writing is her main focus, and she gives her students the tools they need to achieve these goals. However, the duration of the ELS classes and the students’ varying backgrounds provide challenges. CYO classes run on a three-month cycle, rotating through 12 or 13 topics before starting over with fresh students. Each class lasts only two hours. This compressed timeline, combined with her students’ different levels of fluency, often makes it challenging for Garvey to provide a significant and lasting impact. But with student helpers and volunteers, she ensures that no one feels left behind.

Garvey points out the CYO newsletter, where three women from her morning class are featured in the main story. “They came by themselves, without family,” she says. “We had a hard time getting them out of their apartments. Now, they smile, they talk. They help other people, so they’ve become much more social. And that I think has been a real plus, something that has meant a lot to me.”

One of her most successful students is a woman originally from Guatemala. She’s been coming to the CYO for the past two years, and it shows in her fluency. She works on Mondays and attends classes Tuesday through Thursday. However, with the help of Garvey’s ELS classes, she hopes to work on her writing and conversation skills enough so that she can land a full-time job. For Garvey, seeing students succeed—becoming comfortable and social in the classroom, and blossoming in the three months they spend together—serves as the ultimate reward.. Teenage students, who come to her classes in the weeks before entering high school, seem to achieve the most in the shortest amount of time. “Yesterday, a parent came in and said her daughter was number one in her class,” Garvey says proudly.

Gloria DiFlorio, a CYO volunteer with a background in foreign languages, has been working with Garvey for the past three years and says she fosters an amazing level of cooperation between her varied students.“She really makes everyone feel valued,” says DiFlorio. “Even though the students are from different countries, she makes it possible for them to be friendly with each other. It’s amazing because they watch her, and they somehow have a way of communication. They understand, and of course they help each other.” The CYO students possess a hunger to learn that is extremely rewarding to work with, she says, and the growth that Garvey reinforces in her classes each week is incredible to witness.

Outside of the CYO, Garvey still works to improve her students’ lives. She is currently forging a partnership with the CNY Regional Market that would provide a free bus from the North Side on Saturdays. Both transportation and access to fresh produce—things that can easily be taken for granted—are crucial for her students, and it reminds Garvey to be more grateful and appreciative. “I am still in awe of their ability to handle their situations,” Garvey says. “I can’t imagine going through what some of them have gone through and coming out being able to smile, and laugh, and go on with my life. So I think on their example, when I see something not go so well, that I’ve grown up in America. Little things happen…don’t sweat the small stuff.”


The Day Motor Company Sign

Several motorized vehicle manufacturers resided in Syracuse at the end of the 1800s and the start of the 1900s — H.H. Franklin Automobile Company, the Brennan Motor Manufacturing Company, Century Motor Vehicle Company, and the H.A. Moyer Automobile Company, Van Wagoner, and the Stearns Steam Carriage Company. The industry helped ignite residents’ interest in buying cars and the need to supply parts to keep them running.

Building Profile

Hoffman's Castle

By Bridget Hallinan

Charles Hoffman’s famous Victorian mansion on the North Side has been home to autoworkers, spirits, and puppets during its 127 years.

Charles Hoffman built his red brick mansion in 1890 at the intersection of North Salina and Ash streets and Prospect Avenue. It is nicknamed to reflect its size and architecture: The Castle. Hoffman, a German immigrant and president of the National Brewing Company, modeled the building to be a smaller version of an actual castle on the Neckar River in his native country. Though Hoffman and his family lived in the house for several years, the mansion has assumed various identities in the years since: headquarters for a local chapter of United Automobile Workers, an Italian War Veterans post, and a bridal shop called Something Old, Something New. There’s even a rumored ghost wandering the halls—Hoffman’s late daughter—who is thought to be either a jilted lover who died of a broken heart or a child who succumbed to sickness. The most recent owners prefer the jilted lover theory (though considering they operated a theater out of the mansion, it’s no surprise they opted for the drama).

The mansion’s interior speaks to its various inhabitants and to multiple renovations and restorations. Its time as a bridal shop produced ornate ceiling inlays painted delicately with flowers in the ground floor receiving room. But dragon wallpaper borders remain from Charles Hoffman’s original design in that same room, as do carved wooden fireplaces and bannisters, illuminated with jewel-toned light that filters in from the stained glass windows. Flying cherubs, blazing suns, and sweeping landscapes adorn these windows throughout the house—all commissioned by a local artist, Rose Viviano, during the 90s. They create a whimsical atmosphere, one that feels far from downtown Syracuse and from the Rent-A-Center that sits around the corner.

And yet, for all of its architectural splendor, the puppets are the true stars in the building. The most recent tenant of The Castle was Open Hand Theater and the International Mask Museum (from 1998-2017), in which elaborately designed marionettes rested everywhere. Larger than life, and in some cases, quite intimidating, these figures greeted visitors from the moment they stepped foot into the mansion. Most fearsome of all was a blue and silver woman known affectionately by manager Andrea Wandersee as “Elsa,” a nod to the Disney movie Frozen—though it should be noted she was much scarier than the cartoon ice princess. With a white twisted face and large ice blue eyes, she guarded the staircase leading to the theater, the fabric of her dress flying up around her like tentacles. In the adjoining room, two friendlier puppets dressed in peasant gear flanked the fireplace. They were well over six feet tall, but their wide-open arms and smiles created a welcoming atmosphere. Don’t let the friendly faces fool you, however—they may be possessed. “Our puppet master, Vladimir Vasyagin, swears he’s seen puppets move from time to time,” says Wandersee. “He says their heads turn when he looks the other way.”  

Open Hand’s influence also extended to the upstairs theater and downstairs to the camp center. The theater, plain and modern compared to the rest of the structure, is a simple black room that seats up to 65. This theater hosted performances by the program’s winter camp, which teaches a group of children art, mask making, juggling, acting, and dancing from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The Castle’s basement served as camp headquarters—another time warp in the otherwise Victorian home. Murals ranging from a lively orange giraffe to a dragon bursting through bricks cover the walls. And the stools around the craft tables each boast a unique design, including a sun and moon.

However, Open Hand’s work with children goes beyond the campers. They’ve also been partnering with the local Catholic Youth Organization for 30 years. The CYO’s “Welcome to America Program,” which teaches English to refugees and immigrants ages 5 to 18, brings in Peter Fekete, Open Hand’s artistic director, once a week for a puppetry class. “Peter teaches puppetry once a week as a way to connect, a way to communicate where you don’t need English,” Wandersee says. “Art is universal.” Considering an immigrant built The Castle, a building that has served as a home to several immigrant families and to artists from across the globe, it seems fitting that legacy would extend beyond the doors of the red brick mansion itself. Though Open Hand recently had to vacate The Castle in order to find a more affordable facility, the mansion waits with open doors to welcome more tenants into its rich history. Hopefully they get along well with spirits.



Timeline loading graphic
Trade Prompts Development

North Salina Street is settled, mirroring a former Native American trade route and serving as the only commercial connection between the village of Salina and Genesee Street.

1 of 7

The Salt Industry Spurs Business

The Erie Canal is completed, and North Salina Street begins to develop. Nicknamed “Cooper Street,” this area featured many cooper shops, which made barrels used by salt manufacturers in Salina.

2 of 7

German Immigrants Found a Church

The Assumption Church is founded by German immigrants, who begin to move to the area in mid-century.

3 of 7

A Dance Hall Becomes a Hospital

Five Sisters of Franciscan Order transform a dance hall and bar into a 15-bed hospital on Prospect Hill, which becomes St. Joseph’s Hospital.

4 of 7

A Businessman Builds a Castle

Charles Hoffman, president of the National Brewing Company and a German immigrant, builds a home for his family modeled after a castle from his native homeland. Over the years, it has served as a fraternal lodge, a union hall, and a community arts center.

5 of 7

A Popular Store Begins to Sell Smokes

Rocky’s Cigar Shop opens.

6 of 7

The District Earns National Recognition

North Salina Street Historic District earns a spot on National Register of Historic Places.

7 of 7

  • 1804
  • 1825
  • 1845
  • 1869
  • 1890
  • 1967
  • 1985


Puff Daddy

By Rachel Lockhart

Rocky’s News & Cigars sells between 300 and 500 different types of smokes from around the globe.

A smoking novice might look at a cigar and see something akin to an overstuffed cigarette or recognize it as a classic Hollywood prop, usually resting between the lips of some prototypical fat cat or mobster. But Mark Cowlin Jr., the cigar manager at Rocky’s News & Cigars, will tell you, with a puff of smoke from his second (or sixth) cigar of the day, that those notions are trivial. He’ll also explain that smoking a cigar remains a popular, highly personal experience, tailored to the individual taste of each of his clients.

        Rocky’s, which has been at 447 North Salina Street for 50 years, caters to as many of those different tastes as possible. They carry cigars from around the world, but Cuban, Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan smokes remain the most popular. Cowlin also stocks cigars from more than 30 different companies, with enough variations to draw customers from across central New York. He estimates that he carries between 300 and 500 different cigars. And, Cowlin’s business extends beyond North Salina Street. He’s been shipping Rocky’s cigars all over the United States for 15 years. The store also participates in and hosts cigar-related events — its biggest is an annual charity event in October called The Little Big Smoke, which raised about $16,000 for multiple sclerosis last year.

But it’s the shop’s owners’ and employees’ shared passion for cigars that fuel all these efforts. “Cigars are an ever-evolving product, with a new variation coming out almost every day,” Cowlin says. “For every cigar I carry, there are 20 more that I don’t.”

        The three pieces that come together to make a cigar inform that variation — the wrapper, that provides the majority of a cigar’s flavor, the binder, and the filler. There are also different shapes and sizes. Combined, these all determine whether a cigar is considered mild, medium, or full-bodied. “A mild cigar is a smooth smoke, medium is a little stronger, and full-bodied is in your face, “ Cowlin says. “You know you’re smoking a cigar.”

        Cowlin bought his first cigar at Rocky’s 22 years ago when he was 18 years old and “never looked back.” He’s been working at the shop ever since, and his co-workers and those who frequent the shop call him Buddha.

        The storefront, which current owners Mike Glynn and Tony Lanzafame purchased from the original Rocky 30 years ago, lacks pretense. Rows of classic candy bars and potato chips greet customers as they first enter. A little farther back into the small store sit several looming glass cases, called humidors, filled with boxes of cigars packed together like sardines. Humidors keep cigars in the optimal environment for preservation and prevent them from drying out. Beyond the humidors, a gray-haired, bespectacled man in worn light-wash jeans and a slightly oversized blue-plaid flannel shirt sits comfortably at one of the small, round tables at the back of the room. He grips a freshly lit cigar between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, and a newspaper sits loosely in his left. He looks like a regular.

        “Some of them start their day here, with their breakfast, the newspaper, and their favorite cigar,” Cowlin says. Others come in on their lunch break, or after work before they head home. The man, who declined to give his name with a wave of his hand, barely lifts his eyes as I approach, and grumbles the answer to my question about whether or not he frequents the spot so faintly that I have to strain to hear him. “I only come here now and then,” he says. “My father is the one you’d want. He’s been coming here every day for years.”

Three Questions

The Head Starter

By Rachel Lockhart

Stephanie Dantuono-Davis, the owner of Adagio Salon, is invested in more than just haircare. She hopes to see business on her block grow too.

Stephanie Dantuono-Davis, 40, is the owner and founder of Adagio Salon at 431 N. Salina St. The salon’s name comes from the Italian word adagio meaning “at ease or slowly.” This is fitting for a shop in the middle of Syracuse’s little Italy district. From the outside, the shop is easy to glance over, with little more than a hanging sign to mark the entrance. But inside, the salon’s name takes on its meaning. It’s bright and inviting, professional yet homey. At the salon chair closest to the front of the room Dantuona-Davis is mid-snip. She’s small in stature, with expertly-dyed auburn hair, and a sparkling stud poking out of her small nose. While cutting hair and chatting with her client, she smiles and laughs. She takes a moment out of her busy schedule to talk about opening her salon, and the North Salina Street community it calls home.

How would you describe this block?

I would say revitalization. It's an ongoing process. I previously worked in Armory Square, and I was looking for something outside of there. The North Side was more affordable too. Honestly before opening my business here I didn't pay all that much attention to the area. But with Asti's and Rocky's News being successful here, I figured it could work for me, too.

What’s your favorite memory here?

When I bought the building. It was after almost three years renting. We poured our blood, sweat, and tears into the place. We gutted and renovated the entire lower level of the building. It took about six months of work, mostly nights and weekends, because we were working normal hours, too. We did new walls, new ceilings, new plumbing and electrical, new floors, a new bathroom that was up to code, and new lighting. It was such a drawn-out process, but a huge relief when it was done.

Where do you see this block going?

I see some great things happening here. Especially right in my block with the opening of With Love [a new restaurant partnership between refugee resettlement services and Onondaga Community College serving multicultural cuisine]. I think businesses shy away from the area because there’s definitely a perception of the North Side as being a poor section of the city. But I hope things continue to progress in a positive direction. It would be awesome to see some boutique stores open here. I didn't mind Dunkin' Donuts coming in at all, though. It was a large lot that needed someone with a lot of money to do something with it. They designed the building to fit the street and did a wonderful job of making it look great with the landscaping. But I think it would be nice to have some smaller places as well. There are plenty of vacant spaces in the surrounding buildings. I would love to see more people visiting the area, and some unique stores would help that.

Block in Stats




% Males


% Females


Median Age


Median Household Income ($)


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