Westcott Street

About Westcott Street

Affectionately dubbed Westcott Nation, Westcott street and the surrounding blocks serve the Syracuse community as a center for art, commerce, and liberal thinking. Popular businesses like Boom Babies, the Westcott Theater, and Alto Cinco attract prom queens, concert-goers, and burrito aficionados from all across Central New York. And while the Westcott business district lives at the heart of the block, the vibrant, diverse residents truly drive the neighborhood’s pulse.

Main Character

The Laidback Landlord

By Chris Libonati

Ben Tupper rents to 475 Syracuse students who benefit from his creative spirit and his eagerness to celebrate the neighborhood he grew up in.

At the corner of Euclid and Ackerman avenues, on a cool February afternoon, a New Orleans-style jazz band assembled to play in honor of Mardi Gras. Syracuse University-area landlord Ben Tupper helped assemble the group of musicians as part of an annual celebration Tupper organizes that features music, food, and a lot of tossed beads. Eventually, the crowd formed a “second line” — a trail of marching people who follow behind the walking, playing jazz band — and the group of celebrants marched along Westcott Street. Tupper says a group of about 10 people turned into a group of 40. He threw beads to people, and cars stopped as they marched. “It was a magical 15 minutes of my life,” he says.

Tupper spent time in New Orleans after he graduated from Syracuse University in 1991 and enjoys this annual attempt to export the traditions he loved to his hometown. In fact, he calls the Mardi Gras parade his best memory in the Westcott neighborhood, even though he has years of neighborhood memories to sort through.

He grew up less than a mile from Westcott Street, on Mineola Drive. His grandparents lived in the university neighborhood. His father grew up there. His friends lived near Westcott Street. Now, he owns 70 houses in the neighborhood and rents to about 475 students, which makes him one of the most commercially successful landlords in the area.

In addition to events like the Mardi Gras celebration, he also supports university-centered initiatives such as WAER Public Radio, the Westcott Community Center, the Orange Club, Otto’s Army, and the Mills Rose Garden. He also supports art initiatives like the Red Cup Project, which creates art from the popular drinking container, and Lively-hood, a foundation that supports art and cultural projects in the university neighborhood. Tupper Property Management has invested $12,000 in public art projects, including murals, sculptures, and pop-up art displays. Interested artists can apply for funding for projects directly from his website. Of course, this explains why his properties occasionally feature Banksy-esque art, and imaginative benches and objects often sit on his front lawns.  

In his real-estate efforts and in his life, Tupper says he likes to “puts his money where his mouth is.” He drinks bourbon, for example, so he buys ownership and stock in bourbon companies he enjoys. He likes Apple products and buys stock in the tech company. Living close to Westcott Street, he often ate at Beer Belly Deli, a popular Westcott Street gastropub. So he bought ownership in the restaurant. “To me, Westcott Street is the best street in Syracuse for entertainment,” Tupper says. “It’s the kind of energy I find in big cities. It’s like they stole a block or two from New York or they stole a block or two from Baltimore.”

Growing up, Tupper revered teen-angst movies like The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Pretty in Pink. He and his friends acted out their own version of those coming-of-age films. He remembers friends stealing electric golf carts from Drumlins Country Club at night and driving them down Westcott. Tupper took his first date to the Acropolis in Westcott, when it still existed. That free-range approach to the neighborhood dominated his childhood, too. He’d visit his grandparents often, who lived at the corner of Maryland Avenue and Clarendon Street. His parents let him roam, picking up candy when he was 6 and 7 years old at the various shops. And he’d see punk rock concerts at the Euclid Community Open House (ECOH), which is now the Westcott Community Center.

Along with the name of ECOH, the neighborhood has changed. The funeral home where his family held his grandfather’s funeral became Taps Bar & Restaurant. Acropolis became a flower shop. And, in another life, Alto Cinco was a hair salon and an Ethiopian restaurant. A five-and-dime store stood in the space Boom Babies occupies now.


But, before Tupper began to invest his time and energy in the blocks of his childhood, he left. When Tupper graduated from SU, his father told him he too could become a landlord. But Tupper says “landlord” is a “dirty word” for a lot of people. He also calls it a “boring, dry, shitty label.” To avoid becoming part of his family’s business, Tupper left Syracuse for Louisiana. Just like his experiences on Westcott, that time shaped him, too. He eventually came back and took over his father’s business, in full, five years ago. His time away contributed to the celebration on Westcott and helped him become a landlord seeking to redefine what that designation means not only to his tenants but also the community.

“I’ve always been a customer on Westcott Street. I’ve always been a passerby on Westcott Street,” Tupper says. “I’ve never had a stake and ownership on Westcott Street.”

In January, that changed, too.

Lauren Monforte and Brandon Roe, the owners of Beer Belly Deli, brought Tupper on as part-owner. Tupper reminded them for several years before that he’d be interested in joining the two. Since he’s joined, Monforte says they plan on overhauling several of the gastropub’s features. Tupper says Beer Belly will add healthier options such as bowls and salads. They also plan to revamp the website, which has become outdated since Roe and Monforte enlisted a friend to create it for free. The restaurant added free wi-fi and a shuffleboard table because Tupper says he loves shuffleboard. And Beer Belly Deli partnered with Untappd, an app that allows users to see which beers a restaurants serves and provides information on those beers.

“He has a lot of creative energy he can pour into the Beer Belly Deli,” his mother says. “Ben is like a connector. He loves to make meaningful contacts with different people, different ideas, and they take form and he gives them his imprint.”

Before buying into Beer Belly, the landlord says he bought about $5,000 in gift cards each year to various restaurants on Westcott Street and gave them out to his tenants. He wanted them to experience the atmosphere he touts as having made a difference in his life.  That’s why this past year, the Mardi Gras parade ended at the pub he now partially owns. He was hosting what he calls a “tenant takeover.” Tenants could order any food or drink, and he paid the bill. And for just a little while, his tenants shared the same energy their landlord had devoted a life to collecting and recreating.


Westcott Theater

Before the Westcott Theater (pictured in the far left of the 1942 photo) became a popular live- music venue, it attracted cinema enthusiasts as one of the last single-screen movie theaters in New York. In the 1930s and ‘40s, its offerings featured vaudeville acts and silent movies. In the ‘50s, it shifted to more daring work, including pornos, B movies, and horror films. In its final gasp as a movie theater, it elevated its offerings, catering to the artsy, professorial crowd and featuring independent movies ignored by the huge multiplexes elsewhere in the city.

Building Profile

An Open Book

By Susanna Heller

The Petit Branch of the Onondaga County Public Library serves a central role in the neighborhood by lending more than just its extensive network of books to patrons.

On a snowy Thursday morning in March, faint tire tracks tattoo the snow-coated road in front of the Petit Branch Library. The two-tone brick building features a tiled mosaic mural of doves on its east wall and a bike rack that spells out “BOOKS” adjacent to the entrance. Yellow light bathes the interior, which features hundreds of book shelves, magazines, and CDs. Bulletin boards on the walls just beyond the entrance host an array of colorful flyers and pamphlets advertising library events such as chess night, a monthly book discussion group, toddlers’ tango, a summer learning program, a program on how to get a civil service job, and an adult workshop titled “The Herb Academy: My Garden Looks Great (And I’m a Mess).”

Inside, patrons chat with each other about their taxes and type on the library’s four public computers. Librarians banter with them; one man updates a librarian about his family as she checks out his books. The Petit Branch staffers see the library as a part of the community, almost like a neighbor, says manager Jane Kalkbrenner.

Now tucked away on Victoria Place just off of Westcott Street, the library originally struggled to find its permanent home. The library first sat in the heart of the Westcott Business district, on the corner of Dell and Westcott streets, when it was founded in 1912 as the Westcott Station Branch. Then, in planning to move to a new, bigger space, the Westcott Station branch boarded its doors in 1926. It moved to South Beech Street in 1928. Finally, in 1961, the library was renamed to honor Douglas E. Petit, who served as the president of the Board of Syracuse Public Library until 1926, and it moved to its current home on Victoria Place.

Using a computer in the corner by the romance novels, Jeff Fudesco, a lifelong Syracuse resident, completes his son’s application to a local charter school. Since Fudesco doesn’t own a computer, he frequently makes use of the library’s free resources. He visits the library for recreation, too. On some nights, after grabbing a slice of pizza from Dorian’s, Fudesco and his kids will swing by to borrow a few DVDs.

Petit offers Fudesco and other neighbors many options; the library boasts a circulation of 33,000 to 35,000 books, magazines, DVDs, Blu-rays, and CDs. But Kalkbrenner and her staff care about more than their patrons’ entertainment — lending not only their materials, but also their support.

Petit serves the community by hosting events. The staff coordinates regular storytime sessions for children ages 18 months to 5 years, inviting nationally known artists and writers, such as Harlem activist Vanessa Johnson, to speak, organizes summer book clubs for elementary school children and teens, provides visitors free access to their computers, and helps Westcott residents file their taxes.

The walls of the library showcase a different local artist’s work every month. In march, it highlighted the work of Centro busdriver Mickey “The Flying Busman” Mahan. And, the local art extends beyond the walls inside. Students from the local Edward Smith Elementary School designed and created the mosaic mural on the building’s east wall, which depicts a flock of doves flying across a blue sky in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.

The library also participates in the Westcott Street Cultural Fair every September with kid friendly games, activities, and a book sale where titles go for $5, supports the Taste of Westcott and Westcott Art Trail events in June, and devotes space to display the work of local artists for these community events. Kalkbrenner says the art trail is a favorite event for the community. She enjoys the Petit’s role in the event because it allows the library to participate alongside its patrons.


Westcott Writ Large

By Chris Libonati

With vibrant color and nods to music and community, the mural on the corner of South Beech and Westcott streets represents much about what the neighborhood values.

The mural at the corner of South Beech and Westcott streets depicts a cast of characters. A man holding up a child, a woman walking her dog, and several guitar players stand against sections of symmetrical, colored panels that move from light blue to dark blue, beige, pink, and dark green, stretching halfway down the wall. The other half of the background features piano keys.

This mural represents local painter Michael Moody’s vision of Westcott Nation, the nickname for this hippy-spirited, progressive-minded neighborhood. “Syracuse can be such a gloomy place. I think the idea of adding a splash of color onto the street is something that appeals to people,” says Samuel Gruber, an SU professor and Westcott historian.

The Westcott Neighborhood Association (formerly known as the Westcott East Neighborhood) commissioned the mural in 1997. Before his death in 2016, Moody was also tapped to paint another mural behind Beer Belly Deli, Gruber says, but he was never able to finish it.  

Other art projects completed through the years also add color to the neighborhood and reflect its unique vibe. Gruber says that while Moody was still alive, two men painted the fire hydrants in the neighborhood, and although it was against the city’s laws, the residents provided the paint the artists used to do it.

After 20 years, Moody’s mural still stands. It’s become something of a time capsule. On the far left of the mural, Moody painted the former owner of Abdo’s grocery, Tony DeLuca. The grocer died the year the painting was finished, Gruber says. The grocery store served as a staple in the Westcott community from 1936 until it changed ownership in 2014 and left the DeLuca family’s ownership for the first and only time in 78 years. Now, a similar convenience store named Casa De Cuse sits in the storefront Abdo’s occupied for nearly 80 years, directly across from the mural.

Beyond documenting iconic members of the community and signaling the area’s spirit, the mural also invites residents to linger, extending its message into the space that surrounds it. “Since that mural was painted many years ago, the grassy knoll across the way has become a gathering place,” Gruber says.



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A Beginning Driven by Mobility

A carriage-driving course serves as a main attraction of the Westcott neighborhood. The course took up Harvard Place and Clarke Street and parts of Allen and Westcott streets. Herman Stanton, who owned farming land on the east side of Syracuse, created the course and leased land to the Syracuse Driving Park Association.

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Farmland Becomes Building Lots

Stephen Bastable buys the Driving Park and divides it into building lots. Bastable bills the area as “Hillsdale” and markets it as a place for families to move. At this time, most of the Westcott neighborhood was farmland.

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The City’s First Streetcar Suburb

Syracuse Consolidated Street Railway installs cars to be used in the Westcott neighborhood, which becomes one of the city’s first streetcar suburbs. Westcott serves as the last stop along the streetcar route, which traveled along Westcott, Euclid Avenue, and into downtown Syracuse. Many of the streetcars were abandoned between 1920 and 1930 for various reasons, including the stock market crash of 1929.

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The First Store Opens its Doors

The company A. F. Rown & Son opens a grocery store at 400 Westcott St. This is the district’s first commercial business.

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A Park Comes to the Neighborhood

Before becoming Thornden Park, the 76 acres of the city’s second largest park served as a farm and then as the estate of a wealthy salt miner. The city purchased the land as part of a nationwide city beautification movement and added recreational fixtures, including a public swimming pool. In 1983, the Thornden Park Association was founded to advocate for and revitalize the park.

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The Neighborhood’s Spirit Earns it a Nickname

The term Westcott Nation is coined, referencing the neighborhood’s activist core and generally liberal-minded residents.

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A Fair As Diverse, Fun as the Neighborhood it Celebrates

Civic and social organizer Grace Flusche organizes the first Westcott Street Cultural Fair, which celebrates the neighborhood’s diversity and independent spirit and features a march, food and merchandise vendors, visual and performing arts, organizations, and activities. More than 8,000 attendees come to the annual event, which happens every September.

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A Bank for the People Comes to the Neighborhood

Founded by mostly Baby Boomer activists, the Cooperative Federal Credit Union sought to divest from businesses that supported racial oppression, to provide fair financial services to those of modest means, and to serve those who conventional banks fail to serve. It opens a location in this multicultural, urban neighborhood. Ron Ehrenreich, a vice-presidential candidate for the Socialist Party in 1988, serves as the organization’s treasurer.

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Three Questions

Where Teens Say Yes to the Prom Dress

By Susanna Heller

Boom Babies, one of the largest prom retailers in Central New York, sells sequined dresses to high-schoolers and ensures no two attendees arrive in the same gown.

Light cascades over every bedazzled and sparkling inch of Boom Babies. The shop began as a vintage-clothing store 39 years ago but evolved into a party-wear destination in the ‘80s. They sell everything from Halloween costumes to frocks suitable for sorority formals, but the most celebrated piece of clothing they offer is a dress meant for high school’s most glitzy night. “Proms are very special occasions, and every girl should feel unique that day,” says Brittany Oliveira, a Boom Babies employee, “and the exclusivity of wearing a dress that is different from everyone else’s is part of that.” To ensure no two high-schoolers show up in the same dress, the store created a dress registry that tracks every dress purchased based on the buyer’s high school. On this day, shoppers navigate the narrow walkways between racks that hold at least 5,000 dresses at any given time and that range in size from 0 to 32. Big-band music booms through the speakers as women and girls forage through gowns, platform heels, and statement necklaces. Salespeople offer feedback as customers emerge from changing rooms to the oooh’s and awww’s of family, friends, and fellow shoppers. Mara Hogan, Boom Babies’ manager, takes a break from the tulle and lace to dish on the neighborhood that surrounds the iconic establishment she oversees.

How would you describe this block?

Westcott is just a mix of easy-going people. I’ve lived here for 13 years, and I don’t know what to say. I guess I’m in a sarcastic mood today: Westcott is a crunchy, hippie, hipster, college-town-type area.

What’s your favorite memory here?

I really don’t know. I like it all. I like it during the year when all the college kids are around. It keeps things busy. However, I also really like the summer, just sitting outside when things are quieter, and I don’t have to wait in line to get a coffee at Recess.

What future do you see for this block?

This block is always in flux. I like the change. I think Westcott will stay its course, fostering an independent and free-spirited environment — at least I hope so. In the 13 years I’ve lived here, it hasn’t changed that much. Things are still alternative. Things are still free-spirited.


Six Secrets of an Alto Cinco Burrito

By Susanna Heller

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.