Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) was a central figure in what is known as the "park reform movement." He is best known as the landscape architect who designed Central Park in New York City. Rochester's park system is one of only four complete park systems Olmsted designed in the United States. Dr. Edward Mott Moore has been described as the "Father of the Rochester Park System." Both men believed that the quality of individual lives as well as the city's civic life could be improved by providing green space and invigorating air. In the early stages of Rochester's park reform, park areas were designed to develop the city's urban neighborhoods, and emphasis was placed on tree-lined boulevards, often with landscaped central street malls.
Rochester's own Central Park was intended to be such a place. It is a large boulevard that runs through the middle of the Marketview Heights neighborhood. The boulevard was built in the late 1800s by the city of Rochester, in the spirit of the park-reform movement which influenced this residential city area. However, when the Rochester Public Market moved to its modern-day location in 1905, the influx of traffic on this boulevard from farmers travelling to the market made the original city plan impossible. In the early 1900s, the city ran a trolley line in the center of the boulevard, using the space for cheap and easy public transportation.
Residents of Central Park and of the greater Marketview Heights neighborhood have great pride in the history of locally owned and run businesses. Central Park, historically, had a lot of bakeries and grocery stores on the street. In the mid-to-late 1900s, several Italian bakeries existed on the blocks between North Union Street and 2nd Street, with one of them being named Lanovara. On the corner of 3rd Street there was a grocery store named Polizzi's Market. The store was run up until the early 2000s by Al Polizzi, who embodied the neighborhood’s character. He was generally known for having a loyal local customer base within the Central Park area, as well as for chatting with his customers and having a very quick wit.
At 473 Central Park there was a former grocery store run by the Caccamo family. Sebastien "Sub" Caccamo lived behind the store. He would often recall having to walk early in the morning, before he went to school, to the Public Market to buy produce for his father. That would have been typical for many small local grocers in Rochester: the Public Market served as a wholesale source for their retail operations. In the 1980s, there was a grocery store owned by the Monson family. While the store did not last long and was eventually sold to become a church, the Monsons were well liked for running a locally operated business. Between North Union Street and 1st Street, there was a locally owned and operated Barber Shop where many residents got their hair cut. The barber shop, along with many of the bakeries, lasted up until the 1970s before closing down.
Lower Central Park, from North Union to Portland Ave was always a more commercial space, featuring a mix of retail and small manufacturing sites.
In the 1980s, neighborhood leaders and city planners attempted to link Central Park with a larger Upper Falls Boulevard. However, the new plan fell through because of land acquisition costs and the large amount of work that would come with straightening the route. A housing project called "First Place" was developed in the 1990s on Central Park. The name came from the local bank First Federal, which worked with the city of Rochester to rebuild houses within the 2-block area of Central Park. In the 21st century, the road and its large medium are used periodically for neighborhood events, such as small carnivals for local kids. These events are sponsored by a local group called the North East Block Club Alliance (NEBCA), of which many Central Park residents are members. Throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, the neighborhood grew to become a mixed business and residential zone.
The sense of closely knit community between business owners and community residents has shaped Central Park throughout its history. Periodically, there is renewed interest in beautifying the median. Some of the flowers at the intersection of Central Park and North Union/Niagara Street resulted from Marketview Heights Collective Action Project efforts. Central Park has always been seen as a focal point, and the City of Rochester has occasionally devoted resources to landscaping.
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