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Hotel Syracuse: Looking for memories, uncovering surprises

Ellen Abbott
A barber shop was found among a bathroom and a closet in the old Hotel Syracuse.

As the $57 million renovation of the Hotel Syracuse continues, operators want the public to pass along stories and artifacts they may have about the historic building. The history of the hotel, which opened in 1924, is very much a part of the renovation that will turn it into a Marriot Downtown Syracuse.

And while the team renovating the hotel is asking people for their memories, they continue to find iconic items hidden behind years of remodeling. Because you never know what’s going to turn up as crews dismantle the Hotel Syracuse to its bare bones.

“Here’s what somebody dug up -- an old Vienna Bottle. They haven’t made those in 40 years. That must have come out of the wall,” said Al Gough, chief financial officer for the Hotel Syracuse Restoration.

But that Old Vienna Bottle pales in comparison to one of the finds work crews uncovered a few weeks ago, says Gough, when workers were getting rid of a bathroom and closet on the Warren Street ground floor level.

Credit Courtesy: Hotel Syracuse Renovatoin
Courtesy: Hotel Syracuse Renovatoin
A historical photo of the old barber shop.

"When we were demoing those out, we found the barbershop that was put in back in the ‘20s. And other than the chairs, it was almost entirely intact. The mirrors are still on the walls. The marble that came up to waist level is still on the wall,” said Gough.

Hotel barber shops lost their sheen after World War II, and Gough figures the two walls that covered up this piece of history were installed in the ‘60s.

One thing he wants to learn more about is a mysterious electric system between each of the 12 chairs and a panel where the front desk would have been.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
The mystery electric panel in the newly-discovered barber shop in the former Hotel Syracuse.

“I was thinking if we could get some pictures of the pieces and post them, and see if anybody remembers it. It probably wasn’t unique to the hotel, but you never know. Just to see if they could tell us what they were. I bet the wiring is intact, I just don’t know how you turn it on.”

In any event, Gough says the barber shop won’t be covered up again, once the hotel is open.

"We’re going to turn it into a lounge. And throw some barber chairs in there. And leave it intact the way it was in the ‘20s when it was open.”

And anyone who has memories of the barber shop or anything else about the hotel, they can upload stories or photos to the Hotel Syracuse restoration web site, www.hotelsyracuserestoration.com.

“We’re trying to get people to contribute those memories and photographs so we can built up a whole array of those celebrations, whether they’re weddings, receptions, corporate functions, New Year’s Eve. We even have ghost stories out there, wondering if anyone’s seen any ghosts in the building,” said Gough.

The hotel that originally opened in 1924 is expected to reopen as the Marriott Downtown Syracuse next spring.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.