Looking at the Canopy
Two recent events have conspired to make residents and visitors alike think about our aging Little Falls canopy along the north side of Main Street. In late January, a heavy load of snow slid off the slanted rooftop of the building at the corner of Main and Mary Streets—it slammed into the canopy below, knocking some front sections dangerously askew. The DPW and Horender Construction were quick to respond and rope off the area. After assessing the damage, they were able to repair it. Then a couple weeks later, an ad for the upcoming film “A Quiet Place” aired during the Superbowl, and viewers got a glimpse of a scene that showed our Main Street: canopy, Hollywood sand, famous actors, and all.
By the time I got into to talk with Mayor Mark Blask about the state of the canopy, he was already on the case. From his office on the third floor of City Hall on the south side of Main Street, we had a fine view of the extent of the canopy. We remarked that the place where the damage occurred was due to the sloping roof, and that there are only two other similar vulnerable situations further down; most of the structure abuts buildings with flat rooftops.
“On the canopy: I don’t know if at its conception I would have recommended its construction, but I most certainly would not recommend its removal.” – a Little Falls resident
“The City is committed to keeping the canopy safe and in good repair,” Blask stated emphatically. He looked out the window again and mused, “it is our city’s recognizable, signature ‘look.’” The mayor revealed that an engineering-and-construction firm will be assessing the canopy this spring and offering recommendations (whether they will also do the work, of course, is TBD). “This is information we need now.”
Installed back in 1978, the canopy has had repairs before and most likely will again. The mayor acknowledged that while the City was able to absorb the expense of the recent repair, there is no line item in the budget for it and grant money may be hard to come by (or not in a timely manner). Grant money, when available, tends to go to historic preservation projects and the canopy is just not old or historic enough.
I asked Preserve Our Past, our local historic-preservation advocacy group, about that “not historic enough” part and received this interesting answer: Initially the NYS Historic Preservation office denied Main Street’s inclusion in the Little Falls Historic District designation, but “a change in the State’s position allowed the buildings on Main Street…as the canopy was deemed inconsequential to the character of the existing building designs.” That said, ideally POP would like to see a style and design “more in keeping with the architecture of the contributing buildings.”
As some may know or recall, the canopy was installed some years after Urban Renewal removed the south-side counterpart buildings along Main Street and Shoppers Square was constructed. Because the remaining buildings and their windows faced south, some think the canopy was meant to keep the sun from glaring in and fading window displays (stores in other towns with similar configurations use awnings, special window glass, and other methods to cut down on glare).
The main reason those who like our canopy give is that it protects the sidewalk. In winter, we can walk to local businesses without slogging through snow or slipping on ice. In other seasons, it shelters us from rainfall (“it saved the Cheese Festival when the skies opened,” one local person reminded me) and hot sun.
A call to Tony Carlisto, whose firm Ward Associates designed and implemented the canopy, clarified why it was really built. It was meant to preserve our remaining storefronts. At the time, there was a million-dollar grant to pay for it, which included sending the electrical power for each and every storefront underground; facades and windows were altered or upgraded then or later. Similar canopy designs in the city of Kingston down in Ulster County were the inspiration.
As the canopy continues to age and develop problems, the City and the citizens need to consider our options. Tearing it down altogether would be difficult and expensive—and unpopular. A recent poll by the Little Falls Planning Committee shows that 85% of the business owners like the canopy and don’t want to lose it, and many residents agree.
Removing it altogether would also bring to the fore the design and condition of each and every façade—expensive and tricky issues, to be sure. The canopy could be upgraded, or replaced with a more Victorian design (more in harmony with the buildings it abuts), in whole or even one building at a time. All of these tacks require money, of course.
Well, no matter what any of us think of the canopy and no matter the resources our City may or may not have, there’s no denying it is going to continue to require our attention and ideas.