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She’s so Syracuse, she remembers Renwick Place

Traci Hinton, in costume for a show at Syracuse's Huntington Family Center. Circa 1960

Former Renwick Place resident Traci Hinton, in costume and ready to perform. Circa 1960.

The 50th anniversary of the opening of the Upstate hospitals and the "I‘m so Syracuse" memory project inspire the question, “What was Upstate's downtown location like before the hospital was built?”

Answers can be found in a 1960 “SUNY Upstate Development Plan” report and from New York City dance educator Traci Hinton Peterson, who lived in a three-family home where an Upstate parking garage now stands. (Today, the Upstate garages at Harrison and East Adams streets serve the nearly 90,000 patients who are treated at the downtown hospital and downtown emergency department each year.)

The development plan report, authored by then-president Carlyle Jacobsen, PhD for the Near East Side Urban Renewal Project, identified the L-shaped property where the downtown hospital, campus activities building, Clark and Jacobsen towers, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, two parking garages, and The Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Sciences are now located. (See maps below.) In 1960, Upstate owned just a portion of the property outlined in the report, including the basic sciences building (now Weiskotten Hall), the state psychiatric hospital (now the site of the Golisano Children‘s Hospital) and City Hospital (now Silverman Hall).

In 1960, much of the rest of the soon-to-be repurposed property was residential, and Hinton Peterson remembers her childhood there:

“I lived on Renwick Place, a tiny street that ran between Harrison and East Adams streets," she says. “Women in the neighborhood, like my mother (Muriel Hinton), worked as beauticians, maids, landladies or homemakers. My dad (James Hinton Sr.) worked at Oberdorfer Foundry. He got up at 4 or 5 a.m. every day.

“I don‘t remember the hospital being built,” explains Hinton Peterson, “but I remember the day Dad said, ‘We‘ve got to move.‘

“We moved east; first to an apartment on South Beech Street, then to a house on Genesee Park Drive. My grandmother moved south, to the corner of South State and Elk streets, which was beautiful at the time.”

How does Hinton Peterson‘s career as a dance educator trace back to her roots in downtown Syracuse?

“I was 4 years old, at my Aunt Ethel‘s apartment in Pioneer Homes. I was sitting quietly in my party dress and eating birthday cake, enthralled by the teenagers and grownups dancing in a circle, doing the Twist.

“I‘m going to be a dancer when I grow up,” she remembers telling her mother. A year later, in kindergarten, Hinton Peterson added teaching to her career goals.

Today, Hinton Peterson teaches at the Philipp Schyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented in Brooklyn and at the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education at Hunter College.

Today, Hinton Peterson teaches at the Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented in Brooklyn, mentors at the Arnhold Graduate Dance Education program at Hunter College, and heads Camara Dance Unlimited.

Opportunities to pursue her goals came from a variety of Syracuse schools and cultural institutions: As a child, there were shows at the Huntington Family Centers, 50-cent dance lessons at Washington-Irving Elementary School and a scholarship to the Lorraine School of Dance. As an adult, Hinton Peterson worked with the Paul Robeson Performing Arts Company, Salt City Playhouse and the Cultural Resources Council (now CNY Arts) before moving to New York City in 1996.

What else does Hinton Peterson remember about her old neighborhood in Syracuse, now replaced by the region‘s largest employer and only level-one trauma center and academic medical center?

“I could play outside, and my mother didn‘t worry about me. All the women sat on their front porches in the evening and talked. Every child on that block knew the expectations: ‘You go to school to get a good education, you go to church, and you do the right thing because it‘s the right thing to do.‘”

The “I‘m so Syracuse” memory project inspires nostalgia, and it helps us draw strength from our shared history, appreciate the accomplishments of today, and look forward to new opportunities.

The Upstate hospitals‘ 50th anniversary reminds us that new doors are opening on that same L-shaped block that was outlined in the 1960 report: the $74 million, 90,000 square foot Upstate Cancer Center, dedicated to providing expert care to all ages.

1960 and 2014 maps of Upstate's downtown property. Hinton Peterson's childhood home was on Renwick Place, shown on the 1960 map.

1960 and 2014 maps showing the same section of Upstate's downtown property. The map on the left, from the 1960 "SUNY Upstate Development Plan," shows Renwick Place, the site of Hinton Peterson's childhood home.