There are plenty of historic treasures housed in the museums of Greater Binghamton. But, some of the most inspiring pieces of Binghamton history are right out in the open in the form of historic structures.
The architecture here is significant and arguably stunning – especially for a town this size.
“What I find so fascinating about these buildings is when you look at the types of technology, the equipment [they had] in 1904 – big cranes didn’t really exist, scaffolding systems and boom lifts didn’t really exist – it’s unbelievable they were able to construct a building,” says developer Mark Yonaty. “The older buildings today, the bones are just unbelievable from a structural perspective for the way they built back then versus today’s construction.
“They didn’t have computers to design. They did this with pencil and paper. It’s really unbelievable,” he says. “So, if you can use the bones of the building and maintain the architectural integrity of the building … you end up with a really cool product.”
That’s precisely what Yonaty, a Binghamton native, did after purchasing the iconic Lackawanna Railroad Station on the outskirts of downtown.
Active until the mid-1960s, it was somehow spared during the Urban Renewal project that sadly leveled many nearby historic structures. It sat vacant for decades.
Yonaty admits it took more than a few coats of paint to clean the building up. As an admirer of the craftsmanship that was a signature of the Binghamton heyday, he kept the station’s character intact.
About half the building has been refurbished as office space, but step into the yet-to-be-renovated former terminal and you can feel the energy that lives in the bones. It’s not just the groove worn into the floor at the ticket window or the just-as-it-was postal station that give off this vibe. For Yonaty, it’s the potential.
“There are certain things we’ve renovated here, but there are also things that continue to exist. How many things can you say have survived 100-plus years?” he says. “The steel structures over the canopy – to put those things up and embed them in the brick and embed them in the concrete and to know that’s been holding up the roof for more than 100 years I think is pretty remarkable.”
His fondness for Binghamton’s facades led him to purchase one of his favorites – the Press Building – in the early 2000s, which put him a little bit ahead of his time.
Yonaty was one of the first entrepreneurs to test the waters of taste downtown, opening a cafe that didn’t take off at the time.
“But, I never gave up,” he says. “And we turned the corner shortly thereafter.”
Like many, Yonaty remembers downtown shopping trip with his mother and siblings. It was a vibrant, walkable area filled with retail and dining. Then the malls came in. Then the industry left. Things changed, but Yonaty’s love of his hometown didn’t.
“I’ve been chasing this dream downtown,” says Yonaty, current co-owner of the Social on State tapas bar. “Even in my 20s, when no one believed in them.”
He no longer owns the Press Building, but his renovation helped set the stage for the downtown renaissance. Once home to a newspaper founded by multi-millionaire Willis Kilmer, one of the more colorful and important characters in the city’s story, the building has been converted into Binghamton University student housing.
Along with the renewed interest of young professionals in downtown living, the Press Building is once again an important part of the Binghamton story. The foot traffic generated by these new residents has fueled consistent development and more opportunity for people like Yonaty.
He has no doubt that Binghamton has turned the corner. And, no doubt, you can find on any corner pieces of Binghamton’s architectural legacy and, in more and more cases, discover the modern spirit of innovation thriving inside.