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In Celebration of Lamberton Conservatory

November 6, 2011
Postcard of Highland Park's Lamberton Conservatory

Early 20th Century Postcard of Highland Park’s Lamberton Conservatory

Rochester’s most beloved Glass House recently celebrated its 100th birthday.   To honor this distinguished resident of the neighborhood, the scrapbook decided to mark the occasion with a special gallery of photos taken during the birthday weekend. (scroll down for the gallery or click here.)  We start with an illustrated, introductory essay on the historical context of  Lamberton Conservatory.  For those seeking even more history of the structure,  a complete set of linked references can be found at the bottom of this page.

London’s Crystal Palace built in the 1850s

Conservatories have been with us for a while, at the very least since the first “glass house” was erected  in the Oxford, England Botanic Garden in 1675.   The last half of the 19th century brought refinements in the manufacturing, including that of iron and steel, that allowed economical construction of reinforced glass panels for roofs and building sides.  The first results were spectacular structures such as  London’s Crystal Palace which was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Buffalo's Center Dome

Buffalo’s Central Palm Dome – The Conservatory in South Park

Closer to home, very similar methods were used to construct  Buffalo’s tri-dome  masterpiece, the conservatory of South Park which was finished in 1900.  After 120 years, it remains one of the jewels of that’s city’s Olmstead designed park system.  With a Central Palm Dome 67 feet high, South Park’s Conservatory  is much larger than Rochester’s Lamberton, including the older building’s two additional end domes and long passages that connect South Park’s three main rooms.   It was also more expensive by several factors.   By the end of the 1970s, it was in crisis and so, by the early 80s, Erie County purchased the facility and restored portions in order to keep the conservatory from closure.

Conservatory: Vick Garden Guide 1877

Within the expansive garden journals, guides  and other related publications of the mid to late 1800s, conservatories were often mentioned.   From the late 1860s, Rochester’s James Vick published a series of “Garden and Floral” guides which eventually evolved into an annual catalog.  Around 1877,  Vick also published a hard bound volume from which the illustration at left is taken (click on it for a larger version).   At that time the author had these comments on the worth of a conservatory:

The Winter Garden proper, or Conservatory, is a delightful spot in which to spend an hour occasionally during the cold storms of winter, a little Eden of our own making, a tropical summer brought to our own doors…What a blessing a rich man would be to a neighborhood, if he were to build such a conservatory as we have described, and say to his neighbors and their children that it was constructed partly for their pleasure, and that, at certain times, say two or three days in a week, all were invited to call and enjoy its pleasures at their convenience.

Portrait of Lamberton Conservatory 2006

Portrait of Lamberton Conservatory 2006

It is interesting to note this long-ago author’s view of a conservatory as something “a rich man” would share with his neighbors.  Such was the typical thinking prior to the explosion in the development of public parks in the United States – a movement that began in the 1850s.  Fortunately, with Buffalo’s system serving as an example, the public park system phenomenon swept through Rochester after 1888.  And by 1911, a public conservatory was dedicated in our Highland Botanical Park to honor Alexander B. Lamberton, the reigning president of Rochester’s park commission.

Upper Dome of Conservatory -2006

Lamberton’s own family donated $20,000 for the building construction.  The Lord & Burnham Company provided the plans and materials as they had for the public conservatories in Buffalo, San Francisco, and the United States Botanic Garden on the Capitol mall.  Over time Lamberton was expanded, and as must happen to all glass houses, rebuilt and restored.  That tradition is also old, for the gardeners of Oxford soon realized that neither glass house nor greenhouse with a slate roof gave the plants within enough light to thrive.  But a transparent roof is like most other roofs as it represents a problem that must be revisited with new materials and methods again and again over time.  Unlike other roofs, however, undertaking to rebuild a transparent roof  is something that takes an institutional-level commitment. Fortunately, this is a  county that values the heritage of our park and its structures.

Open Dome: April 3, 2009

Open Dome: April 3, 2009 – Lamberton Re-opens

The latest reconstruction cost nearly $1 million to rebuild the original dome using modern glass and materials during 2008 -2009.  When the Monroe County Parks Department had completed this work, I took the picture at left (which, like all illustrations on this page,links to a much bigger version) moments after the ribbon cutting ceremony on re-opening day: April 3, 2009.  The dome was also restored to its original plan of one story – a site-seeing platform was removed ( see picture above for vestiges of the platform).

Lamberton on Holiday Night

Lamberton on Holiday Night

And another attraction was added later that year as Monroe County Parks open the building for evening holiday hours and a tasteful light show within the conservatory rooms. During one of the first of these, I captured another slide show that is on an earlier scrapbook page – click at right to go there.

The Dome a Year Later (2010)

The Dome One Year Later (2010)

Almost  a year after the public was let back, I returned to capture the outside  of the dome and as the photo to the left show,  replanted foliage was well on its way to filling up all the space it was given in the main room of the conservatory.  (Click on the thumbnail to see a bigger picture.)  It is interesting to peer in the windows and compare the plantings with those displayed in the  photos in the gallery below.  Frequent visitors can attest to  just how robust  the Tropical Forest within Lamberton has been when it comes to re-growth over the last three years.

Highland Park’s Lamberton Conservatory celebrated its 100th birthday over the weekend of November 5-6, 2011.  That week was  unusually balmy for mid Autumn in Rochester.  As in recent years,  the leaves lingered on the trees later than most of us have come to expect.   All of this contributed to a very colorful exterior, even when under glass.   Using multiple exposures and the digital technique known as HDR, I worked to capture the colors inside and out for the following album. I also made extensive use of a fish-eye lens  in order to portray the sense of space.  Please enjoy my tribute to one of the favorite buildings in the park and the neighborhood.  Happy 100th Birthday Lamberton, you are looking good!

Suggested References:

Monroe County Parks – Highland Park and Lamberton Conservatory

Downloadable Map of Lamberton Conservatory from Monroe County Parks

Parks: Protecting Highland’s Rainforest: 2007 Article at City Newspaper

Lamberton Conservatory at

The Botanical Gardens at South Park, Buffalo.

History of the Conservatory by Hardwood Conservatories UK

Records of the Lord & Burnham Company

Vick’s Flower and Vegetable Garden as Reproduced at

The Crystal Palace – Topic at Wikipedia

© and Virtual Scrapbook of The Highland Park Neighborhood,  2009-2012  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to and Virtual Scrapbook of The Highland Park Neighborhood with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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