Students Research Local School’s History for Upcoming Play

Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Andrew Holland first had the idea to create a theatrical piece with a focus on architecture after reading about a Berlin play which took inspiration from the Bauhaus architecture of the planned community at which it was performed. Holland brainstormed for locations to conduct a similar play at Hamilton College with Professor of Theatre Carole Bellini-Sharp, and the two decided that the perfect location for the collaboration would be the Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in the Cornhill neighborhood of Utica.


Holland is advising Emily Delbridge ’13 and Katherine Delesalle ’14 as they conduct research on the first stage of this three year project under a Levitt Summer Research group grant. The students are looking at the history of the Theodore Roosevelt School and canvassing the community to determine how the school has influenced the surrounding area and how the various renovations and transformations of the structure have been received by the community. The second two phases of the project, to be carried out in the summers of 2013 and 2014, will involve the scripting, imagery and production of the play.


The school was designed in 1893 by architect and Hamilton alumnus F.H. Gouge and has not functioned as an educational institution for nearly 20 years. The imposing stone structure is framed by rusted wrought iron gates and has been owned and modified by a diverse group of post-educational occupants including the Utica Fire Department and a diplomat from the West Asian country of Qatari.    


Delesalle and Delbridge spent the first two weeks of their project conducting individual research on the Theodore Roosevelt School’s history. The two searched an online database of Utica Observer-Dispatch articles and other online sources; however, they soon realized that extensive primary sources would be needed to gain an accurate picture of how the school has influenced and continues to influence the community. Furthermore, the imagery employed by the upcoming play requires that the students obtain as much visual evidence as possible.


In their fieldwork, the two have visited the Utica School District offices, the Utica and Oneida Country clerks, and the Utica Public Library in search of deeds, photos, and architectural plans describing the history of the school.  The students also consulted with Utica architect David Bonacci, Utica Urban Renewal Director Gene Allen, Utica Historian Phil Bean and Utica Observer-Dispatch reporter Dan Miner in order to gain insight into the perspectives of different parties in the Utica community regarding the future of the school.


The students noted that opinions within the community were often sharply polarized. Some individuals, such as Bonacci, valued the building for its architectural ingenuity and historical significance and sought to preserve it, while others, like Allen, were eager to start a new chapter and revitalize the land for another purpose. In order to gauge the opinions of the community at large, the two have attended a Cornhill neighborhood meeting and plan to set up a booth at the upcoming Oneida County Market in order to gather anecdotal evidence from locals about the importance of the school.


By the end of the first stage of this project, Delesalle hopes to “understand how public architecture influences the surrounding community.” According to Delbridge, everything the two need to uncover “is already there, ‘written on the walls,’ or more aptly, “written by the walls.’” Students Victoria Harbour ’14 and Erika Marte ’15 are also working in a Levitt Research Group on a similar Theodore Roosevelt School project under the direction of Professor Bellini-Sharp.


Delbridge is a graduate of Siegel High School (Tenn.) and Delesalle is a graduate of the Middlesex School (Mass.)

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