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April 8, 2013

Dietz Street shifted from residential to commercial through the years

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The Daily Star

---- — By taking a walk along Dietz Street today, heading north to Walnut Street, one can see a lot of businesses and the recently refurbished parking lot on the east side of the street. It would take some imagination to see this street lined with houses and a church, but prior to the late 1940s, that’s what was there.

Big changes began for Dietz Street during the 1920s. Huntington Park and Library opened in July 1920. Business blocks were expanding northbound from Main Street, including the Dibble Block, where the CDO Workforce is found today at 8-12 Dietz St, built in 1921. The Van Wie Block, next door, was built around the same time.

Fire destroyed the United Presbyterian Society, listed as 18 Dietz St., in December 1929. The congregation rebuilt their church at the corner of Walling Avenue and Main Street, with a dedication in 1932.

As early as 1926, an area near Dietz Street was considered for a parking lot, between Ford Avenue and behind the businesses on the north side of Main Street. It wasn’t until April 1931 when the Empire Oil Co. completed arrangements with the Oneonta Chamber of Commerce to lease property behind what were then the Wilber National Bank and Hotel Oneonta. The lot was set to open in June 1931, with entrances from Dietz and Main Streets. A Ford Avenue entrance was later added.

That’s about as far as the sprawl northbound from Main Street got until the late 1940s. Zoning changes in the city allowed the extension of commercial zones so that both sides of Main and Chestnut Streets could be opened for business expansion throughout their entire length of the city limits. Dietz Street was also part of the change.

There had been no public objection to the changes for Main and Chestnut streets, but some Dietz Street residents weren’t pleased. An extension of businesses was proposed for the west side of Dietz Street from Huntington Park to near Reynolds Avenue in May 1948.

A petition signed by Carl L. Shearer and Leon L. Bauerie, property owners in the area, were opposed to the expansion. Text from the petition read, “While the city must expand commercially it must also expand residentially. For the present the greater need is for housing in the city.”

Counsel for the original petitioners of the commercial zone expansion, Albert E. Farone, said that property value in the affected area would increase by 300 percent within 10 years if the zone was established.

It wasn’t long before the zone was approved by the city, and plans were made to widen the street from 23 to 30 feet. Dr. Joseph T. Pondolfino was given a permit to construct a new residential building that would also house his dental office at 39 Dietz St.

With the expansion, and the increasing need for parking in downtown Oneonta, the parking lot on the east side of Dietz Street also expanded. In May 1949, properties at 26-28 and 30 Dietz St. were set for demolition to increase parking space in the area. Additional properties were demolished during the 1950s.

Jerry Monser opened a restaurant in April 1954 at 15 Dietz St., Jerry’s, at the corner of Wall Street, once a home and office of Dr. Meigs Case, dating back to the late 1880s. It was later demolished to make way for additional parking for Bresee’s Department Store customers, and is now a public parking lot.

In more recent memory, the office building at 37 Dietz St., where Family Planning of South Central New York, formerly Planned Parenthood, has offices and several doctors have practices, and the Bookhout-Friery Building, 41-45 Dietz Street, were built during Oneonta’s urban renewal years of the 1960s and ‘70s. The latter had an open house on April 27-28, 1973, then home of the Bookhout Insurance Agency and a new restaurant, The Hobbit House.

North of the parking lot, Kar-San Development established the present suite of offices at 48-50 Dietz St. in the early 1980s. A few businesses displaced by urban renewal on Broad Street had relocated at 48 Dietz St. in the late 1970s, prior to becoming office space.

More residential properties were lost in late 1988, when what was then Astoria Federal Savings Bank, now NBT Bank, acquired properties near Huntington Park, to establish a drive-through bank office. Two nearly identical houses, set back behind two large apartment buildings, were all knocked down in November of that year.

Some dwellings that have survived demolition through the generations are 22 Dietz St., presently the offices of lawyer Walter F. Terry III, and 51 Dietz St., at the corner of Reynolds Avenue, now the Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono Funeral Home. It was originally built in 1896 as The Oneonta Club, remaining there until 1943. Additional private residences remain at 52, 53 and 55 Dietz St.

There wouldn’t be enough space to completely cover all the changes on Dietz Street, but this provides the significant shifts from residential to commercial over the last 100 years.

This weekend: The area reacted to Prohibition being lifted in April 1933.

City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.