When it was first constructed, the State Tower Building was considered one of Syracuse's finest buildings. A postcard published by the William Jubb Company in the 1960s describes the State Tower as:
Syracuse's tallest office building and a downtown "landmark". A prestige address in the heart of the banking and financial district. Located at the hub of downtown, in the area of Clinton Square, "one of the largest urban developments in the country" and "the largest single redevelopment proposal in the city's history." The building is never closed, and has a 200 car garage attached. Sixty seconds from Interstate Route 81, seven minutes from N.Y. State Thruway.
While the State Tower Building may eventually be eclipsed by the Grand Destiny Hotel as Central New York's tallest building (should Destiny USA ever be built), with no new construction slated for downtown, the State Tower stands to retain the title of downtown's tallest.
Along with the Niagara Mohawk building, the State Tower Building formed Syracuse's own contribution to the Art Deco field. While obviously not as spectacular as such New York City Art Deco masterpieces as the RCA Victor Building, the Barclay-Vesey Building, the New York Central Railroad Building, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building, it was considered one of Syracuse's best. Early in its history, visitors could go to the top of the building for a small admission (variously reported as 5¢ to 25¢) and look out as far as North Syracuse or Dewitt. As the tallest building in the region and graceful in its own right, it was among the most popular subjects for Syracuse postcards from the 1920s until the 1960s, as this small sampling of cards shows.
A building known as variously as Shakespeare Hall and the first Bastable Block stood on this spot in the mid to late 19th century. (In the 19th and early 20th century, "block" referred to a medium to large multipurpose building.) Among its tenants was the Second National Bank, established in 1862 by Benjamin Ward Baum, owner of the Carbon Oil Company. Although Baum was a successful businessman, he is only remembered today as the father of L. Frank Baum, the author of "The Wizard of Oz." Other tenants included the downtown Syracuse post office, the Hiscock Law Office and the local post headquarters for the Grand Army of the Republic, the leading Civil War veterans association which was the force behind the creation of Memorial Day. The Syracuse Turners had an early meeting in Shakespeare Hall.
Around 1893, the second Bastable Block was built on the same site after the first was destroyed by fire. The ground floor of this six story building housed the Bastable Theatre, which gave Sam Shubert his first full-time job. Sam and his brothers Lee and Jacob, natives of Syracuse, later bought the theater as part of their theatrical empire. While the theater is gone, the Shubert Organization continues today as a live-theatre powerhouse dedicated to the preservation and revitalization of the American stage. The newly founded Syracuse University Law College also occupied space on the upper floors here from 1895 to 1897. Like many former State Tower tenants today, the Law College moved to the University Building a block away.
The Bastable Block was completely gutted in a huge fire in 1923. Five years later, the State Tower Building was completed on the lot. The State Tower would have some exposure to fire itself in 1939, when the Collins Block that abutted the southeast corner of the building burned in a 3-alarm blaze. The blaze claimed the lives of nine firefighters, the dealiest fire ever for the Syracuse Fire Department.
According to the National Register of Historic Places, the State Tower Building was included in the Hanover Square Historic District when it was designated in 1976. Their website defines the district as including:
Hanover Square Historic District
(added 1976 - Onondaga County - #76001258)
Also known as See Also: Onondaga County Savings Bank Building; Gere Bank Building
101--203 E. Water, 120--200 E. Genesee, 113 Salina, 109--114 S. Warren Sts., Syracuse
(55 acres, 15 buildings)
This apparently includes the State Tower Building at 109 South Warren Street. Yet somehow the owners managed to circumvent Landmark Preservation regulations during their recent renovation. According to the Preservation Society of Central New York, the building was excluded from the register in 1976 at the request of the then-owners.
In the 1980s, the Sutton Companies fronted a local group of businessmen to purchase the State Tower Building, paying $2.7 million for it. Sutton acted as a general partner and managing agent of the property for three years, until they quickly sold the building for $6.6 million, a tidy 144% profit on a quick turnover. (Although one report claimed the price was as high as $9 million.) Some long-time tenants considered those sales to be bad milestones in the history of the State Tower. The original owners treated the building as family, but these tenants felt subsequent changes in ownership were more about corporate greed and speculation in the red-hot 1980s real estate market.
Almost as if to validate these opinions, the next buyer was the Kushner Companies of Florham Park, New Jersey, at the time headed by real estate magnate Charles Kushner. In July of 2004, Kushner was charged variously in Federal court with illegal campaign contributions, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, witness retaliation and interstate promotion of prostitution. He was quickly forced out as chairman of the company and pleaded guilty in August 2004 to retaliating against a federal witness and falsifying campaign contribution reports. For the last charge, he was fined over $500,000. The other netted him another $40,000 fine and a sentence of two years in prison. Federal prosecutors complained that the Kushner Companies dragged their feet in providing subpoenaed documents relevant to the case. Kushner's role as one of the biggest fundraisers for New Jersey Democrats and then-Governer Jim McGreevey in particular is considered to be a major factor in McGreevey's downfall and resignation. The sordid tale can be read here in New York magazine. As of late 2005, Kushner was serving his two-year sentence in a minimum security prison in Alabama. Among his fellow New Jerseyan inmates is Martin "Bad News" Barnes, the former mayor of Paterson serving 37 months for bribery and corruption. Again, some long-time tenants felt Kushner Companies, as a long distance, absentee landlord, was unresponsive to their concerns. In the early 1990s, local companies Partnership Properties and Kelly and Dutch bought a minority stake in the State Tower. The local and New Jersey owners share ownership of State Tower Associates of Syracuse, which manages the building to this day.
In late 2003, the State Tower Building made its debut online with its own website, based on badly outdated information and for which it was billed $10,000. Among the information provided was that the building has access to trolley and bus lines (the last trolley in Syracuse ran in either 1939 or 1941), and that the new railroad station was a mere six blocks away. This latter claim was a reference to the New York Central Railroad station on Erie Boulevard, which was converted to the Greyhound bus station in 1968 and had already undergone another conversion into production facilities for Time Warner Cable's Channel 10 news by the time the website went live. The site touted 250 parking spaces in the garage, a figure that had been significantly reduced years earlier by the closing of the roof deck to locate air conditioning condensers and emergency generators for telecommunications tenants.
Among the information not provided on the website was the street address of the building, contact information for the office - including telephone & fax numbers and email address - and photographs (historical or recent) of the building's interior or exterior. The first two were eventually rectified after nearly two years, but photographs of the building had not appeared on the site as of early 2006.
The site also included online tenant services to request maintenance, apparently modeled after the Empire State Building's Tenant Access system. The designer did not take into account the fact that most State Tower tenants (especially smaller tenants and older firms) did not have Internet access in their offices. As well, tenants were never told the services existed, login account administration procedures were not detailed and no user accounts were ever created or issued. The services were never used and were eventually removed. The few tenants who did notice the online request system thought it was ridiculous to go through an online system when it was faster and easier to call the office and either speak to the office manager or leave a voice message (especially if they have dialup Internet service).