The Onondaga Historical Association building was constructed in 1906 to house the CNY Telephone and Telegraph Company. After occupying the building at 311 Montgomery Street for only 10 years, the telephone company needed a larger structure and built this five-story Second Renaissance Revival building. Several residences were razed to make room for the building, including one that Horatio Nelson White designed and lived in.
The light colored brick façade is embellished with fine stonework. One of the most distinctive features of the building is the bold cornice with a series of lions’ heads, which symbolize the sun and its powers in Renaissance architecture.
The operators who worked at the telephone company were trained to use the new dial telephone, which arrived in Syracuse in the 1920s. The building now houses the Onondaga Historical Association’s general History Museum, Research Center, and Museum Store.Read More
The former Bell Telephone Company also was a community fallout shelter during the Cold War (1947-1991).
The yellow sign, located on the left side of the front entrance, publicizes that the building was a community fallout shelter prior to the end of the Cold War. In the event of a nuclear blast, local citizens could find a safe haven from radioactive material inside this building. With its thick walls and floors, as well as blast shields on the upper windows, this building could protect several people from radioactive fallout.
Blast shields could be pulled down in case of a nuclear event.
Working in conjunction with the Dept. of Defense and the Office of Civil Defense, Bell Telephone Company officials stocked the building with water, food, medical supplies, and radiation detection kits, provided by the federal government. Many municipalities provided citizens with a list of nearby community shelters. The community shelter program gradually faded away during the 1970s and early 1980s.