Central Presbyterian Church
Established in 1836 as the Bethel Church, the Central Presbyterian Church took on its new name with its move to the corner of Church Street and Sophia Street (now Plymouth Avenue N.). The church was built on the site of the home of Quaker abolitionists, Isaac and Amy Post, who used their home as a station on the Underground Railroad, providing a safe haven for enslaved people passing on their way to freedom.
The church prospered, and in 1890 it was necessary to expand its facilities to accommodate its growing Bible school. The design of that expansion marked a change in traditional church architecture which reflected a new focus on "the community of God." In keeping with this new style, Central Presbyterian’s "auditorium" was built in the round so that everyone could gather, greet, and sing together. Subsequently, a church school wing was also added.
As the largest auditorium in Rochester at the time, the church was host to traveling preachers, lecturers, and visiting choirs and soloists. In 1895, it was the site of a massive funeral service for Frederick Douglass, and in following years it was the scene of citywide memorial services for President William McKinley and Susan B. Anthony.
However, as the years passed, an increasing number of people moved from the city to the suburbs, and membership in downtown churches began to dwindle. Other groups then gathered to fill the pews. During the 1960s, angry African American Rochesterians, led by Franklin Florence and Bernard Gifford, rallied there to challenge Eastman Kodak and the Rochester School Board, and later it was the site of Vietnam War protests.
In 1974, three of the City’s Presbyterian churches, including Central Presbyterian, merged to form the congregation of the Downtown United Presbyterian Church (also called Brick Church and located on North Fitzhugh Street). Soon thereafter, Hochstein School became the major tenant of the Central Presbyterian Church. With help from the Presbyterian Church, the United Way, and the Rochester Department of Community Development, $180,000 was contributed to repair the exterior of the building. An additional community fund drive raised $35,000 for minor remodeling of the interior before the school moved in.
In 1978, Hochstein purchased the building for $1, considered to be an appropriate fee in light of the long tradition of the importance of music in that house of worship. Further renovations to the lower level studios were accomplished in the 1980s, and major capital campaigns followed, the first to renovate the entire educational facility, the second to renovate the "auditorium," now known as the Performance Hall at Hochstein.