Just for us then - and perhaps again

TODAY'S mail brought good, even great tidings. The most welcoming structure of my childhood, aside from the three-bedroom house I still visit annually, may be reconstructed - if the good citizens of Rochester, N.Y., can raise the money to do it.

My check's in the mail.

Its proper name was the Ellwanger & Barry Memorial Pavilion, but my sister, brother, and I delighted in the fact that our parents - and every other adult in our lives - called it ours. The "Children's Pavilion" had a sweet ring to it, and was adopted early on as the best and most accurate descriptive for the three-tiered open-aired pavilion, so appealing to kids. It was the only name we ever heard associated with the big pagoda at the heart of our city's beautiful Highland Park.

We were thoroughly at home in the pavilion and its surrounding acres of arboretum from very young ages. The park's regionally famous lilac slopes rose almost directly from our grandparents' front yard. Only Highland Road intervened. Before the road was paved and the lilacs were cultivated, my school-aged father could toboggan down the hill up to his own front door.

The lilac slopes and the rolling hills and deep valleys undulating away behind them were our favorite playground, ever inviting when we overnighted at our grandparents' home. With its intricate glacial topography, venerable hemlocks, gnarled firs, and deep rhododendron thickets, the park was and is a landscape with huge imaginative possibilities, the life-size equivalent of an Arthur Rackham canvas.

And at the high center of it all was our very own summer palace. It even came with a decorative fountain, set in the middle of an adjacent reservoir.

We knew the pavilion was old, that it had been built in another century altogether (1891, to be exact). We'd seen vintage black-and-white photos of families emerging from horse-drawn buggies to climb its broad, wooden stairs. We could run our palms along banisters and rails polished smooth by the hands of generations as we climbed from floor to floor.

From the pavilion's uppermost balconied tier, we could look far out over the horizon, a vast realm any child could take pride in claiming.

My whole family mourned when the old pavilion had to be torn down in 1963. It had begun to be the target of vandals and had fallen into disrepair. I was 13, too old perhaps to feel as bereft as I did. I knew by then that it was not really my pavilion, but I'd never lost a sense of royal proprietorship over the graceful old building - nor have I since.

When I visit Rochester I can stand at the site - now a bare patch of ground save for a lone flagpole - and conjure up the familiar rush of cool air at its entrance, the satisfying solidity of its worn, polished rails, the sounds of footsteps echoing down from the upper floors. But this reverie only lasts a moment.

The pavilion always fades away, leaving the reservoir's fountain, still grandly spraying, oddly irrelevant.

AH, BUT I know now, thanks to a newspaper clipping my mom just sent, that a committee of Rochestarians (probably my age-peers, all) has begun to organize an initiative to rebuild the Children's Pavilion - nearly 40 years after its demise.

Call it nostalgia, it's still an inspired notion. Today's children can't be too sophisticated to enjoy a grand place all their own.

But their pleasure admittedly takes second place to what I suspect is the real impetus behind the scheme. We 50-something former children of Rochester want our summer palace back. If the funds are raised and the pavilion is resurrected, it'll take a few decades of rail polishing and stair climbing to replicate the place I remember. You folks with little hands and feet will just have to get in line.

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