Feb 28, 2012

The Brecker Building Heads to the Landfill

Located at 630 High Street since 1911, The Brecker Building is in the process of being demolished this week. David Torke of fixBuffalo has been documenting the history and decay of the city-owned building for quite some time on his blog.


This emergency demolition was prompted by the owners of the neighboring building when about two dozen face bricks fell from the eastern façade and onto their roof. In typical City of Buffalo fashion, the demolition came as a reaction to not knowing what else to do. Rather than hiring a mason for likely a day’s work to repair the affected sections, the City is footing the bill for a $320,000 demolition.

The Apollo Demolition company began staging the site this past Friday and began the demolition early Saturday morning. Some of the demo crew admitted that the building was very structurally sound and were surprised it was coming down.

Demolitions like this are not part of some grand plan for shrinking the City, but rather a reaction to a difficult problem. As Buffalo continues to lose population, more and more of our cultural and architectural heritage will pile up at the landfill. There is no comprehensive or strategic plan for the demolition of city-owned properties. It is an overwhelming problem with no easy solutions, but it has to start somewhere.


Although it may be a daunting task, there needs to be swift and immediate action, starting by documenting the existing conditions of each city-owned property. The survey work must encompass the entire city to ensure that those buildings which have the greatest potential for rehab or reuse are pushed to the bottom of the demolition list. It should then be followed by actively advertising these properties for sale.

Theoretically, all city-owned properties are available for purchase, but the lack of advertising and a complete list results in buildings like the Brecker staying off the radar until it’s too late. Many individuals and developers have encountered great difficulty at City Hall when trying to purchase some of the properties. The entire process needs to be overhauled and streamlined if the City ever hopes to get some of their properties rehabbed, redeveloped, and put back on the tax rolls.

To see the entire Flickr set of the Brecker Building click here. Below is a five minute video of the demolition which has been cut down from over an hour. You'll want to watch it all the way through, the end is the best part.

Views of Buffalo Flickr     -     fixBuffalo     -     The Atlantic Cities     -     The Urbanophile

Feb 23, 2012

Innovative Design Envisions a New Life for Central Park Plaza

Central Park Plaza (bing map) has long been a desolate strip plaza on the City’s east side, but its fortunes may be changing. Various proposals and complaints have been made public in recent years including this one on Buffalo Rising and has received coverage on fixbuffalo by David Torke.

Stephanie Davidson and Georg Rafailidis have won an international design competition for envisioning a new urban community in the derelict plaza. The two are both faculty members of UB’s School of Architecture and Planning. The competition included over 100 entries from 11 different countries.

Central Park Plaza - Buffalo, NY
Photo Credit: David Torke, fixbuffalo

Their proposal titled, “Free Zoning,” centers on the idea that the public should have complete creative freedom to determine how the plaza will be repurposed. They suggest removing all zoning restrictions on the plaza and allowing the residents to have control over how the new space will develop. The City of Buffalo has been adamant about finding a developer to repurpose the space, still in the mindset that the original use is appropriate. The proposed concept opposes that theory in favor of something totally original. Enjoy this short concept video for how the plaza may be re-imagined.
Check out the competition website (Free Zoning) to see all the details and the ingenious design. The overall concept draws inspiration from the original development patterns of those who initially settled the American frontier. Removing all the zoning restrictions would result in a development, which is completely unconventional in modern planning, but extremely interesting.

The proposal also calls for salvaging the building material from the current buildings on the site for those which would be built in its place. For example, the largest building on site would be demolished, but the foundation would remain and “serve as a seedbed for construction,” as stated in their concept.
Concept from Free Zoning
This has all the potential to be an incredibly unique development in Buffalo and serve as a precedent for how other cities can repurpose their dead plazas. However, the question remains if the leaders in Buffalo are forward-thinking enough to allow the concept to come to fruition.

Views of Buffalo Flickr     -     fixBuffalo     -     The Atlantic Cities     -     The Urbanophile

Feb 20, 2012

Death of a Neighborhood Movie Palace

The Marlowe as she appears today

Additional photos and interior pics can be seen by following this link to my Flickr page

The Marlowe Theater at 257 Virginia was originally built as a modest movie house in 1915 by John R. Oshei, the same man who founded the Trico Corporation. Oshei owned and built a number of other theaters throughout Buffalo including the Teck Theater which was located in the 700 block of Main Street in downtown Buffalo. The Marlowe was named after one of Oshei’s favorite actresses, Julia Marlowe.

In 1929 the Marlowe changed hands and was purchased by Matthew M. Konczakowski who used the Marlowe as his base of operations for the three other theaters he owned. He spent $70,000 dollars on a complete overhaul in 1941 including doubling the original size, air-conditioning, and the addition of a modern façade, which is how the building appears today.

The Marlowe as she appeared in 1979. Image Courtesy of the Buffalo Evening News, 10-17-79
The improvements lengthened the building 40 feet, increased it to 7056 square feet, and seated a grand total of 998 people. An article from the Buffalo Evening News published January 22, 1941 described the remodeled theater in great detail:

“Air conditioning and indirect lighting from a circular ceiling dome which radiates all the colors of the rainbow have been installed. Acoustical plaster covers the ceiling. The walls trimmed in peach, blue, brown, and green, are overlaid with special insulation and acoustical board. Aquamarine and dubonnet-tinted draperies reflecting the color scheme throughout set off the auditorium. A marble lobby is appointed with mirrors from the floor to the top. Restrooms and sitting rooms are finished in tile. Guest rooms, 18 feet wide and 12 feet deep have been added to an upper “balcony” flanking an enlarged projection room…The front façade, modernistic in design, is colored in brown, heather, and buff. Brick and litholite exterior walls have been replaced with terra-vitra tile.”

The last five decades have not been kind to the Marlowe and when Konczakowski died the theater closed shortly after. When the theater operation ended it changed hands multiple times, being used as a church by various organizations. In 1979 there was feasibility study conducted by the Community Planning Association Center of WNY to possibly renovate the building for a mini-convention center for Hispanic cultural and social activities, but nothing happened.

The photo in the lower right corner is how the Marlowe looked originally before the 1941 modifications.
Image courtesy of the Buffalo Evening News, 11-22-20
Wrecking equipment is already waiting around the building for a controlled demolition that will take place between this week and the first weeks of March. Although current property records do not reflect the change in ownership, Hispanics United across the street recently purchased it from Prince of Peace Church, which vacated the Marlowe in 2007 and moved to a church at 190 Albany Street. Hispanics United considered reuse, but unfortunately with half a century of deferred maintenance the costs were apparently too great. A three story, residential building is slated to take its place. 

There will be no encore for the Marlowe and it’s once proud marquee will never again light up the neighborhood, inviting residents to take in a show.

A special thanks to David Torke of fixBuffalo who mapped the most recent batch of city demolitions, which includes the Marlowe and can be seen here.

Views of Buffalo Flickr     -     fixBuffalo     -     The Atlantic Cities     -     The Urbanophile

Feb 18, 2012

Views of Buffalo: An Introduction

I figured the best way to start off this blog was with a brief introduction about myself and what my readers can expect. My name is Mike, I was born and raised in Buffalo and I have cared deeply about the city for as long as I can remember. I will be covering all things Buffalo as well as things I discover which relate to the city. There will be good news, but there will also unfortunately be bad news.

Buffalo is a shrinking city and while there are many positive things happening, there are still plenty of big issues, which have yet to be addressed. With foresight lacking by many people and leaders, beautiful, unique, historic buildings will be neglected and fall to the wrecking ball as so many have before. Regardless of the many losses to come, I'll do my best to have a balance of good and bad news.

Currently I write for Buffalo Rising, so you can expect a lot of crossover from my work on that site and this blog. I work professionally in historic preservation so many of the issues here will be related to preservation and architecture, but interesting bits of history and news will be scattered throughout my posts. During my ventures throughout the city I have been an avid photographer so expect some decent pictures of great places throughout the city. You can follow me on Flickr by clicking here.

Let me leave you with this, I believe in Buffalo and I truly think that I will see the beginnings of her revival in my lifetime and I hope to be a big part of it. I hope you believe too and that what I discuss here helps you revive your love of Buffalo or helps it continue to grow.

Views of Buffalo Flickr     -     fixBuffalo     -     The Atlantic Cities     -     The Urbanophile