Apr 24, 2012

Four East Side Homes to be Rehabbed, Not Demolished

More often than not, homes owned by the City of Buffalo find their way to the landfill for a number of different reasons. It could be because a new owner could not be found, the house was beyond repair, or someone at City Hall was particularly demo-happy one week. Unfortunately, the loss of urban fabric is just a part of what happens when a city shrinks dramatically.
Two family home at 144 Glenwood Avenue
However, plenty of these homes and buildings have been landfilled because of the lack of a strategic demolition plan from the City. Thankfully every once in a while there is good news when rather than demolition, the City sells homes for rehabilitation to qualified development groups

Four homes that are slated for rehabilitation include 11 Holland Place, 144 Glenwood Avenue, 291 Northampton Street, and 77 Dodge Street. These buildings are all mostly solid to start off with, but still require investment to become livable once again. I’m a firm believer that every building tells a story and each of these homes I’m sure is no exception. I did some research into 11 Holland Place last year and turned up some interesting information.
11 Holland Place
The first time 11 Holland Place appears listed is in the 1894 Buffalo City Directory with residents Jacob Bott, Dr. William J. Bott, and Rodney Daniels. Jacob was a house and sign painter while William worked as a clerk with the Buffalo Water Department. While a building permit for the house was not found it is likely that the Bott family built the house.

The Bott family and other people continued to live at the house until about 1914 when John J. Steffan bought the home for his family. Steffan worked as a bookkeeper at M. Steffan’s Sons Inc., a leather goods store established in 1851 which is still in operation at 761 Main Street in downtown Buffalo. The Steffan family lived in the house until about 1955/1956 and the house remained vacant until 1957 when Warner Merritt purchased the home and lived there until 1961.

From then on the house bounced between different owners, ultimately ending up belonging to the City of Buffalo after the most recent owners, Dana Upcher and Venere Hutchinson, were arrested in Tennessee for outstanding Housing Court warrants. David Torke of fixBuffalo has been highlighting this house for years in hopes of get a proper owner to rehab the building.
291 Northampton Street
It’s so rare for homes to be rehabilitated rather than demolished due to the startling price difference in rehab vs. demo. Using 11 Holland as an example, it would cost the average person about $30,000 to $40,000 for a full rehab while doing much of the work themselves. The cost for the City to demolish the structure would be around $20,000, but the cost to rehab is almost ten times that amount. Due to bidding the rehab work as prevailing wage jobs and a whole host of other reasons, the price for rehab is exponentially greater than the cost of demolition.
77 Dodge Street
11 Holland Place is sure to be the fastest seller of the four when all the work is complete because of its great location in Midtown. There has been an incredible amount of investment in the surrounding neighborhood including Artspace Lofts, The Packard Lofts, reinvestment on Coe Place, and the recent rehabilitation of St. Vincent’s Orphanage one street over on Ellicott.

To see more photos including some interior shots click here or view them as a slideshow here.

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Apr 20, 2012

Coe Place: "Roller Skating Rink Becomes City Street"

I stumbled upon this great article from the Buffalo Evening Times recently and it goes into great detail about the history of Coe Place (bing map). This is one of the many great streets on the east side and in recent years many of the homes have been saved from the wrecking ball and rehabbed, keeping it more or less intact. David Torke of fixBuffalo has covered Coe Place many times over the years like here and here and has helped keep many of the homes from going to the landfill. The following text comes directly from the Buffalo Evenings Times article of September 8, 1930 written by Sybil Reppert.


Coe Place might still be a roller skating rink if it hadn’t been so “far out.” If you know where Coe Place is, you are likely to lift up your eyebrows at that. For a location between Main and Ellicott one block north of Summer Street would draw a “convenient to store and theaters” line from any real estate company now.
But during the five years between 1885 and 1890 that part of town was in the hinterlands. Horse car service was not everything one could desire in the way of transportation and trade on the skating rink was not so good. So George A. Chadeayne who owned the rink decided he’d build a street. People needed houses worse than they needed places to skate.

Chadeayne, white haired and white-bearded, lives at 1175 Delaware now. I went to see him. I was rather thrilled by the idea of talking with a man who once owned a street. He told me all about it. The sailing wasn’t so smooth at first. Some of the people round about didn’t want any street. They had some lawsuits about it, but while the lawsuits were pending Chadeayne went ahead and built seven houses on the north side of the street. He won the suit and sold the houses, but by this time winter was coming on.

Two remaining trees that once formed a tree canopy over Coe Place
So he transferred operations to the other side of the street where the skating rink was still standing upon its high brick piers. Under that shelter, men worked all winter. They dug the foundations, finished the cellars and put up the side walls. When spring came, they tore down the rink, and added roofs to seven or eight more houses were ready. In all he completed 11 houses on this side of the street about that time. The material from the rink was used for more houses.


“I bought the whole strip, 100 feet wide all the way through from Main to Ellicott for $12,500,” Chadeayne said. “I sold the corner lot for $16,000 later. The man who bought it was once offered $100,000, he told me, and refused.” By a marvel of skillful Gerrymandering, every lot was given two or three or five feet of frontage on either Main or Ellicott, and deeded on one street or the other. Posts were put up at the ends, brick pavement was laid, and the new street was ready. Chadeayne named it for his father-in-law, William S. Coe.

And Coe Place remained a private street until July a year ago. In the course of the years the brick pavement had become full of cracks, and dips and bumps. The water pipes were small and antiquated. Worse than that all gas was used for lighting purposes was turned off, and every street lamp on Coe Place was a gas light. After five weeks of darkness, the women decided something had to be done.

So Mrs. Louis Fitzpatrick, who lives at No. 33, and Mrs. Thomas H. Chittenden who lives at No. 25 went to see the city council. The people signed petitions. And the city gave over Coe Place, gave it new plumbing, electric lights, and a concrete pavement.


Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who has owned a house on the street 28 years claims the longest residence. Among those who had lived on the street in that time and who have attained prominence, Mrs. Fitzpatrick remembers Hamilton Ward, attorney general of New York, whose home was at No. 19. The younger generation on the street is mostly boys. Buddy Kraft, son of E.V. Kraft, at No. 35; Norman, Edward, George and Billy Koehler, sons of Frank Koehler at No. 23; Thomas Chittenden jr, at No. 25; and Richmond Steele jr, at the corner of Ellicott and Coe, comprises the gang. They hold their secret rites in the back yard of No. 35.

Arline and Joyce Hostetler are the only girls on Coe Place, but they have curls, and they can sing, so the gang speaks highly of them, even though they are “just girls” and a little young at that for the rest of the bunch – who all go back to school today.

1889 Sanborn
1889 Sanborn Map depicting the skating rank and the first seven houses before Coe Place was even a street

To see all the photos from Coe Place click here or to see them as a slideshow click here.

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Apr 18, 2012

Hotel Lafayette Gets Ready to Shine

The new crown jewel of downtown is almost ready for her close-up as workers begin to finish up at the Hotel Lafayette. Over two hundred people are working through the building almost every day of the week to get the historic landmark ready its official debut shortly.


The chandeliers have been refurbished and returned to the Crystal Dining Room, the ornate plaster ceiling of the grand ballroom has been repaired, and the scagliola has been repaired and replicated along Peacock Alley. The transformation is nothing short of amazing especially considering the timeline for the restoration work.


Although there is still work that needs to be completed throughout the building, much of first floor public spaces and ballrooms as well as the upper floor apartments have been completed. It’s mostly just a matter of tidying things up and adding the finishing touches to those spaces. Much of the space in the basement for storage, services, and the rooms for Butterwood Desserts is in various stages of drywall going up and being finished. The Butterwood space is going to be pretty incredible with the high, ornate ceilings and will surely be one of the more unique spaces downtown.


The proposed exterior patios will not be happening in the foreseeable future because an agreement could not be reached with the adjacent property owner. However, the new in-fill structure has been completely framed up and getting ready for the interior as work progresses. It will serve as rental space for the Lafayette Tap Room below which will be operated by the Pearl Street Bar and Grill.

As a result of the exterior patio idea being axed, an interior patio has been added. The floor of a light alley in the center of the building (shown below) will serve as a party space for those wishing to rent it out via the Lafayette Tap Room. Those parties who wish to be on the patio late into the night have to rent the surrounding four rooms at that level to ensure that hotel guests will not be disturbed during their stay.


The building will even be hosting some great events in the coming weeks including the Beaux-Arts Ball by the School of Architecture and Planning from UB on April 28th and the 150th anniversary celebration of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society on May 10th.
I'll just let the pictures do the talking from here, to see them on my Flickr pool, Views of Buffaloclick here or to watch them as a slideshow click here.


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Apr 10, 2012

Public Bridge Authority Ready to Demolish Busti Avenue Properties

The Public Bridge Authority has recently announced their plans to move forward with demolishing the properties they own along Busti Avenue for their new plaza expansion plan. The Buffalo News has the story here explaining the state aid for the expansion. While there has been a lot of controversy over the expansion, for what must be decades by now, action finally seems to be taking shape. Issues of eminent domain, the destruction of historic properties, and health concerns have abounded since the topic was first put out to the public and still continue. I decided to go out for myself to document exactly what we will be giving over to the proverbial landfill once the wrecking equipment shows up.

1 Massachusetts Avenue
From a historic preservation perspective, pretty much all of the properties have some significance in one way or another, but none more that the Wilkeson Mansion at 771 Busti and the Episcopal Church Hutchinson Chapel. The Wilkeson Mansion was designated as a local historic landmark by the City of Buffalo, but that will apparently not save it from the wrecking ball.

Wilkeson House

The home was built in 1863 by Charlie Storms, but gets its name from a more historically important resident, Colonel Samuel Wilkeson. The Colonel is the grandson of Samuel Wilkeson, "The Father of Buffalo", who ensured Buffalo would be the terminus of the Erie Canal in 1825. Although the beautiful, civil war era Italianate mansion has been muddled over the years, including the removal of two, floor to ceiling windows for a picture window, it still retains a good amount of architectural integrity. 771 Busti is the last remaining structure extant in Buffalo with ties to the Wilkeson family. Their original mansion on Niagara Square was demolished long ago.

Episcopal Church Home

There has also been a lot of controversy surrounding the Episcopal Church Home since the group vacated the premises in 2005 in favor of building a typical suburban development in Amherst. Since their move they have accumulated over $15 million in back taxes owed to the City, which have yet to be paid back even after they appeared in housing court last month. They played the victim card stating they had to move because of the uncertainty surrounding the Peace Bridge Expansion.

View down Busti Avenue at Rhode Island

Currently the Public Bridge Authority owns all the residential properties, except for 775 Busti which is still occupied. If the owner refuses to sell the house will be taken by eminent domain "for the public good." Apparently the PBA will allow the architectural details of the homes slated for demo to be salvaged. They will also do full documentation on each property to the standards of a HABS report.

Peace Bridge Authority vs. Public Bridge Authority

One of the most interesting aspects of the whole thing is issue surrounding the name confusion of the organization; Peace Bridge Authority vs. Public Bridge Authority. Each house that is owned by the Public Bridge Authority on Busti has a sign stating so, but shows ownership by the Peace Bridge Authority. Technically speaking, there is no Peace Bridge Authority, only the Public Bridge Authority. The name is a common mistake made in the Buffalo News and other publications. The PBA even does it occasionally, perhaps to defer responsibility to an organization that doesn't really exist.

To see the photos of the properties to be demolished check out my Flickr stream here, or view them as a slideshow here.

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Apr 6, 2012

A Final Goodbye to the Marlowe Theater

What was once a neighborhood movie palace is now another vacant lot on the city’s west side. The former Marlowe Theater at 257 Virginia has now been completely demolished, leaving a massive empty footprint on the corner of Virginia and 10th Streets. I previously covered the full history of the building here, but I’ve been lucky enough to uncover more.
Image courtesy of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society
There are a thousand stories for every building in a city and the Marlowe was no exception. I was able to dig up the blueprints for the building throughout the years including the original plans for the building and the modifications and expansion of 1941. John Oishei officially hired William Andrew Kidd as the architect for his new theater on March 25, 1913 as illustrated by Oishei’s signature on the agreement page below.
1915 Signature
After the theater changed hands to Matt Konczakowski in 1929 he planned to alter and expand the theater in 1939. He hired William L. Spann, a local architect who is responsible for many of the neighborhood movie theaters that were scattered throughout Buffalo. The plans called for a modern, art deco fa├žade, nearly doubling the size of the theater, and some interior changes. You can see how different the actual built work was from the original design.
1915 Marlowe
1913 Original Elevation
1941 Front
1939 Modified Elevation (not built as planned)
The full demolition of the theater has taken several weeks, but I was there the moment the wrecking equipment first began its work, check out the short video below, which is a shortened version of over an hour of footage. The wrecking crew admitted that even though the building wasn’t maintained over the last fifty years, the deterioration of the exterior was mostly face bricks, not structural.

The number of historic neighborhood movie theaters in Buffalo is dwindling fast. Those which still exist have typically been modified beyond recognition or are in extreme states of deterioration. The Marlowe did need some serious investment, but the original integrity of the building was more or less intact. Neighborhood movie theaters are a dying breed and now, the Marlowe is just another casualty along the way.

For additional historic and current photos of the Marlowe as well as the complete set of plans for theater, check out my Flickr page, Views of Buffalo or view them as a slideshow here.

257 Virginia V
Marlowe Interior Before
Marlowe Interior After

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