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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