Dec 29, 2012

Final Push to Save Bethlehem Steel Today

The Bethlehem Steel Administration Building may be headed to the landfill officially as news sources report demolition was slated to begin yesterday. Owners have been reluctant to see the building reused, even after conversations that detailed multiple approaches to save the building in a profitable way.
Don’t forget, this piece of our heritage didn’t get this way overnight. The owners neglected this building for the better part of three decades since they have owned it. The building hasn’t made any friends with Mayor Szymanski either, as he has been a proponent of its demise from the start.
In previous news reports Szymanski said, "Pittsburgh adjusted, Cleveland adjusted. Buffalo has not and if we don't start making moves and start getting rid of stuff that is unusable, than we are going to continue to stay where we're at, which is nowhere."
He must not have been aware of Bethlehem, PA “getting over it” as they reinvented their shuttered steel mills and created an incredibly successful tourist attraction that is the pride of the city.  I have to assume he has never left Lackawanna to come to nearby Buffalo and see how we have leveraged our historic assets like the Hotel Lafayette, Larkin District, and so many more.
The degree of shortsightedness in Lackawanna is startling and considering what has been accomplished in Bethlehem, PA with their steel mills, serves as a great example of what could have been and still could be if the right path is taken.
Join those who have been fighting to save this architectural gem, which is National Register eligible.  People will be on site today starting at noon with protest signs in hand in an attempt to make a final push to make the owners and the Mayor see past the deterioration and realize the irreplaceable building they have. There will be a fire to keep warm and to roast marshmallows and media will be present. Dana Saylor, one of the most vocal and active supporters of reuse, has said, “This is a protest/rally, not a funeral. We are fighting this one though until the end.”

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Dec 18, 2012

Scharf's Schiller Park Restaurant Going Strong

Scharf's Schiller Park restaurant is currently enjoying a renewed appreciation by new and former customers. The owners announced that they might have to close and/or relocate due to dwindling customer base in July. Shortly after that announcement people began to flock to the restaurant to support it in the time of need and they haven't stopped. I've been to Scharf's about six times since the closing was announced and almost every time the place has been filled with people enjoying the authentic German offerings.


The building has had a long and interesting life; the portion that the bar occupies was originally built as a small chapel. Later it was expanded and converted to a bar. During Prohibition it served as a popular speakeasy and it has been Scharf's Schiller Park restaurant since 1967.

Schiller Park has lost most of the German institutions that were once prominent in the neighborhood like the Deutsches Haus on Genesee Street, which closed over fifteen years ago.


The atmosphere at Scharf's is unlike that of any other restaurant in the City of Buffalo. Many old time customers can be found at the bar enjoying German beers while speaking in their native language. Their oldest customer just celebrated his 103rd birthday at the restaurant and has been going to Scharf's for as long as anyone can remember. The location is quite unique as well.  The restaurant is located at the end of residential street and next to a park. Neighbors are welcoming and those who have been to the restaurant always have something positive to say.


For those who have yet to enjoy the many great dishes at Scharf's I recommend starting with one of the fine beers on tap, ordering potato pancakes for an appetizer, the wiener schnitzel for the entrée and then finish off with the apple strudel. Trust me, you'll go home full and satisfied every time. It's the perfect time to go if you're doing your last minute holiday shopping at the Walden Galleria and want something much better than the food court offerings, it's less than 10 minutes away.

Scharf's Hours:
Monday & Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday & Thursday: 11am to 8pm
Friday: 11am to 9pm
Saturday: 4pm to 9pm
Sunday: 4pm to 8pm

For additional photos of the Schiller Park Neighborhood, check out my Flickr page by clicking here.

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Dec 14, 2012

(Potentially) Historic Tax Credit Ready: Duffy Silk Mill Co.

I say potentially because this building is currently not a certified historic structure. However, there has been a positive indication that it could potentially be certified as historic. That of course, means the potential of utilizing historic tax credits for qualified rehabilitation work.


The building is located at 1270 Broadway and was built primarily in two periods between 1905 and 1912. The eastern wing of the complex was the first to be built in 1905 followed by the western portion in 1912. The building was expanded multiple times towards the rear of the site from 1913 to 1950 based on city records.


Although the building isn’t as architecturally exciting as something like the Guaranty Building, it was designed by the prominent firm of Esenwein & Johnson. That alone adds a lot to its historic value and significance. Although Esenwein & Johnson designed some industrial buildings, they worked primarily in highly detailed homes and buildings with a focus on Neo-classical and revival style elements. Some other prominent buildings by the firm include Buffalo Museum of Science, Electric Tower, Lafayette High School, and the Pumping Station just to name a few.


The mill is shaped like a “h” and faced entirely in red brick. The building is topped with a simple, but elegant corbelled brick cornice that is present on all elevations. The building varies in its condition, but it is still possible to get the sense of what it was inside and outside. The segmental-arch window openings are very tall, allowing natural light to flood the interior. Unfortunately, it has been quite some time since the inside was bathed in natural light; many of the windows are covered over or replaced with non-transparent materials.

Duffy Silk Historic Interior
Historic Interior photo, date unknown
Duffy Silk Co. built a total of three factories in Buffalo, one of which was also designed by Esenwein & Johnson and still extant at 207 Guildford Street. The company produced a variety of silk goods and later moved into producing nylon products as silk became difficult and costly to acquire. It’s reported that the company produced silk for parachutes during WWII.

The building is currently available for purchase ($57,000) and is just short of 100,000 square feet. According to the listing, the land has been tested and is reported to be toxic free. It is also registered as an Empire Development zone and Federal Development zone. Considering the extremely low purchase price, the availability of tax breaks via the Empire and Federal Development zone designation, and the potential for utilizing historic tax credits, rehabbing the building for residential and/or a commercial tenant could provide a nice return for the right kind of developer.


Below is a brief and estimated budget for rehab that includes an estimated historic tax credit (HTC) benefit if the building can qualify for the program. The price per square foot is based on another building I’ve working on that had similar needs and was of a similar construction. Please note the numbers are just placeholders and estimations on the conservative side.

Square Footage: 97,000
Price per sq. ft. for rehab: $205
Total Project Cost: $19,885,000
Potential HTC: $7,954,000 (20% state, 20% federal)
HTC cash value for syndication: $5,965,000
Project Cost minus HTC cash value: $13,920,000

For additional photos of the building, check out my Flickr page here.


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Dec 6, 2012

Fillmore Avenue Gets Repaved, Reconfigured, and Bike Lanes

I have been wondering for years when Fillmore Avenue was going to get repaved as I often travel on the street on my way to the Central Terminal. It was a great day a few weeks ago, when turning onto the street, I was greeted with fresh asphalt being laid, but I was also worrisome. Fillmore Avenue is a perfect east side arterial to have bike lanes. It’s much too wide considering the amount of traffic not to accommodate cyclists.


Thankfully, about two weeks after the paving, bike lanes and markings were added to the street. Rather than two lanes of traffic in either direction, the street now has one lane in either direction, designated parking spots on either side, and bike lanes on both sides of the street.

The repaving stretches from Humboldt Park (MLK Park) all the way down to William Street for a grand total of about 1.3 miles. It’s a welcome addition to a part of town that is often shortchanged.


One-third of all households in Buffalo do not have access to a vehicle. If you spend any amount of time on the east side, you’ll notice that there is a significant cyclist population. Since a lot of that one-third is concentrated on the east side, it’s nice to see alternative transportation infrastructure being considered and implemented. Since these photos have been taken, the cyclist symbol has been added to the bike lanes.


For more photos of the Broadway Fillmore neighborhood, check out my Flickr page here.

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Dec 5, 2012

Rehabbed Homes in Masten Neighborhood Come with a High Price Tag

Back in April I posted a story on my blog about four properties in the Masten Neighborhood that were slated for rehabilitation rather than demolition. Belmont Shelter is rehabilitating a total of ten properties to the tune of $350,000 each. The funding for the rehabilitations comes from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Burke Homes, the same builder of Colvin Estates, is the contractor for the project. I was only aware of four properties when the project was originally announced and grabbed photos of each for some before and after shots.
11 Holland Place before rehabilitation work. Note the intact architectural details
I had some high hopes for the rehabilitation considering the high price tag and the rich architectural details each home had. Unfortunately, when going out for my “after” photos I was extremely disappointed.

11 Holland Place after rehabilitation work and devoid of architectural details
The homes had been stripped of their original architectural integrity inside and outside. 11 Holland Place is one of the best examples; the exterior featured clapboard in great shape, detailed wood porch columns, a simple dentil cornice above three windows in the uppermost gable, and a beautifully hand-carved motif in the porch pediment.

11 Holland Place porch pediment before being scrapped
Work during the rehabilitation scrapped every last one of those details in favor of vinyl siding, the removal of the three windows in the gable, and sending the porch columns and carved pediment to the trash. The fireplace and pocket doors with ornate brass hardware have also been removed in favor of a more “vanilla box” interior.

The same dull gray vinyl (likely bought in bulk), removal of architectural details, and installation of vinyl windows repeats at the other homes. At 144 Glenwood the Palladian window was removed in favor of a single vinyl window, the bay window at the second story was removed for a flat wall, and the full height pilasters at the corners have been removed or covered.

144 Glenwood Avenue: Before and After

Before the work started the homes were neglected, but retained some rich architectural details, making it easy to identify them as unique and varied structures. After the rehabilitation they are thankfully once again livable, but almost indistinguishable from each other.

It’s an interesting contrast to the fantastic job Matt Newtonhas done at the Lyth Cottage on Harwood Place, especially when looking at the cost. To date, Matt has spent about $30,000 on his home and put in a lot of sweat equity. For that price, he has saved a beautiful home that was one its way to the landfill just like these other homes.

While I understand not everyone has the time or is up to the task to restore a home, a part of the problem is because the city does a poor job of marketing available homes for sale. Each of these four homes was previously owned by the city and available for purchase, but only if you knew where to look. There was no sign on the lawn, nothing posted on the door, and navigating the city website for information was a headache. For those who want to learn more about purchasing a city-owned property, check out this great Buffalo blog, Unbreak my House as a duo chronicle their story from start to finish and how to get things done.

291 Northampton Street: Before and After

Longtime local blogger, David Torke (fixBuffalo) chimed in saying, “the concentration of development is really exceptional and a good choice for the neighborhood. Renovating them is very important for the city at this time. The question that remains is why the cost for rehab is so high, it remains unclear why the rehabilitation of each property was specified at such a high cost.”

One reason that the cost is so high is because the jobs must be bid as prevailing wage jobs. A good chunk of the budget is spent on labor rather than materials. It is also likely most of those people doing the labor do not live in the adjacent neighborhood. While it’s great to have some historic homes back online and not in the landfill, it would be dangerous to repeat these types of rehabs too many times.

Those who appreciate architecture love Buffalo for the varied styles and details that can be seen in our buildings on any given street. Imagine if a whole street of homes were rehabilitated in such a manner, the streetscape would become dull and uninteresting. I’m thankful these homes will once again welcome families and be put on the tax rolls, but the end product leaves a lot to be desired.

To see more before and after photos, click the link to my Flickr page.

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Dec 1, 2012

The Lyth Cottage: Preservation in Progress

The Lyth Cottage on Harwood Place is undergoing an incredible transformation. What was once another beautiful Buffalo home on its way to join others before it in the landfill has been rehabilitated for a new life. Owner, Matt Newton, was beaming about the progress he has made during a recent visit.


It took about six months for Matt to purchase the city-owned property through the Homestead program, but the wait was worth it. The entire ordeal was a fine example of grassroots preservation. David Torke, of fixBuffalo, had been championing for the rehabilitation of the home on his blog for years. He took many prospective buyers through, but none were up to the task.

Matt and other homesteaders on the day of the purchase last April
Matt was a follower of David’s blog and fell in love with the Lyth Cottage almost instantly. Fast-forward a few months and through the hard work of all parties involved, Matt was handed a ceremonial key to the property from Stephanie Barber, the head of the Hamlin Park Taxpayers Association. Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. Matt and his family have been hard at work since last April bringing the home back to a livable condition.

The original wood windows remained in the house behind the boarded-up openings and Matt restored each one meticulously rather than replace them. The temporary roof has been replaced with something more permanent and water infiltration is finally no longer an issue after years of neglect. A new steel beam in the basement gives added support for the old home. One of Matt’s recently completed projects has been the installation of radiant heat flooring made by local company, MRT Heat.

Radiant heat panels installed on the first floor, before the application of a finished floor
His most recent accomplishment has been the installation of a signature staircase. The heavy wood planks are refinished oak from the removal of a wooden ramp at 701 Seneca Street in the Larkin District.


The home was built for the family maid of Hamlin Park industrialist John Lyth crica 1886. The Lyth mansion is still intact and located at 183 Northland Ave, just behind the cottage. It was later the home of famed baseball player, Luke Easter. Historically, the land between the two homes was filled with lush gardens and several carriage houses for the family’s car collection and horses.

J. Lyth & Sons Tile Company was a prominent industry begun in 1857 specializing in ceramic tile and sewer pipe, which was located a few blocks away from the Cottage. John brought the production process overseas when he immigrated, which was developed by his brother. The name of the street, Harwood Place, is derived from the maiden name of John Lyth's wife, Mary Ann Harwood. The cottage retains much of its original integrity and was built using many of the products that the Lyth Tile Company produced, including the hollow tile brick and decorative pieces above the windows.

The Lyth Cottage falls within the Hamlin Park local historic district, which is slated to be a National Register Historic District next year. That means the work that Matt has completed could potentially qualify for the historic homeowner tax credit, which is available to all residents in the National Register district for those with a contributing structure and completing qualified rehabilitation work.
For additional photos, check out my Flickr page here.


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