Mar 27, 2013

Architectural Historians to Converge in Buffalo at Annual Conference Next Month

Buffalo is hosting another prestigious conference focused on levering our historic assets. The Society of Architectural Historians will be having their annual conference in the city this April from the 10th to the 14th at the convention center. The event will draw hundreds of visitors to Buffalo from fields like urban planning, architecture, preservation, and architectural history. Registration information is available by clicking here. Online registration ends this Friday, but people will still be able to register on-site the day the conference starts between 7am and 5pm at the convention center.


The primary focus of the conference will be how Buffalo can utilize historic preservation as a tool for long-term urban, cultural and economic sustainability. The conference includes educational sessions and tours of iconic Buffalo buildings like the Kleinhans Music Hall and the Hotel Lafayette. Several local professionals and UB professors are involved in the conference and hosting roundtable discussions, educational sessions, etc.


Tom Yots, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, and Despina Stratigakos, UB associate professor of architecture, are the conference’s local co-chairs. “After arriving in Buffalo, I kept telling people elsewhere what an incredible city it is in terms of the architecture and the planning idea — the creative past and continuing spirit — and at a certain point, I realized that it really has to be seen, in a way, to be absorbed,” Stratigakos said. “Buffalo has many architectural gems, but more than that, there’s a very interesting, radical history here of innovation. SAH has never been to Buffalo in its 65 years of holding meetings, and the last time the conference was held in New York State was in the 1960s, so it’s a big deal that this event is coming to town.”


Here is just one example of many education sessions happening at the conference.  Conservation, Restoration, and Architectural History: “An important part of architectural history entails the study of life within, among, and between the designed spaces of buildings, but the temporal lives of buildings themselves pose a peculiar challenge to architectural historians. As a product of constantly shifting plans and processes, buildings are always caught within a continuous narrative where they inevitably change form, through growth and decay; they are remodeled, expanded, gutted, demolished, forgotten, or rebuilt. The conservator and the architectural historian both search for the origins of these processes, reconstructing primary forms through fragments, photographs, plans, and other historical evidence.

This session explores the possibilities of conservation, in both its historical and practical modes, to accommodate the movement of time, to preserve its fluidity, stabilize its heterogeneity, and render accessible its historical morphology rather than seeking to fix its imaginary origins.”


Information about the SAH public events can be found here and information regarding the tours can be found here. For additional photos from my collection of Buffalo at Night, check out my Flickr page here.

Check out the SAH conference in action from the Detroit conference last year.

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Mar 25, 2013

Great Potential for Residential Church Conversion is Squandered by Owners Unwilling to Sell

Another church on the east side is slated for demolition with an owner who is unwilling to sell. This handsome brick church at 41 Spruce Street (google map) was built for the First German Baptist Church in 1869. The current owners, Trinity Baptist Church, have owned the building since 1940 according to Erie County Property records.


I was able to get in touch with the church, located at 2930 Bailey Avenue and the receptionist informed me that the church will be demolished shortly and they will not consider selling it. This decision apparently comes after a structural report revealed the building was “beyond repair.”


A quick call to Inspections and Demolitions at City Hall confirms that demolition is imminent. I spoke with Taleshia in the office who stated that the owners have a demolition permit, but have not yet raised the necessary funds. Apparently, the owners are able to do a sort of payment plan pre-demo, which once fully funded will mean the end for this 144 year old church.


The following is a brief history of the church from James Napora’s fantastic document, Houses of Worship: A Guide to the Religious Architecture of Buffalo, New York:

“Organized as the fourth Baptist church in the city, the First German Baptist Church was the third German Baptist congregation organized in the United States. In the early 1840s, a small group of German Baptists, under the leadership of Alexander von Puttkamner, a nobleman from Southern Germany, fled the religious persecution of their homeland. Arriving in Buffalo, the group joined the Washington Street Baptist Church also known as the First Baptist Church. Although welcome in the congregation, they did not feel comfortable with the English language service.  On 14 February 1849, twenty-four of these immigrants were dismissed to form their own congregation.

In January 1850, they acquired the property on which the building now stands and converted an old school house located on it for worship. By 1869, they had outgrown that space and had begun plans for the current structure. Recognizing the social importance of the place of worship, they constructed their building in a manner common to most German places of worship of the day. The actual auditorium was raised above street level, allowing for community and classroom space to be located on the lower level. Constructed at a cost of $14,000, they dedicated their new building on 6 February 1870.”


This wouldn’t be the first time a building has come down as a result of a questionable structural report with similar claims, see Bethlehem Steel demolition, but it’s anyone’s guess if that’s the case here. While I’m certainly not an engineer, from my personal observations, the extent of the deterioration seems largely repairable and looks limited to a small section of failed roofing and some slight masonry issues. I've dealt with buildings in my line of work that were in far worse condition than this, but were successfully rehabilitated.

The proximity of the building to downtown is incredible, less than one mile from Lafayette Square, easily reached in five minutes by bicycle. Additionally, Spruce Street is a sleepy little street where I have never encountered problems.

Given the size of this building, it’s not hard to imagine two residential units within it. The first floor classroom space is ideal for an open floor plan and could be easily separated from the upper floor sanctuary space.  The two rooms to the rear of the space, separated by pocket doors, would be ideal for a master bedroom in one and the kitchen in the other. The highlight of the building would be the unit in the sanctuary space.

Classroom space on first floor could be a large living and dining space. The master bedroom could be located in the room to the right with a full bath, while the kitchen could go in the room to the left
A simple design, keeping the space largely open and locating the bedroom on the balcony would allow for a magnificent unit, while retaining the open feeling associated with sanctuary spaces. Dividing the building into two units this way may even be acceptable within the historic tax credit program, which would allow an owner up to 40% in tax credits if the building were a certified historic structure. Churches are difficult to convert within HTC program because the sanctuary space cannot be divided. However, with my design concept the sanctuary would remain open, intact, and provide a wonderful living space for someone with the right vision.

Here is the sanctuary space that would serve as a fantastic living space, with the master bedroom elevated above on the former balcony, which features three large windows behind the structure that housed pipe organ pipes 

If anyone is interested in a serious attempt to try and sway the owners into selling, please get in touch with me and I’ll do my best to meet with them. For additional photos of the church, check out my Flickr page by clicking here.

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Mar 22, 2013

Hamlin Park Historic District Approved for State Listing, Now on the way to National Designation

The Hamlin Park Historic District was approved for listing on the New York State Register of Historic Places at the quarterly meeting yesterday. Now that it has been adopted by the state, the application is on its way to National Park Service for listing on the National Register. Hamlin Park is the first historic district on the east side and is now one of the largest in the state.

Northland Avenue

Out of the nearly 1600 properties within the district boundaries, approximately 1370 of them are contributing structures, while only 190 are non-contributing as a result of integrity loss, significant alterations, loss of feeling/character, etc. That means there are now close to 1400 east side residents that can utilize the state historic tax credit for homeowners, a 20% tax credit. Once listed on the National Register, commercial property owners with contributing structures/homes in the district will also be able to use an additional 20% tax credit from the federal government for qualified rehab work.

Viola Park

Hamlin Park is bound by Jefferson Avenue, East Ferry Street, Humboldt Parkway, and roughly Main Street. Within these boundaries are over 150 years of Buffalo history and an incredible community that has been dedicated to keeping their neighborhood safe and stable, all while preserving its beautiful homes and landscapes. It was approved as a local historic district in 1998 within the same boundaries.

The nomination was prepared by Preservation Studios, pro bono, with survey work and research beginning about two years ago. The process has been a wonderful example of a public-private partnership as the cost of materials and survey work was offset by a “Preserve New York” grant from the Preservation League of New York State, which was matched by the City of Buffalo. 

Humboldt Parkway II

Just like all National Register (NR) nominations, a period of significance needed to be determined for the district. Typically, an individual building listed on the NR uses the original year of construction for its period of significance, while a historic district has a range of years. The period of significance for Hamlin Park is ca.1860; 1895-1975, which is very unique. 1860 relates to the approximate date of construction of the oldest structure in the district, the Old Stone Farmhouse at 60 Hedley place, 1895 relates to the year many of the next oldest homes were built, and 1975 relates to the end of the Model Cities Program (more on that later).

Hughes Avenue

While there are considerations/exceptions, individual buildings built within the last 50 years (1963) are often not eligible for listing on the National Register in most cases and the same goes for historic districts. Ending the period of significance for Hamlin Park in 1975 is virtually unheard of and is likely the only one in the state, maybe the country with that designation.

Beginning next week, I’ll be starting a short series on the history of Hamlin Park (about 5 installments) that pulls directly from the National Register nomination. It covers the former Driving Park where Hamlin Park gets its name, the early agrarian history of the area then the shift to a residential development, post-war transformation, and much more.

Beverly Road I

This state designation and the future national designation is something Buffalo can be proud of, especially as we have so few east side preservation success stories. As a soon to be homeowner in Hamlin Park and someone who played a role in the nomination, this something I’m very proud to have been involved in and years in the making. Special thanks to the Preservation League of New York, the Hamlin Park Community & Taxpayers Association, Preservation Buffalo Niagara, the New York State Historic Preservation Office, and the City of Buffalo.

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Mar 12, 2013

Owner of Bethlehem Steel Agreed to Sell Hours Before Demolition Began

Concerned citizens, preservationists, and architecture buffs looked on in horror as wrecking equipment attacked the unique architectural features of the Bethlehem Steel Administration building Friday afternoon. A few quick blows to the ornate façade dashed all hope the building would be saved after months of hard work and countless hours by a group of dedicated people. Demolition was halted briefly after a temporary restraining order (TRO) was issued, but resumed after the judge lifted the TRO last Friday.


Initially the demo began at the rear of the building and it appeared as though the demolition crew would work their way to the front. However, when the TRO was lifted the wrecking equipment moved to the front of the building. The crews smashed the large pediments, ripped off the ornate copper trimmed dormers, and punched holes all over the façade.

Unfortunately, I’ve watched many demolitions in WNY and every building was strategically demolished, i.e. starting from front to back or left to right. No other demolition I’ve witnessed began as haphazardly as Bethlehem Steel. The attack on only the architectural features was completely deliberate.


David Torke of fixBuffalo and others were fighting until the last minute to save the iconic structure and talks were going well. He explains, “I met with [the owner] Steven Detweiler at his home Thursday evening, contacted our legal team and with the cooperation of Judge Dillon's law clerk we scheduled a settlement conference in NYS Supreme Court for the following morning.” Judge Dillion was receptive to the cause and indicated that he would clear his calendar. While discussing the a settlement with Detweiler, he agreed to sell the building to a new entity, a 501c3, for less than $100k. He'd already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell.


“All parties and their respective attorneys agreed to meet, which was the first time Steven Detweiler and Mayor Szymanski had been in the same room. Detweiler already had numerous conversations with local (supportive) attorney Bill Magavern and agreed to sell. On Friday morning I sat down with the mayor and his father-in-law, Norm LeBlanc the City's attorney.  During the next 90 minutes they were becoming allies in our struggle to save the building.  However, Steven Detweiler changed the terms, he demanded that we make a $200K, non-refundable deposit and complete all renovations to the building by the end of 2013” said Torke.

“Our attorney, Richard Berger appealed to Detweiler's business sense and described how long and involved historic reuse planning and renovations often take, but Detweiler's new demands were non-negotiable. He indicated that his demolition contractor was instructed to clean-up the back of the building and informed us that he'd keep channels open to a potential settlement through the day.”   


Just a few hours later, Detweiler’s demolition crew began destroying the administration building with no further contact from Detweiler. The building was not only important to the greater story of America, but should have been important to Lackawanna, because Lackawanna Steel built the city as a company town. It’s not often you get the chance to point to a building and say, “this is why our city exists, this is genesis for us” and now the Steven Detweiler has ensured the people of Lackawanna never can. “What happened three hours later after our meeting was criminal,” Torke continued, “it was cultural rape and people should never forget that Steven Detweiler did this.”  

For additional photos of the ongoing demolition, click here to go to my Flickr page.


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Mar 5, 2013

Another Lost Opportunity on the East Side, Genesee and Doat

Another east side gem is headed for the landfill after a suspicious fire ravaged this great building at Genesee and Doat Streets. The building has been vacant since the 1990s and was relatively intact, with the exception of a small section of the east wall collapsing. The open floor plan of the structure and massive windows could have been an incredible space for someone with the right vision and the money. This is just another in a long list of east side buildings that deserved better, like the Brecker Building that was just down the street.


The interior was similar to many other commercial buildings that have been converted to industrial lofts. Hardwood floors were in decent shape, the large window openings brought in lots of natural light, and the high ceilings with exposed rafters could have created a unique residence.


It was likely built in the 1920s, but I haven’t gotten a chance to research too much of its history. The building appears on the 1950 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, but not the 1917 map and given the style and construction, I would say the 1920s is a fair bet for now.


It was used as a Desoto Automobile dealership, but more recently was toy store operated by the Golebiewski family, which closed in 1991. Several people including Chris Schmidt of Buffalo Rising, fondly recall shopping there as children. After the toy store closed, it was owned by a handful of others including the City of Buffalo, several times. It is currently owned by Steven Winter & Associates based in Cincinnati, OH.


There are still dozens of buildings just like this one all over Buffalo, especially the east side, that have an uncertain future. Hopefully, things will begin to turn in the right direction in some areas and people will recognize the opportunities these buildings hold.

For additional photos of the building before and after the fire, check out my Flickr page here.

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