Aug 28, 2013

St. Ann’s Church Demolition on Hold as the Diocese and PBN Work Together to Find Alternatives

The Diocese of Buffalo and Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN) have engaged in a collaborative effort to find a reuse for the St. Ann’s Church Campus. Demolition of the iconic structure has been placed on hold as the two entities work together to find a buyer with an appropriate plan for the rehabilitation and redevelopment of the site. Selling is now officially an option back on the table.


Tom Yots, executive director of PBN, leveraged his long time relationship with the spokesman of the Diocese, Kevin Keenan to discuss saving the church. “We’re at this point because Tom picked up the phone and got in touch with me,” said Keenan, “Tom got in touch with me last Wednesday and the following day we had a meeting with the Bishop to discuss pursing reuse options.”


At this time there is an interested entity, but others are being courted as alternatives to ensure all options are considered. “Right now the plan to demolish St. Ann’s is on hold while we explore an opportunity to redevelop the complex,” said Keenan. The complex includes not only the church, but also the adjacent convent, and massive school to the rear of the property. In the ideal scenario all buildings would be rehabilitated and the church would be supported by the new uses in the ancillary buildings.

Former St. Ann's school behind the church
“If the church is indeed sold, it will not be used as a Catholic church again. It is possible that another religious denomination may reuse the church, but that would be up to the new owner. For the time being all artifacts will remain in place, but in the future the shrine to St. Ann will be removed and relocated so devotions to St. Ann can continue at another worship site,” explained Keenan.

Cornerstone of the school
While a definitive deadline for pursuing the reuse option has not been established, both PBN and the Diocese do not want a long drawn out process. “It is to the community’s benefit to work as quickly as possible,” explained Yots, “PBN plays an informative role in the community about historic preservation and we will be providing updates regularly.”


The next step is bringing in a third party to analyze the existing structural reports that were previously completed and a new structural assessment will be performed. 


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Aug 27, 2013

St. Francis De Sales Church Gets a Price Chop

St. Francis De Sales Church at 575 Humboldt Parkway (google map) has just reduced the asking price from $450,000 to $375,000. Its location in the Hamlin Park Historic District enables the new owner to pursue the 40% historic tax credits for qualified rehabilitation work. I've previously profiled the church and its history, which can be seen here.


The cornerstone for the massive limestone church was laid in 1926 and it was completed in 1928. St. Francis was designed by George Dietel, one of the architects who designed our incredible Art Deco city hall. Dietel got some input on the design from Murphy & Olmsted architects in Washington, D.C. Although the school was demolished years ago, the former parish house is still present to the rear of the church and also separately for sale, here's the listing. It has been operated as successful rooming house and is also rich with details throughout.


Although the nave still cannot be divided within the historic tax credit program, the nine-foot ceilings in the basement provide the opportunity to build a few studio apartments and lease the space upstairs to a larger tenant. The large space would be ideal for a business looking for an open floor plan or traditional reuses options like music venue, performance space, etc.


Get in touch with listing agent Cory Haqq at Hastings+Cohn by clicking here. For additional photos of the church check out my Ipernity page here.



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Aug 26, 2013

CAO Releases Preliminary Site Plan and Designs for Deaconess Heights Project

The Community Action Organization of Erie County (CAO) presented their current site plan and concepts for the new homes that are planned for the former Deaconess Hospital site at 1001 Humboldt Parkway (google map).

Concept One

Deaconess Hospital was demolished in April by the previous owners, Kalieda Health, before it was transferred to the CAO. The plans call for 72 new residential units on the hospital site with individual homes along Humboldt Parkway and a large apartment complex to the west of the property.

Concept Two
Concept Three

The site plan for the Deaconess Heights development is currently under review by the City of Buffalo and may change between now and the time the development gets underway. Check back for more updates as they become available. Click any images for a large size, especially the site plan below.

Site Plan 7-22-2013

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Aug 23, 2013

Preservation Buffalo Niagara Working to Avoid Demolition of St. Ann's Church

The following statement comes directly from Preservation Buffalo Niagara regarding the threat of demolition at St. Ann's Church and Shrine at Broadway and Emslie streets.

Earlier this week the Diocese of Buffalo announced the planned demolition of St. Ann’s Church on Broadway Avenue in Buffalo. The announcement comes nearly a year and half after the Diocese closed the church as a temporary worship site as a result of safety concerns posed by the building’s exterior condition. In April of this year an engineering study revealed a multi-million dollar estimate for reconstruction and repair of the church’s stone structure. Preservation Buffalo Niagara(PBN) is determined to find a viable alternative to the impending demolition of this historic landmark.


Constructed in 1886, the towering Neo-Gothic church has been a cultural and community landmark for its East Side neighborhood for 127 years. Deeply rooted in European building tradition, the imposing scale of the structure is highlighted by two magnificent spires which once stood 200 feet high. The exterior of St. Ann’s is only rivaled by the ornate and elaborate interior of the church. Within the 7 foot-thick stonewalls the soaring nave and transept is home to hundreds of historic and religious artifacts, many from 19th Century Germany, including thirty-five stunning stained glass windows that line the interior space. In addition to the primary church building, the St Ann’s campus consists of a school, a rectory and convent all with their own historic detail, significances and charm.


PBN, acting in its role as Western New York’s leading not-for-profit historic preservation advocate, is seeking to facilitate a positive community discussion about the future of St. Ann’s. PBN is intent on working with all members of the Western New York community who have an interest in saving one of our region’s most remarkable treasures. PBN is currently working with past and present parishioners of St Ann’s, real estate professionals, developers as well as government and elected officials. New York State Senator Tim Kennedy has joined the effort offering all available resources to the cause.


“The legacy of St. Ann's Church runs deep into Buffalo's storied history. For 127 years, this beautiful church has towered over the East Side neighborhood," said Senator Tim Kennedy. "Children grew up here, couples were married here, neighbors gathered here, and families relied on St. Ann's. So much history will live on in our hearts, but we could never recreate this masterpiece church. It would be a tragedy to lose such a treasure. Our community is rallying behind the parishioners and neighbors, and now we must stick together, think creatively and work hard to save St. Ann's Church for generations to come.


After the cornerstone was laid in 1878, the construction of St. Ann’s became a community affair. Local craftsmen, masons, carpenters and the rest of the surrounding community came together to lend a hand anyway they could in building the magnificent structure that we have inherited. Now it is our turn to do our part to save and preserve the history of our ancestors. PBN is calling on all members of the community who have an interest in St Ann’s, an expertise that might be of assistance to this cause or who would like to share a St. Ann’s related story to contact us immediately at or (716) 852-3300. If we work together it is possible to save this landmark for future generations to enjoy.

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Come Help Out with a Historic Movie Theatre on Bailey Avenue Tomorrow


Buffalo's Young Preservationists are heading to the Uptown Theatre (Originally the Varsity) at 3163 Bailey Avenue, Saturday August 24th from 10am to 2pm to assist the owner with some final items to get the theatre operational again. Owner, Abraham Cisse has been profiled before for his work along the Bailey Avenue corridor acting as president of the business association, more on that by clicking here


The clean-up is not only sponsored by BYP, but also is getting help from the University Heights Tool Library and Bailey Business Association. Tools will be supplied, just bring yourself and the energy to work. Stay up to date with BYP events and information on their Facebook page here and don't forget to check out the tool library by clicking here.

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Aug 20, 2013

Emergency Meeting for the Future of St. Ann’s Church Tomorrow

The parishioners of St. Ann’s are not taking the demolition news lightly and have assembled once again to find alternatives or halt the demolition. If you are interested in helping the cause, have an idea for reuse, happen to be a rich developer with a blank check, or just want to be in the loop with the latest news, please consider attending.


The meeting will be held tomorrow, August 21st at 7pm in the hall of SS Columba & Brigid Church at 75 Hickory St, Buffalo, NY 14204. If you plan to attend, this is not going to be a place to just vent your anger with the Diocese, come to lend your support and ideas for saving this iconic church.

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Aug 19, 2013

Diocese of Buffalo Plans to Demolish St. Ann's Church Later This Year Citing Expensive Structural Concerns

Another incredible piece of Buffalo’s architectural heritage may be headed to the landfill later this year. The magnificent edifice that is St. Ann’s Church and Shrine on Broadway and Emslie will be reduced to rubble as the Diocese has deemed structural repairs too costly to complete (google map).


Last year Bishop Kmiec closed the 127 year old church without a long term plan, leaving the people wondering what would become of their long time place of worship. Once the church was closed, parishioners continued to perform masses in the basement of the large school to the rear of the church. The cornerstone of St. Ann’s was laid in 1878 and the church was dedicated nearly a decade later on May 16th, 1886.


The new Bishop, Richard Malone announced yesterday that the estimated cost of $8 to $12 million is too much for the Diocese to afford so demolition is the only option at this point. He also mentioned that those who are still worshipping in the school basement couldn’t continue their services there. They were encouraged to join the services at SS Columba-Brigid Church (google map) or elsewhere.


Bids for demolition have yet to occur, but will likely come soon according to Kevin Keenan, a spokesperson for the Diocese. When asked about selling the church he said, “We did have the church on the market a while ago and there was an interested party. However, they walked away because of the structural issues. Selling is not an option now.”

David Hirschbine is one of the people still fighting to save St. Ann’s Church and believes demolition is not the answer.  “What’s false about what the Diocese of Buffalo is doing, is saying the building will fall down any day and that’s just not the case. For half a million dollars or less the building can have immediate structural issues addressed in the short term, which would buy us time for a long term plan” said Hirschbine.


The Diocese hired Arbour Construction Management years ago to complete a structural assessment of the building, which did not return favorable results. “Arbour Construction took reports that were eight to ten years old for the basis of their report” says Hirschbine. “After we brought in other firms looking for a second opinion, the Diocese contracted with Siracuse Engineers for an updated conditions report.” The result was largely the same, stating the structure requires massive investment and is in danger of imminent collapse.


Parishioners have been doing everything in their power to try and stop the Diocese from demolishing their beloved church. “We’ve been working closely with the Vatican in an attempt to gain support and there is an appeal in Rome that we are actively pursuing” explains Hirschbine.


If the Diocese does move forward with the demolition, “Once the site is cleared and transformed into green space, it will be available for future development” according to their official announcement about the razing, which can be viewed here. The article goes on to state, “The engineering study found that over the years, major capital projects at St. Ann’s were scaled back and preventative maintenance was postponed, resulting in an increased rate of deterioration.”


If you’re curious about the Diocese of Buffalo’s finances you can see their official financial report of 2011 here and 2012 here. For additional interior and exterior photos of the church and complex, check out my Ipernity page here.

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Aug 15, 2013

The History of Hamlin Park Part IV: Hamlin's Driving Park and the Home Builders

Now that Hamlin Park has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places I've decided to do a short series of the history of the neighborhood. This information comes directly from the National Register nomination that Preservation Studios completed. Check back for additional installations in the series in the coming weeks. Stay up to date with all things Hamlin Park by liking the Hamlin Park Historic District on Facebook.


The other component of the Hamlin Park district was originally home of Cicero J. Hamlin’s Buffalo Driving Park. Cicero Jabez Hamlin was born on November 1819 on a mountain farm in Columbia County, NY and was the youngest of ten children. His family was born in New England and his father was a Methodist preacher. Hamlin moved to the Western New York region in 1836 and settled in East Aurora, a village to the southeast of Buffalo. By 1839 he had established a general store in the village that was relatively successful.
Cicero Jabez Hamlin - 1888
Cicero Hamlin moved to Buffalo in 1846 and established a dry-goods business under the name of Wattles & Hamlin, which was located at 252 Main Street. The partnership was dissolved the following year and Hamlin carried on alone until 1852. He established himself as a key employee in the carpet and home furnishings company of Mendsen and Co. in 1860. This proved to be another successful venture for Hamlin, who enlarged the business and reorganized it under the name of Hamlin & Mendsen during the same year.  He retired from the dry-goods business in 1871, but he continued to lease the Main Street building. Hamlin built a new building at 256-268 Main in 1888 that was designed by noted architect Cyrus K. Porter. At the time it was built, it was “the largest store in the city and one of Buffalo’s most noteworthy buildings.”  The building was dubbed, “The Hamlin Block” and was built for Barnes, Hengerer, & Co. Although it has been altered over the years, the building is still extant.
Hamlin Block in c.1890
Hamlin built many other buildings in the area between 1848 and 1888, including a house for his family at 432 Franklin Street, which remains intact as an example of Italianate residential architecture.  Hamlin’s East Aurora farm was used to breed over 500 cattle per year and was quite the attraction. The building is currently used as a restaurant and banquet facilities called the Hamlin House.

One of Hamlin’s crowning achievements was establishing the Driving Park on Buffalo’s east side.  Hamlin purchased the land in 1868 and built the Driving Park as a harness racing track and polo grounds in the same year. He was not alone in this venture, which became, “world famous in the annals of the race-course.” The Driving Park was a popular attraction and at its height was able to draw over 40,000 people in a single weekend, earning it the nickname, “The Kentucky Derby of the North.”

1888 Fair
Hamlin's Driving Park, which later was home to the Expo of 1888-1889
It was so important that Olmsted incorporated it into his design for Humboldt Parkway, which defined its eastern boundary. Patrons of the driving park would often spend the day enjoying the races, then walk en masse south on Humboldt Parkway until reaching The Parade (Humboldt/MLK Jr. Park). They would then enjoy inexpensive beers at the parade house designed by Calvert Vaux. After its popularity waned at the end of the nineteenth century, the driving park was abandoned. 

Fair Ad Front
Advertisement for the 1889 Fair on the former Driving Park Grounds
Fair Ad Back
Backside of the 1889 Fair advertisement
In 1888, the driving park was sold for development as an International Industrial and Agricultural Exposition. In 1896 the buildings were destroyed by fire and, although it was reported that Hamlin might rebuild the driving park, the venture was ultimately abandoned. In 1912 the driving park tract was sold to Toronto developer John C. Cook.  This marked the beginning of the transformation to a residential section.  Although Cook intended to rename it ‘Melrose Lawn,’ the name ‘Hamlin Park’ stuck.  Cook’s plan rejected nineteenth-century picturesque ideas and looked to progressive twentieth-century urban concepts. Lots were broad and uniform in design, with aligned setbacks and could not be subdivided. The driving park was a rectangular area bounded by Northland Avenue at the north, East Ferry Street at the south, Lonsdale Road to the west and Humboldt Parkway to the east.

Driving Park Layout
Original plot layout when the Driving Park went residential. Collection of Buffalo History Museum


Unlike some of the wealthier areas of Buffalo during this time period, the homes in Hamlin Park often showed little variety in their styles and were designed and built primarily by contractors. Some of the homes were also variations on styles that were offered in mail order catalogs made popular by companies like Sears & Roebuck during this period. Almost half of all the buildings in Hamlin Park have been documented as being constructed by one of several building companies.

The most prominent builder in Hamlin Park was the Volgamore-Cook Company, which built over fifty-eight houses in the district. The majority of the homes built by the Volgamore-Cook Company were located on Beverly Road, which was one of the last streets to be developed in the area. There were approximately six different styles of houses on the street, and some repeated exactly, while others had slight changes in details or fenestration. The Volgamore-Cook Company constructed the houses on Beverly between 1915 and 1920 as consumer demand fueled construction.  After the partnership with Cook dissolved, Volgamore went on to build at least twenty-three more homes by himself. Other prominent builders include the International Home Building Company, Robert E. Burger, Niederpreum & Co., F.T. Jenzen Builders, and George Steinmiller.

Beverly Road II
Homes by Volgamore-Cook on Beverly Road, complete with original planted median

Many of the prominent builders published advertisements filled with enticing descriptions between 1913 and the mid-1920s. Shortly after the driving park section started to develop, there was a large push to extend streets and build more homes. The International Home Building Company added another quarter section just one year after acquiring the property. An article in the Buffalo Express from that year explained, “The International Home Building Company is putting on another quarter section and extending Goulding Avenue west, as well as Wohlers Avenue through Northland. The opening up of these thoroughfares will facilitate traffic in this vicinity and will gradually improve the property.”

1912 - Ferry & Wohlers
Homes under construction on East Ferry at Wohlers Avenue. Note the brick entry columns, no longer extant. Collection of Buffalo History Museum
An advertisement from 1913 really captured what the development in Hamlin Park meant: “The value of the land as a place to live will never be impaired by unsightly structures nor unpleasant surroundings.” Even after a century, this statement still holds true.

Many home building companies that built in the Hager Division also constructed similar homes in the Driving Park section during or near the same period. The style of houses generally includes variations of the Queen Anne, Craftsman, and Colonial Revival, though nearly all are two-story frame-dwellings featuring open porches. Like many streetcar neighborhoods, there was a mix of doubles and singles to accommodate families seeking to rent or own. On any given block one can find the same house type repeated, but individual examples are differentiated from neighboring homes by details such as porch pediments, types of columns, placement of dormers, and variations in materials. As a result, similar architectural characteristics are carried through the entire district, creating a feeling of continuity throughout the neighborhood.


Several of the streets in the Hamlin Park District were named after prominent Buffalonians of the early 20th century. Although the history behind each of the street names is not readily available, some of them have been well documented.

Harwood Place
This short, dead-end street is located in the driving park section of Hamlin Park and was named after Mary Ann Harwood Lyth. Mary Ann was the wife of John Lyth who operated the first hollow tile factory in the United States, located in Buffalo. John and Mary Ann were married in their home country of England before immigrating to Buffalo. Before the street developed as residential land, it originally served as a drive that lead to the extensive stables and orchards behind the Lyth family mansion (183 Northland).

1872 - Lyth Mansion
Lyth Mansion constructed in 1872
The process of hollow tile making was invented by John’s brother, Francis Lyth of York, England. When John and his family immigrated to the United States, he brought along the techniques his brother developed in order to establish a new industry in Buffalo. John’s son, Byron, was a prominent homebuilder in Hamburg and built his own home in Hamlin Park at 2 Goulding Avenue. Some of the company’s products, like chimney pots, can be seen on several homes in Hamlin Park. One of the best-known examples of the decorative tile the company produced remains intact on the fa├žade of 16 Harwood Place, which served as the home of the Lyth family servants

Lyth cottage on Harwood Place, just behind the family mansion

Lyth Avenue, which is just outside the district, was renamed in honor of John’s grandson, Alfred L. Lyth, who served as president of the company. Alfred also operated the first Chevrolet dealership in Buffalo, located at 1159 Jefferson Avenue, opened in 1922 (extant). The street originally served as the driveway for the hollow tile factory that John Lyth established.

Hedley Place
Charles Harits Hedley was an instrumental figure in developing the Main-Humboldt area of Hamlin Park. Hedley served as treasurer of the Parkway Land Company and when he purchased this tract in the late nineteenth century, there wasn’t a single home on the land, which the exception of the Stone Farmhouse.

Hedley & Jefferson
South side of Hedley Place at Jefferson Avenue
Donaldson Road
Donaldson Road was named after prominent Buffalo banker Robert S. Donaldson. He was a self-made man who rose in the ranks of the Erie County Savings bank from office boy to president, serving the company for 64 years. Donaldson was a conservative, who seemed to always make the wisest decisions to secure the future of the bank. During the years prior to the Depression, his conservative choices enabled the bank to survive the market crash in 1929.

The grass plot circle on Donaldson, just above the hidden Scajaquada Creek

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