Aug 7, 2013

The History of Hamlin Park Part II: The Architecture and Streets

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 Architecture

The Hamlin Park Historic District developed rather quickly, with most of homes and commercial buildings built between 1895 and the early 1920s. The buildings in the area north of Northland Avenue was well underway about fifteen years prior to the Driving Park section (south of Northland) because the land laid dormant until 1912 when it was sold for residential development. As a result of this short development era, the architecture is very similar throughout Hamlin Park. The form, size, materials, fenestration, and architectural details are often repeated, but vary enough so that homes often appear as individual designs.

This  home on Hedley Place repeats nearly a dozen times on the street, with slight variations

The majority of the buildings were constructed by local builders who utilized existing plans or pattern books for the homes, which reflect popular architectural styles of the time. Homes are typically sited on lots approximately 30x100 feet and often rectangular in plan. Common features that repeat on homes throughout the district include bay windows, large open porches, dormers, wood porch columns, and leaded glass windows. Most of the homes are two and a half stories with gable or hip roofs, but smaller Bungalow style homes with low-slung side gabled roofs are present throughout.

This stately Victorian on Humboldt Parkway was likely adapted from a pattern book of the period and repeats at least two times throughout Buffalo, with slight changes to fenestration and detailing

On primary thoroughfares like Northland and East Delavan Avenues, there are small-scale commercial buildings present. These typical corner store buildings of the early 20th century feature storefronts on the first floor and flats on the second floor. A small grouping of homes even received one-story storefront additions that often served as barbershops or bakeries, while maintaining the original home behind.  

Several larger commercial buildings are scattered throughout Hamlin Park, such as the three-story masonry commercial/residential building on Oakgrove and Hughes Avenues, which seems to tower over the two story homes surrounding it.

Churches that fit well within the scale of the residential blocks are also scattered throughout the neighborhood, with the much larger ones located prominently on Humboldt Parkway. These churches are constructed of brick and/or stone and represent typical designs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The smaller churches are typically Gothic Revival, while the larger churches take cues from Neo-Classicism and Renaissance styles.

St. Francis De Sales Church on Humboldt Parkway and Northland Avenue
The Streets of Hamlin Park

Jefferson Avenue is a primary north-south street that begins at Seneca Street and terminates at Main Street, just as Forest Lawn Cemetery begins. Jefferson Avenue was once a prominent commercial strip with an electric streetcar line that ran its full length. Although its popularity has waned, many commercial buildings like former bakeries, pharmacies, and theaters remain. The portion of Jefferson Avenue that defines Hamlin Park’s western boundary is mostly individual homes, but there are several apartment buildings and small-scale commercial buildings. Just outside the boundaries, south of East Ferry Street, the amount of commercial buildings on Jefferson Avenue increases significantly.

Lonsdale Road and Wohlers Avenue are located in the Driving Park portion of Hamlin Park, between the east (Humboldt Parkway) and west (Jefferson Avenue) boundaries of the district. Homes on the east-west streets that begin at Lonsdale Road face their respective streets and as a result, homes are only located on the west side of Lonsdale. Setbacks are uniform down Lonsdale (approximately fifteen feet) and low, lush hedges define most of the lots. Several mature trees remain down both sides of the street and curbs are a mix of sandstone and granite.

Butler Avenue at Wohlers
Looking west down Butler Avenue at Wohlers Avenue

Wohlers Avenue, similar to Lonsdale Road, runs from East Ferry Street to Northland Avenue and homes on the east-west streets that intersect it, face their respective streets. Originally, homes were meant to face Wohlers for its entire length, but the site plan changed so that lots only faced it between East Ferry Street and Butler Avenue. As one moves north on Wohlers, the number of trees increases and creates a wonderful tree canopy that almost envelops the whole street.

Pansy Place, Daisy Place, Blaine and Oakgrove Avenues were laid out by August Hager, who was clearly influenced by the design Frederick Law Olmstead created for the Parkside neighborhood to the northwest. Pansy and Daisy Place frame the picturesque Viola Park and were named after Hager’s favorite flowers.

Oakgrove avenue extends north from East Delavan Avenue on a slight angle, intersects the east end of Blaine, and crosses Humboldt Parkway. Blaine Avenue is a standard rectilinear block until it crosses Oakgrove, where rather than continue through to Humboldt Parkway, it curves dramatically south to meet East Delavan Avenue instead. This change in the street’s direction was likely done to minimize the interruptions of cross streets through the block of homes that face Humboldt Parkway.

One of few commercial buildings nestled in the neighborhood rather than on a primary commercial street

Elton and Victor Place are both dead-end streets with less than a dozen homes each. The fenestration pattern and design of the buildings are fundamentally the same and typically only vary in cladding materials or porch design. On Elton Place, there are less homes on the west side of the street than the east side because the Scajaquada Creek runs below, hidden by culverts that capped it c.1920.

Glendale Place, Eastwood Place, and Loring Avenue were designed to be sympathetic to Olmsted’s Humboldt Parkway. Rather than cutting straight from east to west, the streets begin to curve north as they approach the Parkway. As Eastwood and Loring continue past the boundary and across Humboldt Parkway, the streets reverse their curve, which creates a slow and graceful ‘S’ shape. Although the beauty of this transition is largely lost at the pedestrian level due to the intrusive Kensington Expressway, it can still be seen from above.

Hughes Avenue, Blaine Avenue, and Hedley Place represent the shift from the curving streets of the eastern portion of the Hager Division, to the standardized rectangular blocks in the western portion. Mature trees tower over Hughes Avenue between Jefferson and Meech, standing over fifty feet tall. As one continues east on Hughes, the height of the trees diminish, but the density increases as branches extend over the street to meet in the center.

The massive trees on Hughes Avenue that are original to the residential development of the area

The same density and tree canopy that is present on Hughes is repeated the full length of Blaine Avenue and Hedley Place to the south. The Stone Farmhouse at 60 Hedley Place stands out among the other homes on the street and dates to the mid-19th century. Composed of eighteen-inch thick limestone walls, the building stands as a testament to the agrarian past of the area before residential interests took off. It was recently listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing restoration to serve meeting space for the Hamlin Park Community & Taxpayers Association.

Hedley Place derives its name from Charles Harits Hedley, who 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.

The rehabilitated Stone Farmhouse at 60 Hedley Place from c.1820 to 1860

East Delavan Avenue and Northland Avenue completely bisect Hamlin Park and feature mostly residential buildings, with small-scale commercial buildings. Both streets continue past the eastern boundary of Humboldt Parkway, but Northland Avenue is disconnected from its eastern portion by the Expressway.

Many of the small-scale commercial buildings were purpose built from the start with storefronts on the first floor and flats on the second floor. As the availability of lots diminished and commercial development increased, some homeowners added one-story storefront additions. The storefront buildings present on Northland Avenue are located at Hager Street; two were designed as storefront buildings and the other two were converted from existing residences.

A concentration of small commercial buildings on East Delavan Avenue begins at the intersection of Oakgrove Avenue. There is a storefront building on each corner dating to the early 20th century and several storefront addition buildings adjacent. At the intersection of East Delavan and Daisy Place there is another cluster of storefront buildings from the same time period.

268 E. Delavan Avenue
A beautiful and underutilized commercial building on East Delavan Avenue

Beverly Road, Viola Park, Donaldson Road, and Brunswick Boulevard each has an original landscape feature that defined the street. Beverly Road and Brunswick Boulevard have a planted median down the center of the street, approximately four feet wide. The median on Beverly Road runs the length of the street, but is only present on a small section of Brunswick Boulevard, between Jefferson and Lonsdale. Both medians feature small trees, shrubbery and potted plants.

Donaldson Road, similarly to Blaine Avenue, changes as one moves from west to east. The first block of Donaldson is a standard rectangular street, but once it crosses Wohlers Avenue and begins to terminate, the design changes. Donaldson Road turns north at a ninety-degree angle and meets Northland Avenue rather than cutting through to Humboldt Parkway. At the turning point there is a simple landscaped circle, about fifty feet across. The street could not continue past this point for two reasons; the Scajaquada Creek is located directly below and it would have come too close to the former St. Francis De Sales Church and School (demolished) on Humboldt Parkway.

The planted circle on Donaldson, just above the now hidden Scajaquada Creek

The street 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.

Viola Park is the street that best illustrates Hager’s attempt to incorporate nature into his street design. Located at the center of the brick paved street is an elliptical park, approximately one hundred-fifty feet long and about forty feet wide. Homes on either side of Viola face the miniature park and have generous setbacks compared to those streets around it. Just like Pansy and Daisy Place, Hager named Viola Park after one of his favorite flowers.

The elliptical shaped park at the center of Hager's Viola Park

Hamlin Road, Butler Avenue, and Goulding Avenue are bisected by Wohlers Avenue and begin at the intersection of Lonsdale Avenue and continue to Humboldt Parkway where they terminate. Residents of Hamlin Park originally enjoyed a view down these blocks that ended with the mature trees of Humboldt Parkway that appeared almost as a forest in the distance. The density and integrity of these streets remains largely intact, but the view of the Parkway is no more due to the Kensington Expressway.

Click here for Part I in the series.

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