The Beck Family Home

The Beck Family Home

After writing and publishing a post about an urban hike I did in the Medical Corridor, I received an email from a reader regarding a home that used to be at 923 Washington Street, now an empty lot (photo above). What a story it turned out to be! 

I had originally reported in the post, that word on the street told me that there was a home on Washington Street at the corner of Carlton. And that the city had tried to take ownership for development. There were two sisters who were in their 90’s living there. They fought the city in court to keep their home. But eventually the sisters and the city came to an agreement to move the house. The person who told me the story didn’t know where the house had supposedly been moved to.

The address at 923 is now a vacant lot. I lamented that the two elderly ladies went through an awful lot of grief to make way for a vacant lot.

After publishing, I received an email from a reader revealing the real story. I did a little research on my own, and decided to write a whole new post about the Beck family home, because I think it’s important that we learn from our mistakes. And I believe that what happened in this case was a mistake. This is what I’ve learned.

The Original Home

The home in question was not moved off of the property on Washington Street, but had been moved to that location. But, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

The home was built sometime around the Civil War, by the grandfather of sisters, Anna and Veronica Beck. It was built on Ralph Street, or Ralph Alley as it was known at the time. Ralph Alley used to run parallel to and one block west of Michigan Avenue near Goodell.

Who Lived There?

Most of the people living on Ralph Alley throughout the late 1800s and into the 1900s were either German immigrants or descendants of German immigrants. Most of the men worked in some way, shape or form in Buffalo’s brewing industry.

Homes on Ralph Street (Alley), since torn down. Photo courtesy of Steve Cichon
Torn-Down Tuesday: Ralph Street has been wiped off the map

The occupation of Anna and Veronica’s grandfather is unknown. As is the occupation of their father, Frank Beck. I believe Anna lived in her grandfather’s home and took care of it on a full time basis. Veronica, however, according to census records, worked as a bookkeeper for Marine Bank. All of the family members, including Frank’s wife Lillian (mother of Anna & Veronica) lived in the home at 42 Ralph Alley. They were members of St. Louis Church on the corner of Main and Edward Streets.

Funny to think of that now. But back then, extended family members lived together much more often. Anna and Veronica lived with their parents, and probably their grandparents until the elders passed away. Think about that for a minute. I love my kids and everything, but I’ll admit I’m glad they don’t live with us anymore. And I’m pretty sure they’re happy about it too. Just sayin.

So, What Happened?

In the 1970’s most of the neighborhood around the Beck home at 42 Ralph Alley was razed as part of the Oak Street Urban Renewal Project. The project included the building of the McCarley Gardens apartments. The neighborhood was very densely populated with homes. Over a hundred were torn down. Anna and Veronica took the city to court in order to save theirs.

McCarley Gardens as they appear today at the corner of Michigan and Goodell.

It was a lengthy court battle, roughly two years, but the sisters won. Well, sort of. The city agreed to move the house from its original spot on Ralph Street, to the corner of Washington and Carlton, aka 923 Washington Street. Through tough negotiation, the sisters were deeded the land as well, and it was stipulated (by the sisters) that upon the death of the last family member, the home would be torn down and the city was to be given an option to buy back the land for $100. Both the sisters and officials for the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency signed the agreement.

From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon

The sisters were happy with the outcome. And by that I mean I’m sure they would have preferred that none of it had happened, but they didn’t lose their home. And they could still walk to their beloved St. Louis Catholic Church, which was apparently one of the sticking points in the negotiations. They had lived in the shadow of the great spire of St. Louis their whole lives and didn’t want to leave it. Now, they wouldn’t have to.

View of St. Louis Church from the lot where Anna Beck’s home once stood at 923 Washington Street.

The sisters lived out their days in the home (Veronica passed away a number of years before Anna).

Anna Beck Dies

In 1998, Anna Beck, the last surviving family member passed away. Per the agreement entered into with the city, her will stipulated that the home be torn down and the city be given the option to purchase the property for $100.  

Well, guess what?  The city changed its mind.  To be fair, the common council of 1998 were somewhat more preservation minded than those of the 1970s.  The common council felt certain that the home was historic (although it held no such distinction) and so the city took the Estate of Anna Beck to court to block the demolition.

Attorney for Anna Beck, Mary Kennedy Martin, argued that Ms. Beck was adamant the house be demolished.

It seemed the City of Buffalo and the late Anna Beck had unfinished business.

What About the Home Itself?

The home itself was a veritable museum at this point.  It was reported at the time that it appeared that no updates had taken place in the home after the 1930s.  The contents included cooking utensils, an early Hoover vacuum cleaner, a refrigerator that was not much more than an ice box, a wringer washing machine, a treadle sewing machine (run on foot power!) and vintage 1930’s furniture.  All still being used in the 1990s! Anna cooked on the same cast iron stove her mother used before her.  The home was painted the same yellow color with green trim.

Amazing.

The Final Fate of 923 Washington

But, in a court of law, the will stood up to the challenge.  Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina ruled for Ms. Beck, as her will was very clear and ironclad. In what he called a very difficult decision, he had to uphold the letter of the law (as he is charged) and ordered that the executor of Anna’s estate go through with the demolition. The ruling itself is a fascinating read. (Believe me, I know what that sounds like!) Read it here.

Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina examines the cast iron stove Ms. Beck cooked on until her death in 1998. From a Buffalo News clipping. Original photo by Sharon Cantillon.

The executor, by the way, was the Rev. Louis Gonter, who was a parish priest for the Diocese of Buffalo. The bulk of Anna’s estate, amounting to roughly $150,000 was left to St. Louis Catholic Church, which meant so much to Anna and her family.

What Else?

Throughout my research into this topic, I found myself wondering about Anna Beck. Wish I could have met her. She must have been the definition of a complete minimalist. I think I live pretty simply. But not like Anna Beck.

I have so many unanswered questions. Why would she have been so adamant about having the house razed? Was it out of spite because the city forced her and Veronica off Ralph Street and over to Washington Street? Or did she really feel that no one else should live in her family home? Also, the way she never changed or updated anything in the home. If she was really so attached to the stuff of her parents and grandparents, why demolish the house?

The only photo of Anna Beck I could find. From a 1998 Buffalo News Story.

Also, what would cause a person to never update anything in their home at all? I get the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But…geez. A wringer washer? Who knows? It may have been living through the depression that was at the root of Anna and Veronica’s thrift. I don’t think it was money. Anna left a residual estate of $150,000 in 1998. She wasn’t loaded, but she wasn’t poor either.

I guess we’ll never know.

My Impressions

I have mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, I’m a preservationist at heart. To be able to see this home now, as Anna left it in 1998 would be amazing. The fact that we lost a home, much preserved back to the 1930s, is a real shame from a historical standpoint.

I’m sure that all of the items inside, or ones like them, would be able to be gathered to create the museum that was 923 Washington Street. But it wouldn’t be the same, would it? Just the fact that they were all under that roof, being used regularly until 1998 would make it a museum worth seeing.

The sidewalk remains in front of a home that is no longer there.

That’s such a big part of what we history nerds love so much. It’s the stories behind the buildings we so admire. Wondering about the people and the places they inhabited. Where they lived, laughed, cried, and loved.

This simple home told the story of three generations of a Buffalo family. It lasted far longer than most of the mansions on Millionaire’s Row over on Delaware Ave. I’d love to be able to see Anna Beck’s home today, just as it was when she lived there.

Deep breath.

On the other hand, I understand the law, and in this case, it was upheld to the letter. Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina’s ruling was fair, thorough and brilliant. He saw both sides of the argument, and no stone was left unturned in his decision. From the ruling: “Valid contracts cannot be so cavalierly breached.”* The City of Buffalo (Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency) and Anna Beck entered into a binding contract. Anna Beck executed her agreement with her last will and testament. The city of Buffalo was forced to uphold theirs.

And with that, we lost the home at 923 Washington Street, formerly 42 Ralph Alley. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

Just One More Thing

There’s no real sense in spending a lot of time on it. What’s done is done. But at the beginning of the post, I said I thought that what happened here was a mistake. By that I mean that back in the late 70s, no one recognized this home for what it was. And in the twenty years following, still no one noticed. No move was made towards preserving the treasure that it was. To have a vernacular home from the 1860s, in the heart of the city, virtually unchanged since 1930…would be incredible.

The judge’s hands were tied in this case though.

We are better at this now than we used to be. We’re moving in the right direction. As a city, let’s not make this mistake again. Let’s move forward.

*Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mettina’s ruling

**Special thanks to Jerome Puma!

***Since the home was demolished, this lot has been owned by both Kaleida Health and Roswell Park Cancer Institute. It is now owned by 927-937 Washington Street LLC.

What’s Happening at the Edward M. Cotter?

What’s Happening at the Edward M. Cotter?

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of suggestions for blog posts from readers. My schedule is booked well into January, 2021. But just a couple of weeks ago my brother made a suggestion that made me change the schedule in order to fit it in. He suggested I write about “the Cotter”. Good idea, brother.

I always thought that most Buffalonians knew what you meant when you said “the Cotter”. I mean, it’s as much a part of the fabric of our city as say, the Bills. Well, okay, maybe not that much, but it certainly plays an important role on Buffalo’s waterfront, and most Buffalonians have at least heard about it. When I told a friend I was writing this post, he didn’t know it. But when I showed him a photo, he said, “oh, that boat. I’ve seen that around forever!”

He’s right about one thing. The Edward M. Cotter has been around forever. Well, practically.

The side wall at Engine 20, at 155 Ohio Street

Let’s talk about it.

A Little Bit of History

I’ve talked in other posts about Buffalo’s location at the convergence of the Buffalo River, Lake Erie and the Niagara River. Back in the day, most of Buffalo’s industry was built on the waterfront utilizing those natural resources. I’ve also talked about the fact that fires were all too common in cities throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s. Buffalo was no exception. Although we had two fireboats in service already (working out of Engines 23 & 29), they did not have ice breaking capabilities rendering them essentially useless in the winter. So, at the turn of the century, it was decided that Buffalo would benefit from a third fireboat.

The Edward M. Cotter was built in 1900, and was christened the William S. Grattan, named for the first paid fire commissioner in Buffalo. Thus, Engine 20 in the City of Buffalo was born. She is the oldest active fireboat in the world. That’s right, in the world! She is 118 feet long and originally had two steam engines and coal burning boilers. Her prow (or front of the hull) is 1-1/2 inch thick steel, making her perfect for ice breaking. Now, an inch and a half doesn’t seem like much but the current Captain of the Cotter, John Sixt, compared the thickness of the Cotter’s hull to that of the Little Rock, which is 1/8 of an inch thick. Woah. Okay, that puts it into perspective.

Disaster Strikes!

In July of 1928, while fighting an oil barge fire in the Buffalo River, the Grattan caught fire and was severely damaged. The firefighters on board were forced to abandon ship and swim to shore. The boat’s chief engineer was killed, and seven crew members were injured.

The boat then sat for eighteen months while the city decided what to do. They had two choices, replace the Grattan at a cost of $225,000, or completely rebuild her for $99,000 ($8,000 more than the original cost to build). All I can say is that sometimes these decisions go our way. This is one of those times.

The Grattan was rebuilt at the Buffalo Dry Dock Company in 1930. It was at this time her boilers were converted from coal to oil, foam fire retardant firefighting capabilities were added, and her engines were rebuilt.

Some of the Cotter’s Updates

In 1952, the William S. Grattan was sent to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin for some much needed modernization. Her steam engines were replaced with two diesel engines, twin props replaced the single propeller, and the firefighting platform was outfitted with hydraulics. She was now capable of pumping 15,000 gallons of water per minute! I once read that this boat could fill an average backyard pool in roughly 40 seconds! Holy smokes, that’s a lot of water!

She was returned to Buffalo in 1953, and was given a new name, the Firefighter. In 1954 she was renamed again, and became the Edward M. Cotter. This time she was named for a Buffalo firefighter who was a very popular leader of the local firefighter’s union, and had recently passed away.

In the spring of 2019, the Edward M. Cotter was sent to Toronto for two months, to receive much needed repairs to her hull and the installation of two new propellers. These repairs were paid for with grants received through the Cotter Conservancy. And speaking of which…

The Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy, Inc.

The Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy, Inc. was formed in January of 2016 to raise money so that the Cotter will be with Buffalo for a long time to come. It’s a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, committed to raising $25,000 a year in order to continue keeping the Cotter in the water.

The Cotter was named a National Historic Landmark in 1996, joining less than ten other National Historic Landmarks in Buffalo. This opened up the Cotter to much needed funds to maintain the aging boat. The conservancy takes the lead in securing these funds.

The Conservancy is run by volunteers, and is led by Sandford Beckman. The group is also supported by the Buffalo Fire Historical Museum, the Fire Bell Club of Buffalo, the Local Union 282, and WNY Retired Firefighters. See the conservancy’s website for more information regarding donating to the Fireboat E.M. Cotter Conservancy, Inc.

The Cotter and the Canadian Connection

About 15 years ago, my husband and I were in Port Colborne, Ontario which is located on Lake Erie at the Welland Canal. Every August, this port town celebrates a Canal Days festival. While there, walking along the canal, we suddenly came upon the Cotter. At first we questioned whether it was actually ‘our’ Cotter. But as we got closer we realized we were indeed correct. It was. We spoke to some of the crew, and were welcomed aboard for a tour.

While we were there, the crew told us a piece of Cotter history we weren’t familiar with at the time. On October 5, 1960 an explosion and a massive fire broke out at the Maple Leaf Mills on the Welland Canal in Port Colborne. Two days later the fire still burned out of control, and the town requested help from the Buffalo Fire Department. The Edward M. Cotter, escorted by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, made the nighttime voyage and within four hours of her arrival, the fire was out.

In appreciation of this, the Cotter is invited to Port Colborne every year to help the town celebrate their Canal Days Festival. Pretty cool.

The Edward M. Cotter on the scene of the Maple Leaf Mills fire in 1960. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls, Ontario Public Library

A Few Things

There are a few things that stand out for me in this Port Colborne story. The first is that the Cotter needed an escort for this trip because it was never outfitted with deep water navigational equipment, simply because it never needed it prior to this. Interesting. Captain Sixt assured me that an escort is no longer necessary!

The next is that the trip to Port Colborne, which on the lake is approximately 25 miles, took two hours. You see, the Cotter is not built for speed. As a matter of fact, the top speed of this vessel is 11.5 knots, which is just over 13 miles per hour. So two hours is just about right.

Lastly, this event is believed to be the first time a U.S. fireboat crossed an international border to assist with firefighting. Cool, Buffalo!

What Else?

Through the years, the Cotter has assisted with numerous fires both on the shore and on the water. She is, however, limited to where she can go and what she can do in and around Buffalo. Captain Sixt explained that when a relatively small craft catches fire, the Cotter cannot get involved. Her fire pumps are just too powerful, and would sink smaller boats. Sure, the fire would be out, but…

And because of her size, the Cotter has to be in 11 feet of water to stay afloat. Drafts at 11 feet, 13 or 14 feet is even better to be safe. For this reason she cannot travel very far into the Erie Basin Marina, because the water is not deep enough. For the same reason, she cannot enter the small boat harbor. So she simply cannot fight fires from those locations.

She does, however, have the ability to assist with other types of emergencies. For instance, in 1977 the Cotter assisted the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Ojibwa. The cutter had lost her steering and was taking on water. The Edward M. Cotter helped by towing the Ojibwa to the base and kept her afloat while repairs were being made.

In 1978, the Cotter assisted the U.S.S. Little Rock (permanently docked at Canalside) when the ship began taking on water. The Cotter continuously pumped water from the Little Rock, keeping her afloat for five days during repairs.

There are more stories just like this. The Cotter towed a Polish tall ship (Zawisza Czarny) off a sandbar during a 1984 visit. She assisted an Army Corp of Engineers tugboat, the Nash, by pumping out water to stabilize the tug when it suddenly began to list to one side.

The list goes on and on.

A Typical Day in the Life of the Cotter

The Edward M. Cotter’s crew of two, Captain John D. Sixt, III, and Chief Engineer Jack Kelleher, work diligently to keep the Cotter in top shape. And it was clear they’re doing a fantastic job when we boarded the boat last week. Working aboard the Cotter is no small task. In addition to working a full daily schedule, the two are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you doubt the necessity of the Cotter, just think about all the changes on Buffalo’s waterfront. More and more people are living right on the waterfront, including the Buffalo River. In case of fire, it is as imperative now, as it always has been, that the fire department have access to these fires from the water.

Captain Sixt tells me that in summer, the Cotter is busy with various duties. There is constant maintenance on a boat like this. Daily maintenance. Weekly maintenance, and monthly maintenance. That is all year round.

In addition to that, and firefighting duties, the Edward Cotter is busy as an active museum. Pre-covid, the fireboat was open during regular business hours for tours of the boat itself. I would imagine those would typically last an hour or more each. In addition, also pre-pandemic, the Conservancy would set up tours of the Buffalo River and Lake Erie aboard the Cotter.

Every June, for a dozen or so years now, the Cotter travels to Dunkirk Harbor for their Spring Festival, where the Edward M. Cotter is a key attraction in the harbor helping to kick off Dunkirk’s summer season.

In August, it’s back to Port Colborne for a long weekend for their annual Canal Days Festival.

What About the Winter?

Remember earlier when I mentioned the thick prow of the boat? She was made that way in order to break through ice. Winters see the Cotter out daily breaking up ice in the Buffalo River, alleviating the chance of flooding both in the city and the neighboring suburbs. While also keeping the river open for any necessary winter traffic, whether it be for firefighting duties or ships coming in and out of port.

This is what the Cotter was built for, to cut through up to 2 feet of ice. It’s a slow, arduous process, but the Cotter is up to the task. I’m told six to eight inches is more common, but even that is not easy. It sometimes takes up to eight hours to travel the half mile from the Michigan Street Bridge to the Skyway while ice breaking! Eight hours!

Ice breaking is especially important when there is a chance of a thaw. That’s when the ice is likely to shift, move and then pile up in certain spots, causing flooding when the river can’t keep flowing. So, it’s incredibly important work. It’s a matter of watching the weather, and taking your time. And trusting that one and a half inch thick Swedish steel will get you through.

A Quick Personal Story

Here’s a quick personal story about the Edward M. Cotter. Remember The Pier restaurant/bar that was out in the outer harbor years ago? I was there with my husband, my in-laws, and a few other people for a party around St. Patrick’s Day. It was cold. And everything was covered with snow plus a thin layer of ice. My mother-in-law, Barb, saw the Cotter through the window, and decided to go take a closer look.

Well, we were all having a good old time, when someone asked where Barb was. We were suddenly alerted to the fact that we hadn’t seen her in quite a while. Someone mentioned that the Cotter had left. My husband and I bundled up and went out to look for her. We caught up to her just as the Cotter was pulling back in. Imagine our surprise when we found her getting off the boat, laughing away and thanking the crew for the ride!

Apparently, when she went out to look at the boat, she started talking with some of the crew. They were going out for a quick run and asked her if she wanted to go for a ride. She said, “Sure, but let me tell my family where I’ll be.” The crew stated that they had to go, and they’d be gone by the time she got back. This was pre cell phone days, so Barb made the quick decision to go for it. She had a ball cruising around the outer harbor with the crew of the Cotter!

I love telling this story, because that’s who my mother-in-law was, in a nutshell.  She believed that if you have a chance to do something you want to do, you should do it.

My Impressions

The Edward M. Cotter is fascinating to me. The many crew members that have served with her. Who were they? What were they like? The small and the large disasters she has witnessed and assisted with, along with her crew of hardworking firemen.

And all that ice breaking! I’d like to go out on an ice breaking day, just to see what it’s like. I think I might love it. But maybe not in January. When the windchill is 30 below though.

Oh, who am I trying to kid? I’d go out on the Cotter in any weather. It’s a piece of Buffalo history. And, like my mother-in-law, I’d say why not? And climb aboard!

That’s one of the things that keeps me hiking around the city. Because I can. I recently heard from a reader who told me he can no longer walk for more than a couple of minutes at a time due to health reasons. And that he enjoys my posts so that he can see all the things he can no longer go out and see for himself. That’s enough to keep me going.

Be curious, Buffalo. And get to know your city, while you still can.

The crew of the Edward M. Cotter hopes to be able to go back to a regular tour schedule once we return to pre-pandemic conditions. Once that happens, if you can, get out to see the fireboat. You’ll be glad you did.

*Special thanks to Captain John D. Sixt, III, for taking the time to give us a tour, and for willingly answering our many questions! I appreciate it more than you know.

**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase yours!

City Living – Lincoln Parkway

City Living – Lincoln Parkway

Several weeks back, I began working on a post about Soldiers Circle. While out at the circle one day taking photos, I noticed a house for sale on Lincoln Parkway. Now I never before thought of writing about Lincoln Parkway, and I didn’t even think about it that day either. But after I saw that house, the post began to form itself in my mind. It kept coming up in conversation. I saw photos of the young Lincoln statue on social media. And a couple of readers asked me questions about two of the homes on the parkway. So, here we are.

The photos above are of two statues of Lincoln. Young Lincoln is out in front of the Rose Garden overlooking the south end of Lincoln Parkway. Older Lincoln sits overlooking Mirror Lake behind the Buffalo History Museum. You could say older Lincoln overlooked Lincoln Parkway too, before the 198 was put in. But that’s another story for another day.

Now, the stretch of Lincoln Parkway between the art gallery and Bird Ave has been part of my regular walking route for quite sometime now. When you become very familiar with your surroundings, you tend not to notice them anymore. You know what I mean, when you’ve seen something so many times, that you forget to really look at them. I’ve learned quite a bit about these homes over the past, well, never mind how many years! Ha! Let’s say several. Okay?

But today, I headed out to take a look at Lincoln Parkway with fresh eyes.

A Bit of Pontificating

Seriously, this street is the stuff that dreams are made of. How many of us have walked along these streets and wondered what it was like to live in one of these homes ‘back in the day’? My guess is, a lot of us have.

Like most history nerds, I’d like to travel back in time to when the homes along this grand parkway were entertaining Buffalo’s movers and shakers. But I’d like to go back as one of the upper crust. Not the second generation Irish / Polish immigrant that I’d have been back then. What I mean is, if I’m going to time travel, I’d like to do it as one of the people who lived in one of these mansions. Not as a servant who worked in one. And I know that money didn’t necessarily make these people happy, but I’d like to check it out for a day or two. You know what I’m saying?

So, for those of you working on time travel, be smart about it, please. Let us choose where we go and who we’ll be. And I look forward to being one of your test subjects some day.

History Along the Parkway

Now, you know I cannot talk about the gorgeous homes along Lincoln Parkway without discussing some history. And I’ll tell you what I know about specific homes along this historic stretch as I move along the street. Since I’ve covered the Larkin homes on the east side of the parkway in another post, I won’t be discussing those here.

Lincoln Parkway was designed in the latter half of the 1800s when Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Buffalo’s Parks and Parkway System. The idea was that instead of just having one park in the city, Buffalo was to have a park system, with a series of parkways in between, connecting the parks. Olmsted and Vaux also utilized traffic circles to connect the parkways to each other. The system was designed to make you feel like you hadn’t left the park while travelling the parkways. Anybody who has walked the center median of any of these parkways has experienced the genius of this design. If you haven’t done that, give it a try. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.

At the time most of these homes were built, Lincoln Parkway was considered one of the most sought after addresses in the city, second only to Delaware Avenue. Some of Lincoln Parkway’s early residents actually moved from Millionaire’s Row, to the Parkway. I would imagine it would have been more quiet and peaceful on the Parkway, so I can understand this move.

Let’s See Lincoln Parkway

I’ve decided to begin across the street from Delaware Park near the art gallery. This is the first home we come to. And what a home.

It’s an unusual example of the Arts & Crafts style. It was completed in 1908. The architects were Essenwein and Johnson, who were very popular and talented architects in Buffalo. And many, many of their designs still exist today, including the Electric Tower downtown. In my opinion, they were second only to Green & Wicks, who were the premier architectural firm in Buffalo back in the day.

I love the entryway here, with its gabled roof being supported by oversized brackets, and leaded glass windows and some stained glass too. If you look closely, you’ll see that some of the windows have an Art Nouveau design. Just beautiful. It’s all these little details that make a house stand out.

I would love to see the inside of what appears to be a conservatory on the right of the home (center photo above). Note the French doors with those gorgeous curved transoms and the wide sidelights. Spectacular. Wish the landscaping allowed us to see these a little better.

152 Lincoln Parkway

This next home was built in 1912 for David and Bertha Gunsberg. The Gunsberg family had interests in mines in Canada and owned several oil wells. The home is an exquisite eclectic design, and seems chateau-like in both its size and appearance. The tripartite window in the dormer is lovely. And on the second floor windows I see an architectural detail that I don’t think I’ve ever talked about in any of my posts. Above the windows are what is called splayed lintels. These are where the lintels above the windows spread (or splay) outward at each end, like these do. These are particularly nice.

This home was bought in 1964 by what is now SUNY Buffalo State College and is used as the home to the president of the college.

I love the side view of this home best. But I also love the cast iron awning above the driveway side entrance, supported by beautiful wrought iron brackets. Why don’t these get more attention? They’re veritable works of art. I’m going to celebrate them in this post!

Then there’s this one. I admit I don’t know much about it. I wonder if the portico was closed off later like the one at the Goodyear Mansion on Delaware Ave? Come to think of it, this one reminds me of that home. Less grand perhaps, but lovely all the same.

Moving Right Along

Next we come to the Spencer Kellogg Jr. home. I was bewitched by this house when I was young. I loved the front walk with the ornate stone walls and gate leading to what I used to think was church-like doors. Now that I’m looking afresh at the home, I don’t disagree with that assessment. There is something church-like about that front door. Must be the archway.

This home is classified as a Tudor Revival design, evidenced by the mimicking of a medieval estate home. The use of stone here is fantastic! And incidentally, the architects are Green & Wicks. Love this home.

The Kellogg family in Buffalo made their fortune in Linseed Oil. Who would’ve thought? The company goes back to the 1820s. Spencer Kellogg Jr worked in the family business (as a vice president), but later opened a book shop and printing house called Aries Press. Interesting. He did his duty to his family, but was also able to realize his dream in other pursuits as well. Cool.

I’m a little concerned that one of the four lions who guard this house appears to be missing. See the left side of the gate in the center photo above.

120 Lincoln Parkway

This is the Henry W. Wendt Home and it was built in 1923. It’s also a Tudor Revival style. This one reminds me of the George Rand home on Delaware Avenue (now Canisius High School). It’s stately and castle-like.

Check out the puppies who came out to greet me! Okay, they were not happy I was there and were barking like crazy! But they’re still cute!

Henry W. Wendt and his brother William, started Buffalo Forge in 1878, to build blacksmith forges. They eventually expanded to several other products including air conditioning, which was invented by one of their employees, Willis Carrier. Apparently, William had a good head for figures and marketing and Henry looked after the manufacturing and human resources end of things. They made a good team, because Buffalo Forge was a very successful business, and still maintains a presence in the area as Buffalo Machine Inc., located in Lockport. Cool.

This home was built in 1923 and designed by Franklin J. and William A. Kidd, and guess what? The George Rand home on Delaware Ave? Same architects, and completed in the same year! I wasn’t far off the mark. Love when that happens!

Century House

The home at 100 Lincoln Parkway was dubbed as the Century House due to its address at number 100. The home was designed by Essenwein & Johnson (another one on the block!) for Harlow and Ethel Curtiss. Harlow was an attorney, and later a real estate developer. This couple lived in a Delaware Midway Rowhouse, a mansion at 864 Delaware Avenue, and then this home on Lincoln Parkway. They also owned a summer house in East Aurora. Movers and shakers, these two.

The couple lived in this home until selling it in 1919. There were several owners over the next two years (!) until Frank Goodyear purchased it in 1921. He sold it to Albert and Sylvia Wende in 1923.

The Wende family changed the fate of this home for many years to come. They set about converting it into three separate luxury apartments, and lived in the first floor themselves. The idea was to house members of extended family and/or eventually tenants. They added the two story sunrooms to the front of the house and converted the stable into a garage.

The Wende’s two daughters lived in the home at various times. Albert lived in the home until his death in 1963 and Sylvia stayed until 1968. Since then, the apartments (over 3700 sq. ft. each) have been sold separately.

What Else?

These. Check out that cast / wrought iron and glass awning. Wow!

This next one has been one of my personal favorites for as long as I can remember. It’s exquisite. This home was built in 1911 for Edward B. Holmes, president of E. & B. Holmes Machinery Company. Here’s an interesting little tidbit ladies, when Edward passed away in 1934, his wife Maud became the president of the company. She ran it until, having no children to pass it to, she sold it to two long-time employees in 1950. Cool.

This home is a great example of my kind of Arts & Crafts design, with it’s overhanging eaves, decorative finials on the cross gabled roofs, and the double (or paired) support brackets, on what I consider to be an incredible patio. You all know how I love a good patio. And those leaded glass transom windows on the first floor! Must be very bright inside.

Whoever owns this home now keeps it in excellent shape!

And this beauty next door. Note the awning. Gorgeous!

Essenwein & Johnson Make Yet Another Appearance

This home was built in 1910 and designed by, yep, you guessed it, Essenwein & Johnson. It was designed for Louis Kurtzman, president of the C. Kurtzman Piano Company. It’s considered a Spanish Colonial Revival style home. Note the terracotta hipped roofs, and the battered pillars (meaning that they are wider at the bottom) on both the porches and the corners of the home itself.

I find this home stunning.

The Bush Family

The same architect, Lansing & Beierl, built these next three homes for various members of the Bush family. This first one was for William and Katherine (Bush) Hotchkiss. William was a partner in the law firm of Hotchkiss & Bush.

The home is a craftsman style with half timbering. Note the use of ‘clinker bricks’, which are overfired bricks with textured surfaces. Before I noticed these bricks on this house, I had never seen them before. They’re very unique.

This next one was built for Myron (Katherine’s brother) and Carrie Bush in 1902. This is a Colonial Revival style home. Note the use of Flemish bonding in the bricks on this home. Flemish bonding is the process of arranging the bricks in each row so that the bricks alternate being laid the long way, and the short way in each row. On this home, it is not every other brick that is turned, rather there is an interesting pattern to it. Nice!

The home at #6, (below, the one that started this whole post) was designed and built for John W. Bush, Myron and Katherine’s father in 1903. It is the only Beaux Arts Classical home in this post. What a house! Really, all three homes built for this family are completely different designs, but were all executed beautifully by architects Lansing & Beierl.

There is so much to look at on this house.  It’s ornate, but somehow, not overdone. There is white glazed terracotta ornamentation, well, all over this house. A red terracotta roof and Flemish bonding on the brick, and the wrought iron is fantastic.

Oh, and it’s for sale, in case you’re looking.

Note the side awning. This one is fantastic!

Let’s Cross the Street

As I cross the street at Soldiers Circle, I see that the first home on the opposite side of the street is very well hidden behind the landscaping. Wish we could see what appears to be a beautiful home a little better, but I understand that some people value their privacy.

This next one is amazing! It was designed by Essenwein & Johnson in 1905 for Walter B. Trible, a graduate of Cornell University and a manufacturer with Buffalo Lounge Company.

It’s a beautiful example of the Colonial Revival style, with broken pedimented dormers with dentil moldings and keystones above the windows. Note the ghost decorations in each of the dormer windows. Cute. That front entryway is so welcoming, and this home is very well maintained. I especially love the stone pathway leading up to the front patio. Perfectly executed!

The McKinney Home

This next one was built for Thomas J. McKinney and his wife. The architects were none other than Essenwein & Johnson. The McKinney fortune was made in the oil business. No expense was spared in the building of this home. It reportedly cost $800,000 to build, and the furnishings cost another $200,000. By way of comparison, the previous Colonial Revival (above) cost $18,000. Wow!

Craftsmen and rare building materials were brought in from several countries to hand carve ornate woodwork, the wrought iron fence and gate are some of the most intricate designs seen anywhere in Buffalo. It’s a shame that I couldn’t get a better photo of the house itself, but the leaves are still on the trees, and the yard is very, very private.

Note the wrought iron and copper awning. Beautiful!

Sadly, Thomas and his wife were killed in a car accident in Florida just four years after moving into this home. Their 11-year old son survived the accident. The home was sold a year later for a mere $110,000, but the purchaser never moved in! Unbelievable, but it sat empty until 1949 when the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo purchased it for $35,000! They, unfortunately, sold some of the statues and otherwise removed some of the other artwork citing it was too ‘pagan’.

Antique dealer Jeffery Thayer purchased it in 1985. In 2001 Clem and Karen Arrison purchased the property. They began a long and painstaking restoration project. They have received an award for “Restoration” from Preservation Buffalo Niagara in 2011 for their work. Their work is reportedly second only to the Martin House for preservation, and is the single largest privately funded residential restoration project ever completed in Buffalo. What an amazing couple!

Boy would I love to get inside this house!

Find Out more

A more complete history of the home, including early photos, can be found at this link. There are photos of the extensive (and almost unbelievable) gardens. It really is quite an interesting story!

My Impressions

Wow. Where to begin? Would I be aging myself by using a reference to the old TV show “The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous?” This street still blows me away every time I walk it. If I’m paying attention, that is. Between the Larkin family, the Kelloggs, the Goodyears, the Bushes and all the others, this was definitely the place to be at the turn of the twentieth century. And it doesn’t seem to me that people came here if they ‘couldn’t afford’ Delaware Ave. They came to Lincoln Parkway because that’s where they wanted to be.

Did anyone else feel like this post is the Essenwein and Johnson story? Their firm was very, very prolific here in Buffalo, with over 1,000 designs in all. Including the famed Temple of Music for the Pan American Exposition, where President McKinley was shot. They also designed the Electric Tower, the Calumet Building and others. Not to mention numerous homes, as evidenced here.

And how about those awnings? I don’t ever really read too much about them, but there are some spectacular awnings on this block, and in this city!

And finally…

Nowadays, we just cannot imagine the way of life that some people enjoyed in Buffalo back in the day. I for one am grateful that we still have these mansions so that the rest of us can get a glimpse into that world occasionally. I wish the walls of these homes could speak, to tell us all that they have witnessed. Some of it we would love to hear from a historical, architectural, or even just a human perspective. Some of it, I am quite sure, we would not. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this life, it’s that all the money in the world cannot buy true happiness and fulfillment.

This is the stuff I think about when I walk these historic parkways. Who lived here? Who were they, really? Were they happy? Did they love, and were they loved? I wonder.

I guess that’s what keeps me going out on these urban hikes. My natural curiosity about all things human.

If you can, get out and get to know your city, Buffalo.

**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase.

*All photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.

Circle Living – Soldiers Circle

Circle Living – Soldiers Circle

I’ve been admiring Soldiers Circle, or Soldiers Place, since well, I guess since the first time I really noticed it. I used to work for the Government of Canada here in Buffalo, and the Consul General’s official residence was on Soldiers Circle. The Canadians purchased the mansion in 2009. There would be parties held there on occasion and I remember it being a beautiful home that was surrounded by other beautiful homes.

For some odd reason, I never really noticed this circle before that time. I mean, I had driven through it many times. But after the first party at #196, I started extending my walks in Delaware Park to include Lincoln Parkway and Soldiers Circle. We are so fortunate to have so much gorgeous architecture to look at on our daily walks. And to be fair, this circle is wide. Might be why I never noticed the homes until I went in one. What I mean is that the homes are a good distance from the circle itself, with lots of green space and trees in between. And when you’re driving or biking through, you really have to pay attention to traffic.

Let’s get to it.

On this particular walk I met Auggie, who lives on Inwood, but walks the circle on his daily constitutionals! So cute!

A Bit of History at Soldiers Circle

When Frederick Law Olmsted designed our parkway system, he put Soldiers Circle at the center of the three main parkways, Lincoln, Bidwell and Chapin. These three parkways lead to all the others, which lead us to all the other parks. Sadly, not all the others have survived. But we’re not here to discuss that today.

Today, it’s all about the circle itself. Originally, Soldiers Circle was meant to be home to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument which ended up being placed downtown in Lafayette Square. History isn’t clear how or why that happened, but here we are. Instead the circle originally had three Navy Parrot Guns, which were Civil War cannons, and stacks of cannonballs.

Word on the street says that from the beginning, Buffalonians couldn’t resist stealing the cannonballs. I guess some sold them for scrap, some sold them to collectors, and some simply kept them. Still others would roll them up and down the parkways. Oh, Buffalo…

Photo Credit: New York Heritage Digital Collections – Olmsted Parks Conservancy

Either way, all of it was removed in 1937 by then Parks Commissioner Frank Coon, who said they were traffic hazards. Apparently, more than once, people ran their vehicles into the cannons. (Was this a precursor to people driving into buildings in Buffalo?) Seriously though, this is not the first time I’ve heard that early drivers had trouble maneuvering through traffic circles. Anyway, and ironically, the cannons and their accompanying cannonballs were sold for junk at that time.

The Homes on Soldiers Circle

I headed over to Soldiers Circle on an absolutely beautiful October day. The sun was shining, the sky could have been a bit more blue, but it was a crisp, pretty, autumn day nonetheless.

I entered the circle at Chapin Parkway heading towards Bidwell. The first thing I see is this building (above) that was originally a hotel, built for the Pan American Exposition in 1901. It’s since been turned into townhouses and apartments. I’ve seen photos of the interior of a couple of the townhouses and they’re beautiful!

I’m not sure what’s going on with the brick though. I doubt it was originally a mix of yellow and red, which shows at some point there was at least some neglect, but it appears to be well maintained now. I love that almost every window still has the original leaded glass transoms above. And there are so many windows!

On this particular day, I noticed a lot of things I’ve never noticed about this building before. Like what are those openings in the peaks? Are they patios? If they are, how lovely! And I love the transoms and sidelights at the main entryways! Gorgeous!

The Oldest Home on the Circle

The very next house I come to I meet the owner on his way out with his dog. He tells me his is the oldest home on the circle. It’s an 1885 Eastlake Victorian, and I daresay it’s one of the nicest examples of the style I’ve seen.

An Eastlake Victorian differs from other Victorians, from what I understand, by the ornamentation. Named for Charles Locke Eastlake, the Eastlake style home has more subdued ornamentation than other Victorians. Charles disdained flamboyant decoration, and it showed in his designs. The use of color is more subdued as well. In this case it makes for a gorgeous home. To my eye, the colors are spot on, and the ornamentation is a perfect compliment to the home. The windows are original and open out from the bottom, see photo. I find the whole house to be very charming. I’d love to see the inside.

But alas the owner and his super cute Labradoodle have already left for places unknown.

Am I in Allentown?

This whole section here has a real Allentown feel. It’s quite different from the other ‘sections’ of the circle. Now that I think about it, each section of this circle has its own distinct feel. You’ll see what I mean as I move along.

This one is Allentown. Lovely homes that have a real comfortable feel. Like that feeling I get in Allentown. Look at this house below. Doesn’t it just look comfortable? Like you want to be on that second floor porch reading away the afternoon. Or sipping wine with friends into the late hours on a summer evening. How about that? Sound good? You know it does.

Yes, this section is gorgeous and unpretentious.

Lipke House, Jody Douglass House, & Niscah House

Next I came to one of several homes in this area that Buffalo Seminary owns. Most of the homes are used to board students, but a couple are home to Head of School, Assistant Head of School and the like. Pictured below, are three in this stretch owned by Buff Sem. They are Lipke House, Jody Douglass House, and Niscah House.

For clarity, Buffalo Seminary is a non-denominational, day and boarding school for college bound girls. It has its roots in early Buffalo history (1851), and is one of the oldest institutions of higher learning for females in the country.

First up, Lipke House (1896). This one is home to the current Assistant Head of School. What a great example of the Colonial Revival Style. Just look at those four pedimented dormers complete with dentil moldings. Also, notice what is called pebbled dash inside the triangular section of the dormer. I don’t believe those would have originally been painted, but I can’t say for sure in this case. Most were simply mortar with medium size ‘pebbles’ placed at irregular intervals throughout. Interesting!

Next, are Jody Douglass House (1905) and Niscah House (1910), respectively. Both are for students boarding with Buff Sem. Indeed, as I came upon them, a handful of teenage girls came out of the houses, and headed over to the school. What an idyllic setting for this school. It helps that all of their buildings are incredibly well maintained.

The building below the two houses is Buff Sems’ West Chester Hall. It faces Soldiers Circle. Another beauty and it’s perfectly maintained.

As I Cross Bidwell Parkway

As I cross Bidwell, I get distracted by a house I see, and I’m not sure whether it’s on Bidwell or Soldiers Circle. So I walk up to it, and I find it’s not either. Check it out.

First of all, this is one of the best gates I’ve ever seen! It’s awesome! Second, note the address above the door. Lincoln Woods? It’s then that I remember seeing a small lane off Bidwell Parkway on a map several weeks ago. I make a left to see if I can find it.

I pass this…another home with a Lincoln Woods address.

Sure enough, there it is…

So, even though it appears private, it doesn’t say so. I make a right and I start walking up Lincoln Woods Lane. I don’t go far, out of respect, and because of the fact that there is no city street sign. In fact, there’s a concrete driveway out onto Bidwell. This is what I’m thinking as I take photos of one more Lincoln Woods Lane home.

It was at that point that I felt like I was intruding on people’s privacy, and I always try to respect that, so that’s as far as I went. When I came home, I looked at a map. There’s at least two more homes back in there. Maybe more. Secrets off Bidwell. Well, I guess it’s not really a secret. I mean, there’s a sign there announcing it! The things you notice when you’re walking!

Back to Soldiers Circle

As I head back into Soldiers Circle, these are the homes I see. All lovely. A bit newer than I expected, (1960-ish) but just lovely. The backyards of these homes are on Lincoln Woods Lane. Nice.

And Then, There’s This

Yep. Frank Lloyd Wright is represented on Soldiers Place with this stunner! This home was built for William Heath, who, like Darwin Martin, worked for the Larkin Company. Heath was an office manager, and eventually a vice-president, and was able to engage Frank Lloyd Wright to build this home on Soldiers Place at Bird Ave.

Here’s what I know about it. Like Darwin Martin’s house, it was built in 1905. It’s one of Wright’s Prairie School designs, shaped to fit on this narrow, long lot. Wright achieved privacy for the Heaths by building up the lot so that the first floor windows are above street level. Indeed, when you walk by, you cannot see inside the home. But still, it draws your attention to the art glass windows, the low slung, hipped roof with projecting eaves, that large, private porch, and just the sheer perfection that this home is.

Photo Credit to: Ernst Wasmuth, 1911

There is an apartment above the 5+ car garage that has the sweetest second floor patio you can imagine. You know how I love a second floor patio. The home itself is still a private, single family residence, with the exception of that apartment above the garage. This home adds a lot to the appearance and ambience of the circle.

And it’s unique that a Frank Lloyd Wright home sits on a Frederick Law Olmsted designed traffic circle. We are fortunate to have such an amazing design among our Buffalo homes, on one of our historic parkways.

The Other Side of Bird Ave.

As I cross Bird Ave, this is what I see. I don’t even know where to begin! This house is just so – pretty. It’s in impeccable shape. While I’m snapping photos, the owner comes out with his morning coffee and a newspaper. We start to talk and I tell him how much I admire his home.

The symmetry of this Georgian style home is what does it for me. I’m an admirer of symmetry. When things don’t match up, I get uneasy. Not really, but when they do, it pleases me. The bay windows on the Bird Ave side of the house are perfect, and the Palladian windows both on the front and the sides of the house are spectacular. And that entryway! Classic!

If I have one criticism of this house it would be lack of access to the front porch from the outside. It’s one of my pet peeves. I understand why people do it. Especially on property such as this, where the home faces a circle. But it’s somehow, unneighborly. That being said, the owner was very friendly and willing to chat for a few minutes. And to be fair, he did not build the porch. So, please understand that I mean no disrespect to him. I still love the house regardless, save for that one thing.

Two More Homes on This Stretch

This slice of Soldiers Circle is set up a little bit differently. Instead of facing the circle on an angle, the homes all face what would be the continuation of Lincoln Parkway, and are stepped somewhat. In the photo below, to the left you can see the previous home set back somewhat from this home, placed further away from Lincoln Parkway. And the next one to come is closer still to the Parkway. The feeling here is one of privacy, and peace.

So, there are just three homes in this section.

This one welcomes you right up to the front door.

I love the use of Flemish brick bonding on this home. It’s a way of arranging the bricks in each row so that the bricks alternate which side of the brick itself faces the outside. With one being laid the long way, and the next is laid the short way. In the case of this house, a darker brick is used for the bricks with the short end facing out. I love the effect. In fact, all three homes on this section of the circle use this technique of Flemish bonding. It’s fabulous on this particular home.

I also love the entryway. It’s simple, but stately and elegant. The leaded glass sidelights are perfect for this house. And finally, the use of black paint really allows the architectural details to pop. Love it. Why isn’t that done more often?

And then there’s this one, below. I love how the front walk curves out to the common sidewalk. I admit I wanted to walk up it. Love the brick pavers. The landscaping is beautiful, if a little overgrown at this point in the year. Understandable.

And the house itself. To me it’s a unique design that has great arts and crafts details. The hipped roof with wide, un-enclosed eaves, the exposed roof rafters (these may be decorative). And the rounded porch with its exposed beams and square columns. Love the whole effect.

I picture this as a family home. Unassuming and well lived in. Just as a home should be.

Moving Right Along

As I cross Lincoln Parkway, I notice that this section of the circle is the only one with a separate road on the circle side of the homes. Convenient, if a little less private I guess. Google Maps calls it Soldiers Place. And all the addresses of the homes on the circle are listed at “Soldiers Place”. I should take a moment right now to say that Soldiers Circle is sometimes called Soldiers Place, Soldiers Way and Soldiers Walk. I have no explanation or reasoning for this, except that in Buffalo, we tend to call things whatever we want, and sometimes we end up with a little confusion. This is one of those times.

Getting back to the homes on the circle, check this out. This home is of the American Renaissance Style, and it’s one I’m not very familiar with. It appears to be a precursor to the Arts & Crafts movement. This particular home has that central dormer with a hipped roof, the terracotta, keystone lintels at the windows and the Doric columns on the offset porch. The wrought iron on the upper patio is fantastic! Right down to the landscaping, this home is perfect. To me anyway.

As I move to the next home, this is what I see (below). It’s official. I’m a fan of the Tudor style. I don’t know why I ever thought I wasn’t. Going out on a limb in this election year, and changing my mind. I like Tudors. Especially this Tudor Revival. It features half timbering over shingles, and a brick first level. Love the chimney.

It was built in 1906 for Albert de La Plante and his wife Margaret, who came to Buffalo from Canada in 1898. Albert worked for Twin Cities Lumber Company. Their son Walter, was Treasurer and Manager of the Peace Bridge later on. Cool! As far as I know they were the first Canadians to live on the circle. But not the last.

Did Someone Say Statler?

Then, suddenly and without warning I’m looking at a 1961 Cape Cod Ranch (below). Here’s another style I wouldn’t have known offhand. Apparently the pitched roof elevation and dormer windows are typical of the Cape Cod style, while the horizontal lines, and large windows lend themselves to the ranch style. Hence, a blending of the two. I never knew ‘Cape Cod Ranch’ was a thing.

This home was built on part of the property previously occupied by the estate of Ellsworth Statler. There is a low-slung wall on the far right of this photo that still exists from the Statler era, and the Medina Sandstone paving was reclaimed from elsewhere on the property. While I inwardly mourn the loss of the Statler house, I absolutely love the look of this home. I think it’s a nice compliment to the more modern homes on the opposite side of the circle.

The Last Section of the Circle

As I cross Bird Ave (again), I see this beauty. I love the symmetry here. The three dormers with broken pediments are lovely. I wish the windows were original, but I fear that they are not. Note the curved arches above the windows, and the keystones. I love when a second floor window copies the front entryway door with its sidelights, like this one does with a smaller version of the surround. I also love, love, love this porch. The curved roofline is just so nice to look at! It softens the rest of the straight lines of this house. Lovely.

And these two. I love the wrought iron on the front door and sidelights of the first house. And the one below that, is just beautifully built. It appears perfect in every way, with the exception of the complete lack of landscaping. It strikes me as odd in this neighborhood. I’d love it if the walls could talk in this house, because I wonder what’s going on inside.

The Government of Canada on Soldiers Circle

Like I mentioned earlier, the Canadians purchased this mansion on Soldiers Circle in 2009. I say the Canadians purchased the property because the Consul General at the time, Marta Moszczenska, always said that the home did not belong to her, but to the people of Canada and their locally engaged staff.

This one needs landscaping too, but it’s obviously being worked on.

Here’s a funny story. A friend of mine was at the home for a holiday party. While at the party she spilled red wine on white carpeting in an upper hallway. She was mortified and didn’t mention it that night. But by the following Monday, she felt so bad about it, she went to Marta’s office to confess. True to her word, Marta told her not to worry, that it didn’t bother her in the least, and that she would take care of it. It was, after all, not her home. She was only the caretaker. By the end of the conversation, they had made arrangements for the wine spiller to house-sit the following week. That, in a nutshell, what it was like to work for the Government of Canada here in Buffalo.

Let’s Take a Look at the Interior

Elizabeth and Stephen Hays now own the home, and they were gracious enough to invite me inside and into the backyard. My memory was correct. It’s a beautiful home that’s got great flow from the front foyer all the way around the interior and back again. It’s spectacular!

I thought perhaps that over the years, I had built the home up in my mind to be something more than it really is. But no, it’s genuinely a great home. It’s got wide open rooms that are great for big gatherings, and small little nooks to hide away and read a book in peace.

Liz and Stephen have five children and I have to tell you that I like that a large, busy, fun-loving family now fills these rooms. It’s what big homes should be about. Where nobody cares (too much) if you leave a blanket and pillow on the floor. Or forget to pick up your socks. Basically, who cares if someone actually sees that people live here? That attitude seems alive and well here. And I love it. Here’s the family.

The Hays Family. Photo Credit: Shaw Photography Co.

The Backyard

Oh the parties I could give in this backyard. Just sayin. Only thing that bothers me here is all the utility wires criss-crossing it. Sort of annoying in the yard of a mansion. I’m sure that could be remedied though.

My Impressions

I hardly know where to begin with my impressions this week. From the history of this circle including Frederick Law Olmsted, to Frank Lloyd Wright himself, to the Government of Canada, this circle has so much going on.

Between the three circles I’ve written about now, Soldiers Circle, Symphony Circle and Colonial Circle, this one by far feels the most affluent. Most of the homes are mansions. But there are also the humble Eastlake Victorian, the 1960s Capes and the smaller homes on Lincoln Woods Lane, which are probably larger than they appear.

This circle is also the only one surrounded by Parkways, and that makes it feel affluent as well. Right in the middle of Lincoln Parkway, Bidwell Parkway and Chapin Parkway. Three of the most sought after addresses in the city.

And Soldiers Circle takes up a lot of real estate. Seriously. From the circle itself, it’s difficult to see any of the homes lining it. I both like that, and don’t like that. Know what I mean? It does make it park like for the homeowners.

And to be fair the sidewalks do run pretty close to the homes. So, I guess Soldiers Circle, or whatever you prefer to call it, makes a great argument for urban hiking. If you want to see stuff, get out and walk. But isn’t that what I always say?

Take a walk over at Soldiers Circle. You’ll love what you see just like I did!

*Get the book! They make great keepsakes, or gifts for friends and family. Click this link to order, or click on the photo below.

**Special thanks to Elizabeth and Stephen Hays for sharing your home with us! Follow Liz on Instagram @lovelizhays

***All photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.

The Life & Times of 888 Delaware Ave

The Life & Times of 888 Delaware Ave

Sometimes a building seems to take on a life of its own. The Goodyear Mansion at 888 Delaware Ave is one of those buildings. Its history includes one of Buffalo’s wealthiest families. It also includes Presidents, First Ladies, royalty, a health insurance company, and two schools. Its future is set to include both corporate and market-rate apartments.

Now, focusing on one home is usually not my style, although I did it with the Humphrey House, but I had a handful of people ask me to write this one. Each person had a different reason for asking me to do it. And I have my own reasons for agreeing.

You see, my mother is a graduate of Bishop McMahon high school, class of 1957. Back in December, our family moved her into a memory care unit. When I visited her (pre-COVID) Mom would always ask me to read my latest posts to her. Just before the nursing homes closed down, she asked if I would ever write about “someone’s high school”. I said, “Oh, sure. why not?” And the conversation moved off in a different direction. Communication is often difficult for dementia patients. Actually, it’s always difficult.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Several weeks later, I received an email from a woman asking me to write about her old high school, Bishop McMahon. It was then that I realized my mother was talking about her own high school that day. Mom remembered that I knew a lot about it already and that I would enjoy learning more. She was right.

Since then, I’ve had three more requests to write about this mansion.

So here I am, all my reading is done and I’m ready to tell you about my Mother’s high school building. The Goodyear Mansion.

Charles Waterhouse & Ella Portia Goodyear

Charles Goodyear was born in Cortland, NY in 1846 and came to Buffalo to study law in 1868. He practiced at a few different firms, one or two of them he himself started. He had a good reputation and served as Assistant District Attorney, and later as District Attorney. Things were going well for Charles.

In 1876 he met and married Ella Portia Conger. Ella attended Nardin Academy (Miss Nardin’s at the time) and the Female Academy (now Buffalo Seminary). Her father, Anson Griffith Conger, a banker, purchased the couple a home at 723 Delaware Avenue (lost). It was here that they raised their four children, Anson, Ester, Charles, and Bradley.

Photo Credit: Bogalusa Story by C.W. Goodyear (Charles’ grandson)

When Grover Cleveland became governor of NYS, Charles Goodyear joined the firm Cleveland founded, Cleveland, Bissel & Sicard. The firm then became Bissel, Sicard & Goodyear. He practiced law with that firm for four years.

Charles and Ella were very good friends of Grover & Frances Cleveland and were in fact, the first guests the Clevelands entertained at the White House after their wedding. Cool!

In 1887, Goodyear retired from the law for good when he went into the lumber business with his brother Frank. The brothers eventually owned extensive timberland in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. They started a railroad company, The Buffalo and Susquehanna Iron Company. They pioneered the use of railroads to move lumber.

These two businesses earned the Goodyears immense wealth.

The Home

It was during this time of great prosperity that the Goodyears decided to build a home suitable for a family of such affluence. And build it they did.

The home was completed in 1903 and is an exquisite example of the French Renaissance Style. We would expect nothing less from Green & Wicks (E.B. Green was the principal) who were the architects. Just look at that mansard roof, the dormers with semi-circular pediments and keystones above the windows. And above those are porthole dormers! Love these! Tuscan columns surround the brick enclosed portico which was originally wide open. See above.

So much to look at on one house!

Inside there were 11 bedrooms, each with a marble fireplace, and adjoining bathrooms. On the first floor was the main hall, a dining room, a breakfast room, a library, and a loggia which opened up to the terrace and garden out back.

The Goodyears enjoyed this home together from it’s completion until 1911 when Charles passed away.

During World War I, King Albert of Belgium, Queen Elisabeth of Bavaria, and their son, Prince Leopold visited the United States, including Buffalo. This was back when Buffalo was a mover and a shaker on the national scene. While here, they were guests of Ella’s and were entertained in this home. Amazing! Royalty! In Buffalo, and in this home!

Ella lived in the home until her death in September of 1940. I love this photo below of Ella on her patio in her beautiful garden.

Photo Credit: Buffalo, the City Beautiful, Hubbell, Mark H.

Blue Cross Corp moves into 888 Delaware

Shortly after Ella’s death, the Hospital Service Corporation and Western New York Medical Plan, better known as the Blue Cross Corporation, purchased the home. They made small changes to the kitchens and pantries and partitioned off one or two of the bedrooms, but largely left the mansion intact. It remained this way for the next 10 years.

Bishop McMahon High School

In 1950, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo purchased the building to be used as the all-girl Bishop McMahon High School. This is where my mother spent her high school years. The school itself had a business focus. Mind you, not what we think of today as the study of business. Back then, the girls were taught typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping. They learned the fundamentals of business and business law. They were also taught high school Social Studies and English.

Most of the first floor rooms were converted into classrooms, and later all of the bedrooms on the second and third floors were converted into classrooms as well.

Photo Credit: Laura VR – Bishop McMahon’s Facebook page

My mother loved it. She graduated in 1957 and growing up, I only heard good things from her about the school, the building, and grounds. She made lifelong friends here, Beth and Judy, and remembers fondly the garden parties in the yard of the school.

The girls (in the 1950s anyway) were taught the history and architecture of the building and I know that my mother appreciated being able to attend such a school, in a former home such as this. She told me once that she and her friends thought the Goodyears lived ‘fairytale’ lives in the house. And that she enjoyed ‘living’ there for four years herself.

The skills that my mother learned while attending Bishop McMahon, (including typing 90 words a minute on a manual typewriter!) served her well throughout her career. She worked for Monroe Abstract & Title Company and Dupont, before spending 28 years as a school secretary. She loved her work at the school.

McMahon added the gymnasium at the back of the property, and years later the classrooms in between, finally removing Ella’s gardens completely. Wish there was some way to bring them back.

888 Delaware Is Sold Again, and Again

In 1988, the building was purchased by Women and Children’s Hospital (then) and was run as the Robert B. Adam Educational Center. It housed several children’s programs including an early childhood center.

In 2005 the school was sold and again used as a school. This time, it became Oracle Charter School. Oracle did extensive renovations creating new classrooms and offices.

But I heard whisperings as early as 2017 about whether the school wanted to continue in the historic building. The way it was put to me was that the school was in the process of discerning whether they wanted to be in the historic building business or the education business.

You see, housing your business (or school) in a historic building like the Goodyear Mansion is not easy, nor is it cheap. There are rules which must be adhered to when making any changes to the home, and it can cost quite a bit of money for regular upkeep alone.

The Future of 888

With that in mind, I wasn’t surprised to hear that 888 Delaware LLC (Priam Enterprises) acquired the property in October of 2019. The original plan for the property was the development of a boutique hotel in the old mansion and to create market-rate apartments in the rest of the property, including the classrooms and the old carriage house.

Then Covid-19 happened.

And as is the case with every other facet of our lives, this project had to be adapted to our ‘new norm’. The hospitality industry has taken a particularly hard hit. Priam, recognizing these conditions, has adapted their plan and will continue with the market-rate apartments, but has put aside the boutique hotel, for now. In the mansion itself, they plan to create furnished corporate apartments. Fifty-one apartments in all. It’s a good idea. I like it.

Amy Downing, Business Development Manager for Priam Enterprises, tells me their team is working to restore original woodwork, most of which is still there, and will keep as much of the interior intact as possible. They will remove walls and partitions that have been added over the years, returning at least some of the rooms to their former glory. And I’m happy to say that the plan includes the re-opening of that front portico. That alone will go a long way to make this building look like a home again. Love it.

Here are a few photos of some of the original charm that Priam has uncovered from behind sheetrock and drop ceilings thus far.

Photos of a Bygone Era

The photos below are all from the Goodyear era, and are courtesy of Priam Development, who obtained them from the Diocese of Buffalo when they purchased the property. I like knowing that Priam cares about what used to be here, and are taking pains to restore as well as renovate. They plan to have the apartments ready by the first quarter of 2022.

Here’s a look at what some of the interior looks like now. First up, is some of the stained glass. Note the block just outside the one window. That happened when the loading dock was added to the south side of the building. I’m told while it will not be able to be removed, the loading dock will be renovated into an attractive patio.

This is the woodwork in the Hall. The frieze above the mantle was sold at one point during a sale of Goodyear pieces, but the sale was cancelled when experts found that the foundation for it extended to the basement, and that it would be impossible to remove it from the house without knocking down the house itself! The frieze is called “Life” and it is by Karl Bitter.

The library and dining room need work but are largely intact. Note the modern lights visible in the mirror in the dining room. Also note the mirror and the door in the dining room have the same framing. Sweet.

And one of my personal favorites…This is the window in the billiard room. See what they did there? In the interior, the billiard room was broken up for smaller rooms, but Priam will be restoring it. Love it.

Tucked away is the safe room. I’ve never seen one of these before. There’s a rumor that the upper safe was for furs?!

And two guest bedrooms on the third floor. Pretty nice. That mantle with the ship painting! And the other mantle for that matter. Wow!

My Impressions of 888 Delaware

I’m not gonna lie, this was a tough one for me to write. Well, it was bittersweet. You all know how much I love history. But you may not know about my close and loving relationship with my Mother. So writing about 888 Delaware Ave has brought to mind many past conversations with her. Conversations we can no longer have.

But I am grateful we had them. As a matter of fact, I learned my attitude of gratitude from my Mother. She spoke about her high school days as if she were the luckiest girl on the face of the earth to be able to go to a school that taught what she wanted to learn, in a beautiful ex-mansion.

It’s with this in mind that I look forward to seeing the completed restoration and renovations that will take place at 888 Delaware Ave over the next year and a half or so. And I am grateful that there are people in Buffalo willing to invest in our future through investing in our past. The bones are there, and I have every reason to believe that this property will be beautiful again.

The Goodyear Mansion, not for the first time, is one to watch.

*A huge thank you to Amy Downing, Business Development Manager for Priam Enterprises, and Mark Tufillaro, President and COO for Priam Development, for the use of the black and whites, the tour, and just all around being fantastic to me. Thank you!

**Get the book! They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!).  Click here or on the photo below to purchase.

***All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

Circle Living – Symphony Circle

Circle Living – Symphony Circle

I’ve been wanting to write about Symphony Circle ever since I wrote about the Birge Mansion back in February. History swirls around this circle like a lake effect snowstorm. And you all know how I feel about history! (pssst…I love it!)

Symphony Circle was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted when he designed our Parks and Park System in the 1860s and 70s. Back then, it was simply called The Circle. The name was changed after Kleinhans Music Hall was built. But, we’ll get into that later. When it was completed in the early 1870s it was small, simple, and had a gorgeous light standard in the center. Take a look at the postcard photo below. Looks like something right out of The Music Man in River City, Iowa, say about 1912! This was Buffalo!

Photo Credit: Unknown

I’ve read that Buffalonians used Richmond Avenue to race their thoroughbred horses. In the winter, they raced their cutters (sleighs). The Circle served as the finish line in these races. Can you imagine doing that today?!

The Circle has changed over the years, and at one point it was removed altogether because it was thought to impede automobile traffic. I have to laugh at that because today circles are being put in all over the Western New York area with the hopes of moving traffic along more safely and smoothly. Anyway, it wasn’t returned to what we see today until 2002! That’s a long time! I am grateful that they did replace it though. Symphony Circle is such an iconic part of our city at this point.

And it’s busy too! On this walk on a random Tuesday morning, I had to wait several times to take photos. Nobody likes photos of Symphony Circle with cars driving through!

There are wide expanses of grass and trees between the buildings and the circle, with park benches to sit and relax. And indeed, it is park-like. While I was there that Tuesday the benches were getting used on all four grassy areas. There was a group of teenagers passing through and they stopped for a few minutes on one bench. On another, two men sat talking. On the third several friends met up on a walk and decided to sit and visit before going their separate ways. And just as I was leaving, two women sat down on the bench in front of the Birge Mansion after what appeared to be a power walk. To me, this means the neighbors are comfortable here. I like that.

Let’s Start

We’ll start at #1 Symphony Circle with the First Presbyterian Church. First Pres should be first. See what I did there?

Named First Presbyterian because it is Buffalo’s first religious congregation of any denomination (1812!). The congregation was originally downtown where the Main Place Mall now stands at the corner of Main and Church Streets.

First Presbyterian Church on at the corner of Main and Church Streets.
Photo credit: First Presbyterian Church website.

When the downtown area became crowded with business and industry, many of the congregants moved north of the city core. Delia Austin Avery donated the land the church now stands on. The Austin family owned a good portion of the land surrounding The Circle. We’ll talk more about the Avery family later.

First Pres was designed by none other than E.B. Green. It’s Richardsonian Romanesque in style and was completed in 1897. He created this design to complement the state hospital (now the Richardson Olmsted Complex) at the other end of Richmond Avenue. There’s a reason everyone wanted Green to design their buildings. The man was a genius.

First Presbyterian is very active in both religious and social causes in the city. It’s a true beacon in the neighborhood, both architecturally and socially. It’s an amazing addition to Symphony Circle.

Let’s Cross the Street

As I cross over Wadsworth I’m struck by how much I don’t dislike this building. I mean, it was originally a nursing home (Grace Manor) built in the early 1950s. Ellicott Development bought the facility in 2013. Gateway-Longview anchors the building utilizing the first two floors. The third and fourth floors are studio, one and two bedroom apartments.

It could use just a little sprucing up, but I like it. And the grounds are amazing!

Show Me a Good Old Fashioned Mansion

As I cross North Street, the Birge Mansion slowly comes into view through the trees. What a great time I had touring this home (now offices) back in February. Built in 1897, it was modeled after a Georgian Revival style villa the Birges had seen in the Riviera. And is it ever gorgeous! My favorite part is the loggia and the terrace. Not sure what a loggia is? I wasn’t either. Head over to the post here to learn more about this amazing Buffalo treasure.

Thanks again for the tour Lori!

Beautiful Homes

As I cross over Richmond, I immediately notice the porch on this house. How inviting.

This home is just lovely! Actually, I should say these two homes are lovely. Let me explain.

Brothers, Captain Thomas and Edward Maytham built these adjoining homes (one on Richmond Ave and one on Symphony Circle, in 1894. The homes were separated by double walls for privacy. The two owned a tug line and interestingly enough, the three river ferry steamers that ran between Unity Island and Fort Erie. Cool!

The homes are beautiful. I especially like the dormers, the ocular windows, and the tower with its unusual bell-shaped roof. In fact, the whole house is unusual. But there’s something about it that draws you in. You can’t help but like it.

Then there’s this. I absolutely love this one. It was designed by Franklin Caulkins, who also designed two more in this stretch. It’s an eclectic mix of styles, but it works! Check out that fence! Not sure it’s original, but wow!

See the home Caulkins designed for himself here.

And these Three

This next one is perfect in every way. Colors. Details. Landscaping. All perfect. This Queen Anne was designed by Franklin Caulkins, designed for a Mrs. Frances Bennett in 1883. Look at all the details. The porches! This home is superb!

I could be very happy here. What do you think? Could you be comfortable in this home? I would love to see the inside of this house. It must be fantastic!

Actually, it is fantastic. Check out some interior photos at this link. Sometimes I love the internet.

And the Last of the Homes

And last but not least is this home. I’ve said it before about this type of home, it’s perfect for a big family. I hope there are at least four kids living here. It looks like a storybook house, one that I would have seen in my dreams as a child. It appears there’s some work being done on the porch. Even that goes along with my vision for this house. Big, old family homes are always in need of some repair or other.

Maybe not as grand as the one next door, but it’s got a certain charm that you can’t ignore.

As I wait for traffic to clear so I can cross Porter Ave, I look towards the circle and see this. Nice!

The Pièce de Résistance On Symphony Circle

And finally, we come to Kleinhans Music Hall, home to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

As I mentioned earlier, Delia Austin Avery donated the land used for the First Presbyterian Church. Her parents, Stephen and Lavinia Austin, heavily invested in real estate here in Buffalo. Her mother is credited with the purchase and renovation of the Universalist Church at 110 Franklin Street, converting it into a stylish office building. Coincidentally, both of the architectural firms of E.B. Green and Franklin Caulkins had their offices there.

Delia inherited the Symphony Circle land. She and her husband, Trueman Avery, built a mansion on Symphony Circle where Kleinhans stands today. It’s pictured below.

After Trueman and Delia both passed away, their daughter, named for her maternal grandmother, Lavinia, no longer needed or wanted the mansion on The Circle. When she heard the city was looking for a place to build a music hall, she sold the home to them for half of what it was worth.

And we thank her for it!

Kleinhans Music Hall

Edward Kleinhans was one of the founders of the Kleinhans men’s clothing store located in the Brisbane Building. He met and married Mary Seaton, an accomplished pianist and singer. They moved to Buffalo in 1901. Having no children, when they passed away three months apart in 1934, they left their entire estate to the city to be used to erect a proper music hall, dedicated to the memory of Mary Seaton Kleinhans, and Edward’s mother, Mary Livington Kleinhans.

Kleinhans Music Hall was built between 1938 and 1940. Designed by the father and son architectural team Eliel and Eero Saarinen, in the International style. I’m sure it was considered very modern for its day. The unique design, which loosely resembles a stringed instrument, is lauded all over the world for its acoustic perfection. If you’ve ever been there, you know why. The sound in this building is perfection. In 1989, Kleinhans Music Hall was named a National Historic Landmark.

The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

From its opening, Kleinhans has been home to the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. The BPO was founded in 1935 and has been entertaining Buffalonians ever since. The Kleinhans stage has hosted such greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aaron Copeland, and Yo-Yo Ma. The grammy-winning BPO has toured abroad on more than one occasion and has released more than 50 recordings.

If you haven’t gone to see the BPO perform, try to make it a priority. They do everything from Classical, Pops and Rock, to Kids and Youth concerts. They truly have something for everyone! JoAnn Faletta is the Music Director, and in a normal year would preside over 120 shows. During the shutdown, the BPO has been broadcasting archived concerts on WNED-FM, on Tuesday nights, as well as keeping the music going through their daily Facebook posts. As of this writing, the BPO is planning its re-opening for September 26. Like all of us, they will be back.

Of course, it’s because of Kleinhans Music Hall and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra that The Circle was renamed in 1958 to Symphony Circle.

My Impressions

To me, Symphony Circle is one of those places that is steeped in history. When I’m there I try to imagine the horse races and cutter races. Must have been a sight to see. And I will admit to you that I was unaware that the circle was removed for as long a period as it was. But still called Symphony Circle? I somehow always knew it had been removed, but didn’t realize it wasn’t returned until 2002!

While there, I had a feeling of community. I chatted with several people on that particular day. Two lived there, two did not. But all four use the circle daily. And all four were friendly and willing to chat. I love that about a neighborhood.

Every time I walk around Symphony Circle, I feel lucky to live in a city where history and architecture are treasured and preserved. And where people truly appreciate the past, and are willing to work together to build Buffalo’s future.

Look around. Take a walk. I think you’ll find Buffalo is a beautiful city, with beautiful people. What are you waiting for?

* All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.

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