A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Avenue. After I did, a reader contacted me and told me about the rowhouses on North Pearl Street. I didn’t even know they existed! A week or so later, I did one of my favorite things and took a walk, specifically to look for them. And, wow! They are unbelievable! More about those later.
On this walk, I also noticed the rest of the block as well. I’m pretty familiar with the stretch of North Pearl between Virginia and Allen Streets, but my travels hadn’t yet included the ‘north’ end of North Pearl, between Allen and North Streets. (That’s a lot of norths!) Funny how these things happen, I’ve actually spent a lot of time just around the block on Franklin, between Allen and North, but never on North Pearl.
So, I’ve decided to bring you the whole of North Pearl today. Seems like I keep ending up in Allentown. Hmmm.
North Pearl Background
Most of the homes on North Pearl were built in the second half of the 19th Century. It’s where we can see many of Buffalo’s brick Italianate style homes. They were built by and for Buffalo’s upwardly mobile class who had a bit of extra money but couldn’t afford the larger homes we saw on Franklin Street. Instead of large, Italianate homes with all the trimmings, these homes are smaller. But a lot of them are built of brick instead of wood and do contain some of the trimmings, showing a more modest budget, but very good taste. My father would refer to them as ‘very nicely appointed’.
The homes along North Pearl weren’t built in any particular order. Instead, homes were added only as people bought up lots, over a period of 50 years or so.
Also, I should note that not all of the homes are in great shape, but it was obvious on my walk that several are being renovated.
Take a Look at This!
So, this is one of the first things I saw on North Pearl. Why, thank you. Thank you very much. What a beautiful home.
Let’s Get Started!
As I walk I notice the quiet of the street. There’s a slight breeze, and I hear leaves rustling in the trees and birds singing. It always amazes me that in the middle of the city walking on a street like North Pearl, it can seem so serene. Quiet. As if I’m walking on a side street in a small village somewhere in middle America. Love it.
I’ve chosen to start with number 1. This house was built by Henry Hellreigel, who was a grocer. Like most successful businessmen, he didn’t keep all his eggs in one basket though. He built at least seven houses on this street, to be used for rental income. He lived in one of them with his family while waiting for his mansion on Main Street to be completed.
As I move up the street, I see this one. It’s one of the older homes on the street – 1869. It has amazing detail at the top and around the windows and front door, but the picture window in the front is not original. Look at the brickwork above it. It appears something is missing. But those details below the cornice! Very pretty! Wish I could have seen this house before the window was replaced.
This one below is 1854, and is wonderful! It was built for a bookkeeper but was bought in 1882 by John Dingens, another grocer. He added on to the original house around 1890-92 adding a lot of the details you see here. Love the curved glass in the turret windows, and the second story inset windows with double columns on either side.
Just in case you prefer apartment living, North Pearl’s got you covered with The Ardmore. There are 22 apartments ranging from studios to an ‘elegant’ three-bedroom unit. It was built in 1905 and is just lovely to look at. I’m told almost all the hardwood floors are intact, along with the natural woodwork.
Apparently it’s a favorite among college students, being that it’s so close to UB’s medical school and the Buffalo Medical Campus. Would love to have spent my college years living in the middle of Allentown, in a place like this! Especially in one of those front units with bay windows and balconies! Yes, please!
This next one strays from the Italianate design and is Second Empire, evidenced by the Mansard roof with the dormer windows, in this case, one of them is oval. Look at the details above these windows as well. So beautiful. The front entry is actually Italianate in design. But it works.
When I see an oval window like this one, I wonder what the room on the inside looks like. Is it a child’s bedroom? One where the child looks out and watches snow gently falling in winter? Or fireflies twinkling in the summer?
And Still More
Back to the brick Italianate style. What a great example of what I mentioned earlier when I said ‘nicely appointed’. Love the details at the peak that so beautifully frame the gorgeous double windows! The scrollwork on the wrought iron is spectacular!
Next, there’s this. This Queen Anne style home is so lovely. The paint job is spot on, in my opinion. The colors are perfect for what I picture this style of home to be. Would love to sit on the porch in the evenings chatting with neighbors as they pass by.
Who am I trying to kid? I’d be one of the neighbors passing by. Ha!
And another Second Empire. Beautiful entryway! Love that the rounded windows haven’t been replaced with less expensive squared-off ones. I sometimes wonder if the owners have just been lucky, or did someone have to spend the extra dough to replace the rounded glass windows properly?
Recently, I learned from the owner of a historic Second Empire home about the astronomical cost of replacing/repairing windows in a home such as this one. I have a new appreciation for people who restore properly.
On this particular home, I even like the Dr. Seuss-like evergreen growing up the left hand side of the house. It works somehow.
Take a Gander at These
And that leads me to Allen Street. But first, check out this home attached to the back of Cathode Ray. That entryway! (Hope the window gets replaced soon.) Also, I picture someone writing (a blog perhaps?) just inside the open French doors on the second floor. My daydreams are alive and well on North Pearl!
Continuing up North Pearl
As I cross Allen Street, I notice, not for the first time, but with fresh eyes, this building. Because it’s painted, you have to look close to see the details. I love the entryway (I have a thing about entryways). This is another one I wish I could have seen right after it was built. Is anyone working on that time travel thing? Because I’m ready for it!
Here is the next house that catches my eye. Even though I am not a fan of the bunting, I can overlook it to see the nice paint job and solid design of this home. To me, it’s the quintessential family home. Love those upper windows, something you’d never notice if you were driving.
This is where it gets interesting. The next few are very unique. This one is two homes connected in the center and presided over by the center dormer. The two are mirror images with the exception of the entryway stairs. Love the uppermost windows and the first-floor tri-part windows with semi-circle transoms. Very well designed.
Lots of great features and details here, but overall it lacks something. No flowers, no garden to speak of, and general overgrowth of that small garden (?) near the driveway. It’s so great architecturally, I wish there were some love and care going into this place.
Next, I came upon something really unique, almost strange. Two homes joined together. Take a look. You wouldn’t notice this in a car either.
Here’s the Best Part!
Right about now I come upon those rowhouses I talked about at the beginning of this post. I’m taken in by them all over again. I start snapping pictures just as a woman came out her front door. I introduce myself, and we begin to chat. Her name is Carly, and she tells me a bit of what she knows about the rowhouses. Two are single homes, the other three are doubles. She and her husband own one of the doubles. She also tells me each one has a rooftop terrace! Excellent.
She offered to take me inside her house to look around, solidifying Buffalo’s reputation as one of the world’s friendliest cities. I mean, who does that? We do.
Well, she does have her place listed on Airbnb so that may have something to do with it. But I prefer to think she would have invited me in any way. In we went, and here is some of what I saw. Love the fireplace. The light fixture at the front door. Well, I loved all of it!
Share and Share Alike
I shared with Carly some of the info I learned in the past couple of weeks about the rowhouses.
The five rowhouses were built in 1888 as boarding houses (tenement). In each home, there was a kitchen, dining, and living room, to be shared by gentlemen tenants who had their own sleeping quarters. Through the years, the rooms for let were divided up, made smaller, and were neglected.
By the 1970s, the rowhouses had really deteriorated. They were in rough shape. Really rough. They were seedy, dirty, disgusting rooming houses and were set for demolition by the city.
They were saved by architect E. Bruce Garver in 1972. Garver set about to clean out the homes, redesigning and transforming them back to their original charm. The accounts I’ve read state that most of the woodwork and original features were remarkably intact but were badly in need of restoration.
We owe it to Bruce Garver for saving one of Buffalo’s most unique sets of historic homes.
Just a few more shots of the street.
I love learning new things about Buffalo, and it happens constantly. Like when I received an email from a reader telling me about the rowhouses on North Pearl. Like I said earlier, I’ve spent a good amount of time right around the block from them, but never had occasion to head over there.
Buffalo is a beautiful city. Every building, every street, every home has a story. When I look at a broken down, dilapidated building, I wonder who the people were who lived there. Loved there. Spent time there. Had dreams there. Went after those dreams there. I think the same thing when I see a beautiful mansion. Who were the people who lived there? I mean, who were they really?
In the blog posts I write, it’s easy to talk about the ‘movers and shakers’ and the ‘captains of industry’ who built this building, or that home. But I wonder who these people really were. What they were like. How they spent their days. How they treated each other. It’s what keeps me learning, going into these buildings and neighborhoods, and homes. I hope I never lose the willingness to learn new things. To see new things. To meet new people.
It’s the reason I’m the neighbor passing by on an urban hike, rather than the one sitting on the porch. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and a place for sitting on the porch, and I’ll be there eventually. But not yet.
Take the time to get over to North Pearl Street and walk it. When you do, imagine the people who’ve spent time in the beautiful homes there.
* Special thanks go out to Sam, for telling me about the North Pearl rowhouses; and Carly, for being so friendly and open about your rowhouse. Appreciate it!
Blessed Trinity Church has been on my list of things to write about for quite some time. And recently, I’ve received several emails asking me to write about it. Because I love this church so much and because it’s one of Buffalo’s greatest treasures, how could I refuse?
It was my husband’s Grandmother’s church when they lived around the block on Kensington Avenue. I knew Grammy Z, as we called her, for many years before she passed away. She wasn’t an easy person to get to know, didn’t open up very often. But she did talk to me about her years at Blessed Trinity. She didn’t give me very many details, (it simply wasn’t her way) but I got the idea she was comfortable there. So that made me want to see it.
When my husband and I decided to visit a different church every Sunday during lent, based on the tradition to visit seven churches on Holy Thursday, Blessed Trinity went on the list.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Early History of Blessed Trinity
In June of 1906, Bishop Charles Colton established Blessed Trinity Parish in the mostly German and Irish neighborhood on the East Side. The first pastor was Father John Pfluger. The first mass was held on the third floor of a building at 175 Dewey, at the corner of Sanford. The building also housed a grocery store and apartments on the first two floors.
A very humble beginning when you think of the magnificent church that was to come.
The church was legally incorporated by the end of 1907 and had acquired land on Leroy Avenue. A combination of church, school, and social hall was erected. The basement walls were built from the stone that had to be excavated in order to build. Also, the architects didn’t wire the building because it was thought that power would never be brought this far out of the city.
It was very common back in the day to have this combination type of building as a ‘starter’ church while a congregation grew. That way, if the congregation didn’t grow, not too much money was lost on an elaborate church building.
Well, Blessed Trinity grew. There were 60 people in attendance at that first mass. By sometime in 1908, the Sisters of St. Joseph began teaching in the school on the second floor. By 1911, there were 400 families. Two years after that, a rectory was built. The growth continued.
Fr. Albert Fritton
In 1914, Father Albert Fritton came to Blessed Trinity as the new pastor. He concentrated his efforts on growing the school. By 1919 there were over 300 students in attendance. Pretty crowded for a second-floor school in a combination building! The need for a new church became apparent and Fr. Fritton began to make plans.
He knew what he wanted, and told the congregation it “will be one of the finest in Buffalo. We shall be proud of it, the city will be proud of it, and God will be proud of it.”
By 1923, the architectural firm of Oakley and Schallmo had completed the plans and building commenced. It took five long years to build, and more than double the budget to complete. In the end, the final cost was $513,000, or just about $7.5 million today. The parish would not pay off the debt until 1953!
Let’s Take a Minute Here
I just want to take a minute to discuss the cost involved in building a church of this kind. I try to imagine how the congregation of my current church would react to the pastor asking for even half of $7.5 million.
In 1925 the average weekly income in the U.S. was $36.37. Remember that most households at the time had just that one income. For the people of Blessed Trinity’s parish to raise enough money to pay off a $513,000 debt was astronomical.
It happened all over the city though. At all the churches. Of all denominations. Maybe not to this extent, but these people made sacrifices to finance the great churches we admire today. Do you think these early Buffalonians understood what they were doing for us when they committed their hard-earned dollars to finance Buffalo’s churches?
More than likely, some did and some didn’t. Some gave freely, some reluctantly. Some gave for the glory of God, some for the glory of the architecture. Still, others gave to make themselves feel good, some did it to impress others.
For whatever reason, I am certainly glad they did! We have been blessed through their efforts.
Getting Back to Blessed Trinity
Let’s get into discussing the church itself. The design is Lombard-Romanesque, rarely seen outside of Italy. Buffalo’s own Jozef Mazur painted the murals in the dome, transept and choir loft. And they are fantastic! Many, many other artists and craftsmen contributed as well. The entire inside of the church is adorned with paintings, mosaics, sculptures, statues, reliefs, wood carvings, stained glass and tile work. It’s impossible to describe with words.
The outside of the building is unique as well. The structure is made of Harvard brick, which is a medieval brick-making process that does not use molds to form the bricks themselves. The bricks here were made in New Hampshire by French immigrants who used antiquated tools and methods to create each brick by hand. The result is the appearance of a much older, rudimentary design. The process was used in more “modern” design as a handmade, artisan brick. They’re stronger than our more modern bricks, and the mortar adheres to them better.
It completely fascinated me when I saw it for the first time. It still does. I kept trying to figure out the pattern. I didn’t realize at the time, there was no pattern, and that’s the genius of it. That someone could use these bricks and create a level, precise, true building. And yet, this building is as straight and true and they come.
The Terra Cotta!
I’ve read that the terra cotta on this church contains the most colorful use of terra cotta in the country. I should also mention that it holds over 2,000 symbols of Christianity. Two thousand. There are the Ten Commandments, the Blessed Trinity, the Our Father, the Apostles Creed, and many more. The symbolism was designed by Father Thomas Plassman, who was the President of St. Bonaventure University and also happened to be a good friend of Fr. Fritton. The two were seminarians together in Austria and traveled to northern Italy where they learned about Lombard Romanesque design.
What a stroke of luck for us that these two priests ended up here in the Buffalo area.
Blessed Trinity Through the Years
Blessed Trinity thrived as a parish through the 1950s, but went the way of most of Buffalo’s churches in the 60s and 70s. Attendance fell off, pews were empty and the school suffered. The Sisters of St. Joseph announced in June of 1975 that they could no longer staff the school. It closed in 1976.
Fr. Walter Kern, who had become the pastor in 1974, researched and wrote an illustrated handbook about the church which attracted the attention of the Buffalo Preservation Board. The board recognized the building as a City Landmark. Two years later the church was accepted onto the National Record of Historic Places. It’s only right. This place is exceptional in every way.
The church is open now with Covid-19 limitations, like all churches in NY State. They continue as a close-knit community, small in numbers, but large in enthusiasm and faith.
One Last Thing
Current event at the church. From Blessed Trinity’s Facebook page:
“On Tuesday night, July 28, the recently rebuilt plaza in front of Blessed Trinity Church sustained substantial damage when a driver heading west on Leroy lost control of his vehicle and crashed through the retaining wall on the east (ramp) side of the church. The car became airborne, landing on its roof in the center of the plaza near the street-level stairs. By the grace of God, the driver and passenger were able to walk away and the church itself does not appear to have been damaged. The accident has been reported to the driver’s insurance carrier, and [the] masons who performed earlier work will be returning to estimate the time and cost involved in restoring the area once again.”
Blessed Trinity Church is such an impressive building. I cannot stress this enough. You could literally (or I could anyway) spend hours just looking at all the details that are everywhere inside and outside this place.
But on that day when I first experienced it, at a Lenten mass all those years ago, what impressed me the most was the friendliness of the congregation. We were obviously not parishioners. There were only about 30 other people in attendance, besides our little group. At both the sign of peace, and after the mass itself, people approached us and welcomed us with open arms. They asked about our home parish, talked openly about the neighborhood, and the church itself. One woman even took me into the sanctuary to show me a particularly beautiful icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I can tell you this. I don’t think Grammy Z felt the grandeur of Blessed Trinity was necessary. When we spoke of the church, she only talked about a couple of priests she particularly liked, and one or two friends she made there. Never mentioned the architecture. That’s why I was so blown away when I went there for the first time. This incredible masterpiece and she never mentioned it. Only a few people who made a difference to her. Keeps it all in perspective, doesn’t it?
Go see this church. If you don’t go to any other, go see this one. You will be as amazed as I was. Blessed Trinity offers tours by volunteer docents. Just call the rectory, or contact them through their website. You’ll love it!
You’re in Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo. You’re with friends from out of town, showing them around. What are you looking at? My guess is it’s not the Michael J. Dillon U.S. Courthouse or the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building. Am I right?
You know I am. You’re looking at those ‘other’ buildings. And why not? They’re gorgeous!
It’s just that these three buildings get all the credit for being the big draws in Niagara Square. And they are all great. Even the 2011 Robert H. Jackson U.S. Courthouse; it’s beautiful! I’ll admit when they first announced it was being built, I was skeptical. I mean, you can’t blame me, Niagara Square goes way back in Buffalo’s history. Back to 1804. It’s where Joseph Ellicott began when he set out to design our city streets. But this new build fits in nicely here. And of course, the Statler and City Hall have always been welcome in our streetscape.
But there I go, ignoring the two buildings I’m here to talk about. It’s easy to do. In Buffalo, we’re surrounded by such great architecture, that it’s easy to get hung up on all the greats and forget about the others that are exceptional in their own right.
The Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building
Let’s start with the Buffalo State Office Building. It’s opposite city hall, on the north side of Court Street. It’s on the site of Buffalo’s first Central High School, which was built in 1854. That’ll give you an idea of what this neighborhood was like back in the 1850s. It was a good mix of industry and residences. Enough residences to warrant the school anyway.
By 1914 the industry had taken over enough that the school merged into the Hutchinson building on South Elmwood Avenue, and the school became Hutchinson Central School.
Incidentally, in 1918 during the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Central High School Building was put to use as Buffalo’s pandemic hospital. It was open to flu victims from October until December that year. From September when Buffalonians first started getting sick, until the end of the year over 2,500 people in Buffalo lost their lives to the Spanish Flu. Many of them in the building pictured above.
Back to the Building
The Central High School Building was torn down in 1926 to make way for Buffalo’s State Office Building. The building is a Neoclassical Monumental design, but it’s got some cool art deco details. It was built between 1928-1932. The architects were E.B. Green & Sons, with Albert Hopkins. In 1930 the cornerstone was laid by then Governor Franklin Roosevelt.
In 1982, the name was changed to the Walter J. Mahoney State Office Building. Walter Mahoney was a local state legislator, a Canisius College and UB School of Law graduate. He served for almost 30 years in the State Senate, before becoming a NYS State Supreme Court Judge.
Note from the photos below the use of owls, to signify wisdom and the reliefs of the seals of both the city of Buffalo and the State of New York. And the bison of course. Love, love, love this entryway.
And all of that is just the outside. Enter the building and this is some of what you will be treated to! There are murals all over the ceilings, but are so faded (faint?) that they don’t photograph well.
The Walter J. Mahoney NYS Office Building is, and will remain one of my favorites in the downtown core.
The Michael J. Dillon United States Courthouse
Moving across the street to a building that compliments the NYS Office Building very well, is the Michael J. Dillon United States Courthouse.
This building was built in 1936 as part of the New Deal Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932. In a nutshell, the bill authorized the construction of federal buildings across the U.S. in order to put construction workers back to work. It also recognized the impact of the depression on architects, and in some cases, local architects were used for federal buildings.
This is one of those cases. Bley and Lyman worked with E.B. Green and Sons on this building. It’s a perfect complement to the Walter Mahoney building across the street. Then-President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated this courthouse in October of 1936.
This building is the same style as the State Building, Neoclassical Monumental with Art Deco ornamentation. This one, however, is pentagonal in shape, to accommodate the odd-shaped lot, due to Ellicott’s radial street design. It also has more ornamentation. I absolutely love the art deco touches on this building.
The courthouse was re-named in 1987 in honor of Michael J. Dillon, who served as a longtime IRS agent who was murdered in the line of duty.
And now, it’s Buffalo’s new public safety complex, housing both Police and Fire Headquarters. The city acquired the building in 2016, renovations were made and both organizations were completely moved in by November 2018.
The building represents everything the people using them should be, strong, solid, fair. Let’s hope it’s used well in the future.
When I’m out on my urban hikes, I like to look at things I wouldn’t notice if I were in a car, or even on a bike. I’ve admired these buildings for so long now, and I sometimes wonder if other people see them the way I do. I see the intersection of Niagara Square at Court Street as one of the most architecturally cohesive spots in the city. The perfect complement to Niagara Square itself.
Sitting right at the apex of one of Buffalo’s most recognized views, these two buildings largely get ignored. Probably because when you’re looking at that coveted view, the two are on either side of you as you gaze out at the famed McKinley Monument and City Hall.
And the reason these two buildings complement each other so well is thanks to E.B. Green. I like to think he knew exactly what he was doing on that corner. City Hall and the State Building were recently completed when the courthouse was being built. The McKinley Monument was already there, and knowing that everyone would be looking at City Hall, Green designed these buildings to be understated, but fantastic just the same. And the Art Deco ornamentation on them is hard to beat, and a lot of it is similar and even matches on both buildings. I cannot say enough about the ornamentation!
Next time you find yourself near Niagara Square, take a moment to look at these two buildings nobody talks about. Seriously, you’ll be glad you did!
Oh, and p.s. – Scenes from the movie “Marshall” were filmed in the Michael J. Dillon U.S. Courthouse!
*All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.
I’ve been wanting to write this post about the Delaware Midway Rowhouses for some time now, and since I was literally around the block last week learning more about Franklin Street, I decided this was a good time.
Over the past several years, I’ve learned quite a bit about these rowhouses, been in a few of them, and have read quite a bit about them. I’m not even sure why they fascinate me so much. I don’t think I’d like to live in one. I like my patio and my yard too much for that. But I get it that a lot of people don’t want a yard. Let me explain.
You see, in the 1890s, the city of Buffalo was getting crowded with both industry and residences. The wealthiest among us were moving north of the city to escape the soot of industry and overcrowding. They were beginning to build grand estates along Delaware Avenue. You’ve seen them. All those big beautiful homes along Millionaires Row. We’ve lost some of them, but quite a few are still there today.
What you may not know is that most of them had extensive real estate attached as ‘green space’, or yards. For example, the mansions along the west side of Delaware had yards that extended all the way to where Richmond Avenue is today. This was, of course, before Elmwood Avenue existed.
Time for a Quick Daydream
I’ve wished, more than once, that I could have seen the Rumsey Estate on Delaware Ave between Tracy and West Tupper back in the day. Take a look at the photo below. This is Bronson Rumsey Sr.’s backyard on Delaware Avenue. And this isn’t even one-tenth of the property. It must have been an amazing sight to see!
But think of this. A tremendous amount of time and effort goes into caring for all that property and everything that went along with it. I mean, we’re talking extensive patios, gardens (both flower and vegetable), orchards, woods, creeks, ponds, and more. And sure, the wealthy employed small armies of people to manage and maintain the properties, but the buck stops with the owner in the end. And there had to be constant issues relating to all that responsibility.
That brings me back to reality. End daydream.
Enter the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Ave.
The building of these remarkably upscale rowhouses was an incredible idea. These homes allowed wealthy socialites to enjoy life in a mansion, but without all the property to maintain. I always thought that back in the day, one of these homes would be perfect for a single man, or a single woman, or maybe the widow of a wealthy businessman. It would allow them easy access to their socialite friends, genteel living, and also that coveted Delaware Avenue address.
If that’s what matters to you of course. And back when these houses were built, those things mattered to almost all the movers and shakers in Buffalo. These rowhouses gave that to them, without all the hassle of the upkeep.
And, these homes were designed by some of the best architects our city had to offer. Green & Wicks, Marling & Johnson, George Cary to name a few. They were all built in the 1890s. The architects showed amazing talent by working within the constricts of the other designs to create a cohesive, beautiful row of some of Buffalo’s best homes.
Let’s get into talking about some of these homes.
The One We Lost
On the south end of the block, there was originally a home where there is now a parking lot. It was at number 469. It was torn down in the late 1980s after the building suffered a small fire. Such was the way back then. Got a problem with a building? Just tear it down. This one was a real loss in my book. In my humble opinion, it anchored the entire row. What a shame to make it a parking lot.
Thankfully though, this kind of thing is not really happening in Buffalo anymore. We’ve come to appreciate the architectural treasures that grace our streets, and steps are taken to preserve them. For this, I am grateful.
471 Delaware Ave. – Dr. Ernest Wende House
This house was built for Dr. Ernest Wende and his wife Frances Cutler. They lived in the home with their children, Margaret, Hamilton and Flavilla until 1910, when Dr. Wende’s brother, Grover (Dr.), his wife Elizabeth and son David moved in. They stayed in the house through the 1920s.
Scott Croce purchased this building in 2016 and his plans were to renovate the first three floors as office space, with residential space on the top floor. Oh, and a possible rooftop patio. That would be sweet!
Looks like Croce has moved forward, on the outside as least. I don’t know about you, but I love the new paint job. Remember the mustard-y yellow some of the trim was before? The white really allows the details to pop!
475 Delaware – One of My Favorites
So this amazing example of a Renaissance Revival home was built for John Strootman. It is now owned by Scott Croce as well. He bought it in 2018, and plans were to build two large residential units on the upper floors, with office space below. With just over 9000 square feet to work with, there’s certainly room for it.
Love the lions!
This one is, by the way, available for lease at the writing of this post.
Next Up – the Birge-Horton / DAR House
This home was built in 1896 (the last rowhouse to be completed) for Henry Birge, one of Martin Birge’s sons who came into the wallpaper business with him. Although there is evidence that the actual purchaser was Henry’s wife, Fanny. The Birge Wallpaper Company was a hugely successful Buffalo business, so it is fitting that one of the Birge family members built one of the Midway Rowhouses. For some reason, this house gets called the George K. Birge House quite often. Not sure why. George was Henry’s older brother and built a mansion for himself on Symphony Circle.
Anyway, this house was designed by none other than Green & Wicks. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know they were perhaps the busiest and most popular architects in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th Century.
The Birges did not live in the house long. Henry’s health was failing and had to leave his position with the wallpaper firm in 1900. Henry and Fanny moved out of town, and shortly after, divorced. Henry passed away in 1904, leaving most of his estate to Fanny.
The home was rented to prominent Buffalonians for several years, including Peter Porter, Mrs. Frances Wolcott and her son Lyman Bass (a well-known attorney). In 1906, Katharine Pratt Horton moved in. She rented for 16 years before finally purchasing the home from Fanny. She stayed for the rest of her life. When she passed away, she left the home to the Daughters of the American Revolution. So, this home has only had three owners. City records still show Katharine and DAR as the current owners.
Interesting history on this one.
479 Delaware Ave – Harlow C. Curtiss House
This beauty right next door to the DAR home was built for Harlow and Ethel Curtiss. Harlow was an attorney and real estate developer. The couple only lived in the home for two years! They went on to live in a much larger mansion further north on Delaware Avenue and later on Lincoln Parkway. These two were certainly movers and shakers!
This Colonial Revival was built for Dr. Bernard Bartow, who was one of the founders of our Children’s Hospital.
Which is cool, but the real story here is that amazing window! It was added in the 1930s and was designed by interior designer Frederick Pike. It was probably added because the building was going to be used for some type of commercial use. The two cast-iron figures are a craftsman and an artist. The whole window just works. It was done very well, and to my untrained eye, looks fabulous!
This home is one of four rowhouses purchased by the owners of the Rowhouse Bakery and Restaurant (closed). The group spent several years joining three of the four homes and renovating the interior. It was a beautiful space for a very upscale bakery and restaurant.
I relished my time there, sipping tea and eating scones in the most beautiful bakery in Buffalo. I must admit though, every time I was there, I wondered if they hadn’t spent too much time and money on the interior. Wish they could have made a go of it.
It was lovely while it lasted.
The fourth home is apartments and an antique shop. The antique shop is run by the owners of the bakery, and it’s unclear whether it will survive. I tried to reach the owners for comment, but their phone numbers are no longer in use. These four homes are ones to watch.
491 Delaware Ave – Charles Miller Morse House
As far as I can tell, this is a single-family home that had deteriorated pretty badly before being purchased by two businessmen, Walter McFarlane and Lenny Alba in 2013 for just over $302,000. It was originally built for Charles Miller Morse. McFarlane and Alba worked to restore the structure to its former glory even adding a custom stained glass window above the circular staircase with the Morse family crest in the center. Nice touch.
They then sold the home for $787,000 in 2015. I believe the new owner, the Newberry Construction Company, added the orange trim to the front facade and that it’s still a single-family home. Whether or not it’s being used as such, is unclear.
I must say, I like what they’ve done with the place. Can you picture yourself sitting out on that terrace in the morning with a cup of tea, or in the evening watching the sun go down behind the Cornell Mansion? I can. But then, you know my propensity for daydreams.
Take a look at photos of the interior before the home was sold in 2015 here.
493 Delaware – Herman Hayd House
This home was built for Herman Hayd but is now owned by Paul Jacobs Jr. It appears the building has two commercial tenants. It’s actually better looking in person, the photos I took don’t do it justice.
497 Delaware Ave – Stella Lowry House
This home was built for Mrs. William H. (Stella) Lowry, who moved in with her two daughters Stella and Lily. The three moved in and out of the home several times, moving to The Lenox Hotel, The Trubee (now The Mansion on Delaware), and the ‘Niagara’. All the while maintaining a heavy social schedule and leasing the property to various wealthy Buffalonians along the way.
Mrs. Stella Lowry passed away in 1914. Daughter Stella ended up back at 497 and lived out her days here, passing away in 1942. She is thought to be the last original occupant of the Midway to live there.
Now, the current owner. This is where it gets interesting. His name is Michael Meade, and he’s a Buffalo native. Last September he was named CEO of Sullivan’s Brewing Company USA. The brewery is a Kilkenny, Ireland based brewery that is expanding into the US, beginning with Buffalo!
What’s the Big Deal You Ask?
It may not be a big deal to everyone. But to me, it is. Bear with me, please.
The reason I’m so happy about this is because my husband and I visited Kilkenny, Ireland a couple of years ago. It’s a small, but historic town. We took a bike tour and got talking with our guide, Ronan. He was a retired Smithwick’s brewer. Ronan told us about how the Smithwick’s Brewery in Kilkenny was closed by Guinness in 2013 (Guinness bought Smithwick’s back in 1965) and how many people lost their jobs and were still struggling in the small town. Long story short, we met up with Ronan at a pub later in the day and got to know him a bit. We kept in touch for a while.
I’m hoping some of the displaced workers from the wide layoffs in 2013 have been put back to work by Sullivan’s Brewing.
And, Michael Meade, the new CEO here in the US, launched the brewery’s USA debut from the Stella Lowry House! Meade intends to make it his permanent home.
And Buffalo has been chosen to debut all the brewery’s beer that they choose to export to the USA. It’s available now at several bars in town. Cool.
Sullivan’s and Smithwick’s breweries both started out as family-owned businesses, and Sullivan’s is family-owned again. By members of both families. The history of these two breweries are intertwined, as are their future. It’s just a great story. I guess that’s why I’m so happy their US CEO bought this house. Read details about the breweries here, and here.
Plus, this kind of thing fits in so well with Buffalo’s extensive brewing history, and the thriving craft beer industry in Buffalo today.
499 Delaware Ave – Bryant B. Glenny House
Back to the houses. This one was built for Bryant Glenny, son of William H. Glenny, the namesake for the Glenny Building on Main Street near Swan. Not too shabby for the son of an Irish immigrant, to live at one of the most prestigious addresses in the city back in the day. And in one of the most unique architectural treasures in the city.
The home is now 5+ apartments. It’s still a great northern anchor to the row.
My Impressions of the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware
Writing this post has given me a chance to take a fresh look at the Midway Rowhouses. I guess I got so used to riding past on my bike or driving by in my car, that I’d forgotten to notice the wonder of them. Another architectural masterpiece hiding in plain sight. It’s amazing how each home is completely different from the one next to it, and yet it works. It just does.
Now, is every one of them in perfect shape? No. But none of them are falling down either. I like that some are a mix of offices and apartments, but I also like that a couple are still single-family homes. I’d like to see rooftop terraces on one or two of them too. You never know, it could happen.
And, as a city, we’re getting better at saving our great homes and buildings. Like I said earlier in the post, for this I am grateful.
Next time you’re out and about, plan a walk past the Midway Rowhouses on Delaware Avenue. See it from both sides of the street. Look at the homes with fresh eyes and enjoy the brilliance of the architecture. Really see your city. It’s beautiful. And you never know what you might learn!
I intended for this week’s post to be about the Hamlin House. But they’re doing work inside, and I haven’t been able to get in to get the photos I want, so I decided to take a walk on Franklin Street anyway. My husband Tim and I walked along Franklin Street, between Edward and Allen. It’s such an interesting street historically speaking. Let me give you a little background on the street itself.
The land that Franklin Street is on was once owned by Ebenezer Walden, an attorney (Buffalo’s first), who came to Buffalo in 1799. So he was here from the very beginning. Walden went on to become Erie County’s first judge. He was also part of the committee that drafted the charter incorporating Buffalo as a city. In 1838 the Common Council chose Walden as mayor of Buffalo. Back in the day, Buffalo residents didn’t vote for mayor, the common council chose one!
In the early years, Walden lived at the corner of Main and Eagle. Later he and his family moved to a home at the corner of Edward and Main. This was considered the “suburbs” at the time. Where people could enjoy estate like living, while being close enough to the ever growing business district downtown.
Throughout his career, Walden invested heavily in real estate, and Franklin Street was part of his estate. Incidentally, so was a good portion of Allentown. Louis Allen purchased his original five acres from Ebenezer Walden. Eventually, Franklin Street was parceled out as well.
So that’s the background info. Let’s talk about what Franklin Street is like today. There’s a lot going on here. From historic homes to restaurants, to storefronts and more.
Let me show you what I mean.
Buffalo’s Oldest Tree
As Tim & I round the corner coming off of Edward heading north on Franklin, the first thing we see is what is generally accepted as Buffalo’s oldest tree. It’s a Sycamore, and it is huge. It’s believed to date back to 1710! That’s well before any Europeans settled in the Buffalo area!
Thinking about it now, it’s amazing that the tree survived, considering that the city grew up around it!
Now, the reason I said this tree is ‘generally accepted as the oldest tree in the city’ is that there is another contender for this title. It’s in Delaware Park, inside Ring Road on the golf course. It’s easily visible from the section of the road nearest the 198. (Pictured below.)
Dan Cadzow has a master’s degree in archaeology, is a full time stay at homeschooling father of four. He’s got over ten years of experience in all facets of archaeology. He believes there is a tree just as old as the Sycamore on Franklin. Dan makes his case for the White Oak in Delaware Park here.
Care is being taken to preserve both trees. I like that we do that as a city. And I’m okay with having two “oldest” trees.
Back to Franklin Street
Right across the street from that Sycamore are these two homes. They were both built in 1880 and both are in very nice shape. Note the Medina Sandstone sidewalk in front of the one.
And here’s one from 1890 (below). The blackening of the bricks is not uncommon, but to me, it’s an issue. And wouldn’t it be great if the roof on the entryway were copper? With that copper roof and the brick cleaned, this home would be stunning. I love the way it sits on slightly higher ground. It’s lovely.
Franklin W. Caulkins Home
Next, we come upon this magnificent stick home. It dates to 1882 and was built by and for, Franklin Caulkins. He was an architect and the detail he put into this home is astounding. Even better though, is how well it’s been maintained through the years. Just look at it!
More of the Homes…
This home is beautiful. I’ve spoken to the homeowner and he tells me he is working hard to improve the home and property. I would love to see the inside. This is one to watch!
This home was built in 1877 for Frank Hamlin, the son of Cicero Hamlin. We’ll talk about Cicero in a minute. The home was designed by the architectural firm of Richard Waite who incidentally, hired the first woman architect in the country, Louise Blanchard Bethune. She was a Buffalonian! The home is beautifully maintained by the law firm that now owns it.
And this home! Beautifully restored in the past several years, it’s just gorgeous. The house, the gardens. It’s all so well done! Even the curb strip is fantastic, with a delightful mix of pavers, stone, and flowers. I especially love to see this place looking so great because it’s a Green & Wicks, one of the most prolific architectural firms in Buffalo.
Cicero J. Hamlin Home
This home (pictured below) was built in 1865-66 for Cicero J. Hamlin. He was to become the wealthiest man in New York State, outside of New York City. And by then he and his wife had moved to a Delaware Avenue Mansion. So, I suppose you could consider this their starter home.
Hamlin was a glucose sugar manufacturer. Now there’s a business you don’t hear about when you talk about the big businesses that were in Buffalo back in the city’s heyday. Usually, you hear about shipping, grain, railroads, automobiles, aeronautics, and steel. But here was Cicero Hamlin, the wealthiest man in Buffalo, the largest employer in the city at one point, and he was in glucose. Who would have thought?
It’s a beautiful home. It serves a dual purpose, it is home to the American Legion Troop I, Post 665. The American Legion owns it, and leases it to the people who run the restaurant and banquet hall, called of course, The Hamlin House. The inside is much the same as it was when the Hamlins lived here.
Here’s an interesting side note. Cicero was into thoroughbred horses and owned a farm in East Aurora. He donated the land that is now Hamlin Park in that town. He also owned and operated a horse racetrack, the Buffalo Driving Park in the city. The land that racetrack was on was sold by Hamlin’s descendants in 1905 to a developer. The Hamlin Park neighborhood was established there, which is now a historic district on Buffalo’s East Side.
Moving Right Along…
Here are some of the homes we came to next. Businesses in the grouping include Lace & Day; The Franklin Salon + Esthetics; and Fat Bob’s Smokehouse (red painted brick building).
This home (below) was purchased in 2003 by Don Gilbert and was in need of total rehab. The property was painstakingly transformed from the 32 room boardinghouse into 7 historic apartments and just look at it! It is absolutely stunning. The Allentown Association gave this home a beautification award when it was completed in 2008, and an award from Preservation Buffalo Niagara for Rehabilitation/Adaptive Reuse. Excellent!
This one below looks like a beautiful home but is in fact offices now. Love that they kept the charm of the house intact. Buffalo architect, George Cary lived in this home, although he didn’t design it. He made changes to the home though, including the addition of the front patio and the second-story porch. If you’ve been to the Buffalo History Museum, you’ve seen George Cary’s work.
I’d love to see the second story shutters put back where they belong on this house. Perhaps they are simply being repaired? Let’s hope.
Sisti Art Gallery
While photographing the home below, the owner came out to talk to us. We got into a conversation of course, about his home. He told us it was the former home of Tony Sisti and the Sisti Art Gallery. Tony Sisti was a well-known artist who was also, believe it or not, a boxer. As a matter of fact, he often boxed to finance his exhibits. It seems that art was his true calling, but sometimes, boxing paid the bills. Sisti was one of the founders of the Allentown Art Festival. Tony Sisti Park, at the southeast corner of Franklin and North, is named for him. Learn more about Toni Sisti here.
The owner took us along the side of the house to the private entrance to the apartment that he rents as an Airbnb and let us go in. I was so taken with the Sisti painting on the wall, it’s the only photo I took inside!
The room itself was very quaint. Photos of the Airbnb listing are here.
After seeing the 1974 photo above, I can’t help but wonder what the place looked like when Sisti lived here. When, oh when is time travel going to be a thing?
Take a look at the walkway and yard. I love the bones of it! The art pieces, of course, are gone. But all the wrought iron is still there. It wouldn’t take too much to get the yard in shape for get-togethers. All it would need is some elbow grease, some candles and twinkle lights, and re-arrange the furniture that’s already there. Gather up some good friends and family for some summer fun. I can see it now.
My Impressions of Franklin Street
Wow! I’ve been down this street so many times before. But I’ve never really looked at it with a critical eye. There is so much going on here. It’s amazing what you see when out on an urban hike. Or bike riding. You never see this stuff when you’re driving!
I’m even kind of glad I wasn’t able to get into the Hamlin House. I wouldn’t have experienced all the other homes on the street up close and personal!
Would you believe that I’ve never noticed the Franklin Caulkins home before?! That’s the incredible stick style home in the lead image. I can’t believe I’ve missed it all these years.
Not to mention the Sisti Art Gallery home. I mean, I’ve seen those enormous pillars out front, but never really looked at the home itself. I’ve never wondered what it used to be, or why those crazy pillars are there. I for one would like to see this house fixed up. But alas, I don’t own it, soooo. I’ll have to be content with my daydreams about parties in the yard under a summer sky, surrounded by twinkle lights and good friends.
When you can, walk or bike instead of driving. You’ll see new, interesting things. You’ll meet new, interesting people. And walking and biking are great for your health. Enjoy your city! There is good everywhere. Go find it!
*There are a few houses that I couldn’t get good photos of on the day we were there, because there were trucks parked in front of them. So if you’re looking for something in particular and it’s not here, that’s probably why.
**Here are two more photos from the Sisti Gallery Home
Several weeks ago, I had a conversation with a gentleman about the West Side of Buffalo, just after I published my post about Assumption Church. Twenty minutes in, I found out he lives in a converted firehouse. In that same conversation, he very politely told me that he and his wife were no longer comfortable with public posts about their home. I understood completely.
Only a day or two later, I was contacted through Instagram by a Buffalo Firefighter (Richie) who works at Engine 26 on Tonawanda Street. He mentioned that Engine 26 is housed in a beautiful, historic building, and offered to give me a tour.
One Door Closes, Another One Opens
Well, since I’ve never turned down a tour of any building, I didn’t intend to turn down this one either. The upcoming tour got me to thinking about the role of the Buffalo Firefighters, and how things have changed for them since 1817 when the first fire company was formed in Buffalo.
And as it turns out, I had a few weeks to think about it. You see, we had to reschedule the tour a few times, because, well, apparently firefighting duties trump meeting with bloggers. Ha! But eventually, we made it work.
Let’s take a look.
A Little Bit of Buffalo Background
Before we talk about the building itself, let’s discuss fires in early Buffalo.
During the War of 1812, in December of 1813, the British Army burned the village of Buffalo. Some accounts say one building survived, some say four did. Either way, we were pretty much leveled. After that, homeowners were required to have leather buckets on hand, to fight fires when they occurred.
If you spend any time reading the history of Buffalo, then you know how many fires have ravaged the buildings here. I am forever reading the history of a building, only to find that ‘the first building on this site was lost to fire’, or something to that effect.
It stands to reason. I mean, most buildings were built of wood back then because it was the most readily available material around at the time. And when all the buildings are built of wood, well, we need only ask our neighbors in Chicago what could happen if a fire were to break out.
The Buffalo Fire Department
A few years later, 1817 to be exact, the first Buffalo fire company was formed with volunteers. The first hand-drawn pumper was acquired in 1824, effectively creating Engine No. 1 for the Buffalo Fire Department. Official volunteers were organized by the city in 1831 when the very first “Hook & Ladder” truck was purchased. This truck carried all the tools of the trade at the time, which included lengths of leather hose, hooks, ropes, axes, and ladders. Now, don’t get ahead of me here. This wasn’t a truck as we now know them. It was a horse-drawn vehicle. Something like the one pictured below.
By the early 1850s, residents petitioned for a paid fire department. The city turned them down. But in 1859, the first steam-powered engine was purchased. It required a team of horses to pull it, a driver to drive the horses, an engineer to run it, and a man to stoke the furnace. And so, for the first time, the city was forced to pay firefighters.
As the city continued to grow, so did the fire department. “By 1900, the Department had grown to 26 Engines, nine Hook & Ladders, six Battalion Chiefs, five Chemical companies, and two Fireboats.”* The photo below is an early photograph of Engine 26 which was built in 1894. The architect was F.W. Humble, who worked out of the German Insurance Building on Main Street at the corner of Lafayette.
Note the dormers on the front and side of the building. Both have been removed. Gone as well is the rectangular tower on the north side of the building. This is interesting. It originally housed a ‘closet’ where firefighters would climb ladders to the top of the tower and hang the hoses to dry. Thankfully, this is no longer necessary. I’m guessing that the tower at some point needed extensive repairs, and since it was no longer being used, it was simply removed. But the rest of the ‘closet’ still exists inside the building today. I cannot speak for the dormers.
Fire Alarm Boxes
Buffalo first used alarm boxes in 1866. When a fire occurred, a person could pull a hook or turn a knob inside the box and the mechanism would be activated, causing a spring-loaded wheel to turn. This action would tap out a signal to correspond with the location of the fire at the firehouse and simultaneously cause an alarm. In effect both alerting the firefighters of the fire, and letting them know the location of it. I admit I’ve never thought about how old alarm boxes worked. It’s kind of fascinating really.
Engine 26 still has the alarm box mechanics in place, but of course, they are no longer used. The photos below show both the box that holds the fuses and the chart that shows the corresponding street where an alarm would have been pulled. Engine 26 still serves these same streets, but thankfully, with more updated alarm systems in place. 😉
Edward M. Cotter Fireboat
Since we’re discussing a little bit of the history of the Buffalo Fire Department as well as the building at Engine 26, I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the Edward M. Cotter Fireboat, which was built in 1900. It is the oldest working fireboat in the world, and it belongs to our own Buffalo Fire Department. The boat has undergone several renovations over the years, including extensive repairs to the hull and propellers in 2019. The Cotter can frequently be seen in the Buffalo River, where it’s permanently docked.
A Bit More of Buffalo Fire Department History
Hours were long for early firefighters in Buffalo. In the horse-drawn era, they worked seven days a week, 21 hours a day. They had a total of 3 hours a day off for meals plus two days off per month. Woah! Who would have wanted to be a firefighter back in the day? I mean, I know sleeping was (and still is) allowed, but when did they go home? Talk about a lack of work/life balance!
The work week was shortened to 84 hours in 1916. Called the Two Platoon System, one platoon would work days, and one would work nights. Five, twelve-hour days plus one, 24 hour day to allow the other ‘platoon’ to have 24 straight hours off, once a week. This must have made a huge difference in their lives!
It wasn’t until 1975, that the Buffalo Fire Department moved to a 40 hour work week and a two-day, two-night rotation. So, they work 24 hours, twice a week, with 24 hours in between, with four days (not necessarily consecutive) off per week. This has to make for a much better work/life balance.
The Crash and Rescue Unit at the Airport was created in 1942.
And get this, in 1952 the title ‘fireman’ was changed to ‘firefighter’. But Buffalo didn’t hire a woman firefighter until 1980! That’s late ladies! But, better late than never, I suppose.
The Fire Prevention Bureau
Buffalo’s Fire Prevention Bureau was formed in 1941. Remember fire prevention poster contests? When I was a kid, school children would create posters and firefighters would choose the best in each grade level. Winners were notified by phone and would go to their local firehouse to pick up their trophies. They were also treated to a tour, including climbing on the fire trucks.
Is this still a thing? Do they still have these contests?
One year I won a trophy for fire prevention week, and it was a big deal! I remember it very clearly. My family spent an hour or so at the firehouse climbing all over the equipment, and my mother baked a cake in my honor. And someone snapped a photo of the day. I was thrilled. That’s me, front and center with the big, toothy grin!
My Impressions of Engine 26
When I first heard from Richie from Engine 26, I figured this post would be about the building. I mean, he was right that Engine 26 is housed in a beautiful historic building. But at present, the inside is just functional. And I suppose that’s all it ever was. The outside seems special for a firehouse. But that’s because in 1894 most municipal buildings were built this way. It was the standard at the time. Gorgeous to look at anyway. And I love the fact that Richie loves the building he works in.
The basement was cool, with exposed early steel frame construction. I’ve never had the chance to see it up close before. I appreciated that.
But what I was most impressed with was the history of the Buffalo Fire Department. Or should I say the evolution of the Buffalo Fire Department? It’s been around since very early on. It’s grown and changed along with the city itself, according to our needs. And it’s impressive. Also, I’m humbled that I’ve never really looked into it before now, but I’m glad that I’ve had the chance to share it with you.
These men and women are always on duty, waiting to help any one, or all of us in our time of need. That is, in my book, the very definition of a first responder. I’m glad I understand what they do a little bit better. Thank you for that Richie. And thank you for what you and your colleagues do every day.
Oh, and one more thing about Engine 26…
Here are just a few more shots at the fire house. And yes, that’s a genuine firefighter’s pole on the lower left. It’s not used any longer, but Richie seemed to think it is the only one left in the city…cool!
**All the photos in this post are mine, unless otherwise noted.