Elmwood Ave. Where should I begin? I guess at the beginning. But certainly not at the very beginning of Buffalo. Elmwood Ave did not exist then. It wasn’t part of Joseph Ellicott’s design of our city streets. Nor was it planned the way other, larger streets were. Think Main Street or Delaware Ave. Those streets were carefully planned out. Elmwood Ave? Not so much.
Originally, it ran from North Street to just beyond Amherst Street. And at the time, it was more like a series of smaller streets connected up together. There was talk for years about making it one coherent street but it didn’t happen until the city was readying itself for the Pan Am Exposition in 1901. Even then, it didn’t extend into the downtown core (Niagara Square) or north to the growing suburb of Kenmore. It only ran from Allen Street to just beyond Amherst. It was, however, at this time named Elmwood Ave.
It would not be fully extended into downtown until 1912.
Let’s Take a Look
I’ve decided to cover the section of Elmwood Ave between Bryant and Summer Streets. I realize this stretch is not what you probably thought you were going to see today. But I have my reasons for making this my first post about Elmwood Ave. Okay, so I only have one reason.
One of my most faithful readers, Jo Anne, lived along this stretch back in the 1970s, and I’m writing this for her. We’ve become email friends over the past year or so (remember pen pals?). Jo Anne now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but visits on occasion (like a lot of readers of the blog), and enjoys these ‘hikes’ around the area.
This one’s for you Jo Anne. Surprise!
I’m going to begin at Summer Street on the east side of Elmwood. This is the first home I see. What a start to this hike! This Colonial Revival was built around 1888, and is made of Onondaga Limestone. Love the look of this house. Note the pedimented dormers, look at the curve of the center one, I believe that’s called a swan’s neck pediment. Sexy. Just look at the wide wooden trim, accented by the wreaths and ribbons. It’s just lovely. The front door and sidelights appear to be floating above the portico. It’s how they’re set into the limestone. Love it.
In the 1890s, William C. Warren lived in this home with his wife Clara (Davock). Warren was born and raised in Buffalo, attended Yale University and was the editor and publisher of the Buffalo Commercial, a newspaper well known in the area for its progressiveness tempered with sound conservatism. William Warren was very well respected in both Republican and progressive circles, but he never ran for public office. Interesting. If only we could find someone with that kind of balance today – and if we could get him/her to run for public office. That would be great! Just sayin.
This Home, in 1915
In 1915, Judge Charles B. Wheeler was living in the home, and this is what it looked like then, below. It appears there used to be a widow’s walk at the roof, a balustrade on the roof of the portico, and the wreaths and ribbon on the trim are painted a darker color, probably black. Wish the old girl still had some or all of this. I can’t say for sure, but it looks like the front door is recessed just a bit, and I think the modern door is flush with the building. Which may account for the ‘floating’ look. I like it both ways.
The building is now home to a wealth management company. Interesting history here though.
I always wonder how critical I should be when looking at homes. I realize sometimes owners are up against it to keep up these old treasures. The work is so expensive, and can be difficult to keep up with, so I hesitate to be negative. This one, below, has seen better days, but is obviously a diamond in the rough. Would love to see it brought back, even just a bit.
The roof appears sound to my eye. Some paint and then maybe some work on the windows would go a long way here. Look at that bullseye window at the peak. Could be beautiful, but it also looks like not just anyone could fix that. Same with some of the shingles. It’d have to be a skilled craftsman. And those don’t come cheap, with good reason.
This one could come back better than ever. And so I’m going to call it ‘one to watch’.
Take a Look at This One
Next, is this absolute beauty.
The colors are perfect and are perfectly executed. The ionic columns on the porch match the ones on the second and third floor windows, and are amazing, as is the broken pedimented dormer with its half moon window, which on closer inspection has spider webbed leaded glass. Cool!
These Next Few
The word that keeps coming to mind is amazing. Simply amazing.
This first one has been maintained so well. Love the ribbon windows in the peak with the shell trim above – so pretty!
I love everything about this next one, below. The use of Roman brick is spectacular. And the Medina sandstone foundation is very practical, but its use as keystones is fabulous! It ties it all together. Also note the original wrought iron at the front of the home. I see the shape of that railing foundation all over Buffalo, but there are usually no longer railings attached. Most people add newer railings to the actual stairs. Love that these are original!
This home was once a lighting store called Schneider’s Lighting Studio, and was advertised as Buffalo’s largest display of lamps and shades. Neat! Later, in the 1940s, it was broken into several small apartments. It now serves as law offices.
The home below was built for Elbert B. Mann, who was the manager of Flint & Kent, a large dry goods store, located on Main Street.
Below is the home as it appeared in 1915. The original windows really add something, don’t they? Love the splayed lintels above the windows! Also, note the chimneys have been removed (above), as has the balustrade on the portico. Would love to see the windows on the dormers returned to something close to the original windows.
These Next Two
The next two homes are law offices. And the first one is an E.B. Green design! For that reason, I’m going to show it to you as he designed it in 1899, first. And is it ever lovely! It’s everything I would expect from E.B. Green and more! Love this home!
It was built for Philip G. Schaefer, a Buffalo brewer. And as we’ve learned in the past here on the blog, in general, brewers do okay for themselves here in Buffalo! Wink, wink…
And here it is today – every bit as beautiful! Love the dormers and balustrade at the top of the home. Note the sidelights to the windows on the first floor – nice touch EB!
The transition between the two.
And the second home included in the same address. Love the color continuity between the two.
This home, below, once belonged to Dr. A. L. Benedict and his wife. In 1943, he spoke to the Buffalo Courier Express about his family coming to Buffalo via the Erie Canal from Schenectady over 100 years before. His grandfather, the Rev. Stephen van Rensalaer arrived with his wife and nine children on a packet boat, to make their home on Carroll Street, which ran between Washington and Ellicott Streets. Benedict told of stories he had heard throughout the years about the family walking to The Terrace and Main Street to get water (it was the closest pump).
Van Rensalaer came to work as pastor of the First Universalist Church, then at Washington and Swan Streets. Cool story. It seems like Dr. Benedict did alright for himself with this home on Elmwood Ave. It’s a beautiful Tudor. Love the entryway and the porch! Very inviting!
This next one, below, is interesting too. A woman named Alice G.R. Owen lived here when she passed away in 1951, at the age of 80. She was born in France in 1871 to English parents. At 16, she moved to Toronto, and shortly after that Alice came to Buffalo to stay. She studied at Buffalo General Hospital, and completed her studies in 1896. She then worked as a surgical nurse for Dr. Roswell Park! Cool!
During World War I she worked as an Army nurse at Veterans Hospital in the Bronx. After the war, Alice went back to school to become a medical technologist. She came out of retirement to work as a nurse and laboratory technician in the field during World War II. I think I would have liked Alice. And she lived for much of that time in this apartment building (above), on Elmwood Ave. Cool.
These next two photos will be Musical Suites (the name is a nod to the Community Music School which used to be housed in the second photo). The project is being undertaken by Schneider Development. Read more about it here.
Crossing the Street
Here is the first home I come to on the west side of the street near Bryant. This is one I’d love to get into and check out. I’d especially love to see the yard – it’s a double lot! This home is beautiful! In my mind’s eye, there should be a covered patio coming off the north side of the house, and plenty of greenery and colorful flowers in the yard. And take a look at the side entryway with porch above! Wow!
Jo Anne’s Former Home
Now we come to it. The home that Jo Anne lived in during the 1970s.
The structure itself appears to be in really great shape. It’s got good bones, as they say. It wouldn’t take too much effort to get the landscaping cleaned up a bit to bring this house back to its original glory. Love it that the upper porch is still usable, so many aren’t anymore.
Like with almost every home, there is interesting history here too. In the 1950’s, this house was home to the Queen City Chess Club. I found an article in the Buffalo Courier Express from 1970 about a 12 year old boy (described as almost 13) who plays chess against 25 people simultaneously! He won 16 of the games, lost 2, and tied in 7. Young Peter Winston did this while holding a bottle of soda in one hand and making his moves with the other. And the other players were mostly adults who were champions themselves! Wow! Anybody thinking of The Queen’s Gambit right now? Many championships were won and lost in this house! These two brothers, below, were featured in an article in the Buffalo Evening News on October 10, 1955.
During the 1960s and 70s (including when Jo Anne lived here) the building was home to at least two bridge clubs. As in the card game. One was the Buffalo Whist Club and one was a chapter of the Frontier Bridge Club. I found many articles in several local papers about bridge, winners and their scores, where the games were held and who beat whom… It was a big thing, and Buffalo is still host to bridge tournaments. Jo Anne remembers the games going on into the night when she lived at 410.
A Pan American Exposition Connection
In addition to all of this, the Honorable William Buchanan who was the Director General of the Pan American Exposition lived in this home during and after the exposition.
He was charged with the construction, the operation and the dismantling of the exposition. I saw several ads in newspapers offering various expo buildings for sale. Interested parties were to come to this home to sign the necessary paperwork. These were run in local papers all through 1902. I guess I never really thought about who took care of all of that after the expo closed at the end of October. But someone had to, and that someone lived in Jo Anne’s house!
Another Apartment Building
This building had some construction work going on in the courtyard between the two sides, but normally when I walk by, it looks like a lovely place to live.
And one more apartment building.
It’s around here that I met Ron and his dogs. I should say his Mother’s dogs. Sadly, she passed away about five months ago. Ron just moved into this apartment, (home pictured below) a month ago, because his last place didn’t allow pets. He says his apartment is beautiful, and he’s enjoying being back in the Elmwood Village. We’ll have to take your word for it on the inside. We can’t see much of the outside, but the second floor makes me want to see more!
You’re a good son, Ron.
And one last house.
And there’s just one more building I’d like to show you. It’s the Buffalo Tennis and Squash Club. I’ve been past this building a million times and I have to say, I’ve never really noticed it. It’s beautiful. I love how original it is. I mean, those windows and for that matter, the shutters all look original. Love that.
This was a very different hike for me. It’s an area I haven’t spent a whole lot of time in. For me, it’s a pass through spot. You know, the areas that you pass through to get to a specific place. I’ve noticed the big old homes here, but never really looked at them. For this, I have Jo Anne to thank, by letting me know she used to live at 410. After that, my interest was piqued!
Knowing the history of Elmwood Ave really makes me think. It’s one of Buffalo’s busiest, best urban thoroughfares, and yet it wasn’t planned that way. It sort of evolved as the city evolved. And our city is still evolving. The conversation of just exactly how to do that is still a hot topic! And that’s a good thing.
Go See It
For me, when I see these old, grand homes that are now apartments, or offices, I end up daydreaming about the families who once lived in them, as single family homes. They make me want to time travel back to the days when Buffalo was experiencing the so-called ‘gilded age’. These homes make me want to see the stories first hand. But, until someone perfects time travel, I’ll have to be content with the written word, and sometimes a photograph or two.
Like I always say, every home, every building, every neighborhood’s got a story to tell. The buildings are nothing without knowing the stories of the people who built them, lived, loved, laughed and cried in them. That’s what I’m after. Go see your city, Buffalo. Get the stories.
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My daughter and I had the pleasure of walking the entire length of Elmwood Avenue during a brief visit to Buffalo in late August, and we were likewise struck by all the beautiful homes all along the way. I lived near Elmwood on Lexington Avenue during my time as a student at UB and was happy to see some of the places I frequented then (like The Place and Cole’s) were still around. Also happy to get another Bocce Club Pizza and there was no shortage of tasty beers to sample. Still recall walking down Richmond Avenue on a snowy Sunday afternoon a half century ago to enjoy the Buffalo Philharmonic.Buffalo seems to be improving with age! Wish I could say the same…
Those are some great memories, thank you for sharing them with us! Buffalo IS improving with age! Appreciate you reading the post!
410 Elmwood is the office of my opthalmologist, Dr. Melissa Neal. She redid the inside with a mid-century flair to accomodate her office. She uses the upstairs apartment as an Airbnb. She is a savvy businesswoman! I, too, have wanted to finish up her landscaping. Dr. Neal is fortunate to have a nice parking lot in the back.
Thank you for the info! I knew she was there but was unable to connect before publishing…Airbnb is perfect for this area! Thanks for reading!
My grandparents owned 309 and I was lucky to be able to play and explore what had been a grand old home prior to being turned into apartments. Servants bells, hidden stairwells, a grand main staircase with a grand piano on the landing with huge floor to ceiling windows, Loved to take a walk and admire the grand old homes on Elmwood!
I’d love to see that home brought back! It’s so beautiful. Would love to have seen the house back in the day! Thank you for sharing your story, and for reading!
This posting was beautiful. So happy to realize those homes are still there. As you said one passes through the corridor without paying much attention. Thank you
Thank you, Judith, for your kind words and for reading! More on Elmwood to come!
Wasn’t the building in the last pic the Quaker Bonnet? I loved that place.
That building’s been the Buffalo Tennis & Squash Club since 1916. I think the Quaker Bonnet was further down near Bryant – and then later closer to Cleveland Ave as sort of a retail outlet for the Chenango St location…? Everybody seems to have loved the Quaker Bonnet… Been hearing a lot about it! Thank you for reading!
I moved into the 2nd floor of 419 Elmwood, currently Benjaman’s Art Gallery, in 1969. Four of us guys each had our own bedroom and shared 2 bathrooms. The 1st floor was four sorority girls with the same setup. Rent was $400/month (total) and we all had (mostly) covered parking in back. The attic was huge and we used to show movies up there (the suggestive type) seating over 25 people. The front porch roof was huge and we would sit out there to sun and watch the world go by. Great bars were close by – my favorite was the One Eyed Cat on Bryant. Of course walking back and forth to Buff State every day was a trip in itself. Back then everyone who played at the Aud stayed at the Holiday Inn on North & Delaware where I worked as a desk clerk 3-11pm. Checked in many stars and rock acts. Others, like Joe Namath and some of his Jets, stayed at the Stuyvasant on Elmwood/North which was high class back then.
Dr. Lewis Grinkey, a dentist on 1105 Delaware Ave. owned the building then and had a beer with us when he came over to collect the rent. I worked part time next door (immediately) at the Blossom Flower Shop which was run by Jim DeLano. On the other side was the Buffalo Music Conservatory. While I was there (3-4 years) a Buffalo Police Detective bought the house.
I always thought it strange that eventually someone from my class at Buffalo State bought it and turned it into an Art Gallery.
Difficult to describe my years there…… a triple helping of classic late 60’s culture. Don’t know how it could have been any better.
Awesome story! Thank you for sharing it! My husband just told me he went to the One Eyed Cat on his 18th birthday! Good times in Buffalo… Thank you for reading, appreciate it!
These homes were on my Courier Express route 1968 .
The first apartment building on the west side of Elmwood was filled with drug addicts .
Brent Manor the second apartment building was a seniors housing where my drop box was .
The house next to the Buffalo Tennis club looks like it was modified . As I remember it had a large front porch and the front door was on the right. Two sisters lived in that huge house by them selves .
I was 12 years old and was kind of scary at 5am in the morning.
Mostly because it was a cruiser district back then.
Yikes! That would have been a bit scary! I too had a Courier Express route – so many memories! Thank you for sharing yours – and for reading!
I love the many eras of architecture in Buffalo. Am living in North Buffalo now and spend opportunities walking and exploring the area. Buffalo is a city of ‘pockets” of historical buildings mixed in among the ordinary ones and of a rich historical background spanning centuries. Thanks for pointing out these treasures.
You are correct on all points, Buffalo is a great city! Thank you for reading, I appreciate it.
WOW!! Thank you, Ellen! I grew up on Lexington from the 50s’ through the 80s’ and all of this grandeur was mine for the walking. I walked Elmwood Avenue for all of those years and miss it very much. I will look forward to more about my beloved neighborhood. 🙂
I’m so happy you enjoyed the post. Thank you for sharing your Elmwood story and for reading!