Several months ago, a family member was in Buffalo General Hospital over on High Street in the Medical Campus. For about the one hundredth time, I admired Kevin Guest House as I drove by. But this time I noticed all the other homes around it. I thought, what the heck? How have they survived? I mean, in this little corner of Buffalo, smack dab in the middle of the medical corridor, there are not a lot of homes left. It’s all hospitals, medical labs, the medical school, parking lots and more like it. Buffalo General Hospital, Oishei Children’s Hospital and Roswell Park Cancer Institute are all within view of these homes.
This little block intrigues me. Several houses still stand in the middle of all of this development. It’s time I learned a bit more about them. Come hike with me.
Let’s Get Started with Kevin Guest House
Through the years I’ve wondered about the origins of this house. Who built it? Who’s lived here? What were they like? You know, my usual thoughts as I hike around the city looking at different homes and buildings. So I bought a book about it through the Kevin Guest House website. Very interesting and easy read.
The home was built in 1869 for Jacob B. Fisher, who was a brewer. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my reading about Buffalo, it’s that back in the day brewers did very well here. And I think they are again. Just sayin’.
In 1904, the home was purchased by Theophil Speyser, a cabinetmaker, for himself and his family. Speyser and his wife, Ernestine, had three children, Louis, Clara and Mathilda, who all lived in the home. Theophil opened a coffin and furniture making company and also purchased a coffin factory. He incorporated in 1906 under the name Buffalo Trunk Manufacturing. The factory building at 127-130 Cherry Street (now Evergreen Lofts) is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Cool.
Mathilda married Louis Beer and the home stayed in the Speyser/Beer family until 1971. Interior photos of the home are available at the Kevin Guest House website.
Who Was Kevin?
Kevin Garvey was born in 1958 in Sharon, PA, to Cyril and Claudia Garvey. Kevin was one of eight children, and his family gave him the nickname Heart. Just after his sixth grade year, in July 1970, Kevin arrived at Roswell Park for treatment of Leukemia. Kevin was, by all accounts (in the book), an example and model to everyone who knew him. He never lost his faith in God throughout the 18 months he lived with the disease.
On January 14, 1972, Kevin passed away.
His family soon after founded the Kevin Guest House, a hospitality house for patients and their families who have to travel long distances for medical treatment in one of Buffalo’s hospitals and treatment centers. Through the years, it has grown to a campus of four houses. The family remains somewhat involved in Kevin Guest House today.
A Source of Inspiration
In my humble opinion, Kevin’s family were (and still are) models and examples to everyone as well. The good work they have done across the country and right here in Buffalo is a testament to the love they have for their son and brother.
Incidentally, Kevin Guest House was the inspiration for the first Ronald McDonald House, which was in Philadelphia, and has served as a model for many others across the country as well. Another Buffalo first – by guests of ours back in 1972. Amazing people if you ask me. To take a loss so great, and turn it into something that has helped countless people through the years. Simply incredible.
766 Ellicott Street
This home too, is part of the Kevin Guest House campus. It is called the Russel J. Salvatore Hospitality House on Kevin Campus. Schroeder, Joseph & Associates sold the property to Kevin Guest House in order that they may expand their services to more families in need.
As of 2016, Kevin Guest House was serving roughly 1200 families every year, but 400 more were being turned away. This home is already going a long way toward helping these families. To date, in 2020, 2,000 families have been sheltered during their time of need.
Being a history nerd, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the history of this home. This beautiful Second Empire home was built for Albert Ziegler, who was also a brewer.
Zeigler’s story is well known in Buffalo brewing circles. When his brewery on Genesee Street burned to the ground, it was resurrected on Washington Street as the Phoenix Brewery. Ziegler named it for the Egyptian mythological figure that rose from the ashes. That second building has now been redeveloped by Sinatra & Company as residential units.
The home was eventually owned by August Feine, who was a talented craftsman working with iron. He embellished the home in several places with his hand forged ironwork. This home is magnificent!
Moving Right Along
As I move down the block and turn onto High Street I see this building.
I wonder what’s going on inside, looks like construction. So I called Ciminelli Real Estate and spoke to Denise Juron-Borgese, Vice-President of Development & Planning, who tells me that the building was aquired by Ciminelli during their work on the Conventus Building across the street and adjacent to Oishei Children’s Hospital. It was used as a sort of headquarters during construction.
Ciminelli has no immediate plans for 33 High Street at this time. I’m no expert, but I would guess there’s a lot of potential here.
Denise and I also had a very interesting discussion about the Conventus Building. Look for a post about it in the new year. Thank you, Denise.
The Homes Along Washington Street
As I turn left on Washington Street, I see the UB Jacobs School of Medicine on the right. But what I’m interested in are the homes on the left. They appear to be from the 1850’s and are beautiful to my eye, with lots of little details that you wouldn’t necessarily notice if you were just driving by. And they’ve got quite a bit of wrought iron, which makes me wonder if August Feine did some iron work for his neighbors back in the day. This is not your run of the mill ironwork. Some of it is exquisite.
The homes are owned by the Medical Campus (927-937 Washington Street LLC). Word on the street has it that there are asbestos issues that will need to be taken care of, but when I was there the other day, new roofs were being put on all of them, so that’s a good sign. Nice to know we won’t be losing them.
The St. Jude Center
As I continue east on Carlton Street, I come upon the St. Jude Center.
I have never heard of it. I have, however, passed it many times though, on the northwest corner of Carlton and Ellicott Streets.
So, here’s what I’ve learned since then.
The St. Jude Center was started by Msgr. Edward J. Ulaszeski in 1969, in response to the need for better pastoral care for people experiencing the pain and suffering of illnesses, by either themselves or a family member. It is easy to see why the center is located where it is, in the heart of Buffalo’s medical campus.
The director now, Fr. Richard Augustyn, tells me that when he came here to work as a chaplain at Buffalo General Hospital, in 1975, the neighborhood was so rough that they had police escorts for emergency visits to the hospital. One block away! He also tells me that the neighborhood has done a one-eighty. It’s now very safe. Patrolled regularly by police. I know I feel safe when I’m in the area.
The Center serves the community in several ways. Fr. Richard is a full time chaplain at Buff Gen. The center offers mass twice a day on weekdays, twice a day on the weekends. And mass every day at Buff Gen too. This is in addition to the regular chaplain duties of offering emotional and spiritual support to patients and their families in the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
There are several programs offered in the St. Jude Center as well, including bereavement programs, prosthetic support, and wellness support. They also train all chaplains who work at the hospitals in the medical corridor.
The Home Itself
The home is an old Victorian era house with a carriage house behind. The City of Buffalo lists the house as being built in 1890, but Fr. Richard tells me it was built in 1856 for the Hock family, who lived in the home while running the Victoria Hotel Bed & Breakfast out of it. Interesting story.
The home sat abandoned for quite some time and was pretty rough when Msgr. Ulaszeski bought it in 1969 for the St. Jude Center. A lot of the interior details are still there, although most of the woodwork has been painted. Fr. Richard graciously invited me into his home for some photos.
Check out these chandeliers, which were there when Msgr. Ulaszeski purchased the home, although I’m pretty sure they don’t date to 1856. They are different from any other lighting fixtures I have ever seen! Note that the home is decorated for Christmas, so the ornaments are not normally on the one fixture.
And the living room. This archway and pocket doors are the only woodwork that is not currently painted. And this chandelier (below) was added by Fr. Richard. There are five marble fireplaces intact in the home.
The Carriage House
The day I went to see Fr. Richard was the feast of the Immaculate Conception, so I attended mass at the Shrine to St. Jude which is in the old carriage house, and we met immediately following the mass.
Now, I’ve been to mass in more churches and chapels than I can count, and literally all over the world. I wouldn’t say that I’ve traveled extensively, but I have traveled. And when I travel, I still attend mass. So I’ve been in some really different churches. Like the church in Puerto Rico that didn’t have any windows, just hurricane shutters which are almost always thrown open.
But I have to say that this chapel is different from anything I’ve ever seen. I first walked through the brand new, modern vestibule, which, I admit seems out of place here. But immediately, I saw these doors, and forgot all about that. Note the carriage kicks at the bottom on either side of the door frame. These would prevent carriages from losing wheels if they bumped the door frames. I love it that they’re still there.
And one from the inside.
When I walked into the chapel I immediately felt an overwhelming feeling of peace. If you read my blog, it was akin to the feeling I get at Corpus Christi Church. There were more people there than I expected (don’t worry they’re following all the Covid rules), one of them said hello to me from her pew and another smiled at me through her mask. I felt comfortable immediately. I don’t know if it’s the lighting in there, or the immediate acceptance of the people when I walked in, but I got a good feeling in this chapel.
Take a look. Note the openings in the upper wall, covered now with wrought iron, this was the hay loft. The brick work on the walls here has been repaired over and over. But it’s beautiful. Through the wrought iron doors is where the Sanctuary Lamp and the Tabernacle are kept. It is where the horses were stabled. I absolutely love the humbleness of this chapel. It’s very real.
More Wrought Iron!
And the wrought iron. It’s everywhere on this property. It is so beautiful and so appropriate here. It just works.
A Quick Story
While I perused the St. Jude Center website I noticed they have a Hungarian mass on Sundays. When I asked Fr. Richard about it, he told me a little story.
A woman he knows through his work at Buffalo General seemed a little down in the dumps, and when Fr. Richard asked her about it, she told him that her home parish church was closing. She is a first generation Hungarian immigrant, and would miss her Hungarian language mass every Sunday. Fr. Richard told the woman to invite her priest in to St. Jude’s on Sunday for mass. As he says, he “squeezed them in” between the 8:45am and the 11:15am masses. And so, the 10am Hungarian mass was born at St. Jude’s.
When, sadly, the Hungarian speaking priest passed away, Fr. Richard learned to say the mass in Hungarian so the congregation could continue with their Hungarian masses. When I expressed amazement that he would do this, Fr. Richard downplayed it. He explained that he doesn’t say his homilies in Hungarian, and that he cannot speak Hungarian. He merely learned to say the mass in that language. Still. It was an awesome thing for him to do.
I have a feeling a lot of things like this Hungarian Mass story goes on here at St. Jude’s.
First of all, I don’t think I have ever seen so much incredible wrought iron within one city block! So beautiful! I still wonder about the August Feine thing. Whether he did wrought iron for his neighbors…I guess we’ll never know.
The homes are gorgeous and historic. Wish I could have seen this block a hundred years ago, when there were more homes just like these. And wish I could meet the people who lived in them. To hear their stories.
But I remain grateful that these few still stand, for a glimpse of the past in our midst.
Secondly, I want to convey to you how blown away I was by both the Kevin Guest House story, and the story of the St. Jude Center. Here are two awe-inspiring entities, sitting quietly in an unlikely, but very fitting, setting. As the medical corridor grows up around them, they remain. Continuing their quiet, but oh so important work. Forever tied to the medical community, and the people they both serve.
Humble is the word that comes to mind. And when people are humble, they often achieve great things for their fellow human beings. This is happening here in Buffalo, on this little block in the middle of the Medical Corridor.
Next time you’re in the area, take a closer look.
And if you can, and you’re looking for a way to give back, or pay it forward this holiday season, I bet they’d both appreciate a donation. 😉
*Special thanks to Fr. Richard Augustyn, The St. Jude Center; Denise Juron-Borgese, Ciminelli Real Estate Corp.; and Betsy Stone, Kevin Guest House.
p.s. Somebody at the St. Jude Center is a Bill’s fan! Go Bills!