When I hiked Parkdale and Lafayette Aves with my friend Martha, she mentioned that her Mother and Grandmother used to live on Whitney Place. I’ve heard of it, sort of knew where it is, but I had never hiked it or even driven it. Since then, I’ve heard from a few other people suggesting I write about it. When that happens, I know I’m missing something good.
And I was. Wait till you see this. It appears to be a perfectly preserved little neighborhood from the latter half of the 1800s. The homes and apartments houses have not really been altered at all. Maintained pretty well, but not really altered.
Let’s take a closer look.
A Little History of the Area
Whitney Place is located in the West Village Historic District of Buffalo. This district is one of only a few in the country to achieve three designations as an Historic District. In this case, it is under both the City of Buffalo and New York State, and it is also listed in the Federal National Register of Historic Places. Pretty amazing.
Whitney begins at the spot where West Chippewa and Georgia Street meet, and runs all the way to Hudson Street. As a matter of fact, it was originally part of the Village of Black Rock, before Buffalo became a city. I’ve talked on the blog before about how Joseph Ellicott laid out the streets of Buffalo, in 1804, in a radial streets design. In Black Rock, however, the streets were laid out much differently. When the two grids were joined together, it resulted in sometimes odd and wonderful angles that occur in our roadways today. Like the spot where West Chippewa and Georgia Streets meet, at Whitney Place.
This street is part of one of Buffalo’s oldest neighborhoods. Most of the homes between West Chippewa and Carolina Street were built between 1860 and 1880. They’d have been built for tailors, meat packers, ship chandlers, painters, bankers, lake steamer captains, cabinetmakers, conductors, secretaries, and more. Everything middle to middle-upper class. These people had some money to spend, but not the kind of money that built the Delaware Avenue mansions. You’ll see what I mean when you see their homes.
These were also the people who built some of Buffalo’s first neighborhoods, the ones that were built to be neighborhoods. Previously, homes were built here and there. And the downtown core grew up around them. But these streets in the West Village were built to actually be residential neighborhoods.
I should mention that most of the West Village was originally part of the estate of Ebenezer Johnson, Buffalo’s first mayor. He owned a large estate on Delaware Avenue, between Chippewa and West Tupper, including what later became Whitney Place. After his death, the estate was broken up into Johnson Park (which became one of Buffalo’s residential parks) and other nearby streets, including Whitney. As a matter of fact, Johnson Park has homes even older than the ones I’ll show you today on Whitney Place.
I’m going to hike the portion of Whitney Place between West Chippewa and Carolina Streets. And we’ll start at that wonderful angle at West Chippewa and Georgia. Come hike with me.
When I said I’ve never been on Whitney Place before, I probably should have mentioned that I’ve never been on this section of West Chippewa before either. I don’t know how it’s possible. I approached Whitney Place from Chippewa on foot. And the first thing I noticed was the feel of this section of the street. Taller buildings on the left, and the expanse of Hutch Tech on the right. I had a feeling of being drawn into the intersection where Whitney Place begins.
Here is the first home I come to, below. This is a two-family residence with 2 1/2 stories, built in 1871. Like most of the homes here, it is of the Italianate style, evidenced by the tall narrow rounded windows and bracketed cornice. This would have been pretty common in this sort of neighborhood, where most of the residents were middle to middle upper class. They had enough money to build with brick instead of clapboard, but not quite enough for elaborate ornamentation.
And good for them. This home has a simplicity that is attractive. It’s too bad the original windows didn’t survive, save for the small upper window, and possibly some of the side windows.
Next, is this pretty home. It’s a two story Queen Anne style built in 1868. The details on this house are lovely. Starting at the top with the dentil molding, which is repeated on the second story bay window on a smaller scale, the window surrounds and the shingles at the top. I really like the varnished wood at the base of the porch, which matches the front entry doors.
A Word About Painted Brick
I like the look of this house, below. The rounded windows appear to be intact above, and you know how I love that. The ones on the first floor were probably altered to make way for the porch when it was added sometime after the house was built (?) in 1860. As for the paint, that’s the thing about painting brick, it can give you the look you want, but you have to keep up on it.
I really like this house.
Next is this one. Another Italianate design, similar to the others we’ve seen so far. It needs a little bit of work, including paint, but it wouldn’t take much to make this house stand out! I wonder what it would take to put glass in that ocular window in the peak. That would be sweet, wouldn’t it?
Next is a Pocket Park
This is probably better looking in the summer. Most people are not working on their gardens just yet this year, and I’m not sure who is responsible for keeping this one up, but this little pocket park is dedicated to Office Patricia (Patty) Parete, who was shot in the line of duty in 2006, not far from Whitney Place. She was left paralyzed from her wounds, and passed away from complications in 2013. I remember when this happened. The whole city mourned her death.
This spot has the makings of a sweet little park. I’ll have to come back in the summer to see it in full bloom.
The First Apartment Building We See
Next is the first apartment building on the street. There are three more to come. In the late 1800s it became fashionable to live in luxury style apartments, even for the wealthy, and Buffalo has some pretty great ones. This one was probably not ever considered ‘luxury’ but I’m sure it fit right in with this upper middle class neighborhood. Nice details.
I looked the place up, and it appears there are 6 apartments here and it’s owned by a company in New Jersey. But there are no photos of the interior, and no reviews. Think of that what you will. Anyone been inside? Let me know what they’re like!
I did see this sweet chalk drawing outside on the sidewalk – looks like there’s a budding artist living here. Love the little hand tracings!
This one was built in 1875, is an Italianate style double and has an Eastlake style porch. I’m not sure if this is something that was common, the blending of these two styles in this way, but there are three or four on this street with that same mix. The paint is in great shape, as is everything else here. Love this one!
This next one is an Italianate with tons of details. The dental molding, the brackets (double) and that cast iron (?) detail atop the upper floor windows. I think the porch was added or changed at some point, and could use just a little attention, but this house is lovely. I also noticed that this one still has some red Medina sandstone in the walkway and at the base of the stairs. Sweet – I love this.
A Couple More
And this. It’s a very neat home, yes? By now you know this is Italianate, circa 1875. I believe the first floor window has been replaced, but I don’t dislike it. I’m usually a fan of sunlight in a room.
And this one. Always blows my mind when homes are this close to each other. Or in this case, homes and apartment buildings. How in the world do they build them? Not to mention maintain them? And why bother with windows?
This is different from the others on the block in that it has a side entry that faces the street, with a small porch.
Twin Apartment Houses + One House in Between
Here I came across two Italian Palazzo style apartment houses. And they both need work, but you can tell they were once fantastic! You can see that they clearly used to have all the same details. The molding near the top, the splayed brick arches over the lower windows, and splayed brick lintels above. Identical entryways. Clearly though, the first one has had the door changed out.
Also, this first one has six, two bedroom condos and each are privately owned. “The Whitney”, however, is owned by the same company in New Jersey that owns the first apartment house we saw earlier.
Here’s something that bothered me the whole time I was on this street. Now, maybe it was garbage day when I was there or something, but it seems to me that an awful lot of the homes seem to store their garbage cans right up in front of the house. That type of thing does nothing for the look of the house. If it was garbage day, then, the totes were not at the street in almost every case. You can see above that the one apartment house tried to conceal them with a boxed in garbage tote situation, but it’s pretty ineffective. Is there absolutely no room out back? And like I said, this is not the only spot where I noticed this.
The Space Between
In between the twin apartment houses, is this, below. The more I look at this house, the more I see. It is, at first glance, a typical Buffalo home. But then I notice the Shingle style detail, the porches have been redone, and very well in my opinion, and check out the pediment above a window on the right side. Must have been lovely when first built, which was 1890. That was about eight years before the two buildings that sandwich it. I wonder how the owners felt about it when it happened. Imagine what it was like to live here during the construction?! Wow.
All in all though, it’s a really nice home!
And this Second Empire style home rounds out this side of the street. Built in 1880, it is for sale. Check out the listing here, but be prepared, this listing is not for the faint of heart. It’s massive, has many of the original fireplaces, the roof is new, the exterior is recently painted, and I love the old style fire escape (if you can love such a thing), but, what a job this would be. Would you buy it?
Crossing the Street
Check this place out. This building dominates the southeast corner of Carolina and Whitney. It’s Romanesque Revival in style and was built in 1892. There is a lot of really nice brickwork here, from the brick corbels, to splayed brick arches, to sweet dormers and bay windows, to rounded windows (that are still there!) and recessed porches. This apartment house has got a lot going on, and it is fantastic!
That’s not to say that it couldn’t stand some attention. It’s owned by that same New Jersey Company that owns the other two apartment houses on the block. This one’s never been painted, but still, it could use a good cleaning. One of the rounded windows in the dormer appears to have been replaced with the lid of a plastic tote.
Again, no photos of the interior are listed online. I believe this place was renovated in the mid 1970’s when the street was going through the historic designation process. My guess is, it needs some work inside. What other reason could there be for no photos being listed online at the website?
Here is another Italianate style with an Eastlake porch. Note the detail at the peak as well, and the bracketing. Love the double front door. When you see wide front doors, remember that these homes were built at a time when most people still waked their family members in their homes. The wide entryways allowed room for a casket to fit through.
On this house, the arched windows above have been replaced. Sorry to see them gone. And at first glance, I thought the first floor windows had been altered from arched windows to these, but the stone lintels appear to be in place and original, so I think they were simply replaced at some point. There also appears to be some detailing missing from the porch.
This house has great bones. With just a little bit of TLC, this house could really shine!
And this. This is a fantastic example of Second Empire design. Look at the mansard roof, those stone arches above the windows, the bracketing and the molding just below it. The little side porch at the entry and the bay window beyond. This house reminds me of the Mansion on Delaware, although on a much smaller scale. But this must have been considered one of the most grand homes on the street when it was built. Love this one.
Here we come upon one of Tim’s favorites on the street.
It’s an apartment house with at least 6 residences (possibly 8), and was purchased in 2020. The Greek Revival columns need a little attention as does some other things (see interior photos in the previous listing here). But they’re mostly easy fixes. One question, are those old windows that have been filled in with brick on the ‘third’ floor? Interesting. Which is what I usually say when I don’t know what to say.
Then There Are These
This is another one with an Eastlake porch. In my opinion, which I realize you didn’t ask for, this is the best executed of the Eastlake porches on the street. It fits perfectly with the Queen Anne style of the house. Love the shingles on the protruding gable, and check out those brackets supporting it! Note the little curlicue at the very peak. Sweet! This house is fantastic.
These next Italianate style homes are probably not far off from the way they were when they were first built, on the exterior anyway. Looking at them gives us a good feel for the way this street probably looked originally. Love their gardens with the wrought iron fences. The homes are lovely.
A Few Second Empires
This one, below, reminds me of one that is on Franklin Street in Allentown. This one is in amazing shape, and done just right. Not too much, not too little. It’s perfect. And those windows in the Mansard roof, wow!
This one is stately, and the windows appear to be all original! Love that!
This Last One
This is the third Second Empire style home in a row here. All three the same style, but different. This one is smaller than the other two, but it stole my heart anyway. There is a porch out back visible from the street. The bay window is different from any I’ve ever seen, with so much ornamentation. Love it! My favorite part though? The awning over the front door. I want to say it’s original, but I have no way of knowing that. And it’s pretty unusual for the style of the house. Either way, it’s a great touch.
I read an article in the Buffalo Courier Express from 1978, where the residents of this street attended a block party at this home to celebrate ‘neighborliness’. Nice! More about that article in my impressions.
My thoughts about Whitney Place are a bit all over the place. Let me explain.
When I started researching this neighborhood, the first thing I did was to look it up on google maps. When I saw the homes and how well maintained and unaltered they were, I was intrigued and wanted to find out more right away. I found that the whole street, and in fact the surrounding neighborhood had gone through a huge revitalization in the 1970s. This was at the time the West Village was going through the designation process for historic status. And well deserved it is. This is the oldest collection of private residences (and brick Italianate style cottages) in the city. With the possible exception of North Pearl Street, but I haven’t counted.
However, I read many articles about the residents here who were accused and many times found guilty of numerous crimes. Driving without a license, DWI, illegal betting, petit larceny, grand larceny, assault and battery…the list goes on and on. Even for card playing on a Sunday! Most of these took place in the 1950s and 60s. But the articles of this kind dated back to the 1910s.
Back to that Article
Anyway, I mentioned earlier an article in the Courier Express that recounted the story of a party on Whitney Place celebrating ‘neighborliness’. Basically, the article also talked about the changes in the neighborhood in the four years since the West Village Community Association began their designation process. One of the people interviewed talked about what the street was like before the changes. He said it was loud, with people yelling to, and at, each other all the time. There were drunks in the streets, and it was an awful place to live. All of that changed with the work being done to improve it. The street had apparently achieved ‘neighborliness’. In 1978.
What About Now?
The homes show definite signs of having been restored and renovated. Some people kept up with the maintenance, some did not, and some simply moved on, as people do. But there are definitely people here who care. About the homes, about the street, and the neighborhood. You can tell by the care they put into their homes.
But, I will tell you that I experienced first hand the yelling to, and at each other. Not in a friendly way either. And thankfully, not in my direction. Although, several people turned their heads and their backs away from me as I hiked the street. That is never good for a neighborhood.
I did, however, meet one polite person on Whitney. She was coming out of the large apartment house at the corner of Whitney and Carolina, just as I raised my camera to take a photo. She apologized and hurried away so I could get my shot. It’s usually me who does the apologizing when stuff like this happens, and rightfully so.
But that was it, no one else spoke to me at all that evening. It is, however, possible that at a different hour, I’d have had a different experience.
So yes, I have mixed feelings about Whitney Place. I read the article from 1978 after I hiked the street, and the man’s remarks about the yelling struck me. Because it was the yelling that had given me an uneasy feeling on Whitney. And I don’t get ruffled very easily. But there it is.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that I happen to be there at an odd time. But my gut is telling me that this is not the case. I will come back again soon, and maybe my experience will be different. I really hope so!
In my heart, I know that there are people living here who care about this street, and I sincerely hope for their sake, that things quiet down a bit. It’s too beautiful an area, and historic an area, to let it slip.