The Life & Times of 888 Delaware Ave
Sometimes a building seems to take on a life of its own. The Goodyear Mansion at 888 Delaware Ave is one of those buildings. Its history includes one of Buffalo’s wealthiest families. It also includes Presidents, First Ladies, royalty, a health insurance company, and two schools. Its future is set to include both corporate and market-rate apartments.
Now, focusing on one home is usually not my style, although I did it with the Humphrey House, but I had a handful of people ask me to write this one. Each person had a different reason for asking me to do it. And I have my own reasons for agreeing.
You see, my mother is a graduate of Bishop McMahon high school, class of 1957. Back in December, our family moved her into a memory care unit. When I visited her (pre-COVID) Mom would always ask me to read my latest posts to her. Just before the nursing homes closed down, she asked if I would ever write about “someone’s high school”. I said, “Oh, sure. why not?” And the conversation moved off in a different direction. Communication is often difficult for dementia patients. Actually, it’s always difficult.
Several weeks later, I received an email from a woman asking me to write about her old high school, Bishop McMahon. It was then that I realized my mother was talking about her own high school that day. Mom remembered that I knew a lot about it already and that I would enjoy learning more. She was right.
Since then, I’ve had three more requests to write about this mansion.
So here I am, all my reading is done and I’m ready to tell you about my Mother’s high school building. The Goodyear Mansion.
Charles Waterhouse & Ella Portia Goodyear
Charles Goodyear was born in Cortland, NY in 1846 and came to Buffalo to study law in 1868. He practiced at a few different firms, one or two of them he himself started. He had a good reputation and served as Assistant District Attorney, and later as District Attorney. Things were going well for Charles.
In 1876 he met and married Ella Portia Conger. Ella attended Nardin Academy (Miss Nardin’s at the time) and the Female Academy (now Buffalo Seminary). Her father, Anson Griffith Conger, a banker, purchased the couple a home at 723 Delaware Avenue (lost). It was here that they raised their four children, Anson, Ester, Charles, and Bradley.
When Grover Cleveland became governor of NYS, Charles Goodyear joined the firm Cleveland founded, Cleveland, Bissel & Sicard. The firm then became Bissel, Sicard & Goodyear. He practiced law with that firm for four years.
Charles and Ella were very good friends of Grover & Frances Cleveland and were in fact, the first guests the Clevelands entertained at the White House after their wedding. Cool!
In 1887, Goodyear retired from the law for good when he went into the lumber business with his brother Frank. The brothers eventually owned extensive timberland in Pennsylvania and Louisiana. They started a railroad company, The Buffalo and Susquehanna Iron Company. They pioneered the use of railroads to move lumber.
These two businesses earned the Goodyears immense wealth.
It was during this time of great prosperity that the Goodyears decided to build a home suitable for a family of such affluence. And build it they did.
The home was completed in 1903 and is an exquisite example of the French Renaissance Style. We would expect nothing less from Green & Wicks (E.B. Green was the principal) who were the architects. Just look at that mansard roof, the dormers with semi-circular pediments and keystones above the windows. And above those are porthole dormers! Love these! Tuscan columns surround the brick enclosed portico which was originally wide open. See above.
So much to look at on one house!
Inside there were 11 bedrooms, each with a marble fireplace, and adjoining bathrooms. On the first floor was the main hall, a dining room, a breakfast room, a library, and a loggia which opened up to the terrace and garden out back.
The Goodyears enjoyed this home together from it’s completion until 1911 when Charles passed away.
During World War I, King Albert of Belgium, Queen Elisabeth of Bavaria, and their son, Prince Leopold visited the United States, including Buffalo. This was back when Buffalo was a mover and a shaker on the national scene. While here, they were guests of Ella’s and were entertained in this home. Amazing! Royalty! In Buffalo, and in this home!
Ella lived in the home until her death in September of 1940. I love this photo below of Ella on her patio in her beautiful garden.
Blue Cross Corp moves into 888 Delaware
Shortly after Ella’s death, the Hospital Service Corporation and Western New York Medical Plan, better known as the Blue Cross Corporation, purchased the home. They made small changes to the kitchens and pantries and partitioned off one or two of the bedrooms, but largely left the mansion intact. It remained this way for the next 10 years.
Bishop McMahon High School
In 1950, the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo purchased the building to be used as the all-girl Bishop McMahon High School. This is where my mother spent her high school years. The school itself had a business focus. Mind you, not what we think of today as the study of business. Back then, the girls were taught typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping. They learned the fundamentals of business and business law. They were also taught high school Social Studies and English.
Most of the first floor rooms were converted into classrooms, and later all of the bedrooms on the second and third floors were converted into classrooms as well.
My mother loved it. She graduated in 1957 and growing up, I only heard good things from her about the school, the building, and grounds. She made lifelong friends here, Beth and Judy, and remembers fondly the garden parties in the yard of the school.
The girls (in the 1950s anyway) were taught the history and architecture of the building and I know that my mother appreciated being able to attend such a school, in a former home such as this. She told me once that she and her friends thought the Goodyears lived ‘fairytale’ lives in the house. And that she enjoyed ‘living’ there for four years herself.
The skills that my mother learned while attending Bishop McMahon, (including typing 90 words a minute on a manual typewriter!) served her well throughout her career. She worked for Monroe Abstract & Title Company and Dupont, before spending 28 years as a school secretary. She loved her work at the school.
McMahon added the gymnasium at the back of the property, and years later the classrooms in between, finally removing Ella’s gardens completely. Wish there was some way to bring them back.
888 Delaware Is Sold Again, and Again
In 1988, the building was purchased by Women and Children’s Hospital (then) and was run as the Robert B. Adam Educational Center. It housed several children’s programs including an early childhood center.
In 2005 the school was sold and again used as a school. This time, it became Oracle Charter School. Oracle did extensive renovations creating new classrooms and offices.
But I heard whisperings as early as 2017 about whether the school wanted to continue in the historic building. The way it was put to me was that the school was in the process of discerning whether they wanted to be in the historic building business or the education business.
You see, housing your business (or school) in a historic building like the Goodyear Mansion is not easy, nor is it cheap. There are rules which must be adhered to when making any changes to the home, and it can cost quite a bit of money for regular upkeep alone.
The Future of 888
With that in mind, I wasn’t surprised to hear that 888 Delaware LLC (Priam Enterprises) acquired the property in October of 2019. The original plan for the property was the development of a boutique hotel in the old mansion and to create market-rate apartments in the rest of the property, including the classrooms and the old carriage house.
Then Covid-19 happened.
And as is the case with every other facet of our lives, this project had to be adapted to our ‘new norm’. The hospitality industry has taken a particularly hard hit. Priam, recognizing these conditions, has adapted their plan and will continue with the market-rate apartments, but has put aside the boutique hotel, for now. In the mansion itself, they plan to create furnished corporate apartments. Fifty-one apartments in all. It’s a good idea. I like it.
Amy Downing, Business Development Manager for Priam Enterprises, tells me their team is working to restore original woodwork, most of which is still there, and will keep as much of the interior intact as possible. They will remove walls and partitions that have been added over the years, returning at least some of the rooms to their former glory. And I’m happy to say that the plan includes the re-opening of that front portico. That alone will go a long way to make this building look like a home again. Love it.
Here are a few photos of some of the original charm that Priam has uncovered from behind sheetrock and drop ceilings thus far.
Photos of a Bygone Era
The photos below are all from the Goodyear era, and are courtesy of Priam Development, who obtained them from the Diocese of Buffalo when they purchased the property. I like knowing that Priam cares about what used to be here, and are taking pains to restore as well as renovate. They plan to have the apartments ready by the first quarter of 2022.
Here’s a look at what some of the interior looks like now. First up, is some of the stained glass. Note the block just outside the one window. That happened when the loading dock was added to the south side of the building. I’m told while it will not be able to be removed, the loading dock will be renovated into an attractive patio.
This is the woodwork in the Hall. The frieze above the mantle was sold at one point during a sale of Goodyear pieces, but the sale was cancelled when experts found that the foundation for it extended to the basement, and that it would be impossible to remove it from the house without knocking down the house itself! The frieze is called “Life” and it is by Karl Bitter.
The library and dining room need work but are largely intact. Note the modern lights visible in the mirror in the dining room. Also note the mirror and the door in the dining room have the same framing. Sweet.
And one of my personal favorites…This is the window in the billiard room. See what they did there? In the interior, the billiard room was broken up for smaller rooms, but Priam will be restoring it. Love it.
Tucked away is the safe room. I’ve never seen one of these before. There’s a rumor that the upper safe was for furs?!
And two guest bedrooms on the third floor. Pretty nice. That mantle with the ship painting! And the other mantle for that matter. Wow!
My Impressions of 888 Delaware
I’m not gonna lie, this was a tough one for me to write. Well, it was bittersweet. You all know how much I love history. But you may not know about my close and loving relationship with my Mother. So writing about 888 Delaware Ave has brought to mind many past conversations with her. Conversations we can no longer have.
But I am grateful we had them. As a matter of fact, I learned my attitude of gratitude from my Mother. She spoke about her high school days as if she were the luckiest girl on the face of the earth to be able to go to a school that taught what she wanted to learn, in a beautiful ex-mansion.
It’s with this in mind that I look forward to seeing the completed restoration and renovations that will take place at 888 Delaware Ave over the next year and a half or so. And I am grateful that there are people in Buffalo willing to invest in our future through investing in our past. The bones are there, and I have every reason to believe that this property will be beautiful again.
The Goodyear Mansion, not for the first time, is one to watch.
**Get the book!
They make great gifts for family and friends (or yourself!). Click here or on the photo below to purchase.
To read a follow up on this story, click here: “The Goodyear Mansion – One Year Later”
*A huge thank you to Amy Downing, Business Development Manager for Priam Enterprises, and Mark Tufillaro, President and COO for Priam Development, for the use of the black and whites, the tour, and just all around being fantastic to me. Thank you!
***All photos in this post are mine unless otherwise noted.