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Architecture Around Buffalo: South Park Avenue

By Lucas R. Watson, Features Contributor

Along the Buffalo River in the rich industrial heart of Buffalo lies a collection of buildings that made up the far southern edge of the business district of the City of Buffalo. This area is most well known as the Cobblestone District in downtown Buffalo, known for its distinct cobblestone streets on Illinois Street, Mississippi Street, Baltimore Street and Columbia Street.

Our building today is a pre-Civil War era building, one of just a few left remaining from the era. 110 South Park Avenue was built in 1852 as a bakery, and 118 South Park Avenue was built in 1869 as the Brown & McCutcheon Brass Foundry according to the City of Buffalo. These two buildings both serve as a reminder of some of the last waterfront industries our city once possessed. The buildings themselves are not too particularly fanciful and appear quite plain, following the standard industrial style of the mid-nineteenth century. The condition of these buildings is what has brought light upon them over the last few weeks, being referenced in the Buffalo News, WGRZ and Buffalo Rising, as well as various other news sources.

For the local preservationist community, this has been quite a substantial event, as this is directly concerning the concepts and issues surrounding eminent domain: in short, eminent domain means the government can seize private property with proper compensation, and this includes the full market value. However, this process is carried out without the owner's consent, which is causing some discourse amongst the community and the owner of the property in question, Darryl Carr. This is all happening due to the decrepit condition of the building and a collapse during the Christmas week storm. It has been poorly maintained, if maintained at all, over the last 20 years since the most recent acquisition of the property in 2003. Serious damage was sustained to the buildings themselves due to the recent storm. Judge Patrick Carney granted an emergency demolition order made by Darryl Carr, the owner of the buildings that we’re looking at today. The judge said the December blizzard caused substantial roof damage and the buildings cannot be saved, according to WGRZ.

On the one hand, the owner got exactly what he wished for: 20 years of neglect on some rather historic buildings in the heart of the historic Cobblestone District landed him precisely what he wanted — the demolition of the building for future development, which he claims to have funds for.

On the other hand, the City of Buffalo appealed the demolition order and the direct plan to pursue eminent domain, which has since been discussed and explained. The issue with this is that some are arguing for its full demolition, as it can be said that they’re insignificant buildings that have become decrepit over the years.

As the City of Buffalo appealed to the Housing Court within seven days, and it is pursuing eminent domain proceedings against the current owner, Darryl Carr, the question must be asked: what will the City of Buffalo ultimately decide to do about the matter and this cycle of preservation and demolition all around the city?

This appeal does mean that the City of Buffalo is doing what is expected of them. To what extent will the City of Buffalo pursue this, though? Some say that this cycle of preservation and demolition is quite damaging to the city, as seen on the News Editorial Board of the Buffalo News. What we are seeing is nothing new to this city. Even with the buildings being demolished, there is little cooperation between the Preservation Board and the owners of the buildings that are being demolished. For example, according to the Buffalo News and Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) spokesperson Jackie Anderson, “We have begun discussions with a local not-for-profit organization to develop a list of artifacts that would be ideal to preserve and spark ideas for how they can be creatively displayed for years to come.”

Local not-for-profit organizations haven’t heard a word from ADM regarding these artifacts, according to the Buffalo News. What becomes clear is that our system of preservation must be revised, potentially so that the board gains more power so matters such as these do not end up in the hands of the housing court. According to the Buffalo News, Christiana Limniatis, Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s director of preservation services, said, “The city’s Preservation Board must be supported and empowered in a significant way. They are the experts on this for the administration and Common Council, and they should be strengthened, improved and used.” This is what can be said best about the matter.

Our Preservation Board is vital to the historic preservation of the buildings which act as the cornerstones of the city, though I am not the one to make the final determination as to whether or not the buildings should remain slated for demolition or if the City of Buffalo should pursue eminent domain further.

These buildings are part of the fabric of the City of Buffalo. Little has the city done to help rectify these issues, and little has the city done to stop these demolitions in such vital and historic portions of the city. Yet, in recent years, there has been a large shift in the attitude of the City of Buffalo towards the demolition of such structures: for reference, back in the 1970s, the idea of the Cobblestone District was barely a thought. Much has changed since the ‘70s. The Breckenridge Street Meeting House is a treasured building we may very well lose due to developers and companies demolishing without regard. The Preservation Board, established in 1976, can be considered a line of defense.

These buildings, while they may seem plain, do hold historical significance in the history of the City of Buffalo. The Cyclorama Building is plain and odd, but it has been revitalized. The Sisters of Charity Hospital, now apartments, and the Miami Street Freight House, still a freight house, stand as reminders that even the plainest of buildings can tell a story.

To circle back to the buildings at 110 and 118 South Park Avenue, they appear plain to the eye, but still form a vital part of the fabric of the Cobblestone District and present a piece of the significance of Buffalo's rich industrial heritage. The fate of these buildings cannot be determined for sure right now; however, time will tell.

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