Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Clara Brown, Part Three

(This piece is part of a three part series. Be sure to read the first two sections as well: Part One, Part Two)

When John G. Alden commissioned the shipwrights Goudy & Stevens to construct the Clara Brown,  he was making more than a shrewd business decision to go with a firm known for making sturdy and durable fishing ships. He was making the personal decision to go with a builder that would make his vessels affordable, without sacrificing any of the quality customers came to expect from Alden Designs.

That affordability made Alden's designs popular with all parts of the economic spectrum. It is true that some of his vessels starred in movies, one was owned by General George S. Patton, and another was the flag-ship of the US Naval Academy, but a majority of his owners were men like W.R. Christofferson; someone with a passion for sailing some of New England's many lakes, but unable to afford one of the yachts typically designed by Boston and New York firms. 

It is this part of Alden's legacy, bringing sailing to people who may not have been part of the upper echelons of society, that Pierre Wallinder is trying to embody in his Sail Buffalo Sailing School.

Part III
The Sail Buffalo Sailing School

The Sail Buffalo school began in 2005 as a service for the Cadets & Staff at the Maritime Academy. Beginning part of the Cazenovia Resource Center's expansion into sailing as part of their wellness program initiatives. Run by Pierre Wallinder, the school prides itself in offering an inexpensive service to the community.

The Clara Brown, berthed next to the floating classroom.
Mr. Wallinder's fleet consists of four sloops designed by George Hinterhoeller (the Austrian-born naval architect who established his career in Niagara-on-the-Lake), a 26 foot "Pearson" Sloop (for those who have passed the beginning phase of their sailing lessons), as well as the beautiful Clara Brown.  The school's lessons are taught just as much on these boats as they are in the school's actual classroom.

 The "Floating Classroom" for the school, a barge named the Francis Folsome Cleveland after Buffalo's only first lady, rests on 6,400 pop bottles and uses old canvas sails for the ceiling. Sailing related memorabilia hangs from the walls, and a picture of Mrs. Cleveland firing a rifle hangs above the entranceway.

This summer the program had 500 registrants, 260 of whom were returning members. The school offers two main programs; an adult sailing safety course and certification, as well as a Nautical Day Camp, open to teens aged 12-18, which runs in one-week sessions throughout the summer 9-4 daily, with an open kids program on Thursdays 11-3. Participants in the program learn the basics of sailing, and "graduate" at the end of the week, officially declared by Mr. Wallinder as "Future Sailors of Buffalo."

During the Thursday kids program, the affiliation with Cazenovia is very important, as Sail Buffalo is able to bring in speakers from many different organizations and parts of the city, including Modern Corporation to talk about recycling. The partnership with Cazenovia, as well other affiliations with groups like Salvation Army, have allowed many individuals participate at no cost at all.

The Cazenovia Resource Center came into being a year after the Cazenovia branch library closed in South Buffalo in 2005. Council Member Michael P. Kearns, along with other organizations in the South District, reopened the site in 2006, and after receiving a grant in 2007, the Center features a full library, a fully-modern computer lab as well as classroom space and handicap access.

Just as important as the facility, however, are the programs that are offered through the center. From a "Read to Success" program, to programs geared to health and wellness, including subsidized tennis lessons for families, Cazenovia's goal has been to promote emotional and physical wellbeing. Understanding sailing's invigoratingly therapeutic properties lead Mr. Kearns to reach out to funders and Mr. Wallinder to set up a sailing school affiliated with the center..

Though the school is a Maritime Charter School partner, Mr. Wallinder understands that his program's importance lies not just in the sailing skills learned, but the life skills and emotional benefits gained while sailing. His passion for sailing spreads to his children, all of whom are instructors at the school, and his oldest son Nick attends the SUNY Maritime school in the Bronx, where he hopes, like John G. Alden before him, to translate that passion into Naval Architecture design.

With the Alden-designed Clara Brown as a flagship, the Sail Buffalo School and Cazenovia Resource Center are looking at plans to expand not only the facilities of Mr. Wallinder's school, but at the possibility of a museum and education center on the outer harbor dedicated to Mrs. Cleveland, John G. Alden, and the history of boating around the world and in Buffalo. As plans progress, the goals are not just to increase the capacity of the sailing school, but to add to the already significant efforts attempting to make the Outer Harbor a more popular Buffalo destination.

Projects like the Clara Brown are very important to Preservation Studios. This sailboat represents more than a piece of history, and it's more than even just an example of a great designer's work, even though it clearly is both of those things.

The significance of the Clara Brown lies in the passion that fueled John G. Alden, a passion he filled all his designs with, but more importantly, that today drives Pierre Wallinder's commitment to sailing and to his students. It lies in what the sailboat means to the Sail Buffalo School, and to the Cazenovia Center, and in turn, how it helps them better serve the sailing and greater Buffalo community. The significance of this project is not about creating a landmark, but recognizing how important these landmarks are to the communities and people they belong to.

At the end of the day, that is what is at the heart of all preservation efforts; saving and protecting structures and places that not only define an area, but people as well. It is about ensuring that those identities aren't lost, and that more importantly, ensuring these landmarks remain to help shape future identities as well.

The Clara Brown heads to its National Register hearing later this month, and while Preservation Studios has the utmost confidence that it adequately meets Criterion C as a significant example of John G. Alden's work, we're more excited that it meets our own criteria for what makes a project important to preserve. 


Rosco Ross said...

I was friends with Kenny Schubert, who bought the Clara Brown in the early 80's. It had been sitting beside a barn in Little Valley for years. The hull had some dry rot in many places as well as other areas that needed work. It took a couple of years restoration before it went into the water. Kenny lived on east river (Grand Island) and the CB was birthed in front of his house. Our first trip out on Lake Erie was quite an adventure. The wind got stronger and the waves bigger than expected. The seams in the hull had not yet swelled sufficiently and the flexing of the hull had a substantial amount of water coming in. The bilge began filling up with water. We fired the engine and the bilge pump was able to keep up with the incoming water. After that, she sailed fine. The CB was a fast boat and a lot of fun throughout the years. I seem to recall her being described as a racing weekender and was #50 in a book of Alden's designs. I am very pleased that she found a good home and caretaker. I have many good memories and am sure that she will provide many to those who sail on her in the future. said...

Hi, My name is Mark and I too was a friend and neighbor of Kenny SHOBERT of Grand Island, NY. I can add a bit more history of CB. My brother who resided near Henderson Harbor along Lake Ontario, told Kenny about her. She had been sitting outside for many years at the Marina there. But Kenny saw the potential in her and bought her on the spot. That was the easy part. He then rented a flatbed tractor trailer and he and I transported her to his friend Larry's boat restoration business in Little Valley, NY. There she underwent a major restoration and finally made her way to the Niagara River where she was berthed for many years. Kenny loved to sail her on the River but because of the current, longed for a berth in Buffalo. He eventually found a berth not far from where she is at home now. She is certainly at home on Lake Erie as everyone is now discovering. I can remember one scary trip one November day. Another neighbor offered to tow the CB to the marina where he stored her for the winter. In between his dock and the marina, stood the South Grand Island Bridges. Kenny's young son accompanied him on the CB while it was being towed. By the time they got to the GI Bridges, it was dark. Unfortunately the bridges were undergoing repairs at the time and heavy cables were strung below the bridges to hold up nets to catch workers if they fell. And there were no lights on the cables. The tow boat easily cleared the cables but the mast of CB did not. Moments before they hit the cable, Kenny's son went down below. The mast came crashing down exactly where his son had been sitting in the cockpit. Kenny's memory lives on with the CB. Thank you all for what you've done. Long live the Clara Brown! Thanks, Mark.

MountainmanJim said...

My name is Jim Hassan-Mark's brother and I too grew up on Grand Island-East River Rd-and was Kenny Shobert's neighbor. I discovered the Clara Brown at Chinook Harbor Marina in Fairhaven NY (Little Sodus Bay)off Lake Ontario where I kept my sailboat-a C&C 27. I was impressed by the Clara Brown-fine lines-looked like a real good boat except she was in a bad way and needed to be rescued. She was up on blocks in the yard and had been there for several years uncovered. The plastic tarp that covered her at one time was in tatters and she had been exposed for too many harsh NY winters. The hull had numerous areas of rot and a couple of hull planks were rotted through. I immediately thought of my friend Kenny Schobert who had already restored a wooden sailboat and called him. I explained to Kenny that the Clara Brown was in need of a lot of work but that she was a classic boat and that the work would be worth it. Kenny drove out a few days later and bought her on the spot and had her loaded and trucked to Western NY. It took him a couple of years of work to get her seaworthy enough to launch her. As with wooden boats she was in need of constant maintenance and she consummed his time. Kenny really loved that boat and spent much of his spare time either sailing her or working on her. If Kenny Shobert had not shown an interest in the Clara Brown she would have probably died a slow death in that Fairhaven boat yard and would have been lost forever.