Thursday, April 14, 2016

Dear Buffalo Common Council: Preserve our past, invest in our Future

Written by Derek King, Principal at Preservation Studios.

Dear Buffalo Common Council,

As a concerned citizen in your district (I live at 179 Florida Street), I wanted to reach out to implore you to vote for protections for three historic Buffalo buildings. Though all are different, each tells a story about our city and the eras and areas they were constructed in. All three were built by important architects, all with unique styles, and all have much more potential than their current or proposed uses. Most importantly, they underline an important part of Buffalo's future. 

In the 21st Century, unique cities are the ones that thrive. Is it any wonder that the biggest blunders in Buffalo's history (creation of neighborhood-killing highways and destruction of our original downtown street grid to name a few) were attempts to make us more like other cities? As more and more people flock to unique places, we need to acknowledge that Buffalo doesn't have the mountainous backdrop that Denver has, or the mighty Mississippi roaring through downtown like Minneapolis and New Orleans, and our modest bay will never match Boston, Seattle, or San Francisco. 

Sketch of the Bachelor Apartments,
Photo courtesy of
What are our strengths then? We have a wonderful waterfront, yet access is limited mostly to people with cars. We have a great park system, though we've damaged it with a thousand cuts, and one huge gash along one of the greatest parkways in America. Even though most people know us for wings, we also have great winter sports and a thriving arts scene. 

Yet, though we'll ramble off all of those things, we forget that one of our biggest assets is having one of the oldest building stocks in the country. No one goes to Boston and says, "I love this 1960s office building!" They're charmed by Back Bay and they bounce from shop to shop in the North End. New York City might be home to some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, but more people are enamored with Brooklyn Brownstoness and Upper West Side apartments. 

Buffalo has some of the oldest housing stock in the country, right behind Boston, and actually ahead of New York. With over 30% of our houses built before 1940, we have something that Phoenix, Tampa, San Jose, and San Diego could never have. These three buildings are part of that character, that elegance, that comes with an older city, that people use to describe Boston and New York, but would never use to describe Dallas. 

Don't let that character slip away, especially not for plans that fail to push Buffalo in a direction that accentuates the unique features that could attract people to our city. 

The Pratt Street Industrial Area
Photo courtesy of
The North Park Library is the only corner at that intersection with character, featuring a gorgeous landscaped lawn and a well-designed building in a sea of parking and dryvit siding. The architect, Howard Beck, designed civic buildings all over Buffalo, many of which have been demolished out of shortsightedness. Demolishing the North Park Library will continue that trend, trading a historic library for a bland building that won't help that corner, and will likely only make it an even worse gateway to one of our thriving commercial districts. 

The Bachelor Apartments were designed by one of our city's most renowned architecture firms, Green & Wicks, and the potential for it can be seen immediately across the street, where Buffalo Proper has revitalized a historic building to new glory. Demolishing it for a parking ramp is a disservice to our city and a waste of potential, especially since there are many undeveloped parking lots around this site, and several other viable sites owned by this very developer. 

North Park Library, Photo courtesy of
The Pratt Street Industrial Heritage Area contains buildings designed by Lansing & Beierl and R.J. Reidpath, two prolific architecture firms that designed hundreds of buildings in the Buffalo area. The buildings include examples tied to our brewing and metallurgic past, as well as document the growth of one of the largest companies still in the city. Landmarking these buildings will protect that past, but could also help achieve a future for them similar to the innumerable other examples of rehabbed industrial buildings, such as 500 Seneca, the Larkin Exchange building, and many others, all of which have combined innovation with our city's manufacturing past.

All of these buildings would be eligible for historic tax credits, making it easier to transform them, and indeed, bring more investment to the area. Unlike new construction, over 60% of the cost of historic rehabilitation is related to labor, meaning more money stays in the community where new construction would spend more buying materials that can be shipped from anywhere in the country. Plus, the plans to demolish two of these buildings just adds more refuse to landfills that are already filling at an alarming cost, making this a wasteful act when they could be easily reused and that space in the landfill (and the rising cost associated with trucking and storing waste) for things that cannot be repurposed or rehabilitated. 

In all, these landmark applications allow you to make a statement, not just about wastefulness, taste, or even the individual histories of these buildings, but about one of the most unique things about Buffalo's landscape. Our historic buildings are not just about our past, but about our future, as they are one of the only things Buffalo can truly differentiate itself from other parts of the country in this increasingly competitive climate for cities in the twenty-first century.

Again, please approve these landmarks, not just for our past, but for our future,
Derek King
Architectural Historian at Preservation Studios

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