Feds Trying to Rush Demos. Seek to Bulldoze Balcom-Chandler House, Erlanger Building, risking Big Hole on Niagara Square
Preservationists could not be blamed if they viewed the public review process for the proposed federal courthouse a sham. Now that sham could become a flimflam if the feds go ahead and demolish the block of the Joseph Ellicott Historic District before funding for the entire project is complete. The $100,000,000 project has not been able to muster full funding for three federal budgets. Instead, it got some money in the last budget, and it is expected to take one or two more budget cycles, at least, before full funding is in hand. Yet eminent domain proceedings moved forward on all buildings and properties on the site, and the possibility exists that Buffalo will be stuck for an indeterminate amount of time with a hole in the streetscape where historic buildings once stood. What if, given the uncertainties of the federal budget, the Buffalo courthouse keeps getting bumped? What if, at the end of the day, it is decided to simply retrofit the existing courthouse?
As it stands, the Federal government’s actions represent an unprecedented dismissal of the City of Buffalo’s efforts to protect its heritage, undermine decades of local preservation efforts, and contravene a civic understanding—how to build on Niagara Square—older than the city itself. The physical heritage to be lost includes the narrow and twisting Flint Alleys, paved in stone blocks, the Georgian Revival Erlanger Building, designed by the architects of Grand Central Terminal, and the Balcom-Chandler house, Niagara Square’s last original structure.
Built only 20 years after the incorporation of the City of Buffalo, the circa 1852 Balcom-Chandler house was built by local brick potentate Philo Balcom of bricks of his own manufacture.It is also the sole survivor of the early founding period, when houses of civic leaders surrounded the square.