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Character of charming Coe Place threatened as Belmont Shelter seeks demo of Ward House

Coe Place is one of Buffalo’s distinctive but overlooked streets. Only one block long, it is lined by tall and narrow Victorian houses on 28-foot lots. Together with a narrow street width, the house rows form a quaint, well-defined streetscape unique in the city. The Hamilton Ward House, at 19 Coe Place, has current pride of place as the anchor house on the south side of the street, which runs west to east between Main and Ellicott streets. It was constructed in 1891 by skating rink operator and Coe Place founder George Chadeayne. With an engaged tower extending a full three stories, it is the most distinctive house on a distinctive block.

The Ward House has been vacant for a number of years but is in solid condition. It is threatened with demolition. The Belmont Shelter Corporation bought it at a recent auction for, reportedly, $3,000. It plans to demolish the house, which abuts the corporation’s parking lot.

The house was once owned by Hamilton Ward, Jr. (1871-1932), a prominent Republican politician who served as New York State Attorney General from 1928 to 1930. He was the only Republican to be elected to statewide office at the time Franklin Roosevelt was elected governor, and was a prominent Buffalo citizen for decades. He was a veteran of the Spanish American War, and the founder of Spanish War Veterans in 1906 and was its first national commander. He delivered the address at the city’s memorial service in honor of President William McKinley at Central Presbyterian Church in September of 1902, one year after the president’s assassination. Ward’s father, Hamilton Ward, Sr., also served as Attorney General in the 19th century, and was a member of the House of Representatives (he drafted the letters of impeachment against President Andrew Johnson in 1868).

A prominent conservationist, Ward was instrumental in founding Allegany State Park. He also founded the Erie County Parks Commission in 1924, was its first chairman, and was the primary mover in establishing Como Lake, Chestnut Ridge, Emery, and Ellicott Creek parks.

Ward’s son, Hamilton Ward III, served as a judge in the New York State Supreme Court from 1946 to 1960, and was the Administrative Judge of the 8th District from 1962 to 1966.

The Hamilton Ward house is the most prominent and conspicuous structure in a compelling and historic streetscape. Coe Place was built as a private enclave in 1890 and 1891 by George Chadeayne, who turned to real estate development after his skating operation on the site failed. The current roadway was once a private, brick-paved path, constructed by 1889. The houses are all single-family Queen Annes on narrow and shallow lots. Those on the south side, including the Ward House, utilize material from the demolished skating rink. The compactness of the lots helps create the unique flavor and sense of place.

The neighborhood around Coe Place is the target of major upcoming public investments, including a $16 million artists’ loft project, Artspace, financed by the City in the former Buffalo Electric Vehicle Company building on the corner of Main. As part of the spin off of that effort, the City is planning significant improvements along Coe Place, including a reconstruction of the street in brick in a distinctive herringbone pattern. The City anticipates a significant impact on housing rehabilitation on Coe Place once the Artspace project is completed in early 2007. The Hamilton Ward House would be a likely recipient of that anticipated spin-off.

Coe Place would qualify as a local landmark district under several criteria. The Queen Annes of Coe Place, constructed by a single builder in a span of two building seasons, form one of the best stylistically consistent bodies of architecture in Buffalo. The Hamilton Ward House, in particular, exemplifies the historic, aesthetic, heritage and cultural characteristics of the city, and is identified with a person who significantly contributed to Buffalo’s development.

Belmont Shelter, contacted by a concerned citizen, has reportedly offered to sell the house for what is has spent on it, but has attached a deadline of one week to find a buyer and close a deal. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is offering to broker a sale to a sympathetic buyer, but without any ultimatum. Saving buildings is a methodical and often serendipitous process, and inisisting on arbitrary timelines severly limits the market for a given property. The Ward House deserves better. Breaking up the streetscape, especially on the edges of the block where 19 Coe is located, would negatively effect the street’s irreplaceable character.
                                                                                                                               —CHRIS HAWLEY