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Historic Landmark in Downtown Buffalo Demolished, Commissioner Comerford Flouts Law

 

 

City Greases Skids for Demo of 1850s Downtown Landmark; Commissioner Defies Law, Refuses to Meet with Preservation Board Member 

The building popularly known as Bernstone's Cigar Store, part of the Joseph Ellicott Historic District, is threatened with imminent demolition. It was designed by architect Calvin Otis and erected in the 1850's. It was the long-time home of the Third National Bank (Joseph Schoellkopf was president) until its merger with M&T Bank in 1962. Sometime after that, the upper four stories were demolished, leaving the original tin cornice and a Classical cast-iron storefront, possibly the oldest in the city.
Bernstone Night Demo
(photo courtesy Bernice Radle) 

Commissioner James Comerford of the City of Buffalo Department of Permit and Inspection Services apparently is flouting the law on public notice once again (he has failed to notify the City Landmark and Preservation Board several times of "Emergency" demolition orders, as required by the City Charter, most recently in the case of the Riverside Men's Shop and Wheeleer grain elevator demolitions). Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director and Preservation Board member Tim Tielman, acting on calls from concerned citizens, went to the department this afternoon. No demolition permit application in the city is supposed to be issued without being reviewed by the Preservation Board. Tielman found out Comerford had issued a demolition order on Friday afternoon, August 31. Comerford was overheard raising his voice, saying he would not meet with Tielman, who was waiting in the next room. Assistant Director Lou Petrucci relayed the message that the commissioner said "to file an Article 78" if a couple days' leave of demolition was sought. Article 78 refers to a legal proceeding brought against a government agency to force it to comply with its own laws.
On July 19, Comerford sent a letter asking for a waiver of noticication of demolition of an asbestos-containing structure to the State Labor Department; he claimed there was imminent danger to the public. It took six weeks for fencing to be erected around the site. Still, the Preservation Board was not notified and no public notice has been given.
"It is clear the commissioner has nothing but contempt for the public process and for the public body charged with protecting the city's historic assets," said Tielman. 
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Timothy Tielman
Executive Director 
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture