The Buffalo Common Council withstood many attempts to landmark Frank Lloyd Wright's Heath House and Davidson House over the last 20 years, but on March 17, 2020, faced with a court order won by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, it quietly approved designating both prairie-style houses as City of Buffalo landmarks. They had long been on the National Register of Historic Places—as long as their lack of local recognition was a civic embarrassment.
The Campaign mounted several attempts to get them landmarked, but each was thwarted by the evident political power of one of the owners, a host and donor to political and non-profit fundraisers. In the meantime, the houses suffered from uninformed "improvements," including, at the Davidson, hammering textured asphalt shingles through the original slate roof, and discoloring Wright's iconic white stucco walls, first with a "Harvest Gold" color last seen on 1970's refrigerators and now with a gray-brown tone popular at strip malls and investment properties. The Campaign has noted before that these erosions of character are particularly felt due to the northern orientation of both houses, which requires architectural detailing to overcome shadowing and silhouetting effects against a brighter sky.
The Campaign's latest effort began early in 2019, when it took action against the Council for yet again attempting to kill the landmark nominations by receiving and filing them. State Supreme Court Judge Paul Wojtaszek found for The Campaign in July, and handed down the decision and order voiding the Council's action to receive and file the applications on October 11. The Buffalo Corporation Council simply sat on the information and did not forward it to the Council. Finally, on March 3, 2020, Campaign Vice President Dan Sack formally requested that the City Clerk place the matter on the next Council meeting agenda, which was on March 17.
The Council approved both nominations at its March 17th meeting. A brass band was not hired to spread the news. Sack found out about it, amidst the tsunami of Coronavirus news and the discontinuation of City Hall public meetings, through a follow-up email request.
"I am glad the anti-social distancing from landmark designation on these spectacular Buffalo cultural inheritances is over," said Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman. "Now we have to get the Brown Administration to see the light: Remember the Franks House!," referencing the Administration's end-run around the Preservation Board and Common Council to demolish a rare Flemish Revival house on West Utica Street in February.
Richard Lippes, a Campaign board member, filed the lawsuit on behalf of The Campaign in January. "It is good to see our lawsuit come to fruition," said Lippes. "It removes a significant impediment to preserving deserving buildings and giving citizens the protections they thought they had all along."