The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture scored a victory for the preservation of a pop culture landmark on July 8 when the Buffalo Preservation Board unanimously approved an application it had prepared to designate the Hotel Elmwood/Voelker’s Lanes complex an official Buffalo landmark. For Campaign members and supporters it was a satisfying first step in process to save the endangered building.
The fourth-generation owner of Voelker’s, who also owns Kenmore Lanes, filed for a demolition permit in April. That initiated the process by which the Preservation Board reviews all demolition applications. The Board reached out to the Campaign for assistance. The application was prepared by Campaign Executive Director Tim Tielman with valuable contributions from Black Rock historians Doreen DeBoth and Monica Rzepka. Voelker wants to demolish the site at the corner of Elmwood and Amherst Streets and “build-to-suit.” By her own testimony, she has allowed the building to suffer from lack of maintenance, citing her evident negligence as reason to deny landmark status.
While many signs and pop-culture sites across the country are official local-, state-, and national landmarks, the Voelker’s building would be the first individually listed building of its kind in Buffalo. Voelker’s is known to most Western New Yorkers for its bold neon signs, but it has a much longer and varied history stretching back to before the Pan American Exposition opened across the street. It was operated as a bar probably from the beginning in 1886, when Grover Cleveland was President.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Preservation Board Chair Gwen Howard reported that the number of people expressing an opinion in favor of landmarking dwarfed the numbers against. That was despite the Board bending over backward and allowing Voelker more time to seek out neighbors supporting her demo request. For now, barring mischief, Voelker’s is safe until the Common Council Legislation Committee holds a public hearing—probably in September—on the merits of the application as it pertains to the Preservation Code. The Committee then sends its recommendation to the full Council for a vote.
In practice, whether Voelker’s gets demolished or saved is in the hands of North District Councilmember Joe Golombek, who has said he is undecided pending review of the application and the public hearing.