Saved at the Bell: How an Illegal Demolition was Stopped, a Buffalo Landmark Saved, and What Remains to be Done

 

St. John's
Quick, decisive action by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo stopped the destruction of St. John's iconic tower. The church, opened in 1927, is a masterpiece by architects Oakley & Schallmo.

Out-of-the-way but not out of mind, the greatest piece of architecture in Black Rock was being taken apart. But fate was about to intervene. Shortly after 7:00pm on Tuesday October 6, Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman was driving by the former St. John the Baptist R.C. Church on Hertel Avenue and East Street in Black Rock, and noticed a rental lift on the lawn next to the church. Tielman stopped to investigate and discovered that the church's emblematic Lombard Romanesque tower, or campanile, along the East Street side of the building, was being demolished. No one knew about it because there were no permits and no permission to do any work, let alone demolition. Click the link for the story as published in Greater Buffalo #29.0.
 Download Greater Buffalo St. John's hi-res 

Signs on the property proclaimed tenancy by North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group; the owners are RiverRock Church LLC and Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship. The last Catholic service was held in the church in 2005.

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Since then, a succession of entities owned it. The three-tiered campanile (pronounced camp-a-knee-lay), was offset from the nave of church, toward the rear. The campanile of St. John’s played a particularly prominent role in its architectural composition, almost acting as a second front. The east wall of the nave is held in place by a range of massive buttresses, of which the tower can be said to be the largest and last, as it visually supports the entire church by means of lateral bridging which is almost as stout as the tower itself. When Tielman got there, the uppermost lantern and cross of the iconic campanile were gone, and the lower octagon was partially gone. Wood and wire shored the tower, allowing for what appeared to be demolition by hand. A pile of bricks lay at the base of the tower, and a large dumpster contained what appeared to be the rest of the bricks of the demolished tower. A smaller dump-trailer contained interior demolition debris.

Tielman called Buffalo Commissioner of Inspections and Permits James Comerford immediately, looking for a stop-work order. Comerford confirmed that no permits—demolition- or asbestos-related— had been requested or issued, and said he would dispatch an inspector that night.

Demo Work Halted

The next morning, shortly after 7:00AM, Tielman was on-site. Seeing a group of contract workers from Cambar Contracting assembling, Tielman again called Comerford, who dispatched inspector Tracy Krug. Tielman informed the workers that no permit had been issued for the work, no review by the Preservation Board had occurred, and that they would be advised to stop work. The foreman refused, pending arrival of City officials and Buffalo Police, but no further demo occurred in the time it took the City inspector to arrive and shut the job down. Comerford confirmed that a written stop-work order would be delivered that afternoon.

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The campanile of St. John's on the morning of October 7.

 Shortly before the inspector's arrival, a Cambar supervisor arrived on-site and brandished a letter to Tielman from Siracuse Engineers, which allegedly summarized hazardous conditions in the tower. Tielman also called Preservation Board chair Gwen Howard and shortly met her at the site. She was emphatic with representatives of NorthGate, and evangelical organization that was overseeing the work, that plans must be submitted to the Preservation Board before any work could be approved.

 

Who made the decision to demolish?

The decision to demolish without permission, rather than mitigate the hazard in some other fashion pending resolution through proper channels, was apparently made North Gate, an evangelical organization that is partnering with the owners of record, RiverRock Church. RiverRock Church split the property in two pieces, selling the parish house to an entity known as 60 Hertel LLC. North Gate is expanding into the city with this project. A North Gate staffer on-site revealed, had established a deadline of November 1 for the work. That was driving the pace of the work. When Tielman offered that arbitrary deadlines shouldn't drive improprieties, he was told by the North Gate representative that "It is God's deadline." The North Gate representative claimed ignorance of the need for permits. Evidently, in Clarence people are allowed to undertake potential asbestos removal and disposal, demolition of historic structures, and excavation work related to the public water supply without permits. On top of all this, major masonry repointing has occurred without review. New copper flashing is in evidence as well, but again, without review. A pair of unique glazed terra cotta urns is missing from were the flashing was installed, and has been reportedly destroyed. The Campaign’s goals at Hertel and East were be to immediately stop further deterioration and see that plans for the full restoration of the tower were undertaken. These were accomplished. This will take more money and time than it should have.

Law is clear

 

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The St. John campanile serves as a second front on East Street, balancing the nave and apse

The Preservation Board at its October 15 meeting followed the legal directives of New York State and insisted that the tower be rebuilt. North Gate apologized for its neglect in asking for permits and undertaking demolition and modification. It agreed to come back with plans and descriptions of stabilization and reconstruction of the tower. Legal enforcement of proper civic conduct is the burden of the Preservation Board and the Department of Inspections and Permit Services. On the preservation side, the rules for designated historic structures are clear. New York State law mandates that localities adhere to the standards. They are issued by the Secretary of the Interior and are embodied in the New York State standards and the City of Buffalo standards for local landmarks. The very first piece of guidance in the entire corpus of preservation law is "identifying, retaining, and preserving character-defining features." The tower is obviously character-defining. The upper part of the tower and decorative terra cotta urns formerly capping the portal are dismantled, but the historic materials are still on site. There they must remain until they can be used to reassemble the tower.

A Mea Culpa and Promise to Rebuild

North Gate returned to the Preservation Board on October 30 with plans in hand. The Board approved an initial phase of work, including temporarily removing the top of the tower for stabilization and the construction of a platform on which the rebuilt upper tiers will rest. All materials from the campanile are to be sympathetically dismantled, documented, and stored on the site. In addition, periodic progress reports must be submitted no less than quarterly. The vote to approve was 8-0, contingent on the tower being fully restored. There was one recusal. Anthony James, an architect and Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s representative on the Board, was forced to recuse himself when it was revealed through his Facebook comments that had been asked “to look at” North Gate’s options last summer, had informed Preservation Buffalo Niagara at the time, knew of the owner’s Donation banner2 1decision to demolish, and was aware of ongoing work. It became known, in addition, that James was a member of North Gate, a fact which he did not divulge to the Preservation Board. James did not inform the Preservation Board of the threat to a landmarked structure, and insisted that St. John’s was not an official landmark. In fact, St. John’s was among the earliest designations, in the first year of its eligibility. The process of rebuilding the tower will take time, patience, diligence and more money than it should have. That is time and money well spent to preserve the first building in Black Rock to be awarded city landmark designation. Stopping the destruction was only the first step.

Architects Albert Schallmo and Chester Oakley

The former St John the Baptist Church is one of four masterpieces designed by the firm of Oakley and Schallmo in the 1920's. St. John’s, in a group with Blessed Trinity, St. Luke, and St. Casimir. They display the highest level of craftsmanship in brick architecture in the city. Recent research suggests Albert Schallmo, a German Catholic raised in the Fruit Belt, did the drawings. A talented draftsman and architect, Schallmo is credited with designing the recently demolished Franks House at 184 West Utica Street in Buffalo. That demolition, by companies affiliated with developer Nick Sinatra, was opposed by block clubs and the Preservation Board, which had voted to landmark the house based on the association with Schallmo and the evident craftsmanship. The Franks House was completed in 1907. It is unclear whether Schallmo was moonlighting, but in any case, he was back at the drafting board full-time from 1908 through 1918, working successively for Lansing & Beierl, Williams Lansing, and finally, Lansing, Bley & Lyman.

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Blessed Trinity, though last of Oakley & Schallmo churches too be completed, was designed first and caused the St. John parish and two others to commission the firm

Lansing & Beierl was one of the top firms in the city in the first decade of the 20th century. In the first three years Schallmo is known to have worked for them (1908-1910), the firm designed over 20 buildings or additions, including 219 Bryant Street for Children’s Hospital and a house for masonry contractor Ballard Crocker at 114 Chapin Parkway, of, naturally, finely detailed brick. Schallmo stayed with Lansing when the latter split with Beierl in 1910. Lansing’s work address is then listed with Bley and Lyman, with some work credited to him alone, and others to Lansing, Bley & Lyman.

In August 1913, the same month parishioner Schallmo was married in Our Lady of Lourdes church, Lansing, Bley & Lyman were designing the Lourdes school. With Lansing, two exceptional houses came off the drafting boards: 68 Penhurst Park and 180 Chapin Parkway, both Arts & Crafts temples of domesticity. In 1913, another draftsman is hired, Chester Oakley. Like Schallmo, he had East Side working class roots, living in the Fruit Belt with his peripatetic parents. Unlike Schallmo, who had five siblings, Oakley was an only child. It seems, from later events, that the two hit it off.

Thriving, Schallmo designed and built his own stuccoed Arts & Crafts cottage in 1915 on the banks of Ellicott Creek in Williamsville, where he grew up. Art glass, terra cotta, and oaken detailing in the Schallmo house are a warm embrace of the Arts & Crafts ethos, and a steppingstone between the Franks house of eight years prior and Blessed Trinity eight years after. By 1916, there was no question the United States was going to join the allies in the Great War. This put a damper on architectural work, and plan filings at Lansing, Bley & Lyman virtually dissappear. In late 1917 the U.S. is at war against Germany, and Schallmo does not appear to be employed in the City of Buffalo.

Sometime in 1918 Schallmo is back at work in Buffalo, as an architect and engineer with Sizer Forge, an essential wartime industry. After the war, back at Lansing, Bley & Lyman, the latter two decide to set up their own firm in 1919. Draftsman Oakley stayed with Lansing, becoming a partner in Lansing & Oakley. A short year later, Lansing dropped dead over dinner at home.

Oakley reached out to Schallmo, busy designing houses in Williamsville for his neighbors and fellow parishioners at SS Peter and Paul R.C. Church (for which he designed a school). Schallmo agreed to a partnership. Oakley & Schallmo set up shop in 1921. The first structure to which Schallmo’s name is attached from this office is the craft-forward rectory of Annunciation Church, completed in 1922. Schallmo was the motive force in the firm, with his connections in the German Catholic East Side paying dividends almost immediately.

Schallmo’s expressive talent in brick architecture, begun at 184 West Utica, honed at the elbows of Williams Lansing and Max Beierl, and reaching maturity at the Annunciation rectory, would come to fullest flower in four ecclesiastical masterpieces over five years.

When Schallmo moved out of the family house in the Fruit Belt upon marriage, the rest of the Schallmo clan joined eldest brother William in a classic shophouse at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Holden Street. It was in the largely German neighborhood that grew up around quarries in the northeast section of the city known as the Yammerthal (“Vale of Tears”). The Buffalo Diocese had just established Blessed Trinity parish, and laid the cornerstone of a its combination church-school-social hall in 1907. The Schallmos were there at the start. When John Schallmo died in 1915, his funeral service was presided over by the founding priest of Blessed Trinity, John Pfluger. In 1916, Pfluger was assigned to another German parish, and Albert Fritton, a Canisius College graduate, took over. Like Pfluger, Fritton was a graduate of the famous Canisianum Jesuitical institute in Innsbruck, Austria. While there, Fritton traveled to neighboring Italy, where he was deeply impressed by the religious architecture of Lombardy.

At the fast-growing Blessed Trinity, Fritton had the opportunity to plan for a new, permanent church, agreed upon by the parish in 1922. When thinking of who might design the structure, Albert Schallmo must have crossed Fritton’s mind immediately. In late 1922 Oakley & Schallmo filed plans. The larger-than-life figure of Thomas Plassman, new president of St. Bonaventure College, chose the hundreds of iconographic castings which adorn the exterior. The polymathic Plassman, yet another German native, would have been known to all involved. Schallmo supervised construction, which started in 1923.

 

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St. Casimir in Kaisertown is one of four brick masterpieces by Oakley & Schallmo

One look at Blessed Trinity’s plans, and other parishes rapidly enlisted Oakley & Schallmo: St. John the Baptist (the first of the four completed, in 1927), St. Casimir, and St. Luke. Each was in an outlying working-class neighborhood. One imagines the two young architects seizing the chance to bequeath people like themselves architectural objects of great beauty generally reserved for downtown. In addition, President Plassman of St. Bonaventure followed up with commissions for a dormitory and oratory at his growing college, with the promise for more work.

 

The future looked bright, but disaster struck. In January 1928, after St. John’s had opened the previous summer, ground been broken for St. Luke in the fall, and as finishing touches were being applied to Blessed Trinity and St. Casimir, Schallmo died suddenly. He was 43. No cause of death was made public. With the talented Joseph Fronczyk also having just left for his own practice, the firm withered under the reclusive Oakley. The practice lived largely off relationships established by the socially active and hands-on Schallmo.

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Law is Clear: St. John's Tower Must Rise Again

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Drawing by Lawrence McIntyre from the book "Designated Landmarks of the Niagara Frontier," shows significance of recently destroyed tower of St. John the Baptist Church to overall composition of building
 
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Condition of tower, with temporary shoring, after an illegal attempt by owner to remove it was stopped by The Campaign for Greater Buffalo. Owner intent was to leave only bottom tier of tower.

 

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2007 photo shows glazed terra cotta ornament on stone or cast stone plinths on either side of entrance have been removed, and the plinths capped with copper.


It remains unclear who funded or directed the illegal destruction of the character-defining tower of the former St. John the Baptist Church, a brick-and-terra-cotta masterpiece by architects Oakley and Schallmo. Completed in 1927,  it has long been a designated City of Buffalo historic landmark. Its dismantlement became public knowledge when Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman drove by the site on Tuesday night.  It is clear, however, that the Preservation Board must follow legal directives from New York State and insist that the tower be rebuilt (it next meets on Thursday, October 15), and Mayor Byron Brown must back up the Preservation Board's resolve through enforcement actions of the Department of Permit and Inspection Services. North Gate, an evangelical organization that has now badged the property with its banners, must take moral ownership of its lapse and fund the reconstruction. Legal enforcement of proper civic conduct is the burden of the Preservation Board and the Department of Inspections and Permit Services.
 

The money to fix the tower must be prioritized. A lot of money is being spent around the complex by North Gate. The religious organizations involved—North Gate is partnering with RiverRock Church and another organization— will claim they didn't have the money to preserve the tower, so they certainly would not have the money to rebuild it. But a religious organization's financial books are, uniquely, closed to all. So the public is left to trust organizations whose supervisor on the site claimed ignorance of the need to get asbestos surveys and permits, demolition permits, and Preservation Board review.

On the preservation side, the rules for preservation of historic structures are clear, and New York State law mandates that localities adhere to the standards.  They are issued by the Secretary of the Interior and are embodied in the New York State  standards and the the City of Buffalo standards for local landmarks. The very first piece of guidance in the entire corpus of preservation law is  "identifying, retaining, and preserving  character-defining features." The tower is obviously character-defining. The upper part of the tower (and decorative terra cotta ornaments formerly on the front wall of the church) is dismantled, but the historic materials are still on site. There they must remain until they can be used to reassemble the tower. Preservation Board Chair Gwen Howard arrived on site Wednesday morning and was emphatic with representatives of NorthGate, and evangelical organization that was overseeing the work, that plans must be submitted to the Preservation Board before any work could be approved.

On the City side, Commissioner James Comerford, upon being informed of the situation Tuesday night, immediately confirmed that no permits—demolition- or asbestos-related— had been requested or issued, and dispatched an inspector that night. On Wednesday morning shortly after 7:00AM, when notified by Tim Tielman of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo that workmen were on site and preparing to continue the dismantlement, again dispatched an inspector who stopped work upon arrival, and was to issue a written stop work order that day. No work may proceed without Preservation Board review and approval. The Board next meets (remotely) on Thursday October 15.

The process of rebuilding the tower will take time, patience, diligence and more money than it should have. That is time and money well spent to preserve the first building in Black Rock to be awarded city landmark designation. Stopping the destruction was only the first step.

[This article has been updated to correct ownership information]


Demo work halted at St. John's in Black Rock; other violations come to light.

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The tower of the former St. John the Baptist on the morning of Oct. 7, after demolition work had been stopped. Emergency water-shedding measures have been approved by the City. The ornamental ventilator of the historic school is visible through the tower's arch.


The demolition work at the former St. John the Baptist Church in Black Rock has been halted, thanks to the timely intervention of The Campaign for Greater Buffalo. Buffalo Commissioner of Permits and Inspection Services James Comerford dispatched inspector Tracy Krug to the site at 62 Hertel Avenue shortly after 7:00 AM upon receiving a call from Tim Tielman of  The Campaign for Greater Buffalo, who was on-site.  Tielman approached a group of contract workers from Cambar Contracting and informed them that no permit had been issued for the work on the landmark, no review by the Preservation Board had occurred, and that they would be advised to stop work. The foreman refused, pending arrival of City officials and Buffalo Police, but no further demo occurred in the time it took the City inspector to arrive and shut the job down. Comerford confirmed that a written stop-work order will be delivered this afternoon.

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A trailer filled with interior demolition debris, some of it friable, and none of it tested for asbestos, sits behind the former St. John the Baptist Church

Shortly before the inspector's arrival, a Cambar supervisor arrived on-site and brandished a letter to Tielman from Siracuse Engineers, which allegedly summarized hazardous conditions in the tower. The decision to demolish without permission, rather than mitigate the hazard in some other fashion pending resolution through proper channels, was apparently made North Gate, an evangelical organization that is is partnering with the owners of record, RiverRock Church. RiverRock Church split the property in two pieces, selling the parish house to 60 Hertel LLC to the Mosaic 659 Foundation. Mark Herskind, a trustee of Mosaic 659, which is registered at the same  address as his residence, is a significant supporter of local evangelical Christian enterprises, including Jericho Road Community Center, which River Road also claims as a "partner." 

North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group that is expanding into the city with this project. North Gate is funding a large project there with a deadline of November 1st, an organization staffer on-site revealed. That is driving the pace of the work. When Tielman offered that arbitrary deadlines shouldn't drive improprieties, he was told by the North Gate representative that "It is God's deadline."

 

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North Gate, a Clarence-based evangelical group, is funding the unpermitted demolition and plumbing work as part of its expansion into Buffalo. It is advertising a Nov. 1 grand opening 

The North Gate representative feigned ignorance of the need for permits. Evidently, in Clarence people are allowed to undertake potential asbestos removal and disposal, demolition of historic structures, and excavation work related to the public water supply without permits.

On top of all this, major masonry repointing has occurred without review. It is unknown if the mortar mix used matches the original specifications of architects Oakley & Schallmo, who are perhaps the greatest masters of brick architecture the city has produced. New copper flashing is in evidence as well, but again, without review, the public has no knowledge of whether this or any other work was properly done.

The goal at Hertel and East must be to immediately stop further deterioration and issue plans for the full restoration of the tower. This will now take more money and time than it would have, but North Gate must commit to it, and commit to following the laws of the City of Buffalo henceforth.

[This post has been updated to correct ownership information.]


Campaign Moves to Stop Illegal Demo at St. John the Baptist in Black Rock

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The East Street elevation of St. John the Baptist shows the tower as it existed last month


An illegal demolition at the former St. John the Baptist church at 60 Hertel Avenue in Buffalo's Black Rock neighborhood has been uncovered. The church is one of four masterpieces designed by the firm of Oakley and Schallmo in the 1920's. St. John, in a group with Blessed Trinity, St. Luke, and St. Casimir, displays the highest level of craftsmanship in brick architecture  in the city. Shortly after 7:00pm on Tuesday October 6, Campaign for Greater Buffalo Executive Director Tim Tielman was driving by on Hertel Avenue and noticed a rental lift on the lawn next to the church. Not recalling any action before the city's Preservation Board, Tielman stopped to investigate and discovered that the church's emblematic Italian Renaissance tower, along the East Street side of the building, was being demolished.

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St. John the Baptist was opened in 1927, a masterpiece of brick by Oakley and Schallmo


The tower was designed as a three-stepped structure terminating in an arcaded octagonal lantern with a tiled roof. Atop all was a cross. Below, the tower is supported by a square shaft with a monumental battered base. Architecturally, the tower forms a necessary counter balance to the extravagantly ornamented elevation, which features a heroic rose window over a Spanish Baroque portal. The east wall of the nave is held in place by a range of massive buttresses, of which the tower can be said to be the largest, as it supports the entire church by means of lateral bridging which is almost as stout as the tower itself.

It is this tower which is in a state of demolition. The uppermost lantern and cross are gone, and the lower octagon is partially gone. Wood and wire bracing wraps the tower, allowing for what appears to be demolition by hand. A pile of bricks lies at the base of the tower, and a large dumpster contains what appears to be the rest of the bricks of the demolished tower. A smaller dump-trailer contains interior demolition debris.

The last Catholic service was held in the church in 2005. Since then, a succession of entities owned it. Records show the the current owners are River Rock Church LLC and the Buffalo Myanmar Indigenous Christian Fellowship.

Tielman called Buffalo Commissioner of Inspections and Permits Jim Comerford immediately, looking for a stop-work order. Comerford reported that no permits had been issued for the work, and that he would send an inspector and the police in the morning. The Campaign will be there as well, bright and early.

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The partially demolished tower on the night of October 6. The demolition is illegal.
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Confirmation of demo, rather than repair: bricks from the tower in a dumpster in back of the church

 


Cornell, UB teams working on Campaign concept of high-speed "Road Train"  

Road Train cover 2 Road Train head 1The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture is sponsoring a series of design studios this fall and next spring with Cornell University and the University of Buffalo

Two studios, one at Cornell and one at UB, are researching a concept of The Campaign for an intercity public transit system utilizing high-speed articulated vehicles in the median of the Thruway at average speeds above 100mph. The UB studio, led by professor Jeffrey Rehler and consisting of Environmental Design and Architecture students, will evaluate mobility systems and explore the design of the new road bed, stations, and the station areas. 

The Cornell studio, led by professor Sirietta Simoncini and consisting of Masters students in Systems Engineering, as well as City and Regional Planning students, will utilize  a process of "systems design thinking" to investigate how such a sustainable mobility system could be set up, implemented, and operate. 

The studios  are under the auspices of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at UB and the College of Engineering at Cornell. 

"We are excited to be sponsoring studios that address urgent needs in Buffalo and Upstate cities as a whole," said Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo.

"The Road Train studios spring from the observation that the railroad era gave us cities with very strong centering effects," continued Tielman. "After 60 years, it is evident that frequent, fast public intercity train service, like that available to downstate residents, is not in the cards for upstate, and it is time to explore whether center cities can be revitalized, and citizens helped, by a transit system that duplicates the success of trains but at much less time and money."

Download Greater Buffalo #28.1 Road Train


DOT scoping doc dismisses all Skyway adaptations; wants new inland highway

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The New York State Department of Transportation has released a preliminary scoping document that rejects the first-, second-, and third-place prizewinners in Governor Cuomo's "Aim for the Sky" competition to develop new plans for the Skyway corridor. In fact, DOT rejected all 16 of the contest's finalists, and every single concept in its public comment phase that called for retaining any part of the Skyway between Tifft Street, south of the Buffalo River, and Church Street in downtown Buffalo. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo had submitted comments in favor of its "Cloudwalk"  proposal (then called Skywalk).

Not only did DOT refused to even consider anything that did not reduce the 3-mile length of the Skyway complex to bare earth, thereby washing its hands of any expense of actively remedying the damage its road has inflicted on Buffalo for 60 years or leaving the region with the makings of a spectacular bike-and-walkway, it also made matching or enhancing automobile speed, comfort, and convenience above all else non-negotiable. It therefore was left with two alternatives which it conceived itself outside of the public competition and public comments.

This cannot stand. At a cost of at least $600,000,000, DOT would build at least three new interchanges, a new two-mile elevated roadway through South Buffalo, three bridges, and expansions of four existing Thruway interchanges, including lengthening merge lanes to 2,000 feet—effectively adding another lane to the Thruway between Clinton Street and Elm Street. Time to contact Governor Cuomo.  SHARE THIS POST FAR AND WIDE, RIGHT NOW.

 


Watching Indian Falls Locals Jump Off the Cliff

 
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On hot holidays, like July 3, 2020, locals head to The Log Cabin and the Falls. You either spectate from a perch on the porch, patio, or the rocky bed of Tonawanda Creek, or you jump right in. This ritualistic frivolity occasionally raises concerns or hackles, and the authorities are called. Like every week. The sheriff’s department, so we are informed by the indefatigable staff of The Batavian, has a special rig and rope team at the ready (for dispatches like this: “Man down in Indian Falls, bleeding from the head, water rescuers called.”). On July 3, before your correspondent arrived at the scene for a beer and fish fry, the ever-watchful Batavian reported the 911: “A caller to dispatch reports 20 people ("two-zero") are jumping in the falls by the Indian Falls Log Cabin Restaurant. The dispatcher relayed this complaint to a Sheriff's deputy who asked: "I thought were weren't responding to those (calls) anymore?"
 
Log Cabin  Indian Falls
The Log Cabin Restaurant and Bar is a log cabin restaurant and bar in the Genesee County hamlet of Indian Falls. You’ll miss it if you are speeding northward from the Pembroke Thruway exit to the micropolis of Medina (part of the Albion-Medina Microplex). Turn left at the dip in the road. It is on the eastern fringe of Buffaloland. The food is typical bar food, but you are going for the folksy ambience, the wood-smoke curling up from the stone fireplace (in winter), and the view, which in summer includes local youth diving into the base of the falls. The spirit of Seneca sachem Ely Parker, who was born on the spot, pervades the place.


Ely Parker marker

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The area around Indian Falls was once part of the Tonawanda Indian Reservation. Ely Parker, Seneca sachem, was born in a log cabin overlooking the falls (not the one currently on the site). A marker on the Akron Road explains it all.

Paleo-Urbanism wasn't Buffalo's Problem. It is The Solution.

Main St c 1907 BuffaloThis is another in our occasional series of decoding Buffalo postcards. Today, in honor of the Independence Day holiday, a detail of a colorized postcard c. 1906 showing Buffalo on the eve of, likely, July 4th, and at its peak in the hierarchy of American cities. It is one of our favorite views of the city. The artist Childe Hassam made his living painting similar scenes of New York City 10 years later. Based on a photograph, the image is unusual for its elevated perspective in the middle of a busy street, and rich in information. To wit:

  • Ellicott Square, in the left foreground (Daniel Burnham & Co., 1895-6) has its cornice intact and awnings shading store windows and office windows, and has its original light gray terra cotta. The cornice was removed and tinted windows installed in the 1970s, under the management of Carl Paladino (the developer's first project, and the birth of Ellicott Development). Not only did this result in banishing real awnings, it made it difficult for passersby to see what merchants had on offer. So rigid-framed advertising canopies meant to evoke ye olde clothing awnings have been installed, as in Ellicott Development's convenience store on the Washington Street side. Paladino also had the entire building repainted in a mousy brown a couple years ago. Thanks, Carl.
  • There is a line of streetcars headed up Main Street. The number 8 Main Street line itself had departures every two minutes during working hours. Many other lines shared this track, and others crossed it just behind the photographer at Shelton Square. It was the public transit hub of Buffalo, which explains why Ellicott Square was built there. The streetcars moved slowly, attested by the people walking back and forth amidst the cars.
  • Mobility is free-range; there are sidewalks, but pedestrians are crossing at will and standing at various points, as are horses and carriages, and bicycles—at least six of them in this scene. There are no automobiles, moving or parked, although there were a good number already registered in the city. Soon, to benefit autos, pedestrians would be confined to certain crossing points, and drivers would simply leave their cars willy-nilly at the curb for hours at a time.
  • The second White Building, on the right, has just opened. The first burned down in 1904. This one advertises that it is fireproof (non-combustible supports, floors, and walls), like Ellicott Square and the nearby Guaranty Building. A great fear, as buildings began be built taller, was to be caught on an upper floor when fire broke out below.
  • Next to the White Building to the south is the Weed Block, which housed a hardware emporium on the ground floor and offices and living quarters above, among them those of Grover Cleveland. He conducted most of his life quite efficiently, happily, and consequentially, within three blocks of his Main & Swan base.
  • Across Swan Street, south of the Weed Block is a small brick structure that was home to what was to become M&T Bank.
  • Looming over the corner bank is the Barnes, Bancroft & Hengerer Department Store. Soon, following the migration of retail northward along Main Street, successor Hengerer's would build a giant store north of Lafayette Square. The 1888 Barnes & Bancroft building still stands.
  • The same cannot be said for the stout and varied brick building directly opposite, on the east side of Main, south of Swan. They were, save one, acquired by Marine Midland Bank in the mid-1960's and demolished for a new headquarters. The only survivor was the building housing Bernstone's Cigar Store, which was decapitated that decade and stood in rump form until several years ago. It survived only became Marine, in mid-project, was persuaded by Mayor Frank Sedita's administration to abandon that site, already cleared, for a Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency project that would become the Marine Midland Center. The site remains a parking lot today.
  • This entire section of Main Street (disappearing into the mists of the engraver's airbrush), a vital commercial corridor, was separated from the rest of Main Street to the south by the Marine Midland Center and directly to the north by the construction of a mammoth  automobile processional—the Church Street Extension Mall— which destroyed Shelton Square, as well as four blocks of buildings extending eastward to the Elm-Oak arterial. This is why the modern preservation movement came into being. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo exists to preserve buildings like these, and to restore environments like this.

Campaign for Greater Buffalo Documenting all Green Book Sites in City

Seven Reasons c.1959
"Seven Reasons," (c.1959) a slide image taken by an employee of the Buffalo Department of Planning documenting pre-Urban Renewal conditions. The photograph in all probability is on the Lower East Side. The pencilled title, on the slide's paper frame, is indicative of the notion, at least among some bureaucrats, that, in order to give these children a better life, their homes and neighborhood had to be destroyed. Besides the enormous social toll, that cost Buffalo thousands of historic structures and businesses, including those listed in various editions of the Green Book, which The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is documenting.


The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is in the midst of a project to document all the Green Book sites in the city of Buffalo. The Green Book is the most well-known of various directories published during the Jim Crow era to assist citizen-travelers of color find services and accommodations that welcomed them. Simple intercity travel was a the Green Books between 1947 and 1967, only a dozen have extant buildings. The rest fell victim directly or indirectly, to the federal and state bulldozers of the Urban Renewal era, funding clearance plans drawn up in City Hall. Ostensibly, the work was being done to benefit the very residents whose homes were being destroyed and their lives upended. Now, building on the work of Fredonia State intern Cameron Flynn, The Campaign hopes to mark every site with long-lasting sidewalk stickers or other markers, and to encourage rehabilitation of the extant structures.

Green books
The past months have seen two outstanding books published on the Green Book: Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin, and  Overground Railroad, The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candace Taylor. The two books compliment each other in many ways, and those interested will want to read both, as well as any of several facsimile editions of The Green Book. All have helped inform the Campaign's Green Book Project.


Lorna Peterson, Gail Wells, and Tim Tielman are on the Campaign's Green Code committee, with an assist from Chris Hawley at City Hall, who helps coordinate interns' research in city records. Fredonia State's news service published a nice piece on the Green Book and Cameron Flynn's work earlier this year.

The past months have seen two outstanding books published on the Green Book: Driving While Black, African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights by Gretchen Sorin, and  Overground Railroad, The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candace Taylor. The two books compliment each other in many ways, and those interested will want to read both, as well as any of several facsimile editions of The Green Book. All have helped inform the Campaign's Green Book Project.

Ellicott_URA aerial_sdiv 2
Thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses were destroyed with city and federal funds—including dozens of Green Book sites—in the Ellicott Urban Renewal District, bounded by Swan Street (left) Michigan Avenue, William Street, and Jefferson Avenue. The consequences reverberate to the present day.


This is written while demonstrations are occurring in Buffalo and across America—and the world— almost daily since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd through asphyxiation by kneeing him in the neck for almost nine minutes while the victim lay unresisting on the ground. One can't help but look back at the state-sponsored destabilization and dislocation of thousands of Ellicott District residents in Buffalo in the 1950's and 1960's and the demonstrations and riots they helped unleash and wonder how much society and the city would have been better served if those thousands of homes and businesses could have been preserved and rehabilitated. We cannot let the remaining Green Book buildings—symbols of struggle, survival, and triumph—be lost.

The Campaign is seeking donations and grants to complete its Green Book project. Donations can be made online on the Campaign's blog homepage sidebar, Greater Buffalo, or by mail at 403 Main Street, Suite 705, Buffalo, NY 14203.


Urban Renewal Redux: A Wall Rises in Buffalo

Buffalo, like so many American cities, still has wounds and physical defects dating from the Urban Renewal era. Massive demolition programs claimed thousands of irreplaceable buildings. Many sites are vacant to this day (camouflaged, if you will, by parking lots). When new structures were built, they were often built with ignorance and disregard for how humans behaved and cities succeed. Thus, in Buffalo, we erected buildings with long stretches of blank walls, which suppressed sidewalk activity and destroyed the contiguity which made walking useful and pleasant. Jane Jacobs, in Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) pointed this out. That did not stop us from constructing the Central Library (1962) with solid walls on Clinton, Oak, William and Broadway; Main Place Mall (1969) with a 900-foot blank wall on Pearl Street, the convention center (1978) which killed everything around it on Franklin, Genesee, and Mohawk streets with hundreds of feet of implacable brutality, and just about every parking garage you want to mention. That is a lot of dead zone to overcome.

Cities the world over are tearing out expressways, replacing Brutalist compounds with engaging structures opening onto public sidewalks, even "daylighting" lost rivers and canals. Buffalo's first big opportunity to correct the mistakes of 1960s urbanism in Buffalo is the old Marine Midland Center (1972). We are on the verge of blowing it.

The Buffalo Planning Department, the Planning Board, and the Zoning Board of Appeals all approved a massive wall of concrete panels that is 12 feet high on the corner of Seneca and Pearl streets, and over 20 feet high on Washington Street. The wall, and related structures at Main and Seneca streets, are almost finished. And it is a horror to behold. Should we let this mistake last for the next 50 years?