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918 Main: Our Poor History of Protecting Our Legacy

The City’s track record of protecting historic properties that it owns is less than stellar. Deterioration of the Woodlawn Street rowhouses is well documented at fixbuffalo. In Allentown, a court order was needed to spare the row of commercial buildings at the corner of Main and Virginia that First Amherst Development is renovating into a mixed-use complex. Further up the block is 918 Main, commonly known as the Summit Building, a brick and masonry structure built in 1891 whose time may be running out.

The City-owned 918 Main is a four-story brick building located next to the Red Jacket Apartments near Allen Street. It was a former carriage manufactory built in by Cyrus K. Porter, a well-known Buffalo architect. While the front facade is intact, neighbors say there is a spectacular waterfall inside during heavy rains. In 2004 the City applied to the Buffalo Preservation Board for approval to demolish the building reportedly to provide parking for nearby firm Zeptometrix. It is unknown whether the request was turned down or withdrawn. Chris Jacobs took a run at renovating the structure in late 2004 but decided to pass.
In what may be the building’s last hope, the building at 916 Main was sold in February to Robert Wulbrecht. The new owner is reportedly eyeing conversion of the three-story building into apartments. It remains to be seen if the developer is interested 918 Main which is interconnected his building. Zeptometrix’s appetite for parking remains as the firm is rumored to be looking at demolishing the Victorian red brick mansion at 878 Main Street. This stretch of Main bordering Allentown and the Medical Campus is undergoing a transformation: 844-64 Main is being renovated into 29 apartments, the mansion at 888 Main is to be restored and reopened as a restaurant, and Hospice recently moved into a building at 892 Main. Time will tell if 878 and 918 Main will be around to see the rebirth of their neighborhood.

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  • Gabe

    It would be sad to see these buildings go. Stuff like this simply can’t be replicated anymore. As this area is beginning to regenerate, the last thing the street needs is more surface parking. Delta sonic has already taken enough of a toll a few blocks up.

  • david s

    To lose this intact row of buildings would be a tremendous loss. These are the valuable sites that must be preserved. There is no excuse for a building owner to neglect the most basic investment in buildings such as a good roof and windows. Why is it not criminal to allow a building to rot away?

  • comptart

    Yes, I am a preservationist. That said, I wanted to step back a moment and put the demolition-by-neglect issue in a bigger perspective. Perhaps (I thought to myself) all this “building-hugging” HAS gotten out of hand? It’s not a normal thing for me to question but, I do like to be fair and consider different angles. WHEN did these building “go bad”? After all, they were built over 100 years ago and survived an awful lot o including a depression o in that span. Correct me if I’m wrong. The majority of “eyesores” and safety hazards being posted on this site got that way in only the last 20-30 years. Think a bit about what that says about the “generation” that did that o it’s a horrible legacy! These are the same decades that gave us the “me generation” “the decadent 80s” and “throw-away society”. Can the pendulum swing on that self-centered approach? I have my doubts. I tend to think it will ALWAYS be a fight for a history-saving few rather than a way-of-thinking for leadership and our citizenry. It’s very sad. Email this to a derelict building-owner and see if you can get them to change their ways, if only for their ego. That’s the only thing bigger than the wallets of those that would buy a 100 year old building and let it rot on their watch.

  • Rue B

    This building MUST…I repeat MUST be saved!! That area of Main Street is just staring to turn the corner with the First Amherst’s Granite Works project at Main & Virginia and the Artspace Lofts project both happening just a few blocks away. The Summit building along with the attached, terra cotta Red Jacket Building are gems and would make amazing living space with ground floor retail (which is now vacant). It would be a crying shame if this building is allowed to be demolished when it could be tax generating residential & commercial space. Hasn’t the city of Buffalo learned its lesson yet about destroying historic building for parking?
    Anyone who has doubts about whether the Summit Building is worthy of being saved only needs to look this picture of the building:
    The Summit Building is on the far left portion of the picture.

  • Wilkeson

    Ok, so what can we do? The City owns the Summit Building. How do we get them to stabilize this building and either find an appropriate developer or hold it until one becomes available? Let’s come up with some creative solutions and stop being seen as popping up at the last minute to complain/whine.

  • westcoastperspective

    I also question whether I’m becoming a “wacky preservationist” seeing my latest string of posts! But I think there needs to be a spotlight put on these buildings before we get to the emergency demolition stage (see Schmidt and Vernor Buildings). Downtown residential is starting to take off- now we have a new potential use for these vacant buildings where in the past the only viable option was to convert to offices or leave the upper floors vacant. Its time some of these catch the residential wave before they’re taken down. The downtown economy was declining over the past 20 years- these buildings stuck it out and many may be on their last legs since they weren’t secured. Time is running out.
    While many people call demolition and new construction progress, nothing can match the detail, scale and craftsmanship of our heritage buildings, big name architect or not. These are the same heritage buildings that give Buffalo its character and what has made some experts call it a living architectural museum. Not everthing can or should be saved, but lets do a better job with the saving. We have way too many shovel-ready sites. And the fact that 918 Main and the Woodlawn Rowhouses are historical yet on the verge of demolition due to the City’s neglect is appalling.

  • Gabe

    Westcoast, I agree that we definitely can’t save everyting, and we need to put buildings in perspective for what they can actually be used for. IMO, the most important buildings are multistory mixed use buildings with storefronts on the ground floor and space for offices or apartments above. I think these should be #1 priority for saving. These type of buildings are the glue that holds vibrant ubran districts into one coherent piece.
    II have to kinda disagree about the historic value of the woodlawn rowhouses, IMHO, they look like your typical run of the mill housing in many large east coast city working class neighborhoods. What makes this more historic than the houses surrounding it?

  • Rue B

    A few e-mails about this to the Buffalo News, local TV stations couldn’t hurt. Maybe one of the media outlets will bring the demolition by neglect issue out so the average person who knows nothing about it. I’m sure the Artvoice will give this issue exposure as well.

  • Wilkeson

    Rue B, I’m not sure that’s the best approach. The way City Hall operates now the simplest thing for them to do would be to knock it down. If it starts to be a liability from a PR standpoint they might just do that, take the heat up front and get it over with. I think it is better to lobby directly with the Council, Preservation Board, new Mayor, etc. to make it clear that the building has a constituency who will care if it’s allowed to rot further.
    We can save the media alert for when they try to give 878 to Zeptometrix so the can demo it for a parking lot – a very real possibility.

  • Gabe,
    The Woodlawn Row Houses were occupied until the City’s ownership began two years ago.
    Here in this part of Masten – (25 blocks — Main/Jefferson – Ferry/Utica) there used to be 21 sets of these row houses. Now, there are only three sets. They still represent the largest cluster of wood-frame row houses in the City. Here’s the post that provides that perspective, from a c. 1925 Sanford Fire Map:
    Click on that map image and you’ll some flickr notes describing the site.
    The larger issues is that the City lacks a “common-sense” plan for the proper maintenace of this and other City owned architectural gems. The kicker is that it’s directly across the street from a City school…and the soon to be Performing Arts High School.
    Bad example for City kids.
    To your point. Typical, yes. But the only example left.

  • TheNextMayor

    At the very least, the facade should be saved to keep the character of the street intact. What’s built behind it is hidden from view.

  • pavtogs

    I’d like to take a moment to mention that Hyatt’s art store has been at 914 Main Street for over 40 years. They deserve an awful lot of credit for sticking with, and improving, a “challenging” hulk of a building for all of these years. They’ve since opened up outlets in Clarence & outside of Rochester – they even had a Galleria Mall location for a while. But through it all they kept their Buffalo location as their flagship store. Who knows what that block would now look like if they had bailed 20 years ago. Give some credit here to the late Charlie Hyatt & his sons for their tenacity.

  • comptart

    Pav o thanks for saying that about Hyatt’s. I’ve often thought the same thing. They are one of the GOOD examples and maybe the difference is that they actually OPERATE a business within their property. Our new mayor and all local gov’t official should take note: start sucking up to the small businesses who TRULY invest in the city and start making a few rules for the speculators and developers who rape it of its treasures.

  • eliz.

    Letters opposing the demolition of 918 and 878 should be written to the council member for this district, Brian Davis, as well as to the current mayor and the mayor-elect. In those letters, a call for proposals should be suggested, as was done with success for 844-874 Main. The call resulted in First Amherst’s project. It seems that other developers, noting First Amherst’s presence, may be more willing to take these on now.
    I agree that no media alert is needed–yet. The letters could be preemptive. I doubt that the city wants another preservation brouhaha on this block.
    It is so important that this block remain intact.

  • Sundial

    Were it not for 916 and Red Jacket, both sandwiching 918, the building would have collapsed by now. I was in 916 two years ago and 918 adjacent to it had a gaping hole exposed to the sky, the top floor was partially caved in, the remaining floors were spongy and unstable. Needless to say the building is a danger to anyone who walks in and to the two buildings holding it up. Whether or not it can be saved will be answered by who would be willing to take on the building and has enough money to pour into the project.

  • Wilkeson

    Sundial, Forgive me if I take your assertion with a grain of salt. We heard much the same thing about 845-848 after the fire. They built buildings to higher standards back in the day.
    If what you say is true, all the more reason to get this building away from the City or get the City to do something to stabilize it to the point where it’s not getting worse.

  • 202

    FYI Scaffolding was up on the rear of 916 Main last week (visible from N Pearl).
    Not sure if this deal for 918 fell through somewhere along the way, but below is information from February 2005:
    Common Council Session 2/8/05
    Item No. 12
    Results of Negotiations 918 Main, 131′ S Allen Lot Size:
    47′ x 122′ Assessed Valuation: Land: $14,300.
    Improvement: 168,700. Total: 183,000.
    The Office of Strategic Planning, Division of Real Estate,
    has received a request to purchase 918 Main Street from Mr.
    Robert Wulbrecht, 60 Indian Trail, Williamsville, New York
    14221. He has recently acquired the adjoining structure at
    916 Main Street and intends to bring 916 and 918 Main
    Street into code compliance by making immediate structural
    repairs to the collapsing roof at 918 Main Street. Mr.
    Wulbrect has an impressive history of acquiring and
    rehabilitating old and historic structures.
    The purchaser has provided the Division of Real Estate with
    a plan to rehabilitate the storefront and proof of
    financial ability to complete the purchase and repairs.
    This 22,936 square foot, four story storefront building was
    acquired by the City of Buffalo through a tax foreclosure
    in 2002, situate on a lot 47′ x 122’and is in very poor
    The Department of Permits and Inspection Services and the
    Division of Collections have no objections to the sale.
    There are no code violations, taxes or other liens owed to
    the City of Buffalo by the purchaser.
    The Division of Real Estate has agreed to sell the property
    for the value of the land, since the structure in its’
    present condition adds little or no value to the property
    as a whole.
    The Division of Real Estate has investigated the sale of
    vacant land in the subject area. Sales prices range from
    two dollars and fifty cents ($2.50) to four dollars ($4.00)
    per square foot.
    The results of our negotiations are that Mr. Robert
    Wulbrecht has agreed and is prepared to pay fourteen
    thousand three hundred dollars ($14,300), two dollars and
    fifty cents ($2.50) per square foot for this parcel. He has
    also agreed to pay for the cost of transfer tax, recording
    fees and cost of the legal description.
    I am recommending that Your Honorable Body approve the sale
    918 Main Street to Mr. Robert Wulbrecht in the amount of
    fourteen thousand three hundred dollars ($14,300). I, am
    further recommending that the Corporation Counsel prepare
    the necessary documents for the transfer of title and that
    the Mayor be authorized to execute the same.
    Mr. Coppola moved:
    That the Transfer of the Property located 918 Main St from
    the City of buffalo to Robert Wulbrecht is hereby approved

  • westcoastperspective

    Nice find 202!
    I looked for a recording in the transaction listings and didn’t see the sale. So either it fell through or he’s doing due dilegence work- it shouldn’t take 10 months to get it closed. Good news about the work starting on 916 though! Maybe there is hope!

  • westcoastperspective

    Nice find 202!
    I looked for a recording in the transaction listings and didn’t see the sale. So either it fell through or he’s doing due dilegence work- it shouldn’t take 10 months to get it closed. Good news about the work starting on 916 though! Maybe there is hope!

  • Sundial

    Wilkeson – I never said the building shouldn’t be restored if possible. Let’s hope the buyer who’s stepped forward has deep enough pockets to see the project to completion. It’d be nice to see that area of Allentown liven up a little. Now if we can just get some decent tenants in Red Jacket…

  • John C.

    These buildings remind me of most building through out the NYC area. Only differnce is..the ones in NYC are still being used as apartments and retail and/or deli/restaruants on the first floors. This area of Main St. needs more developement to bring more life to the Allentown and Downtown areas withen walking distance. More housing is needed in this area as it’s becoming a hot location to live with all the new developments near by like the Medical Coridor, Theatre District, and other downtown projects.

  • John Marko

    It would be a shame to lose this wonderful grouping of buildings.
    Now THESE are the type of structures that should be focused on, not some rotting UGLY Grain Elevators.
    Even if they had to gut the buildings, the exteriors could be retained and the existing walls coated for protection agains the elements and braced for stabilization until such time as renovation is completed.
    But where will the funds come from in a financially strapped city?

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