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St. Vincent’s Nears Completion

What many thought would surely see the landfill has had nothing short of a rebirth. St. Vincent’s Orphanage stands as an incredible example of historic preservation near the brink of loss. In just two weeks students will begin filling the classrooms as Buffalo Health Sciences Charter High School (BHSCHS) officially moves from Tonawanda to the revived E.B. Green-designed masterpiece.

Thankfully there was not much work that needed to be done on the shell of the building. With the exception of the cornice line, there were only minor mortar repairs. One of the greatest challenges however was replacing the over 270 windows in the building because there were about fifteen different window styles to replicate.  Ellicott Development is overseeing building renovations.

SV-4595.jpgWhen the school opens, only freshman and sophomores will be attending, but each year a new grade level will be added as building renovations continue. The former chapel in the building will likely be completed by October including the repair and restoration of all the plaster. It will serve as the school’s Learning and Resource Center providing computers to the students. Renovations to the 3rd through 4th floors will start within the next six months in preparation for adding the two upper grade levels in the next two years.

Attendance will max out at 480 students according to school officials, not because of building limitations, but because of the school regulations. By keeping the school at a reasonable amount of students it allows for smaller classes and more one-on-one learning. Classroom spaces are divided into two areas, the larger classroom space and a smaller lecture space for one-on-one work or study.

SV-4556.jpgWhen the search began for their new home, the school looked at over thirty different locations around WNY, but St. Vincent’s was the best choice for their needs. The proximity to the medical campus, access to public transportation like the Metrorail, and the short distance to downtown all made the building the obvious choice regardless of the building’s conditions.

Some parents were apprehensive about the location, but once they visited their worries were eased. The neighborhood has been extremely supportive of the project and thrilled to see the building revived rather than demolished. Now that the school is the newest neighbor in the area they want to actively participate in addressing neighborhood issues and lend a helping hand.

Currently the empty lot across from the building is used as parking for the constructions workers. It will be converted to the school’s athletic field when the construction parking is no longer needed.

For all those who are wondering about the cornice, no it will not be replaced, at least not in the immediate future. While they would love to restore the cornice, the cost is prohibitive at this time and whatever they can spend will go towards the students first.


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Written by Mike Puma

Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

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  1. Shame about the cornice (very distinctive and prominent design feature), but wonderful save of a key building which did indeed seem doomed. Hopefully someday that cornice gets replicated.

  2. Taking something that WAS great and turning it into something that IS great.
    A novel idea! Something that will build a sustainable economy for EVERYONE in Buffalo.
    Hopefully one day the Cornice can be not ideal, but better than a vacant building.

  3. Seriously, kudos to the school, the developer — and especially the neighborhood (for not giving up on this building) on this project. The turnaround of “Midtown” is a great, ongoing, success story for Buffalo. Everyone who has played a role should be very proud.

  4. Nice work Paladino, I don’t say it much but good job at redeveloping what was quite recently an eyesore into something quite impressive….I hope the quality of the work on the inside is top-notch because this really went fast…

  5. it’s located behind the Squire Mansion, next to the Packard Bldg., a block from Artspace, kind of across Main from the McDonald’s near Utica (Riley is the cross street and the school fronts Ellicott though the Gym entrance faces Main).

  6. Since a cornice has more than simple decorative function, this might be somewhat short-sighted. (structurally, its purpose is to protect from snow, ice and water seeping into the upper portions of a wall)
    Unless reconstruction methods at the roofline compensate for its removal, this could spell structural issues down the road. There’s a very good reason why most roofs have an eaves, especially above masonry walls. Of course, cornices that are not properly maintained do also have a nasty habit of breaking off and crashing to the street below. That’s probably where he gets the short-term/long-term reasoning for their ‘business sense’.

  7. Nonetheless, VERY glad the building has found a new purpose. I’ll be glad for a 99% win over the 1% loss on the cornice.
    Interesting, though, that a public school will be in a building with all those crosses over the doors and windows. I wonder what the chapel/resource center will look like when complete. Is that the room with the turquoise walls?

  8. This is great news. I just hope the school plans on ripping out any symbol of religion, regardless of its attachment to the building. Religion has no place in school, or anyones home for that matter.

  9. Does that include the stonework that says “St. Vincent’s”, the crosses above the windows and doors, and the stonework inside?
    There is nothing wrong with religion in schools. Ignoring it, or denying it, does not make it go away.

  10. I am always saddened when I think about the former purpose of St. Vincent’s Orphanage and the other orphanages in Buffalo. It is a remnant of a dark time in history where children were often sent away from their families because they were too much of an economic or social burden. More than 75% of the children at St. Vincent’s were not true orphans, they had one or more parent still living in the area, but were sent their to be raised.
    Some of the children were orphaned by war, others by economic hardship, and others by being born to single parents. When I think about the welfare system that many complain about today, I often remember places like St. Vincent’s as an alternative and am thankful that we have evolved.

  11. My Mom’s cousin was sent to an orphanage when her mother died, even though her father was still alive. It just wasn’t seen as an option for a single father to raise a child alone. He even said no when my grandparents expressed interest in adopting her.
    To this day, she still speaks with very fond memories of the orphanage. During the depression, they actually had it better than a lot of the other kids with families. She had regular contact with the rest of the family, and even now she still shares a house with one of her friends from the orphanage.
    Society has certainly evolved, but when I see kids being raised by parents who barely understand their role as a parent, and are barely capable of supporting themselves let alone a child, I wonder if the changes were really for the better.
    My Aunt may be the exception to the rule, but I’d suspect that a lot of the orphans saw St Vincent as a blessing rather than a dark time in history.

  12. I say bring back orphanages. I think they were more humane and successful than many of the current alternatives (bouncing kids from foster home to foster home, leaving kids to be raised by single parents who are ill equipped for child rearing). Many kids raised in orphanages speak very fondly of their time there.

  13. Deaner, since you got this started, let me add that Pa RaChaCha was sent to a school for orphans after his father died when he was 5. Like your relative, it may have been a plus as he got 3 squares a day during the depression, unlike many kids of the time. Got a good education and then went to fend off the forces of fascism. One of his school chums later played the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, another later owned one of the largest auto dealerships in the DC area.
    Can’t aver that his every day at that institution was peachy, or that every orphan there had a good experience, but it seemed to do right by him. A photo of him with his mother before he went off to the war shows a drop-dead handsome guy with a killer smile, who could have competed with JFK Jr. for the ladies (his son, unfortunately, didn’t inherit his looks).

  14. An address would be very helpful!
    After searching Google maps streetview for awhile, I think I’ve found the approximate address that will at least take you there on Google maps: 1189 Ellicott Street. It’s on the corner of Riley and Ellicott.
    It’s just east of Main Street, behind the large building that used to be the WNY Literacy Center.

  15. How did I get blamed for this one? lol. I was responding to Mike Duff’s comment.
    I’m not sure we can replicate in today’s world the orphanages of yesteryear. Most, if not all, of them were operated by religious institutions that today can’t even keep their buildings in working order. During the hard times of the depression those kids might have arguably had it better than the average families hit hard by financial difficulty, but it’s also fair to say that the nuns and even some of the priests who operated them worked for less than the equivalent of slave wages. Today we barely trust the government to educate our kids in school, much less raise and care for them the way the priests and nuns did. In other parts of the country, there were reports of sexual and physical abuse. Who knows if any of that occurred here. I failed to mention that my Mom had another cousin in the orphanage who came out alright, but let’s just say not quite right, and her recollections of that time were decidedly more mixed.
    But it seems to be somewhat rare that orphanage kids fell through the cracks or were less than adequately cared for. We can hardly say that for today’s system of welfare and foster homes. Not to mention that today’s family structures (and even tax codes) would make it unlikely for orphanages to make a comeback. The incentive and support just isn’t there anymore.
    Just as with the mental hospitals, there were many sad stories of people being unfairly abandoned and left to rot. Today we find it more compassionate to give them the freedom to waste their lives away on street corners or under bridges. There was both good and bad in the last century, just as there is both good and bad today. The procedures have changed, but there are still a wide variety of effects. I think the worst we can do is to simply forget the past and assume that we are so much better off today.

  16. There are about 500,000 children in involuntary placement in the US today. The majority of these children live in state and religion supported group homes like Gateway Longview and Father Baker’s Home. Children who enter placement after the age of 10 face less than a 30% chance of leaving placement before they are emancipated at 19.

  17. For those wondering how much the cornice would cost, I managed a job where one was the installed on a building here in Buffalo last Summer. That cornice is 28″ tall, 23″ deep, with 11″ wide, 8″ deep dentils, spaced 11″ apart, projecting from the underside. Use $608 per linear foot for 16 oz. copper. It was crafted & installed by Weaver Metal & Roofing.

  18. What about fiberglass cornices — which are also popular replacements–? Did your client by chance price those for that job, and if so what was the difference in cost/installation–?
    BTW, if you lived on Atkins St., would your screen name be “On Atkins” 😉

  19. It is not really the type you would be able to imitate well in fiber glass. It was not really even a cornice. It was more of a roof eave with wood brackets which were very beautiful.

  20. re: eaves: that’s a good description. It was a two or three foot overhang.
    It seems to me the most expensive portion of the job would be the wooden brackets. But they could be recreated. Maybe some creative shop program could be developed at one of the local high schools to reproduce them. All those brackets were identical. Make a model and have students recreate them. When they make up several hundred or so (however long that takes; maybe a few years), gather them up and install them with the new eaves. Simultaneous to the bracket reproduction, take up a collection for the eventual installation of the eaves. Take a few years to raise funds for the job while the brackets are slowly being churned out. I’d donate $25. I’d bet a few thousand others would, too, if there were a dedicated fund for this project on this building.
    Those eaves made a dramatic difference on this building. Cornices make a difference. But those eaves made an enormous difference.

  21. Are the windows in the 4th picture from the top going to have such wide frames? Oh, I hope so! I am picturing plants on those sunny sills for the students to enjoy; one day into the future,those students may be this family’s great-grandchildren.

  22. …and while I am commenting about the future of such gorgous but old, restored building, that this family’s greats might enter one day, how long did those long-ago architects expect or even consider or, better still, record how long the cornices and other ornate decorations would safely stay affixed?

  23. …and as for rekindling the idea of orphanages, orphanages of old served a purpose for children and families due to circumstances basically beyond families’ control. Creating a child out-of-wedlock happened with considerably less frequency and was considered shameful when this glorious building was needed.
    Orphanages today would simply free up the mamas and the papas to create more orphans. Then the world population would hit 8 million in a minute, all seeking food, shelter and water…while expecting to still be on the receiving end of giftees from those of us not living on Primrose Lane!

  24. …still on the topic of the rapidly growing unwed, transient, non-financially contributing mamas, papas and their offsprings: How can the US government STILL allow a vow to be voiced that “EVERY man, woman and child” in the USA carries the burden of paying off this horrific national debt? That burden is placed SOLELY on the rapidly vanishing working-class taxpayers!
    Think of the national debt as an earthquake that has already happened. The deep tide that washed out are the vanished working-class taxpayers. The returning tsunami has to wash over MOST of us. The survivors will be the extremely wealthy who have placed themselves away uphill from ALL of the rest of us. (I speak from fear for ALL of our young…)

  25. ‘Then the world population would hit 8 million in a minute’
    wow. where would the other 6 billion plus people currently on the planet go to in that minute?

  26. What is going on at Buffalo Rising? Receiving minus four for an honest comment means Buffalo Rising is…
    ()in a denial mode for sunny window plants, (x)feels it is a fantasy that anyones’ great-grands will still care be in the FUTURE Buffalo school system, ()duh, ()double duhs, (x)in the critical position of scoring double-double duhs minus creme or sugar, (x)unable to monitor its content and therefore aught to eliminate scoring, (x)unfairly unwilling to reveal who scored who, (x)unable or unwilling to reveal who scores who and therefore should eliminate scoring…
    Have a nice weekend, everyone.

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