November's addition to the 'Preservation Ready' list of buildings that must be saved is the beautiful and delicately detailed (former) Fairfield Library, located at 1659 Amherst Street at the corner of Fairfield Avenue North Buffalo. The building was designed by William Sydney Wicks (half of the talented and prolific Green and Wicks architecture team which filled so much of Buffalo with great buildings) for the Unitarian Universalist Church. It was built in 1897 and was also occupied later by another congregation before being taken over by the City of Buffalo for a branch Library in the 1920s. Reportedly, it was the 2nd busiest neighborhood library when it was closed in 2005. The year prior to the closure it had received a paint job alleged to be in the $20,000 range. Closure meant that the still existing building could be taken off the government books as if it was no longer there. That paint job is likely the last meaningful investment the building has received.
Buffalo Rising highlighted the dire plight of this building back in 2008
and again back in 2009
. Today, nearing the end of 2011, the building apparently remains in limbo, still vacant with no known plan for reuse. There are reports of severe water damage in various parts of the building. From my own observations of the exterior, most damage seems to be confined to a 1961 addition. The addition was designed with some effort to harmonize with the original building using matching shingle siding and arched windows. However, it is bulky and out of place with its flat roof, stumpy height, and poor proportions. It would not bad so bad if this piece was removed in any future plan. But there appears to be no plan. In the 2008 story, I made comparisons to White's Livery building which had recently collapsed due to decades of neglect after repeated complaints from neighbors.
Many of the buildings on our list of must saves are difficult to reuse, highly degraded structures that are located within declining neighborhoods making them extremely challenging economically. This one on the other hand is still in relatively good condition and sits between the prosperous Central Park and Parkside neighborhoods. It is surrounded by well tended, high value homes whose residents often kick in their own time and money to maintain the library's grounds and make sure the building remains secure.
Why is it still vacant and why is it being neglected?
It is bad enough that so many absentee property owners throughout the city steal value from adjacent property though systematic neglect of their properties. But it is downright absurd that the residents of the city should suffer this from their own government. This building must be saved. If the easy ones like this building can't be saved, what hope is there for the difficult ones? The City of Buffalo really needs to step up to the plate on this one.
For more information on this building, see the November issue of Buffalo Spree
and the always amazing Buffalo as an Architectural Museum
. Painting For Preservation
also held one of its increasingly popular events at the building last August. Contact them if you would like to get involved in their efforts to highlight the importance of Buffalo's endangered buildings. We also invite you to join our rag tag group of preservation minded people on our Face Book page
. This is a very active page with a quickly growing membership.