By David Torke – fixBuffalo:
The Fairfield Library, already a landmark in the hearts and minds of thousands of Buffalonians, is poised to become an officially designated city landmark. Unless, of course, a developer has his way. The building has been vacant since 2005, when Erie County closed the branch. The building stands prominently on a sweep of green lawn at Amherst and Fairfield streets in Parkside, a familiar landmark for over 100 years, even for those who never walked in its doors. The building opened as a Unitarian Church in 1897. Designed by eminent architect, Parkside resident, and Unitarian Willam Sydney Wicks, the structure is a unique Classical Revival building with cedar shingle siding.
While the closing of the library still stings, the original agreement between the City and the County is what has been holding the building back from appropriate maintenance. Once the county closed the library, its obligation to maintain it shifted to the city. The City, already the landlord of over 7,000 vacant properties, has been negligent in its upkeep. Neighbors have been mowing the lawn, picking up trash and keeping watch. It was only this summer the Department of Real Estate had the money to put up a simple For Sale sign.
There has been consistent interest in the building; there have been many offers and the building has been highlighted by Preservation-Ready Sites, Buffalo Spree and Painting for Preservation all to promote a new and sympathetic owner. Unknown to the Buffalo Preservation Board at the time of nomination, developer David Pawlik of Creative Structure Solutions, had put together a plan for residential units in the building and parking on what is now the front lawn. He has announced that if the building is designated, he would not be interested in pursuing his proposal. but The Preservation Board tabled a previous iteration of the nomination three years ago when a potential developer inveighed against it in the community. Nothing came of that proposal, and the building continues to languish. Landmark status would give a resident owner several tax incentives not presently available to the un-designated building.
The building, at a little over 6,000 square feet, includes a full-basement and 1960’s addition. so more like 2,500 square feet, represents a realistic rehabilitation.
Pawlik is not the only one with a proposal. An Allentown couple are looking to purchase the building as a single-family home. They actually advocated for both local and National Register designations, for the honor of living in such a building, and, secondarily, for the financial benefits that such designations would accrue. Both presented their ideas at a public meeting organized by Council Member Demone Smith held last night at St. Mary’s School for the Deaf. Here are the two completely different proposals on the table right now:
Creative Structure Solutions proposes converting the building into 5 to 6 residential units with permanent alterations to the interior of this past church and library. Pawlik also suggested removing all exterior fabric including replacement vinyl windows. Such a conversion would require at least 2,000 square feet of surface parking which was sited behind a retaining wall on the park-like lawn of its corner lot. CSS recently completed The Lofts at Warwick at 700 Parkside Avenue that has no historical designation.
Two Allentown residents and professors, Tom Breen and Steve Fabian, proposed rehabilitating the building as a single-family residence completing necessary exterior repairs to the roof, existing wood, shingle and wood windows. The nave, alter and choir loft would remain as is with very few interventions to the interior historic features. The front lawn would be maintained as a private garden with no obtrusive parking. Breen is pending licensure as an architect and has managed the adaptive reuse of historic properties professionally. He can attest to the operation of the historic wood windows, too.
Support for Local Landmark designation was the overwhelming sentiment at the meeting. There is some misguided momentum to forgo Local Lankmark status of the building again in order to meet Pawlik’s requests but it appears to be based on the frustration of seeing the building deteriorate for seven years under City-ownership, not by confidence in the design.
As the Landmark nomination pends along with the interest and resources of Pawlik, and Breen and Fabian, consider a common adage amongst preservationists; do no harm. A loft conversion that permanently alters the interior of a well-designed and sacred place, gives up a corner park to corner parking all with vocal disregard to guidance by the Preservation Board or local residents, is what we nor the building have been waiting for.
The Local Landmark nomination will go before the Common Council’s Legislation Committee on Tuesday, March 13. Attend or contact Councilmember Demone Smith to record your thoughts on Fairfield Library.
Preservation Ready: [Not So] Fairfield Library [Buffalo Rising]
Another Chapter for the Fairfield Library? [Painting for Preservation]
Lead photo: Photographer Joe Cascio
Other photos: David Torke