When I lived on North Pearl Street in Allentown, just over a decade ago, there were a lot of rooming houses and it was very apparent how they were adversely affecting the neighborhood. I remember clearly that this part of Allentown was in transition, and many of my neighbors were fed up with the conditions of the rooming houses as well as the illegal activities that were being conducted from within. The last time I visited my old neighborhood I was happy to see that most of the old problematic houses had been converted into singles and doubles. It's unimaginable just how disruptive one poorly run rooming house can be to a neighborhood. Take this house for example. Until recently 409 Franklin was a 14-room rooming house. The original house had been subdivided over and over, with so much plumbing leading from room to room that it looked like MC Escher had lived there.
Despite the years of constant turmoil that this single home caused neighbors, the nightmare finally ended with the 5500 sq.' headache heading to the City auction due to a sudden foreclosure. That's where Matt Klafehn (Greenleaf Development) picked it up for $70,000. "I bought it relatively sight unseen," he told me when I stopped over to inspect his purchase. "I got to walk around the outside before buying it... that was it. The building had a Federal brownstone feel that I really admired and looked to be in pretty good shape for the most part, but I expected the worst on the inside. When I finally got the keys I was surprised to see that most of the original character of the building's interior had been preserved by drop ceilings, covered walls and doors... it was mostly intact (other than being a complete mess). That's when I began to rethink what this place should be. Originally, my thought was to create apartments, but it's too beautiful. I would like to restore the building back to a single-family home. Or sell it to a law firm that would respect the nature of the home." Maybe even a college or a university... that was the crux of our conversation from thereon out. What to do with this incredible architectural find.
With a fireplace in just about every room, gigantic pocket doors, 96" windows, original crown molding and stunning hardware, the house is crying out for a sensitive rehab. Matt has already taken the boards off the windows and cleared out three thirty-yard dumpsters full of debris. He plans on putting a new roof on, fixing the brickwork, getting the utilities in working order, and basically returning each and every room back into somewhat of an original state. "There were people living in this house when there were no utilities," Matt said. "They were even living in the basement. When I bought it the neighbors came over and introduced themselves and shook my hand. They told me that this one house has been the scourge of the block, and everyone has stories about the place. Now I want to turn it into the beauty that it deserves to be. This neighborhood will see noticeable changes."
As Matt continues to work on the property, he is asking Buffalo Rising readers what they would do with it? His goal is to fix it up and sell it. He could go all out and convert it into a single family dwelling. But is there a market for a home that big? Amenities include an attached two-car garage, fairly large backyard, wood floors, full-size third floor, operable pocket doors, and intact wood staircase and banister. He could make it into apartments, but that would go against his better judgment now that he's seen the preserved character. No matter what the final decision is, Allentown will soon have another prized architectural feather in its cap thanks to Matt taking a big chance and winning the architectural lottery.
If you have an interest in living in an architecturally significant home, or relocating an office to Allentown, close to the Medical Campus and Downtown Buffalo, send matt an email