Delaware Avenue is unquestionably a gem. It even merited its own chapter in The Grand American Avenue while my hometown counterpart, East Avenue -- with its mansion district marred by 20th-Century demolitions and infill -- didn't. While we rightly show off Delaware Avenue to out-of-town guests and with architectural tours, what many don't realize is the preservation work simply never stops even as it assumes a smaller scale and may have an effect not necessarily visible from the street or a casual drive-by viewing.
Delaware Avenue saw some of Buffalo's earliest post-war struggles to retain its heritage and urban character. Unfortunately, much of that character was lost from North Street to Niagara Square. But north of North, a proposal to significantly widen an already wide street brought swift opposition from the Butler Family, then owners of the Buffalo Evening News. And later, in the mid-'70s, a proposal by IBM to demolish three mansions (including the one featured in this article) to make way for a post-war, two-story building sparked a struggle that not only succeeded in its immediate objective but also spurred creation of the Delaware Avenue Historic District. And this struggle has been credited as one of the seminal moments for Buffalo's preservation movement.
Historic mansion districts like Delaware Avenue have served as a cradle for preservation in other cities besides Buffalo, as well. One of my favorite stories of preservationist Joni Monroe, Executive Director of the Rochester Regional Community Design Center, is that when she was a feisty teenager she actually went to the door of the suburban home of a developer who was planning to knock down an East Avenue mansion -- and confronted him personally. As an adult, armed with preservation and architecture degrees from Colombia and Yale, she oversaw the monumental effort to conduct an architecture and historic resources survey of the entire city of Rochester -- an effort which still hasn't been duplicated in Buffalo.
This is the kind of passion stirred by preservation -- and may it always be so -- but after a building is saved from the wrecking ball the other side of preservation takes over and may take decades to fully play out. Decades of neglect and ill-considered, insensitive modifications can't always be fixed quickly or all at once, especially in a weak-market city where resources for building projects more often than not are measured in dribs and drabs.
Thanks to the Preservation Plus conference, underway in Buffalo all week, I got a chance to get a really good look at a perfect case study of this: the Lockwood Mansion. Its present owner, Child and Family Services, in 1998 added it to two other adjacent Delaware Avenue mansions it has owned for decades. The organization provides services at several locations in Buffalo and western New York. Their programs include schools and residency programs for at-risk children and children with special needs, and, well, visit their website, click "What We Do," and prepare to be amazed. Robert Sonberg, facilities director (and, I'd add, Chief Preservationist), gave us an in-depth tour and discussed with us additional restoration and maintenance projects.
The story of the Lockwood Mansion is an amazing cross-section of Buffalo history. It also represents an important strand in the rich tapestry of architectural history in Buffalo and even the nation. I can give you a flavor of it here, but of course the great Buffalo Architecture and History website is your go-to source for whatever you need to know (and then some) about 844 Delaware. The first building on the site was the Jewett Richmond Mansion, an early Gothic-revival mansion of the early "cottage" style championed in America by Alexander Jackson Davis -- an architectural era which has been almost entirely lost in Buffalo. Richmond Avenue was named for Richmond, in no small part because he once owned the land from his Delaware Avenue mansion all the way to that street.
After Richmond, the property saw a succession of mansions (one of which burned), and series of outbuildings. Other than the original mansion, nothing of which remains, portions of all of them remain in the current structure, which was designed by Esenwein and Johnson. Along the way, other notable architects were involved in the house and outbuildings, including Burdett of Marling & Burdett, who once worked for the great H.H. Richardson, and Rochester's most notable architect, Andrew Jackson Warner, who worked with Richardson as supervising architect on the seminal Richardson Complex.
The last non-institutional occupants were the Lockwood family, a name familiar to any graduate of UB who ever set foot in the school's Lockwood Library. The son of a nationally prominent father, Thomas Lockwood was no less prominent himself. The Lockwood family's legacy to UB was so significant, including his collection of medical instruments and rare books, that the Lockwood name was retained on the UB library even after moving to North Campus. The original UB Lockwood Library, designed by family friend E.B. Green, is now the Medical Library on South Campus, and contains display cases with items from the Lockwood collection. Lockwood daughter Annette Cravens, who grew up in the house, has continued the family tradition by donating her own collection, art pieces in uniquely designed open cases, that make up Craven's World at the UB Anderson Gallery.
Since the Lockwood family sold the mansion, it has been in the hands of several institutional occupants over the years, before coming into the hands of Child and Family Services. So how does a nonprofit organization without unlimited resources, and a facilities director without unlimited time go about properly caring for such an integral part of the community's rich heritage? Especially given that at the same time it also needs to function as working space for a very active organization, serving an important clientele? In short: a lot of knowledge, a lot of help, and developing a culture of preservation at all levels of the organization.
Sonberg's introduction to preservation came shortly after becoming facilities director, when he appeared before the preservation board to talk about surface parking in front of the Lockwood Mansion. If you are a regular reader of Buffalo Rising, you can imagine that the reception he got wasn't a warm one. But the preservation board, to their credit, also helped him out. Board member Tim Tielman met with him on site and discussed with him potentially better options -- not just theoretically, but backed up by example photos of other projects -- and helped convince him and his organization to consolidate their parking to the rear of the building. Tim also helped them run interference with a City official who wanted to mandate signage as unnecessary as it was incompatible with the character of the district.
Now that may seem a relatively small step in the overall scheme of things, but nonetheless the cumulative effect of such changes over time improves the quality of the historic district. In a sense, it's a reversal of a process that over decades took a stretch of Delaware Avenue from what once was described as a park-like setting to the post-war low point from which it's been in an ongoing process of recovering.
But just as important, that step led to the next and then the next. As a result of those initial conversations, Sonberg became like a sponge soaking up the concepts and issues involved in preservation -- an especially important thing to know when you're responsible for prominent buildings in a prominent historic district. And he and his organization saw firsthand the improvement made by the parking reconfiguration, in terms of both appearance and function. The process has collectively enhanced their skill at balancing the needs of the organization -- which with eight buildings on their Delaware Avenue campus and nineteen buildings overall are substantial -- with the rich heritage represented by the buildings in their care.
Sonberg also formed a "history club" within his organization, currently with thirty members, who have assisted him with research on the buildings and with hosting tours. On one tour organized by Preservation Buffalo-Niagara, nearly one thousand visitors toured the house. He has also worked with Architectural Historian Martin Wachadlo, who has especial expertise in Esenwein and Johnson buildings. And this year, they worked with preservation architecture firm Flynn Battaglia to restoring the back terrace, which had developed major masonry issues. The project represented a homecoming of sorts for principal Peter Flynn (who was on the tour), as his first professional work in preservation architecture was preparing a study for a counter-proposal to IBM that would meet their needs but also preserve the threatened mansions (IBM eventually opted to locate on the waterfront).
Through it all, Sonberg has worked at every level in his organization to instill awareness and respect for the legacy which they've been entrusted. Helping him make the case was a recent State grant the organization received which covered the majority of the cost of the terrace restoration. It was both a sign that there is help available to meet the need, and feedback of the most positive kind that they're on the right track.
Another project Sonberg is currently working on is converting the mansion's library -- with one of Buffalo's most notable mantlepieces -- into a visitors center of sorts, with displays, photographs, and curated items related to the history, architecture, and notable occupants of the mansion. It will both enhance the tour experience at the mansion, as well as provide the organization a showcase for this aspect of their mission -- and a very special location for events and presentations. I think this is a great step forward, as I've been a proponent of the idea of creating spaces like this in our most-toured buildings. Dedicating such a space is a way for a business or organization entrusted with a piece of our collective heritage to make a statement that This Place Matters -- and more importantly also tell the story of why.
While the idea doesn't originate with me, I strongly maintain that communities that succeed in preservation are those that have developed a culture of preservation. Buffalo is a case study of this -- although there is much more work to be done. What struck me on the tour, however, was the importance of localizing that culture of preservation down to the organization level (or neighborhood level). And if you think about it, examples abound. White's Livery Stable would be entirely gone today, were it not for the preservation culture of the Cottage District neighborhood that led them to fight the demolition tooth and nail. And that largely shared value also gave them the staying power to hold on through four years of inaction on the project. And while the Guaranty Building remained standing due to the preservation campaign spearheaded by the late, great Jack Randal, its restoration took the dedication and long-term commitment of law firm Hodgson Russ, whose chief instiller of a culture of preservation there has been Attorney Harry Meyer.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Child and Family Services, in addition to all the award-winning work they do with the clients they serve, someday in line to receive a preservation award for their excellent stewardship of some key Buffalo heritage structures that have been entrusted to their care.
Great job, folks!
And speaking of preservation awards, this just in:
PRESERVATION LEAGUE ANNOUNCES
PRESERVE NEW YORK GRANTS
Three Erie County-based Organizations to be Honored
During "Preservation Plus" Conference
The Preservation League of New York State will announce three grants to Western New York organizations at a luncheon on Friday, September 28, at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, 153 Franklin Street in downtown Buffalo. The lunch is part of the Preservation Plus Conference being presented by Preservation Buffalo Niagara, for information and or to register, please visit here.
This is the first time in the Preserve New York program's history that three projects in one county will receive a grant award in a single year. The recipients are all cultural institutions, and the grants make up some 28% of the 2012 Preserve New York funding.
The League will make a grant of $7,000 toward the cost of preparing a cultural landscape report for the c. 1810 Hull Family Home and Farmstead. The Hull House Foundation (HHF) was established in 2006 to restore the house and lands of the oldest masonry residence in Erie County open to the public. HHF has engaged a team to interpret the site's 22 acres of agricultural lands as an example of pre-Erie Canal farm life. The report will inform the use of a grant of $113,087 from New York's Environmental Protection Fund (EPF).
A second grant of $10,000 will be made to the Martin House Restoration Corporation of Buffalo. The grant will support the cost of completing a cultural landscape report for the Darwin D. Martin House Complex (1903-1909). Over the past decade, the six-building complex designed by Frank Lloyd Wright has been meticulously restored. The Restoration Corporation now seeks to bring the same professional standards to the site's 1.5 acre setting by determining the use by Wright and others of "organic architectural principles." The goal is to create an appropriate and authentic context for the National Historic Landmark Martin House.
The League will also make a grant of $6,200 toward the cost of completing a State and National Register of Historic Places nomination for the Fargo Estate neighborhood located on the west side of Buffalo. Comprised of more than 300 primarily residential properties that reflect several development booms between 1860 and 1890, its origins are linked to William G. Fargo, co-founder of Wells Fargo. National Register designation will allow property owners access to state and federal tax credit programs for rehabilitation. The project will foster links between the area's cultural center, Kleinhans Music Hall, and the nearby neighborhood.
The Preserve New York Grant Program is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. "With the announcement of the 2012 awards, the total support provided by Preserve New York since its launch in 1993 is over $1.7 million to 279 projects statewide," said Jay DiLorenzo, President of the Preservation League. "Preserve New York has a strong track record of bolstering local preservation efforts and delivering a strong return on investment."
"At its August, 2012 meeting, the Preserve New York grant program panel selected 14 applicants in 11 counties around the state to share $83,674 in funding," said Tania Werbizky, the League's Regional Director of Technical and Grant Programs in western New York. "As always, the competition for these funds was intense. The Preservation League is delighted to help advance the preservation efforts of these Western New York organizations with timely funding from Preserve New York grants."
Organizations and municipalities receiving grant awards in 2012 are: Chenango County: Guilford Historical Society; Columbia County: Town of Claverack; Delaware County: Village of Sidney; Erie County (3): Kleinhans Music Hall Management, Inc..; Martin House Restoration Corporation; Hull House Foundation; Franklin County: Historic Saranac Lake; Greene County: Zadock Pratt Museum; Kings County: Crown Heights North; Otsego County (2): Town of Hartwick; Town of Lisbon; Rensselaer County: City of Troy; Rockland County: Garnerville Arts Project.
For more information on the Preserve New York Grant Program, please call 518-462-5658 or visit the League's website.
All Images: Buffalo Architecture and History
Note: this article is dedicated to the memory of the great Mary Hanson, who as vice-president of Rural Opportunities, Inc. (now Pathstone) in Rochester, played a role similar to that played by Robert Sonberg described above. I had the privilege of working with Mary on several consulting projects for her organization, which owns several prominent mansions and buildings on East Avenue in Rochester. They care for their buildings with the same pride and respect that they show for their clientele. After wrapping up several months of work for Mary, she took an entire afternoon out of her busy schedule to tour me through every nook and cranny of their buildings. Whether she knew it or not, Mary was unquestionably their "Chief Preservationist" -- but even more importantly, a good soul and good friend to all. If we hadn't lost Mary way too young, I know she'd thoroughly enjoy, and see herself in, this article. The organization she left behind established a building fund in her memory -- a fitting tribute she would have appreciated.