[editor's note - I posted the wrong text earlier so the following text has been revised and corrected. My apology for any confusion ]
At the corner of Wadsworth Street and Saint John's Place stands a National Register listed brick house built in 1886. It was originally an elegant family home and office of Dr. Hubbard A. Foster. The architectural design was created by Henry H. Little, of the firm Little and Associates. The builder was J. H. Tilden of Buffalo.
According to available historical information, the house had been a rooming house for over forty years. It would have seen potential demolition in 2002 had it not been for much local interest. A new roof was installed, but never paid for in 2001. A steel fire escape which obscured many of the home's details was removed prior to current ownership. Unfortunately, many interior original details were removed and/ or stolen due to abuse by a previous owner and abandonment. The action of insensitive care, neglect, and tax evasion of the previous owner, left the house abandoned for several years while lien holders and attorneys waited and worked through a lengthy foreclosure process lifting over $300,000 of leans from the title. This is an unfortunate and all too frequent problem for many types of properties.
At an auction in the spring of 2004, the future of a young single music and voice teacher would soon be taking a very serious turn as the unknown world of architectural rehabilitation (3 Saint John's Place) was to present itself as an adventurous and exciting project. A few months after the initial shock of buying a huge shell of a mansion, Holly Holdaway had the most fortunate luck in meeting an architectural designer named Daniel Culross. Together, they quickly became partners in developing the dream of turning this abandoned, blighted eye sore of a building, into a dream home. Please see our last BRO interview (the_wadsworth_connection), for more information on the beginning of this undertaking.
Since our meeting, the house known as 3 Saint John's Place has seen many major improvements, some of which we will explain here. But, before we do that please allow us to encourage anyone who thinks they want fix up an old building or take on a life-time project, such as we have: You can do it! You must exercise severe determination, self- sacrifice, and sheer love of architecture, history, and community. Oh, and patience.
On the exterior, we painted all the gables and eaves with a four color paint scheme, all from 40' high scaffolding. That job went right up until the last warm days just before Thanksgiving last year. One painstaking part of our project was rebuilding the non -existent back deck and stairs. The original had been burned in a small exterior fire, leaving unsafe entrances to both of the back - 1st and 2nd story entrances. We rebuilt the stairs and deck that they rest on, using salvaged wood balusters and handrails. Our corner location has also challenged us with the ever present task of keeping the landscape maintained so that passersby will get a favorable view of the street. We've eliminated all turf grass, and planted a variety of perennials and biennials to have three season color. Along with this, we've been faithful volunteers for WNY Re-Tree and have helped plant more than 70 trees in the KCA and Allentown areas. This has helped encourage others to participate and upgrade their properties. Being on GardenWalk has encouraged us to do even more!
On the interior we reused and/or repurposed the majority of existing walls, windows, doors, moldings, studs, etc. In many cases, reclaimed wood and brick have been used to make repairs.
The home features an innovative in-floor radiant heating system, installed mostly by the homeowners. The system is comprised of modular panels made by Buffalo manufacturer Modular Radiant Technologies. www.mrtheat.com. They feature recycled concrete and allow for 95% efficient modulating condensing boilers to provide low temperature heating throughout every floor. This innovative and home grown system is used hand in hand with the domestic hot water production. The use of this system allowed us to eliminate ductwork, holes in the floor, and space grabbing chases and soffits while providing heat to otherwise challenging spaces dominated by 9 and 10 foot ceilings.
This renovation project has included a full rebuilding and/or restoration of every surface and room including: two kitchens, two stair cases, multiple bed rooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, parlors, storage, and corridors, etc. We researched the best way to rehabilitate the windows, walls, and other elements on the internet and used the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties with Guidelines for Preserving, Rehabilitating Restoring, and Reconstructing Historic Buildings as a reference.
We have done a great majority of the work on this project ourselves. There have also been a few contractors hired to help with various things such as drywall, plumbing, electrical, and fire sprinklers. We hired a local carpenter who rebuilt several of our failing windows to match the original with old growth maple. This was done so for less money than any new window manufacturer wanted for the same window without installation.
Where did we get some of our materials? -
Much of our replication hardware for doors is from www.historichouseparts.com. We also have searched all the local salvage yards as well as a store in Michigan for antique door hardware. A lot of our light fixtures, furniture and other salvaged goods were acquired at various estate sales, garage sales, craigslist, eBay, consignment stores, and auctions. Of course when buying salvaged items, you also create another project within your project, so it can sometimes feel daunting. Antique lighting fixtures have been rewired and restored on all floors. Painted items need to be stripped and refinished, and a lot of plaster needed to be put back in place and skimmed over. We actually found a WNY company to help us replicate wood moldings to match the originals, and at a reasonable price.
Financing the project proved to be a major challenge, with banks changing lending requirements midway through construction. The construction loan to fixed mortgage option from First Niagara worked well for this project. In hindsight, we should have budgeted 50% more and five times as much time. The rough cost to rehabilitate this house (to date) is around $80/sf not counting our own labor.
We are currently working on fully restoring and weatherizing the original double hung windows. This entails paint stripping, wood epoxy/filler, sanding, re-glazing of glass, new ropes, and weather stripping. It takes nearly forty hours to do just one. Perhaps you are thinking, that is too much time and energy? We could do replacements for a few thousand dollars a pop. However, our choices are driven by other factors such as preserving historic (better) materials, dumping less waste into landfills, and not spending money we do not have. Think about the amount of energy it took for old growth lumber to grow and mature, the work men who originally milled and created the lumber for the windows, and the construction and work crews who put it all together. Most of their work has lasted over one hundred twenty five years. So, we see ourselves as being stewards to the building and our forty hours or so spent on one window may very well cause those original materials to last about another fifty years. The cost to restore and weatherize each window has been on average around $50. When we tire of window work we change up our tasks to other interior features like the guest suites on the second floor, and an upgrade to the Wadsworth side entryway and porch, a drip irrigation system for the gardens, and getting ready to open Buffalo's newest Bed and Breakfast.
We hope that others see how tackling a project like this with limited means can be done! In doing so, we've helped to make our little community in Buffalo just a bit more sustainable, and made the house ready for its next 100 years. Look for our hospitality in the future on our website, www.