Back in April I posted a story on my blog about four properties in the Masten Neighborhood that were slated for rehabilitation rather than demolition. Belmont Shelter is rehabilitating a total of ten properties to the tune of $350,000 each. The funding for the rehabilitations comes from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP). Burke Homes, the same builder of Colvin Estates, is the contractor for the project. I was only aware of four properties when the project was originally announced and grabbed photos of each for some before and after shots.
I had some high hopes for the rehabilitation considering the high price tag and the rich architectural details each home had. Unfortunately, when going out for my "after" photos I was extremely disappointed.
The homes had been stripped of their original architectural integrity inside and outside. 11 Holland Place is one of the best examples; the exterior featured clapboard in great shape, detailed wood porch columns, a simple dentil cornice above three windows in the uppermost gable, and a beautifully hand-carved motif in the porch pediment.
Work during the rehabilitation scrapped every last one of those details in favor of vinyl siding, the removal of the three windows in the gable, and sending the porch columns and carved pediment to the trash. The fireplace and pocket doors with ornate brass hardware have also been removed in favor of a more "vanilla box" interior.
The same dull gray vinyl (likely bought in bulk), removal of architectural details, and installation of vinyl windows repeats at the other homes. At 144 Glenwood the Palladian window was removed in favor of a single vinyl window, the bay window at the second story was removed for a flat wall, and the full height pilasters at the corners have been removed or covered.
Before the work started the homes were neglected, but retained some rich architectural details, making it easy to identify them as unique and varied structures. After the rehabilitation they are thankfully once again livable, but almost indistinguishable from each other.
It's an interesting contrast to the fantastic job Matt Newtonhas done at the Lyth Cottage on Harwood Place, especially when looking at the cost. To date, Matt has spent about $30,000 on his home and put in a lot of sweat equity. For that price, he has saved a beautiful home that was one its way to the landfill just like these other homes.
While I understand not everyone has the time or is up to the task to restore a home, a part of the problem is because the city does a poor job of marketing available homes for sale. Each of these four homes was previously owned by the city and available for purchase, but only if you knew where to look. There was no sign on the lawn, nothing posted on the door, and navigating the city website for information was a headache. For those who want to learn more about purchasing a city-owned property, check out this great Buffalo blog, Unbreak my House as a duo chronicle their story from start to finish and how to get things done.
Longtime local blogger, David Torke (fixBuffalo) chimed in saying, "the concentration of development is really exceptional and a good choice for the neighborhood. Renovating them is very important for the city at this time. The question that remains is why the cost for rehab is so high, it remains unclear why the rehabilitation of each property was specified at such a high cost."
One reason that the cost is so high is because the jobs must be bid as prevailing wage jobs. A good chunk of the budget is spent on labor rather than materials. It is also likely most of those people doing the labor do not live in the adjacent neighborhood. While it's great to have some historic homes back online and not in the landfill, it would be dangerous to repeat these types of rehabs too many times.
Those who appreciate architecture love Buffalo for the varied styles and details that can be seen in our buildings on any given street. Imagine if a whole street of homes were rehabilitated in such a manner, the streetscape would become dull and uninteresting. I'm thankful these homes will once again welcome families and be put on the tax rolls, but the end product leaves a lot to be desired.
To see more before and after photos, click the link to my Flickr page.