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Columbus Park Unveiling

One of Buffalo’s most graceful beauties is having its decades long veil of asphalt removed. Owners Peterjoe Certo, his wife Joanne, and their son Jeremy have been gradually restoring this house in the Columbus Park neighborhood since the 1990s. After putting most of their efforts toward renovation of the interior, they have recently turned their attention to the exterior, big time, by removing the asphalt siding and rebuilding lost trim details. The elegant Victorian house has great bones, so even before starting the latest phase of restoration it was a stand out piece of architecture. But, as the original house emerges from its dark cocoon, we can see how much of its charm had been lost for generations.

The faux brick asphalt siding material that covered the house was a popular remodeling material in the 1930s and 40s.  Pre-war paint was a lot less durable than it is today, so you can imagine this material being sold as a miracle product; “you get a brick house and no maintenance for one low price!” Vast areas of the city were covered with the stuff, which came in various styles imitating stone, wood, and brick.  The new siding may have been attractive to the eye back then, but by the 1960s it was just another negative sign of a fading old city way past its prime.  Vast areas of Buffalo were striped of delicate details and visual delight in favor of  this low maintenance but extraordinarily dull material. Today we are seeing a trend toward reversal of these unfortunate cover-ups.  Sightings of houses being uncovered and details restored are becoming commonplace in Buffalo. As can be seen here, the results can be stunning.

The Certos did not buy the house with the intent to renovate it.  Quiet the opposite in fact. They started out looking to take advantage of an opportunity for quick returns and in the process fell unexpectedly in love with their new home and neighborhood.  Here is their story:

We lived in a double in Parkside, although my wife had lived most of her adult life on the west side and raised her children there. We were looking to move, and found this property in Artvoice. Initially, we intended to buy the house cheap and flip it to the Public Bridge Authority, as they had already purchased the entire block of properties behind us for 125% appraised value. The process accelerated when a fire forced us out of our existing home. We moved into the dilapidated Columbus Parkway home three weeks later. That was June 1999. It wasn’t until September 2007 that the Bridge Authority presented its Draft Proposal for a new bridge and plaza, which would require our home to make space for an earth berm designed to hide a 500+ space parking garage (which was withdrawn some years later).

By that time, we were not only vested in the neighborhood (the first-and only remaining–waterfront neighborhood in the city) but also deeply committed to preserving our home. The house has many unique features: most of the original wood, linoleum ‘rugs’ inlaid into the hardwood in three rooms. It had been seriously neglected–but not gutted. We made it livable and now, as son Jeremy has grown into a brilliant artist and craftsman, we are restoring more of its original character.

After studying our title history, Architectural Historian Martin Wachadlo’s believes the structure was built approximately 1880 and designed by Louise Bethune. The property was originally part of the grounds of (the now demolished) Wilkerson-Storms house on Busti Ave., a parcel of which was sold in 1835.

As the Certos noted, the house was slated to become a berm at one point. The people running the Peace Bridge and their engineers are big fans of berms in place of complex urban history and texture. They eventually dropped their attempt to demolish the Certo house, but they were successful in their plan to convert houses directly to the west, on Busti, into a block long grassy field featuring a naturalistically planted berm and an air monitoring station. The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (Peace Bridge) Chairman, William (Sam)Hoyt III recently bragged “We are going to have a beautiful, landscaped buffer between the plaza and the neighborhood in the short-term. We’re going to send a message [that] you’re not entering a ghetto when you cross into the great city of Buffalo.” 

The residents of this block and surrounding neighborhood of pleasant tree lined streets don’t think of themselves as living in a ghetto. In fact the area is seeing lot of new investment and a surge in home values.  The Certos paid $41,500 for their place. Peterjoe estimates it is now worth at least $150,000, but that is probably being conservative.  I think he could be looking at $200,000 minimum for the house. Today houses on Columbus Parkway and nearby streets (including the Peace Bridge’s supposed ghetto street, Busti) sell in the low $100K range to over $200K. Peterjoe says houses sell quickly in the area, with substantial gains of $50-60K over the last 5 years, not unheard of.  That is quite a ghetto at those prices.

Take a walk down Columbus Parkway and check out one of Buffalo’s most beautiful emerging neighborhoods. Compare that to the dull green-space created by the Peace Bridge.  Which do you think is better for Buffalo?

 

 

 

 

Peace Bridge berm instead of a city.

 

Written by STEEL

STEEL

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

View All Articles by STEEL
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  • Rand503

    FAntastic!

  • micahh64

    “Take a walk down Columbus Parkway and check out one of Buffalo’s most
    beautiful emerging neighborhoods. Compare that to the dull green-space
    created by the Peace Bridge.  Which do you think is better for Buffalo?”
    Guess that depends on which one is more useful for getting across the border . . .

    .

  • David Steele

    micahh64 Hint, the berm and grassy area does nothing to help you across the border.

  • LouisTully

    “you’re not entering a ghetto when you cross into the great city of Buffalo.”
    There’s better, more productive, less destructive ways of doing that than what’s taken place. How about repairing streets (Niagara, in progress).  Or the stretch along Porter west of Niagara.  Strong neighborhoods and their inhabitants go a lot further in sending the message “you’re not entering a ghetto” than the PBA’s, and Hoyt’s, current path and past track record.
    Incredible commendation and praise for this family’s hard work.

  • LouisTully

    micahh64 I’d rather have the stretch of houses on Busti that were demolished.  Including the Wilkeson house.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    micahh64 : Really want to facilitate your border crossing? MOVE THE TRUCKS! Isolate them at a sensible, less traumatic landing (there are locations along the border that provide this without the deadly health threat to residents) employing a progressive transportation logic that allows interface with other modes of commercial transport (rail, air, water), creating the potential for real economic gain for the region into the next century.

  • Northbuff

    This is one of the best and only good thing about this and other siding materials used back in those days, it preserves the original siding very well. My city house had those brittle tiles, two different layers. I had to replace a few clapboards but the house looks original now. Sure the clapboard siding is a bit more maintenance but if you keep on it right away, it will never turn into a major job and one can never beat the original look and design on some of these old ladies.

  • Jonnno

    Anyone know the status of the old Episcopal home on Rhode Island ?  Has that been demolished ?  Soon to be demolished ?  Still tied up in litigation ?

  • David Steele

    Its bring demolished right now

  • Jonnno

    David Steele 
    OK. Thanks David. So the whole Gateway project at the PB is going ahead? The Neighborhood Association lost their court case ?

  • Sudden Debt

    David Steele micahh64 But William Hoyt said it is a beautifully landscaped buffer.  LOL.  The landscaping is really lame IMO. A few annuals and some mulch.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    Sudden Debt David Steele micahh64 : Sadly, “William” Hoyt is gone.

  • KevinRyan1

    What a beautiful home…great job!

  • buffalorr

    I grew up in a house on Rodney Ave. with that type of siding and was always curious about it wondering what was underneath. Interesting to find out in the BR article that it was commonly used to cover up clapboard in the ’30’s-’40’s. It’s really is quite a tough material that held up well since the house was built in 1910 and saved my Dad a lot of painting. That’s him in the pic. standing on the 2nd floor porch taken in 1957. One of the Buffalo “two flat’s” John Marko mentioned that’s so typical in the city. I’d love to one day buy it and restore the house to it’s original condition if it comes on the market. Rodney Ave. borders and overlooks Ciminelli’s Central Park Plaza project which I think will increase the value of homes in that neighborhood after the long decline, just as is happening in the Peace Bridge area.

  • Kudos!

  • ironliege

    Jonnno The Chapel will remain; the rest will head for a landfill.

  • ironliege

    Give these homeowners a gold star!

  • Sudden Debt

    PeterjoeCerto Sudden Debt David Steele micahh64 I would like to add Kudos to the Certo family for a great job on a beautiful house!.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    Yes. That was a done deal. Your government is corrupt; but that’s not news.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    This neighborhood is exempt from saving–by government decree–regardless of any and all other preservation advocacy. Wrong makes right.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    ” The people running the Peace Bridge and their engineers are big fans of berms in place of complex urban history and texture.”
    I’m sure that’s really the case Fox News

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    PeterjoeCerto @micah
    Ugh, I don’t think you could have used more “buzz words” if you tried. Studies have shown no higher asthma or lung cancer rates for those who live next the the Peace Bridge or any other large truck traffic roadway. Studies have clearly shown higher rates are located in and around areas of high poverty.

  • bufforward

    BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto Links?

  • LouisTully

    Rode my bike by today.  House, and yard, look awesome!  Sorry for pointing at your house, though, didn’t see you there 🙂

  • PeterjoeCerto
  • BeardedBuffalonian

    Omg are we going to martyr the Wilkenson house now. Are we going to hear it lumped in with the Larkin admin now as one of the great demolitions “parking lot demolitions?”

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    Ahhhh, a slanted subjective website run by the residents of Columbis Pkwy. Reading that is like someone from Fox News saying, “it’s true Obama was born in Kenya, just fo to our website and read all about it. (Palm to forehead)

  • LouisTully

    BeardedBuffalonian Not at all.  Just saying I’d rather have that than what those were destroyed for.  I read a lot of local history for leisure reading so I have probably developed an affinity for a house tied to an historic family.  What’s wrong with that?

  • PeterjoeCerto

    BeardedBuffalonian 
    The “slanted” website didn’t conduct the studies, it just posted it; the studies were conducted by noted researchers who reached their conclusions solely upon the data.  Where are your studies?

  • PeterjoeCerto

    bufforward BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto 
    http://movetheplaza.com/a-health-epidemic-the-facts/nejc/

  • ElmwoodRulez

    BeardedBuffalonian Wow we have a real live employee of the Peace Bridge Authority posting on BRO now? Are you billing overtime to the public authority for this work or is this how you spend your time off?

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    LouisTully BeardedBuffalonian 
    Nothing.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    Independently funded by the research institutions (Harvard, UB, etc.) and conducted unknown to us. We only learned about them after they reached their findings.
    Stop looking for a loophole, and show us YOUR studies. Or go away.

  • OldFirstWard

    LouisTully
    That was you?

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    PeterjoeCerto 
    Funny thing is there’s still research studies going on saying global warming is a myth. Also, nice to see this study didn’t persuade you to not buy your house…..must not be that much of an issue.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    PeterjoeCerto BeardedBuffalonian 
    Like I said earlier they were posted on BRO a while ago by someone. I believe they were done by a state ran organization showing where patients of lung related diseases reside. The findings were pretty conclusive. The finding were pretty clear, too. The percentage of lung related disease next to the peace bridge or any major highway/byway were not higher than areas located further away. Also the higher percentages were all located in poor areas.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto 
    If your’e referring to the NYS DEC study published last year, those findings have been discredited, and the DEC admitted the conclusions were “flawed”.  that’s why there are DEC air quality monitors in place now at the Peace Bridge.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto 
    I purchased the home well before I ever knew the studies existed.
    I have no more time to waste on this.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    And one last fact: the advent of NAFTA in the ’90’s dramatically increased the commercial traffic here (1.4 million/yr), exacerbating the health hazard profoundly. Not only that, these studies we cite measured ultrafine particulate emissions–the cause of imflammation that is the root of all disease. The government doesn’t even have a standard for ultrafines…but the DEC is measuring them in our neighborhood now.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    PeterjoeCerto BeardedBuffalonian 
    Nope, that’s not the one I was talking about. I’m sure someone else on here remembers what I’m talking about (or not). That being said, some members of the Columbus Pkwy (whatever you wanna call it) community group are the only ones who have tried to discredit the study, because it didn’t show what they wanted it to.

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    PeterjoeCerto 
    Yet you’re still alive and kicking….good work.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto 
    We have serious medical issues, but thanks anyway.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto 
    That’s absolutely untrue.  The DEC itself admitted the conclusion was wrong.
    Link here:
      http://movetheplaza.com/2013/11/16/weekly-reader-11-16-2013/

  • BeardedBuffalonian

    PeterjoeCerto BeardedBuffalonian 
    If you’re over 60 you probably do. And if you’re telling me that when you bought your house you never thought, “hey there’s an international bridge a stones throw away that carries a lot of traffic” then that’s on you.

  • PeterjoeCerto

    BeardedBuffalonian PeterjoeCerto 
    If you read the post, you’ll see we never intended to stay here initially; but irrespective of that, not only has the health threat been officially recognized in recent years, the advent of NAFTA at about the time of our taking up residence–with 1.4million commercial vehicles crossing annually–has certainly accelerated the air quality crisis here.