This is one of my favorite buildings but, it is not particularly unique or out of the ordinary for a building of its time. Even so it adds so tremendously to the street that it creates one of Buffalo’s most memorable and urban corners. It is off the beaten path of the Elmwood Village anchoring a small commercial corner in a mostly residential area. It has always sported a unique collection of shops. Most people will be familiar with this building as the long time home of the Lexington Whole Foods Coop. The Coop occupied this corner and built a strong business leading to its recent expansion in new quarters on Elmwood. As I searched through images for this piece it occurred to me that I had no pictures that showed the entire building. Perhaps that is because it is not so much the whole of the building that makes it so special as it is the details. Elements such as the big open glassy storefronts with recessed entries, the overhanging bay windows giving a sense of space and protection to the street, and the exquisite masonry add up to a great city building.
Probably its greatest feature is the beautiful masonry and rich color. Long golden yellow Roman brick set with the very tight mortar joints (a level of craft that is virtually unachievable today) is set off by pink stone (or is it terra cotta) accents. Ordinary yet high quality buildings such as this treasure give the city its special character. It is a building that stands out from the surrounding wood frame houses yet is entirely comfortable on its site.
As wonderful as this building is, it is likely that it could not be built today. What is certain is that people would complain that it was to big, that it would increase traffic,that it would not “blend in” with the surrounding wood frame houses, or that the commercial storefronts were in conflict with the residential streets among other arguments. We have heard all these complaints with the unveiling of the recent Elmwood hotel proposal. These types of arguments are often based on emotional self interest with little in the form of objective analysis. Our cities were originally built with a jumble of uses, building types, and people in close proximity. This diversity is what we cherish in our cities and yet today our urge is to separate and sterilize. We think that we don’t want messiness and inconvenience of any type. What we end up with is blandness. We lose the very quality that we think we are saving. Let us hope that we don’t sterilize ourselves out of the opportunity for new and contemporary buildings which may contribute to our city streets in the way that this one does.