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Then and Now: Bittersweet Transition

The “then” image shown here is from the late 1970’s. It shows early demolition activity on a fine old Victorian at the corner of Lancaster and Elmwood. It was being demolished to make parking for a bank branch that was going to be housed in an existing brick building set back on the adjacent lot (that building is now also demolished). It looks as if they started by stripping the valuable architectural artifacts. The corner once occupied by this house eventually became anchored by a few sickly shrubs and tacky bank signs (composed of large white marble chunks).
The bank itself eventually succumbed to the Savings and Loan scandal of the 1980s. The building and parking lot changed hands several times over the years with nothing of any consequence occupying the space. The bank building briefly held a home-ware and gift shop (Willis & Lowe) a few years back that held some promise. One thing remained consistent on this corner – the parking lot that eventually replaced this house was a dependable drain on the attractiveness of Elmwood Avenue, and no guarantee of success for the attached businesses.

Today, of course, this is the location of the wildly successful new Lexington Real Foods Co-op. Though the Co-op reserves some space for its own parking needs the new two-story retail building fills the corner with bright windows and plenty of new foot traffic. The store has added tremendous new energy to this block, a block that has seen many other improvements in recent years, making it hardly recognizable in comparison to earlier times.
Looking at this “then” image reminds me of how far the city has come since the 1970s. It is interesting to note the condition of the house in the rear of this photo. It was in very poor condition and exhibited extremely worn paint. Shortly after this photo that house also lost a very fine stained glass window as its owner capitalized on the value of individual architectural artifacts at the expense of the building.
Today that house has been renovated back to ,Aeolike new,Aeo condition (sans stained glass). With so much recent improvement in this part of the city it is easy to forget that even premiere streets such as Lancaster Avenue had many extremely run down houses mixed in with the mostly well cared for structures. Growing up on Lancaster I waited and waited for these valuable treasures to be renovated. It seemed so logical to me that any day someone would scoop these gems up and return them to life. Back then it was rare that anyone would take on such a project.
It took a long time, but today my dream has been fulfilled as there are NO derelict houses remaining on Lancaster. Step by step improvements like those on Lancaster are not the dramatic stories that the press takes note of, but they add up to something very special. The subtle changes that have taken shape on Lancaster are crowned by the new Co-op building, which adds momentum to equally significant changes on surrounding streets and other city neighborhoods. Here is to hoping that other nearby parking lots can also be eliminated in the near future.

Written by David Steele

David Steele

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

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