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Groundhog Day: Is This One Doomed Too?

As the White’s Livery building crisis fades into our societal memory, Buffalo moves forward (or should we say backward), and just like in the movie Groundhog Day prepares to live the same scenario of demolition by neglect, over and over again. The beautiful building pictured here is the former Fairfield Library. Will this one be the next loss?
The building was designed the late 1890’s by architect and nearby resident William Sydney Wicks for the Unitarian Universalist Church. Many parishioners arrived for services via Belt Line Railroad which had a station within steps of the church (still standing). The Unitarian congregation disbanded in 1912 and sold it to Parkside Lutheran which used the building for 12 years, until they built a more grand church for themselves at Wallace and Depew in Central Park. In 1924, the City of Buffalo purchased the building for use as a library. In spite of its reportedly being the second busiest neighborhood library branch, it was closed due to county cut-backs in October of 2005 and has received little or no maintenance since then. Reports of its condition are dire. Some say the building will suffer serious perhaps irreversible damage if left in this condition through another winter season.
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The Parkside community association reports:
A tour of the library on May 8, 2008 was sobering. The window to the left of the front door has been partially boarded up because would-be thieves broke in on a quest for copper pipes. Foundation masonry needs tuck pointing at the entry porch. Water has entered through the flat roof over the 1961 addition that housed the children’s reading room; floor tiles are warped and dislodged. A telltale line at the base of the children’s bookcases bears testimony to how high the water rose. Mold is growing on the wall going downstairs to the basement community room. Many more floor tiles, believed to be asbestos, are dislodged there as a result of a broken drain pipe outside. The condition of the sub-floor is unclear.? A dank odor hangs in the air. Books and computers still wait for patrons. The children’s reading tables and chairs stand vigil. Dishes remain in the staff kitchen, and the small plastic basket with a pencil and rubber bands is on the check-out desk.
The description is haunting. It is as if humanity just disappeared and left everything in its place to rot away. This wonderful, delicate little building is being left to nature, to just disappear because…why? It sits at 1659 Amherst Street in the middle of the prosperous and highly desirable Parkside Neighborhood. It is a building that could suit any number of new uses including a very attractive and unusual residence. Yet it sits unmaintained. Why? ? ?
Reportedly, the City is offering the building for sale at $75,000 but is not actively marketing it through a realtor. Last fall, a request for proposal was issued by the city’s real estate department. The lone response was allegedly rejected because the financial backing was deemed inadequate. The Parkside Community Association was initially interested in leasing the building prior to the RFP but since then the city has declined to rent the building.
Other buyers including a photographer looking for a live/work space sniffed around, but these went nowhere. The most intriguing proposed use is for a new permanent home of the Grover Cleveland Presidential Library. Cleveland’s grandson came into town to promote the concept over a year ago, but this idea seems to have stalled. In the mean time, the city holds onto the building, collecting no taxes, apparently making no improvements, and asking a steep sum for a building in poor condition.
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Is there a plan other than to allow mother nature to bring the building to its final state? Why not offer this building for $1 to someone who will invest in and use it? Or how about free, plus no taxes for 5 years? Is the city trying to make a profit on this structure? What is the logic in letting it fall to the ground? Is “frustrating” an adequate term for this situation?
For information on this building, contact John Hannon, Director of Real Estate for the City of Buffalo. Let’s hope there is someone out there who is perfect for this little jewel.
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Images are from Buffalo as an Architectural Museum http://www.buffaloah.com/a/amherst/1659/index.html More images are available at that site.

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