When the Rabin Terrace neighborhood was built in the 80’s, there was, of course, negative preservation repercussions at the time. Despite those repercussions, the project moved forward and today we have a vibrant community living within the shadows of City Hall. I’ve got some friends who live in this village that throw some fun parties, and I’m constantly reading about the spectacular gardens that attract national attention. There’s never any litter on the ground and there are plenty of festive decorations to see throughout the year. So why, if this village was so successful, has Buffalo not been able to replicate Rabin in other areas of the city? Finally, my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to call upon Tim Tielman who I knew would have some interesting things to say. From Tim:
“Rabin was built in the early 1980’s. It was surrounded by preservation controversy, as part of Cary Street and Prospect were altered in the process. At the time, the area was the old Italian Lower West Side. There was a predominant carriage house on the Cary Street that preservationists tried to save, but were ultimately unsuccessful. When the houses were built, they were relatively small. They have decorative porches rather than fully functional ones. Despite the size of the houses and their downtown location, they have held their value 25 years after being built. Compare these to the vinyl-sided garbage being built on the East Side. Ten years later they fall apart. So why not build more brick houses? They have charm that proves durable.
“Rabin was the most successful partially government funded housing in Buffalo. The houses still look like they did when they were built. It was a public/private venture. The private developer made money and the City benefited by having a strong neighborhood. Interestingly, that house design has been replicated in scattered parcels on the Lower West Side. Anyone can build a plan… not everyone can build a plan that works. It’s important to note that it’s still possible to build with durable modern materials. Have you ever seen the plastic houses? Spend some time on the East Side after a windstorm and you can see side panels that have blown off the houses. It’s penny wise and pound-foolish.
“I remember when, after Rabin Terrace built, a Councilman said that the City would never build a plastic house again. Even Rabin structures are not solid brick in actuality – they are a type of brick veneer. These houses are wood stud framing, built one brick deep. We still call it a brick house, though the proper term would be a brick veneer house. The brick lasts forever. The windows are the proper proportion. There are no tacky additions. The up-front cost is more, but we can see the difference. The smaller brick houses are more desirable. People pay top dollar for charm and design. The houses are not architectural masterpieces, but they are charming and durable. Every detail on the house was taken into consideration – it’s nice to see relatively newer houses with attention to detail.”
I always thought that this type of community would be ideal to replicate. I always picture an ideal scenario as being one with a brick house (like you see here) with a garage. And above the garage would be a secondary apartment that could be used for growing families or supplemental rent income. The apartment above the garage would be very appealing for new homeowners who maybe can’t afford to purchase a single. The contacts for ownership would only be given to people who were willing to live in the house for, say, five years. The rental would teach the owner the responsibilities of being a landlord, and that would be a beneficial learning experience for anyone who eventually wants to invest in real estate. Ultimately, the resale value would remain high. Regardless, to this day I am shocked that the isolated success of Rabin has remains just that. It’s unfortunate that no lessons were taken away from this great community.