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History of the Genesee Block: The Schwinn-Mandel Building

The Schwinn-Mandel Building is one of the more distinctive buildings in the local Genesee Gateway Historic District.  The exterior of the building remains an excellent example of Italianate commercial architecture from the post-Civil War era; an architectural era which is becoming increasingly rare in representation in Buffalo. Throughout its over 120 year history, spanning four generations, the Schwinn-Mandel Building has served as a vital commercial location and has served a wide variety of purposes.
Jennifer Walkowski, an Architectural Historian with Clinton Brown Company Architecture, prepared the application necessary for the designation of the Genesee Gateway Historic District.   Below is an excerpt from her findings on the Schwinn-Mandel Building.
Constructed ca. 1878 by an unknown builder, the Schwinn-Mandel Building was not the first building located at this site.  Like the adjacent H. Seeberg Building at 113-125 Genesee Street, it appears that an early ca. 1850s building occupied the site before being replaced by the Schwinn-Mandel Building.  This earlier building was a small, two-story frame building which was owned by Louis P. Adolf in 1866, and at which address he is noted as residing in the 1860 Census.  Originally from the Alsace region of France, Adolf was identified as a grocer in 1860; a not uncommon trade, given the proximity to the Washington Market nearby.


Perhaps given the rapid growth and the rising property values in the area surrounding the prosperous Washington Market, Adolf demolished the previous structure at 111 Genesee Street and had a larger four-story mixed-use commercial and residential building constructed ca. 1878.  Adolf appears to have retired as a grocer by 1870, and possibly sought speculation in real estate as a second career.
Adolf may not have operated his grocery store from the new building, but the first known occupant was Jacob John Schwinn.  Schwinn relocated his umbrella and parasol manufactory from 137 East Genesee Street into the elegant new building and appears in the 1878 Buffalo City Directory at this new address.  Schwinn advertised as a manufacturer and repair shop for fine canes, umbrellas, parasols and walking sticks.
Schwinn came from a family of German umbrella makers, which included his brothers and father John W. Schwinn who ran his own umbrella shop located at 521 Washington Street in Buffalo, and for a time Jacob and John Schwinn operated the only two umbrella manufactory and repair shops in the City of Buffalo.  By 1883, Schwinn partnered with his brothers, Frank R. and Frederick E. Schwinn, in the firm of Jacob J. Schwinn and Bros. Schwinn died young in 1884 at the age of about 34, and it appears that his brothers took over the umbrella shop at 111 Genesee Street in 1885.  The 1889 city directory notes that Frank R. Schwinn was operating an umbrella shop from the building, carrying on the family tradition.
While 111 Genesee housed a wide variety of smaller commercial and residential tenants including hairdressers (including briefly Gotthilf Buckenmaier in 1898 who was a long-time tenant in neighboring 115 Genesee Street in the 1900s) cigarmaker, jewelers, physicians and other tenants, the building was associated with the rather uncommon trade of umbrella manufacturing for well over 60 years.


The Schwinn company was succeeded by the umbrella maker Henry L. Mandel around 1893. Born in Berlin, Germany, Mandel immigrated to the United States in 1867 as a child and worked for fifteen years as a salesman at the cane and umbrella counter of the S.O. Barnum store (located at 211 Main Street before it went out of business in 1880) before operating the umbrella shop.  Like the Schwinns, the Mandel family also appears to have made umbrella making the family business; Henry’s sister Augusta ran her own umbrella and parasol retail and repair shop from 211 Eaton Street in Buffalo’s East Side for over a decade.
Mandel began his operations in the building at 111 Genesee Street around the year 1893.  Perhaps due to the success and strength of Mandel’s reputation as a maker of fine quality products, the building was renovated slightly with “first floor alterations” in 1922.


Interestingly, Mandel appears to have rented commercial space in the building which was at the time still owned by J.P. Adolf (although perhaps by his son).  Mandel continued in business until 1940 when he passed away at the age of 74. Nearly 60 years old, the east façade of the Schwinn-Mandel Building still retains some traces of Mandel’s painted signage near the roofline of the building, faintly visible today (image below).
Following the occupancy of 111 Genesee Street by Mandel’s umbrella manufactory, the building was by 1950 occupied by the H. Seeberg Company and used as warehouse space.  The successful H. Seeberg men’s clothing factory and shop, located in 113-125 Genesee Street just to the east of the Schwinn-Mandel Building, was another example of a commercial operation which housed both manufacturing and sales within one building, a throw-back to the Civil-War-era economy and way-of-life represented so well in the Genesee neighborhood.  
111 Genesee Street likely served in this capacity for two decades before it was purchased in the early 1980s by Willard A. Genrich of Platinumdome, Inc. Genrich, who owned many of the neighboring Genesee Gateway buildings, had high hopes for the rehabilitation of such a prominent row of rare commercial buildings.  In 1986 he started a rehabilitation project which removed the interiors of all the buildings down to the studs and brick and removed the first floor structural system in 1988.


Genrich’s misguided attempts were to secure the structure of the building and to modernize its fire resistance.  After several years of legal issues between Genrich and the City of Buffalo who took Genrich to housing court seeking a demolition of the buildings, the future of the Schwinn-Mandel Building appeared bleak.  In 2007 the block of buildings were purchased by Genesee Gateway LLC, with support from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation.
Spearheaded by CityView Construction Management, the Genesee Gateway project rehabilitated the vacant buildings along Genesee Street between Ellicott and Oak Streets, creating a series of commercial and office spaces that restored the luster of this dazzling commercial block for its next 120+ years.  Today, the Schwinn-Mandel Building serves as the Genesee Gateway complex’s main entrance.
Source: Local Historic District Application, May 17, 2010.  Clinton Brown Company Architecture.

Written by WCPerspective


Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

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