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Preservation Ready: 110-20 South Park Avenue

Darryl Carr has petitioned City Housing Court to allow demolition of 110-120 South Park Avenue due to “imminent danger of collapse.”  The Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture and Culture obtained a stay on the demolition order disputing the owner’s assessment that the buildings are unsound.  

The threat of demolition to these historic buildings puts them on a list of ten “must save” properties compiled by a volunteer group of people looking to stem the loss of Buffalo’s irreplaceable historical heritage.  The list is being rolled out over the coming months leading up to the National Trust conference in October. 

Buildings on the list are under at risk for a number of reasons and if action is not taken soon, they likely will not be around five years from now.  Many of them are unloved and underappreciated and don’t have an owner or group fighting to save them.  It’s a means of being proactive rather than reactive.  The first building on the list, the Breckenridge Street Church, was profiled recently here on Buffalo Rising and also in Buffalo Spree.

Together, the South Park buildings are part of a one-block long manufacturing and warehouse district with strong links to Buffalo’s commercial and industrial history, the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal.  The properties are located in the Cobblestone Historic District, established in 1993 by the Buffalo Preservation Board. 

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110-114 South Park Avenue.  The building located at the intersection of Illinois and South Park (formerly Elk Street) is notable as a rare example of antebellum commercial architecture which was adopted for manufacturing during the early 20th century.  Several of its industrial tenants were part of the marine service and repair industry which has a long association with this immediate area of Buffalo.  The property is also significant because of its connection with George Mugridge, proprietor of one of most enduring Victorian-era bakeries.

Beginning in 1841, George Mugridge (1816-1897), an English immigrant, was associated with his father in the bakers business at various locations in Buffalo.  After his father retired in 1850, George formed a partnership with William H. Clark. 

As of 1852 they were in business at this location, the property then being owned by Clark’s family.  The bakers presumably selected the corner at Illinois and Elk both for its proximity to grain transfer facilities- they consumed 50-60 barrels of flour per day- and to shipping.  Their most loyal customers were the men who worked the adjoining shops, but their largest market, one they would virtually monopolize, was the cracker trade of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

The Mugridge Bakery temporarily relocated to the Commercial Hotel block in 1860 while Clark appears to have used the Illinois and Elk site to supply a new retail outlet operated under his own name.  Mugridge returned to the 1852 site as of 1867, having purchased the property the preceding year, and Clark moved elsewhere.

The original bakery is a 100 x 50′ four-story brick building which is distinguished by its prominent cast-iron window moldings and sills; a cast-iron storefront on the South Park elevation has been partially covered over.  In 1871 the Mugridges added the three-story addition, 60 x 100′ which also still stands; this section features cast-iron sills only.  Tie rods are evident in both these sections, though not in a three-story building immediately adjoining the 1871 building on the north.

James A. Mugridge joined his father in the family firm as of 1861.  Mugridge & Son employed 30-40 workers and used the most up-to-date equipment.  As early as 1870, the whole of the operation was served by an elevator, surely one of the firm in Buffalo.

In 1897 George Mugridge transferred control of the family business to his sons, George W. and William.  He stated that he did so due to “the natural love and affection I bear for them in accordance with the promised and agreements heretofore made…”  Three years later the brothers along with a third brother, James, sold the property to James A. Roberts and incorporated the family business as Mugridge Baking Company; Roberts and two other med were majority stockholders while the brothers held only scant shares.  Three years after that, in 1903, Mugridge Baking Company went bankrupt and finally folded, a probable victim of both overcapitalization and of the new cracker monopoly, Nabisco.  James A. Mugridge attempted to carry on at the old stand, but eventually reties as of 1911.

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By then, portions of the Mugridge property had been renovated by a real estate firm to house a variety of industrial tenants.  Despite the fusion of several adjoining structures into one functional unit, the Mugridge site acquired two sets of addresses: 10-14 Elk Street for the original part and 21-33 Illinois Street for the 1871 addition and adjoining sections.  In 1905 Daniel Knowlton constructed another building immediately north of the Mugridge site.  The two-story brick factory at 39 Illinois was designed by well-known Buffalo architectural firm of R.J. Reidpath.  This new facility later was integrated with the Mugridge buildings after Knowlton finally acquired the later property in 1926.

At the time of Knowlton’s purchase, tenants occupying sections of the old bakery included Phoenix Die Casting Co.; Ford Bros., a marine machine shop; Buffalo Standard Ink; Dextro Products and H.S. Wright Co., purveyor of steamboat supplies. 

118-120 South Park Avenue.  This building is historically significant for several reasons.  It was the site of one of the earliest brass manufacturers in Buffalo and may be the oldest extant structure associated with that branch of the local metal trades.  It has been in continuous use for various types of small scale metalworking for over 140 years. 

The firm of Brown & McCutcheon was established in 1858 in the building then known as 3 Elk Street where they may have shared space with the bakery started by George Mugridge.  Brown and McCutcheon set up shop as suppliers of brass and other steamship supplies.  McCutcheon contributed his practical expertise in metalworking while Brown presumably capitalized on the contacts he had developed during his years serving as an engineer on Lake Erie freighters.

In 1864 Brown acquired title to the land subsequently listed as 16-20 Elk Street.  Based on changes in the firm’s city directory listings, the three-story brick building now standing at 116-20 South Park dates from 1869.  The original lot purchased by Brown measured 51′ frontage along Elk Street and 100′ deep; the firm’s original building covers about half that land.  Ornate cast-iron pilasters with capitals reminiscent of the Corinthian order frame the front entry.  The nine windows of the South Park frontage feature stone sills and segmental arch heads, the arch masonry being a double course of headers.  The cornice is corbelled.

The work performed by Brown & McCutcheon at their Buffalo Brass Foundry was described as “largely connected with the marine trade of the lakes, in supplying pumps, whistles, and the brass work for tug propeller engines.”  The shop handled copper, tin and sheet iron work as well as brass casting and finishing.  Peak employment during the 1870s was approximately 30-40 hands.  The partners parted company in 1876.  Brown carried on until 1888-1889 when he retired and rented the premises to Queen City Metal Company.  This firm continued the business of steamboat and other engineering supplies until 1898.

The successor of Queen City Metal at this location was Crumlish Forge Co., makers of small stationary and portable smiths’ forges.  It was at this time that the use of the property shifted away from nonferrous castings and sheet iron work toward the niches in the forging market that its occupants have served since the turn of the century.  Crumlish Forge was succeeded in 1902 by James A. Duggan and then by Thomas Paul, both blacksmiths.  In 1909 William V. Bush, another blacksmith, commenced renting the shop; in 1921 he purchased the property from A.H. Brown’s window.  Bush enlarged the facilities in 1937 by constructing a steel-frame, metal-clad addition still standing immediately to the north of the original building.

During World War II, Bush’s shop turned out parts for diesel engines.  Ed Rudnicki, the building’s most recent occupant, began his blacksmithing business in 1954.

Current owner Carr, owner of Cobblestone Bar that is adjacent to the properties at South Park and Mississippi Street, is said to have reuse plans for the property.  A few sources say he is developing plans for a high rise hotel on the site.  Most others say his only goal is additional parking. 

At least two capable developers have tried to purchase and redevelop the buildings.  Carr has ignored their interest.

Get Connected:

Preservation Ready Facebook Group

Darryl Carr, 716.848.1930

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Source of Historic Information: Building-Structure Inventory Form, 1993

 

Written by WCPerspective

WCPerspective

Buffalo and development junkie currently exiled in California.

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