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Laurel Street: Low Hanging Fruit

Laurel Street in Buffalo runs through the East Side between Main Street and Fillmore. It has been ingloriously severed at the Kensington carbon monoxide trench, a highway formerly known for being a wonderful tree-lined parkway.  For most of its length Laurel Street exhibits all the ills the East Side is famous for – derelict houses, disinvestment, abandonment, poverty, and vacant lots.  It is easy to write off this street and think no more about it, and that is pretty much what has been done by the City and most of the rest of the metropolitan population.  But most is not all.  Laurel Street has many beautiful homes, well cared for by their owners and residents. 
A quick tour reveals several intact stretches of houses which are well tended.  The one block stretch at Fillmore even has a recently renovated house.  The block running off Main Street is of particular interest.  It is a beautiful block of houses almost all of which are in great condition.  It could easily be mistaken for a street in North or South Buffalo with well tended yards and displays of flags and flowers decorating the working class Victorians.  But this is the East Side and so this block also has two vacant houses and several empty lots, with City plans to add more emptiness. Unfortunately that is most likely the extent of any plans the City has. 
Running from Main, the first block of the street is dense with nice houses until it gets to 53 Laurel.  This beautiful brick multi unit is abandoned and on the city’s demo list.  The beautiful building adjacent is also abandoned.  The lots east of these two have already been emptied of their pesky old buildings.  Moving east from there the street gets pretty bad.  Both of these abandoned buildings are in their current state because of poor ownership, not because of the lack of demand for housing.  The rest of the street is in great shape.  People want to live there and they show their pride in living there.  So why, are these buildings abandoned?  Why is the City planning to demolish these two buildings?  


Following the typical East Side scenario the City will remove these buildings and leave empty lots.  Maybe in a year or two, where once seven or eight houses once stood, they will replace the current emptiness with two or three cheaply built plastic houses that bare no relationship to the rest of the historic street.  They will do this why?  Because they seem to have no plan. That is the only conclusion that I can come to.  This is a street that is in great shape, It is just a block from a subway station, and several major buildings have been renovated on Main Street within just a few blocks.  Two blocks away on the west side of Main, houses routinely sell for up to a half million dollars and yet the City sees no value in these two houses other than as a site for more vacant land.  
Vacant land will not make this a better street. If that is true what is the goal of demolition?   Why not scrape together some of that plastic house money and invest instead in these unique historic houses?  Why not shore up this street with new quality houses on the remaining empty land?  If the City had a plan they would be strategically investing in neighborhoods and blocks like this part of Laurel Street.  They would bolster a street showing strength which is vulnerable to decline.  They could do that by investing in the renovation of these two abandoned properties on Laurel, and then by filling in the remaining empty lots with context appropriate new houses.  They have the money. If only they had a plan as well that was able to recognize and take advantage of great assets like this street and its buildings.   From what I hear, 53 Laurel is structurally sound and was lived in up until just a few years ago.  It has been stripped of its copper by idiots but has much of its interior Victorian detailing still in place.  This is probably true of its neighbor as well.  These two will be the subject of the next Painting for Preservation event to be held Saturday April 28th. Make plans to be there and show your support for saving these buildings.
ART IN @ 53 LAUREL: We make ON-SITE ART at historic buildings in Buffalo. Join us at 53 LAUREL ON SAT, APRIL 28, 9am-1pm. All media, skills are welcome. We do this to show some love to an under-appreciated building and bring a new perspective to potential saviors. It will be a BEAUTIFUL SATURDAY MORNING to spend appreciating this building!
Images by Google Maps

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.

View All Articles by David Steele
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