By Eric Stenclik, Trustee, Preservation Buffalo Niagara
This is Preservation Buffalo Niagara’s most popular tour, but even if you have taken it before, this year it’s a unique and memorable event. Get a ticket, take a date, or take your mother…but don’t miss it. Not only will splendid Delaware Avenue mansions be open, but at the exquisite Williams-Butler mansion you will enjoy choice wines and cheeses to the backdrop of the Oakgrove String Quartet and the festive splash of the mansion’s piazza fountain. This year’s twilight tour, a new concept, is meant to make you feel at home in ten elegant but contrasting homes. Five new private homes grace the tour this year, and they each offer a lesson in gracious urban living.
The self-guided tour, co-sponsored by PBN and the eminent Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site, is Thursday June 21st from 5-9 p.m. Tickets are selling fast, so get yours in advance or you’ll be very disappointed as you’re turned away on the day of the tour. I’ll sketch the tour for you here and offer some inside tips to help make the most of the tour that gives the clearest glimpse of Brahmin residential life in Buffalo at its peak.
You can tour the homes in any order you like, but I’d start at the Butler and the Williams-Pratt houses. Built by two brothers, they are the only two remaining McKim, Mead, and White homes in Buffalo. These are both nationally known homes, and while the Butler usually gets the spotlight, I am fond of the smaller (at 11,000 sq. feet), but ornate and inviting Williams-Pratt house next door. Look at the vestibule floor as you walk in and you will see that McKim, Mead, and White left their signature in marble mosaic. It is rarely open, and to see its intimate gold-leafed ladies sitting room, decorated by Jansen of Paris, is like washing down fine chocolate with even better champagne. It’s an inebriating and opulent little room you won’t forget.
Another secret: you can walk from the lush Butler garden pathways to the back of a hidden estate on Summer Street (the gate will be open). Here you’ll feel that you’ve stepped into an E.M. Forster novel, but you’ll actually be in the gardens of a home that E.B. Green designed in 1906, possibly lived in himself, but was later owned by the Letchworths and then Darwin R. Martin. Most people are completely unaware that this estate exists, but it does, and you can see it, inside and out. It’s an island of pastoral Edwardian charm discreetly tucked into the heart of the city.
Also open for the first time on Summer Street is the picturesque Rumsey gardener’s cottage, which perches quietly behind the original wrought iron fence and gates of the Rumsey estate. Parts of this home date from circa 1850, and it sports a whimsical ambiance. From here you can cross to Oakland Place and visit three homes, two of which were built for prominent Buffalo families and one that was built in the 1970s and inspired by Colonial Virginia tidewater homes. It has a terrifically fresh interior and captivating pool and gardens. The Reed house on Oakland has a brand new period kitchen, an English-style library and expansive gardens.
Be sure to hit all the Delaware mansions, especially the Richmond-Lockwood, where Child and Family Services has been patiently and smartly restoring the home, including its impressive library. There will also be a surprise guest at the Richmond-Lockwood house (I can’t say who). The Asa Silverthorne house across the street has a beautifully curved staircase and walls with classical carvings and original light fixture. This old Delaware mansion is proudly back in use as a private home.
Fine homes and gardens of all sizes and distinct styles that span over 150 years of Buffalo domestic architecture. This is the legacy of the Delaware Avenue area, and while much of its treasure has been chipped away by neglect and demolition, it remains one of the most beautiful residential areas in the country. Many of these houses will not be open again, so spend a balmy Thursday evening in conversation with them. Advance sale tickets are $30 per person, $35 after June 17. Please call the TR Site at 884-0095 to purchase.
Entry image by by ckowalik