By Brett DeNeve:
Back to back arson fires almost consumed 81 Amherst St this past July, leaving the city with almost no choice but to condemn the property and have the building torn down.
This Victorian Eastlake home held historic value not only to the Black Rock community but to the city of Buffalo as a whole. Before the site was demolished, handyman/realty investor Joe Galvin connected with the owner, Victoria Armstrong, and got her approval to remove the porch and use it on a property he had recently purchased over on the West side; 461 Massachusetts Ave right by Five Points.
Aside from the surprising victory in the salvaging and renovation of this historic house’s porch, this happening itself helps paint the bigger picture of a community movement taking place at the corner of 19th and Massachusetts Avenue.
I found it interesting to learn how Galvin came to find himself in possession of the Mass Ave property to begin with. The story goes, that roughly 25 years ago, Galvin was frequenting a paint store across the street from 461 Massachusetts Ave (the store has since moved and half the building torn down and made into a parking lot) when he asked one of the employees about any properties up for sale that he might know about. The worker raised his hand in the direction of the big picture window in front of both of them, pointing out across the street. The “For Sale” sign, however, hung to the right of the Phoenix; property 459.
Galvin recalls the first time he walked through the door, “The floor boards were pulled out to make room for 8 foot paneling and they had a drop ceiling coming down to the top of the paneling.” He knew it all had to go.
The second floor wasn’t much better. Windows were located on the walls facing the neighboring houses, leaving a mere three feet of alley space at best for some sunlight to creep in. Galvin had a good friend of his over to the place once during very early stages of renovation. He shared his vision with his friend as they both stood on the landing of the second floor; the bathroom to their left, bedrooms to their backs that faced the street, one more bedroom to the front of them and to the right, adjacent to the door to the attic stairway, and a smaller room dead ahead.
“I am going to turn this smaller bedroom into a laundry room and knock out a part of this wall here (still looking straight ahead) to expose the kitchen and the support beams,” Galvin thought out loud.
“You’re never going to get that done,” his friend laughed innocently.
“Well,” Galvin said with a smile as he looked around the apartment last week, “I did it.”
But this was only the beginning. He would go on to purchase and renovate properties in this community, accumulating a total of 16 units, “17 by the end of the year hopefully,” he commented.
“I renovate each property as if I was going to be the tenant,” Galvin said.
This statement runs right through the foundation of 459 Massachusetts Ave. He moved into the site, as massively undeveloped as it was, to reside in the attic with only a bed, a space heater, and some plastic around the windows to keep him cozy. He would wake up, throw on some painting clothes, and descend down the steps to the first floor, renovating room by room. Once he had completed the master bedroom he moved into it from the attic.
“I remember waking up in that room, looking around at the finished product, and opening the door to see the whole first floor mid-renovation,” he said.
Roughly 25 years ago Galvin looked out of the attic’s grid-style picture window that faced the backside of the house.
“It looked like a jungle out there,” he said.
Now, that backyard space, referred to by the local vernacular as “The Compound,” is a common lot between properties he now owns (including 49 19th Street – see below). People from the community walk their dogs, some sculpture is featured, and fences have been torn out and re-angled to promote openness; “It’s a nice position to be in. By renting these houses you can control who lives here,” Galvin said.
From my frequenting the area, whether it be driving through or hanging out and getting some food from Five Points just around the corner, I have seen some of Galvin’s tenants; nice, smiling, and wholesome people.
Galvin, ex-military, handyman extraordinaire, invites everyone to come check out his latest project’s unveiling October 19 at 49 19th St from 2 p.m. to 5 pm. Food, music, and a nice environment; all thanks to those coming and supporting the vision of Joe Galvin. The community at large is welcome to witness the formal unveiling of this new addition to his Mass Ave property and witness this porch rise from the ashes at its new home.
The event will be held just around the corner at 49 19th St (more to come on that) on Saturday October 19th from 2 pm to 5 pm. Feel free to bring friends and family as there will be food to sample from Stefan Coker of “Three Brothers Catering” as well as music from Buck Quigley and the gang, aka “The Steam Donkeys.”
Stay tuned to Part 2 of this ongoing saga…