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Then and Now: Ghosts of Genesee Street

Over the past year I came across a couple very old black and white images showing the corner of  Genesee and Hickory Streets, just east of downtown Buffalo.  One is via the Buffalo History Gazette, which has posted many many rare historic images of Buffalo. The other was taken from an ancient bound set of  The Buffalo Illustrated Currier, lent to me by Chris Ziolkowski of Zee’s Property Services . The extraordinary buildings in the photos seemed familiar to me, somehow.  Then, I realized that the church was still standing and that I had recently taken some pictures of it.  I quickly opened up my images to find that all the other buildings in the photos had been demolished.  Still, I knew I had seen these demoed buildings before.

A few weeks later while scanning some old slides of mine I found pictures of this block still intact!  I also found some from a few years later with most of the buildings already gone, I had taken the first set of pictures in the late 80’s during a college field trip to see some new infill houses just down the street on Hickory.  These infill houses were a new concept.  The idea was to invest in failing neighborhoods by building them up with new infill neighborhoods and bring a home owning population back into the city.  A similar highly successful infill project was also done in the West Village around the same time.  The West Village project was done with more continuity was more comprehensive in its scope.  On our way to go see this project we had high hopes for the promising new concept. But, we were quickly disappointed by the sprawl style site planning and the cheap construction of the houses. Although not quite up to what we thought they should be these houses have actually stood the test of time.  They are in good condition and look to have good owners, just as conceived.  They also form a bit of a neighborhood near downtown, if a somewhat sparse one.  There are even a few interesting historic remnants mixed in. While wandering the area that day we had come across the fantastical set of 19th century buildings shown in the pictures, still remarkably intact!

My youthful naiveté led me to believe that the natural next step for this neighborhood was to compliment the new infill houses with a renovation of these extraordinary, unique, and beautiful buildings.  Right?  Wasn’t that the logical next step?  NO, of course it was not. Don’t be silly!

The next step was allowing the buildings to rot for another decade and then demolish them for “progress”, the kind of progress that we all know is not progress at all.  Proposing demolition as a form of progress should be fodder for mockery.  The cheaply built infill houses down the street still stand but these magnificent structures are gone. The progress they gave us is a weedy lot.  Imagine if short-sighted thinking had been replaced by logic and real progress.  If a relatively small sum of money had been strategically invested in these buildings back in the 80’s when other money was put into the neighborhood they would still be with us as productive tax paying anchors in this part of the city. I am not being nostalgic for a bygone era.  What I am saying is, look at how much potential was lost because of stupidity, lack imagination, and lack of appreciation for a valuable asset!  This was once Buffalo’s most dense neighborhood.  These few blocks were packed solid with these kinds of buildings.  Now it is nothing but a dull sprawtopian  nothing of a place.  Why is preservation even a debate anymore?  It should be a given based on this kind of failure compared to the amazing real economic progress seen with restored buildings.   What has the last 50 years worth of “Lackawanna Style Progress” given Buffalo?  Has the crime rate dropped?  Has demolition brought new people into the city? Has demolition brought in new jobs?  Of course not.  Take a look at this gallery of lost opportunity.  It is not a view into the past.  It is a view of the future that can now never be.

From the Buffalo Illustrated Currier

From the Buffalo History Gazette (look at the incredible detail on the church)

Current View From Google

Late 1980s

Late 1980s (notice the leaded windows were taken)

Late 1980s

2010 ???

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( www.blurb.com ), 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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