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Now and Then: Main and Allen, Buffalo’s Most Eligible Corner.

The north-west corner of Main Street and Allen Streets, in Buffalo, has been a vacant lot for almost 30 years now.  It was created by removing some irreplaceable historic buildings. This vacant lot is what some in the Buffalo area describe as progress.  This kind of “progress” is based on the fantasy idea that removing irreplaceable historic buildings will somehow result in something other than the “nothing at all” that usually occurs.  The mythical shiny new building that these people imagine does not materialize, poverty does not decrease, nor does crime.  In fact, Buffalo’s poverty and crime have increased  dramatically over the half century long demolition spree, that has left the city with vast areas of dead and empty space.  Demolition is not progress. This empty lot is not progress.

This corner once held a very interesting set of buildings that were allowed to sit empty and rot for several years until the city ordered one of its infamous “emergency” demolitions. The Buffalo News reported at the time, that Commissioner of Inspections, Joseph Schollard, and four of his staff  found the buildings to be in “total disarray.”   This was reason enough to get rid of buildings that could not ever be replaced.

The corner building was a 3 story Civil War area brick structure.  Its second floor had been modified with bigger windows.  This was often the case with older buildings as demand for commercial and retail space grew.  Its cornice is covered by what looks to be a mid 20th century investment, perhaps the last at that. The second building in from Main, along Allen Street, also 3 floors, was a slightly newer.  It probably dates from the late 1800s.  It held three or four commercial storefronts in a single story addition, probably from the 1920’s, that filled in the courtyard space. A third building on the Main Street side apparently received routine maintenance and investment.  It miraculously stands to this day. It is amazing how that works.

The composition of these buildings was charming. The complexity of urbanism made this a unique place that was built on the life of the city and its residents over decades. The picturesque forms and chance collisions of building details made for a memorable entry to Allentown.  Indeed, this corner was often described as a gateway to the neighborhood.

The buildings became decrepit because they sat empty and neglected for several years if not decades. It is impossible now to know just how bad they were when they were found to be in “total disarray’.  But, from images at the time, they don’t look any worse than anything that has been renovated recently in Buffalo and in fact look far better than some.  The building owner at the time was George Scouras who was also owner of the popular Town Restaurant a few blocks away.  News reports state that Scouras had floated an earlier renovation plan that went nowhere.  Former County Executive, Joel Giambra, then a city councilman, led a short-lived effort to save the buildings.  He reported to the Buffalo News that Scouras was willing to work with the City to save the buildings if the project could be made financially feasible. He also noted that engineers had been hired to examine the buildings to determine their condition and the feasibility of saving at least the corner facade.  I remember Scouras complaining that the only option was to tear the buildings down.  I also remember promises of a new building on the site but, that kind of talk seemed to vanish as soon as the buildings were sent to the dump.

For nearly three decades I have been dreaming of what could be built on this corner.  It is a narrow site but, has great exposure and plenty of room for a decent size building.  Surly, someone in the Buffalo development community must see the incredible value of building at this great location.  Across the street is the gorgeous Red Jacket Apartment building, sitting and crying out for an appropriate neighbor to fill the empty corner.  With massive new investment being poured into the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC), directly across Main, I have to believe that the time is near when this long empty corner will be filled.  Thousands of new students, staff, researchers, and  patients will soon be walking the streets of this part of Allentown. What other corner in the city could be better positioned than this one for a spectacular new structure?

Here is my wish.  We need a 7 to 8 story apartment building with parking underground and first (and maybe second) floor retail.  The building has to be a high quality contemporary design like the type recently proposed for downtown Rochester.  Please, no pandering,poorly executed historic past on architecture here.  Give us good quality that is appropriately urban and do it fast.  The size and proportions of this lot could yield a very elegant addition to Buffalo’s great collection of buildings.  The loss of the older buildings demands nothing but the best replacement and it needs to be done now!

 

 

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.

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