One of the city’s most phenomenal and secretive residential properties is now on the market.
While much of the Allentown historic district has changed over the years, one property has remained much as it was when it was first built. What makes this property so unusual is that it was built as a series of townhouses that line the perimeter of a pedestrian lane. The entire scene is raised one storey above street level, making it more of a mystery than a real life manor (in the eyes of most Buffalonians).
For those who are aware of the circa 1926 properties that line Mayfair Lane, they might have seen images in a book, or maybe even peeked up over the gate to get a glimpse of the architectural bounty. I first saw Mayfair Lane in person around twenty years ago, when a girl that I was dating invited me to her relative’s townhouse. I’ll never forget walking down the terrace, flanked by small Elizabethan houses. It was a breathtaking sight, but nothing compared to the vision that I saw at the end of the walk. It appeared to be a castle. And in front of the castle there was a lowered, chained drawbridge, that looked as of it might be traversing a moat.
Of course the dreamlike vision that I am describing is that of E.B. Green, Jr’s, the son of renowned Edward B. Green of the architectural firm Green & Wicks. Called Mayfair Lane, this old English throwback village of 20 houses is extremely private, especially considering that it is located smack dab in the middle of the Elmwood/Allentown community. Most people might just walk by the enclave situated on North Street, assuming that there is some sort of housing complex behind the brick walls that front the complex. It’s as if an illusion – it’s too absurd to think that there is an elevated courtyard that interconnects the English country homes.
But that’s exactly what it is. And at the end of the boardwalk, the castle with the moat sits, as if right out of a fairytale book. In fact the entire scene is right out of a book, or a magazine, dreamed up by E.B. Green, Jr and brought to life with the help of architectural firm E.B. Green and Sons, and former city architect Albert Hart Hopkins.
To add modern interest and appeal to the complex, the designers built an underground car port, which gave each tenant space to park a car. From the port, staircases were built that allow residents to access their homes. At the time, this was deemed a luxurious amenity that also helped to retain the quiet and calm of the pedestrian scape above. Today it is almost seen as Jetsonian, especially as we strive to come to grips with how to balance our obsession with the automobile and our want to achieve the utmost urban quality of life.
Since this is not an article on the entire set of townhouses, I must get back to the reason that we are being invited to observe this rather obscure complex – the castle. Yes, the castle. The keep at the end of the lane, with its thwarting medieval arch and gate, romanticized tower and lush canopy of trees. The only thing missing is the body of water separating the castle and the rest of Mayfair Lane, though cannons will do.
Walking over the “drawbridge” for the first time was a real treat. You must understand, the castle is one of those mystic places in Buffalo that I never thought I would have the opportunity to see first hand. Or even on Google images for that matter – the owners were very secretive, leaving visuals of the interior solely up to the imagination. When I heard that I was being invited to poke around the place, I jumped at the opportunity. I never knew anyone who was invited inside. Nor had I ever spoken to someone who had stepped inside. So there I stood, in front of the castle, wondering if the door would magically open in front of me… or should I just ring the doorbell?
Seeing that there was no giant dragon knocker, I chose to ring the bell. Moments later I heard footsteps approaching the door. I kid you not that for a moment I felt a twinge of anxiety – “Who the heck am I even meeting here?” I thought to myself. In my haste and overall Buffalo busyness, I didn’t read the memo introducing the current owner, which added to this grand mystery. As the door opened I was greeted by the madame of the house. Instead of bending on one knee and introducing myself, I decided that it was more appropriate to simply shake hands. After the brisk formality, I was led down a short hallway and into the great hall room.
“What makes a great hall room so great?” You ask. Well for starters, there are cannons, and tapestries, and giant ornate birdcages that hang from the vaulted ceiling. The cages can be raised and lowered so that a servant can tend to the birds. There’s a mighty fireplace, a grand piano, candelabras and knights in shining armor. There’s wood paneling, lush scarlet curtains, carved gothic ceiling braces and diamond patterned windows. The interior decor came from historic houses in London, which adds to the authentic look and appeal of this romantic beauty.
Truth be told, the entire castle is not decked out in a similar manner. While there are a few tie-ins, the house is broken up into a series of different assemblages from varying time periods. It is of interest that the current family that owns the property has been in sole possession since 1930, which means that any potential new owners looking to piece the historic fabric together can do so quite effortlessly. Aside from the medieval elements, the rest of the house acts much as a house might act.
There are quaint bedrooms, wood paneled hallways lined with original artwork from renowned Buffalo artists (the family was a huge supporter of this city’s art scene), plenty of English Tudor accents, and handsomely tiled bathrooms. The home owners even retained technological remnants of a world gone by.
Industrial firedoors separate the oversized personal garage from the rest of the house (tenant also has access to the carport).
Pseudo-hidden rooms and crawlspaces abound, and there’s even access to the tower for any Rapunzel-want-to-be… or any kid that has full roam of the house. Or any adult with a child-like imagination for that matter.
Parts of the house look as if they were stuck in time, which was obviously done purposefully. Every room, neatly prepared, and living quarters just waiting for someone to shuffle through on his or her way to attend to a matter on the other side of the house.
Each window overlooking beautiful landscapes that surround the perimeters of the house, creating a sanctuary where E.B. Green Jr. himself once lived (his father lived next door in one of the row houses #19, which was just sold to a local music celeb).
While E.B. Green Jr. only lived in the house for five years, as he passed away at the early age of 45, the new owners, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Weiss, retained the design services of his father who redesigned parts of the house which had previously accommodated his son’s special needs. E.B. Green Jr. had been wheelchair bound since the age of 20.
It is interesting to note that the patriarch of the Weiss family was also the founder of the North Street Association that eventually became the Allentown Association – apparently he didn’t like the direction that the city was going and set out to do battle against the proponents of urban renewal. Give that guy a castle!
As I mentioned earlier, there are twists and turns around every corner, with places to climb and crawl. There is a full basement with headroom clearance for a six-footer. There are linen cabinets and built-in closets, and plenty of attic storage that also boasts a den.
If you look closely, you will even find the place where matriarch Mary Elizabeth Weiss signed her name in 1937.
The castle-house is a hybrid of formal, whimsical, practical and fairyland. Depending on your mood, you can find a spot that best suits your intentions.
To give you a quick glimpse into the history of the lane, the current owner (who greeted me at the door) had this to say about her experience living in the castle:
“Edwin and Estelle Weiss, my grandparents, were early preservationists, fighting for the area around the Lane and protecting it from mass development many times. My grandfather founded the North Street Association which is now the Allentown Association. My grandmother lived here until her death in 1983.
“My parents, my sister and I moved into #21 Mayfair Lane in 1984. My mom and dad worked closely with the developers of the old Butler property to the east of the Lane, and along with the Lane board at the time championed the use of the beautiful landscaping we all now enjoy as a buffer to the parking area, which was originally to abut the Lane.
“My mom loved the Lane, and she certainly saw it all. She remembered old E.B. Green who lived next door in #19 yelling at the kids to stop rollerskating by his house. The Lane was full of families with children, and was a very social and friendly place.”
The tale of Mayfair Lane is steeped with Buffalo history, mystery and lore. The stories that must have been told in front of the great fireplace, under the watchful eyes of the knights in shining armor, as thunder shook the castle and lightning brilliantly lit up the flagstone pathway outside. Sitting atop the minstrel gallery and watching the activity below, or standing in front of the picture window, with the cityscape viewable in the distance, there is no bad seat in this architecturally diverse kingdom. Let the brick entombed tower be no exception.
One if by foot, two if by car, may the fair winds deliver you safely home from afar. Draw up the bridge, as the chatter dies down, all gather near as we batten this house down. The doors will remain shut, until a new owner is found, and upon that time may the trumpeting resound. Fit for a king in this Queen City rising, let the price of $849,900 not be surprising. If all of this sounds appealing, and a castle suits your taste, with realtor Lauren M. Kostek you will be dealing – now let us make haste. To get a better glimpse of the lay of the lands, below you will find the handy floor plans…
On the Market: #21 Mayfair Lane Castle
Four bedrooms, den, three full baths and two half baths
Furniture – Some of the remaining furniture will be available for sale (price sheet will be available)
Hat tip to Chris Brown for digging up some of the historical facts regarding Mayfair Lane
Sale inquiries can address:
Lauren M. Kostek | Broker Associate | Gurney Becker & Bourne | 560 Delaware Avenue, Suite 200 | Buffalo, New York, 14202 | 716-982-8960 | 716-849-0407 (fax)