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Columbus Park Unveiling

One of Buffalo’s most graceful beauties is having its decades long veil of asphalt removed. Owners Peterjoe Certo, his wife Joanne, and their son Jeremy have been gradually restoring this house in the Columbus Park neighborhood since the 1990s. After putting most of their efforts toward renovation of the interior, they have recently turned their attention to the exterior, big time, by removing the asphalt siding and rebuilding lost trim details. The elegant Victorian house has great bones, so even before starting the latest phase of restoration it was a stand out piece of architecture. But, as the original house emerges from its dark cocoon, we can see how much of its charm had been lost for generations.

The faux brick asphalt siding material that covered the house was a popular remodeling material in the 1930s and 40s.  Pre-war paint was a lot less durable than it is today, so you can imagine this material being sold as a miracle product; “you get a brick house and no maintenance for one low price!” Vast areas of the city were covered with the stuff, which came in various styles imitating stone, wood, and brick.  The new siding may have been attractive to the eye back then, but by the 1960s it was just another negative sign of a fading old city way past its prime.  Vast areas of Buffalo were striped of delicate details and visual delight in favor of  this low maintenance but extraordinarily dull material. Today we are seeing a trend toward reversal of these unfortunate cover-ups.  Sightings of houses being uncovered and details restored are becoming commonplace in Buffalo. As can be seen here, the results can be stunning.

The Certos did not buy the house with the intent to renovate it.  Quiet the opposite in fact. They started out looking to take advantage of an opportunity for quick returns and in the process fell unexpectedly in love with their new home and neighborhood.  Here is their story:

We lived in a double in Parkside, although my wife had lived most of her adult life on the west side and raised her children there. We were looking to move, and found this property in Artvoice. Initially, we intended to buy the house cheap and flip it to the Public Bridge Authority, as they had already purchased the entire block of properties behind us for 125% appraised value. The process accelerated when a fire forced us out of our existing home. We moved into the dilapidated Columbus Parkway home three weeks later. That was June 1999. It wasn’t until September 2007 that the Bridge Authority presented its Draft Proposal for a new bridge and plaza, which would require our home to make space for an earth berm designed to hide a 500+ space parking garage (which was withdrawn some years later).

By that time, we were not only vested in the neighborhood (the first-and only remaining–waterfront neighborhood in the city) but also deeply committed to preserving our home. The house has many unique features: most of the original wood, linoleum ‘rugs’ inlaid into the hardwood in three rooms. It had been seriously neglected–but not gutted. We made it livable and now, as son Jeremy has grown into a brilliant artist and craftsman, we are restoring more of its original character.

After studying our title history, Architectural Historian Martin Wachadlo’s believes the structure was built approximately 1880 and designed by Louise Bethune. The property was originally part of the grounds of (the now demolished) Wilkerson-Storms house on Busti Ave., a parcel of which was sold in 1835.

As the Certos noted, the house was slated to become a berm at one point. The people running the Peace Bridge and their engineers are big fans of berms in place of complex urban history and texture. They eventually dropped their attempt to demolish the Certo house, but they were successful in their plan to convert houses directly to the west, on Busti, into a block long grassy field featuring a naturalistically planted berm and an air monitoring station. The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (Peace Bridge) Chairman, William (Sam)Hoyt III recently bragged “We are going to have a beautiful, landscaped buffer between the plaza and the neighborhood in the short-term. We’re going to send a message [that] you’re not entering a ghetto when you cross into the great city of Buffalo.” 

The residents of this block and surrounding neighborhood of pleasant tree lined streets don’t think of themselves as living in a ghetto. In fact the area is seeing lot of new investment and a surge in home values.  The Certos paid $41,500 for their place. Peterjoe estimates it is now worth at least $150,000, but that is probably being conservative.  I think he could be looking at $200,000 minimum for the house. Today houses on Columbus Parkway and nearby streets (including the Peace Bridge’s supposed ghetto street, Busti) sell in the low $100K range to over $200K. Peterjoe says houses sell quickly in the area, with substantial gains of $50-60K over the last 5 years, not unheard of.  That is quite a ghetto at those prices.

Take a walk down Columbus Parkway and check out one of Buffalo’s most beautiful emerging neighborhoods. Compare that to the dull green-space created by the Peace Bridge.  Which do you think is better for Buffalo?

 

 

 

 

Peace Bridge berm instead of a city.

 

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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