Author: Preservation Buffalo Niagara
The Ellicott Common Council District has seen many new homes appear in recent years, with many more coming ahead. Sycamore Village saw a new patch of homes open for incoming residents in 2011. Along Jefferson Avenue, new housing units were built with more respectable building density now incorporated in the Green Code. New apartment buildings are proposed for the stretch of Broadway between Michigan and Jefferson Avenues. 163-167 Broadway will see 18 new apartment units helmed by Carmina Wood Morris, and 490 Broadway will see 185 mixed-income units helmed by Stuart Alexander and Associates.
But some existing structures come with surprising features, which like much of Buffalo’s vast history, are unknown among many residents. This past month, our focus at Preservation Buffalo Niagara has been on one project that presents an all-new perspective on how to rebuild our neighborhoods. Throughout Buffalo, the arbitrary procedure behind demolition is taking a backseat to the growing acceptance of building rehabilitation, and these buildings demonstrate why.
On May 25th, we held a community panel at the Frank E. Merriweather Library (1324 Jefferson Avenue at East Utica) about the history of the Willert Park Courts. The first Spring Street parcel, next to William Street, was demolished in 2006, followed by the Jefferson Avenue parcel in 2009, all replaced by newer housing units. The last remaining parcel, on Spring Street near Mortimer Street, contains ten of the original buildings that are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Plans for demolition have been temporarily halted due to renewed objections by the Michigan Street Restoration Corporation and Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
Professor Henry Taylor, Dr. Francis Kowsky, and former President of the Buffalo Common Council and Current Chair of the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation George K. Arthur were the panelists who described Willert Park’s conception since 1939. Topics covered include the architecture inspired by Modern ideals of Le Corbusier and Bauhaus, as well as public art displays that catered to the apartments’ African American residents. This customization of a public housing project was a rare objective of its time.
Many of those whom attended the panel were former Willert Park residents, sharing memories and how the surviving parcel could be refurbished instead of torn down. The crux of this ongoing discussion was how the racial segregation that conceived Willert Park has ironically led to a sense of community among the city’s growing African American population over the last eight decades, thus becoming a reason to preserve the apartment buildings. As Mr. Arthur pointed out at the meeting, many sites and places important to the African American community in Buffalo have been torn down, and its preservation is important to our goals of creating an inclusive community and a shared understanding of how Buffalo has grown and developed, and how we should grow and develop in the future.
Between its architecture, its connection to the cultural story of our community, and the fact that its density is perfectly suited to the area in which it is located, it is clear that the Willert Park community has the ability to be a vibrant part of Buffalo’s redevelopment efforts. We at Preservation Buffalo Niagara look forward to continuing to work with this important community on ensuring that their heritage is protected and shared with the rest of our region.