Yesterday, the Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Task Force, Preservation Buffalo Niagara, and members of the community, gathered together to shine a light on the importance of saving a historic brick structure at 238 Carlton Street (corner of Locust Street). The building, built circa 1876 by Peter Knapp, was a neighborhood grocery store for 93 years, before ultimately becoming vacant in 2000. The rear of the building has suffered from fire damage, but the preservation community is confident that the structure can be saved, despite cautions from the City that if the structure is not repaired immediately, it could be demolished. The building is currently owned by Borderland Advantage, which purchased the structure in 2017, with the ‘intentions’ of fixing it up, though there have been no signs of stabilization work as of yet.
238 Carlton Street is a fine example of a subset of Italianate Style architecture, which finds Italianate detailing added to the simple front-gabled rectangular box popularized by the Greek Revival Style. While this style is popular here in Buffalo, it accounts for only about 10% of surviving examples of Italianate stylings nationwide. 238 Carlton Street is accented by its cast-iron storefront columns and other character defining features such as a wide overhanging eave, many of its original full-arched 2:2 windows, and its original unique decorative stepped frieze with fleur running trim.
The building is located in the Fruit Belt – a part of the city that was once chock full of structures such as this, although many have bitten the dust over the years. It’s imperative that this building be saved, as it is a significant historic piece of the neighborhood.
In 2016, the Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Task Force was awarded a grant from the Preservation League of New York State to undertake a Cultural Resource Survey of the Fruit Belt, in order to identify buildings at risk, such as this. Matching funds from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (fiscal agent for the grant) allowed the team to hire Preservation Studios to undertake the work, which will be completed this summer. The intention is to preserve what remains – to protect historic buildings such as Carlton Street from hasty and unwarranted demolitions. Already, the initiative has proved successful in other cases, with Roswell Park Cancer Institute helping to preserve 907 Michigan Street, and passage of the High Street Historic District (protecting three buildings at the intersection of High and Carlton Street). At this point, it is imperative to be proactive, after years of neglect and apathy.
Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force leader Veronica Hemphill-Nichols stated: “We have been working for a number of years to preserve and protect the Fruit Belt community for future generations. Outside property owners should not be allowed to drain assets from the community and simply walk away. We are calling on the owners of this building to make the necessary repairs and prevent this building from becoming yet another vacant lot in the Fruit Belt.”
Sydney Brown of Buffalo’s Black Chamber of Commerce says: “What a shame that the charm and character that Buffalo is known for is to be demolished in this fashion. The materials of 238 Carlton, like so many other properties in Buffalo are more durable, the technique to assemble and construct this property and others are of a higher quality than what is being built today and should be preserved. Today’s buildings will not last 100 years and many won’t make it to 50 years. We want a community that, like so many other Buffalo communities, capitalizes on its unique character and interesting architecture. We don’t want cookie cutter neighborhoods with just a different color paint.”
Jessie Fisher, Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara stated: “PBN believes that all communities and neighborhoods deserve to have their historic resources protected. We are committed to providing encouragement and support to all organizations and individuals to identify, evaluate, and protect their resources. The preservation of community fabric is not just about interesting architecture, it is about creating strong, healthy neighborhoods. According to recent research by the Preservation Green Lab, Buffalo neighborhoods with a higher percentage of older, smaller, character-filled buildings are more diverse, are younger and more dense, and support 70% more minority and women owned businesses than neighborhoods filled with larger, newer buildings. We have been working with the Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Task Force for nearly three years to support preservation of the Fruit Belt neighborhood. The loss of any more buildings in this neighborhood is likely to mean that we cannot get National Register status for the Fruit Belt, so this demolition doesn’t just effect outcomes for that particular corner, it affects our ability to create a district that would allow homeowners and small business owners access to additional resources to build community, self-determination, and wealth.”
Paul McDonnell, Chairman of the City of Buffalo Preservation Board stated: “I am pleased to announce that the Preservation Board will be considering 238 Carlton Street as a Local Landmark as part of our ongoing work to ensure that important resources are protected and neighborhood character retained in all of our City’s unique neighborhoods. We are looking forward to working with the owner of the building to ensure that the building is restored.”
“It is clear that this building is worthy of landmark protection,” stated prominent local attorney Richard Lippes, who confirmed that he had been retained by the Fruit Belt/McCarley Gardens Task Force and Preservation Buffalo Niagara to explore any and all legal avenues to ensuring that the building is protected for future use and development. “And I will be assisting the community to ensure that we don’t end up with one more needless vacant lot in the Fruit Belt.”