When Josephine Zagarella closed her intimates shop at 814 Elmwood Avenue (a building she owned), to make way for Overwinter Coffee to take over the space, she had an ulterior motive in mind. She and her husband were refocusing their efforts, and their available funds, to purchase the John W. Bush House AKA Ganson Depew House at 165 Summer Street.
Once the purchase of the building was final, Zagarella invited me to come take a look around the historic mansion, which had been converted into apartments years ago. Before the tour, she sent me this link, from Buffalo As An Architectural Museum, to prepare me for the visit. Since the website had so many astute photos, I decided that I wouldn’t need to take any myself, other than a couple of shots of rehab work underway.
Zagarella told me that she never thought that she would be able to swing the purchase of the building, considering that the real estate market in Buffalo is so competitive these days. But as luck would have it, the previous owner liked her ideas for restoring bits and pieces of the mansion, which is how she managed to obtain it. Fortunately, only a couple of the units were available, and in need of restoration – the rest of the living quarters (8 total) were already occupied and in perfect condition.
The remaining two units needed a lot of TLC, so she retained the services of Mark Clabeaux, who is s restoring the floors and making replacements for the broken stain glass windows, of which there are many. There are also 8 ornamental fireplaces, a walk in vault in the basement (seconds as a wine cellar), built-ins, original light fixtures, service doorbells… despite the mansion being divided up into 8 units, the former owner did a great job of retaining as much of the original character that he could (click here to see the detail). At the same time, the two vacant units were pretty dumbed down, which meant that Zagarella had a lot of work ahead of her.
In the basement, Zagarella pointed out the workings of prehistoric central vacuum system – she told me that the house was one of the first to install such a luxury system in Buffalo, which I thought was pretty cool. She also pointed out that a lot of the original woodwork in the two empty units had been painted over, during an era where that was considered quite fashionable. Unfortunately, I was not able to go into the occupied units, though Zagarella sent me a number of images of the most distinguished apartment, and the built-in fountain that graces the former parlor.
I did get to see the solarium, which was still hotter than Hades thanks to the old furnace units that cranked the heat out – this apartment would be a plant-lovers dream come true. To get a true sense of how over-the-top this place is/was, just check out the library with the burl veneer paneling and the parquet floors.
It’s not often that one gets to step foot into a mansion of this nature. It just so happens that I got lucky when it was in the process of changing hands. I’m happy to say that Zagarella is doing an exceptional job at accurately restoring everything that she comes across that could use a good spruce up.
Much of the work she is doing herself – something she credits to her father who was a tradesman. When she was young, her father would take her with him to jobs, where she helped him to fix just about everything under the sun. “My dad was a bricklayer who learned his craft in Italy. He did a full apprenticeship – masonry and architecture,” Zagarella told me.
Zagarella says that when she is finished with this project, and the remaining two units are occupied, she’s going to look for another old house to restore. “It’s in my blood,” she said. “Being able to do something of this nature is truly gratifying – I think I’ve found my calling.”