Author: Courtney Bajdas
The Elmwood Crossing team has proposed 20 townhouses, dubbed Parkhurst Square, for three adjacent lots at 188, 184 and 180 West Utica. The problem is, that there are two existing homes at 180 and 184 West Utica. The third parcel, 188, is a surface parking lot. The developers want to demolish the houses at 180 and 184 West Utica. The neighborhood and community at large have vehemently opposed the demolitions.
Joining them, is the Preservation Board which heard the developers’ request at their January 23rd meeting and strongly advised against demolition. Specifically, the Preservation Board noted how remarkable 184 West Utica in its Flemish Revival style is.
What’s Flemish Revival style you ask? According to the landmark application for 184 West Utica, Flemish Revival style harkens back to the architecture in Northern Europe, particularly Belgium and The Netherlands, which developed from the 13th through the 17th centuries. At the turn of the 20th century, architects here in New York – a former Dutch colony – began constructing buildings in this style, inspired by the old country. Some specific characteristics of this style include construction with brick or stone, step gables, contrasting trim, and sills and lintels with dressed tops and bottoms and rusticated faces. I’m not an architect so I’ll stop here before I get in over my head.
The other fascinating part of 184 West Utica is its local history. The plans for 184 West Utica were originally filed in 1907 by a 21-year-old architect named Albert Schallmo, who lived in the predominantly German Fruit Belt neighborhood. Mr. Schallmo partnered with Jacob Goldsmith, a German immigrant mason, also living in the Fruit Belt. Mr. Goldsmith’s two sons were concrete finishers, a relatively new trade in that era.
Together, they built a stunning, sturdy and efficient house at 184 West Utica complete with its unique concrete porch floor and steps (remember Jacob Goldsmith’s sons). We know this odd feature is original because of the for sale ad which was run in the Buffalo Times on August 25, 1907, and highlights, “..veranda has fine concrete floor with stone and brick trimming.” Also of note in the ad, is that it has twelve rooms (with laundry and toilet in the basement) and a refrigerator built into the pantry which was supplied with ice from the exterior.
In 1910 Ernest Franks, a harness maker, saddlery operator and hardware store owner, bought 184 West Utica. He lived there for the remainder of his life and then his decedents lived there for decades; at least into the 1960s.
Rising star Albert Schallmo’s later accomplishments include designing local masterpieces rich with brickwork: Blessed Trinity church, St. John the Baptist church, St. Casimir church, and St. Luke parish. Additionally, he designed several buildings in Williamsville and at St. Bonaventure University.
The house at 180 West Utica is very typical of the Elmwood Village with its turn of the century wood frame construction. And while it isn’t as unique as its next-door neighbor, 184, it certainly contains more historical features and charm than any new build townhouse.
At the January 13, 2020, Planning Board public hearing introducing this townhouse project, more than a dozen neighbors and community members spoke in opposition. They made comments about improving the aesthetic of the townhouses, but mostly the public decried the demolition of 180 and 184 West Utica. Having heard that, the Planning Board tabled the project and advised the developers to come back with revised plans that, ideally, preserved the two existing homes.
On, February 10th, the developers returned to the Planning Board. The revisions they made are mainly aesthetic (read: changes to the exterior of the townhouses) and still calls for the demolition of both 180 and 184 West Utica. Against their own advice and the advice of the Preservation Board, the Planning Board approved the townhouse plans as is.
This means, the only thing staving off the wrecking ball is the pending landmark application of 184 West Utica. The Preservation Board minutes from January 23rd, emphasize how special this home is and note, “…184 West Utica Street may be the only residential building of its kind in the City of Buffalo featuring its particular Flemish Revival features.”
Because the neighbors do want to see a townhouse development on the parking lot at 188 West Utica, neighborhood advocates have drafted drawings which preserve 180 and 184 West Utica while still allowing for 18 townhouses. This equates to 20 for-sale units; the same number that the developers desire.
This is not a one-or-the-other scenario. There can be new development (reduced townhouse cluster) while preserving our city’s storied history.
The Campaign for Greater Buffalo is advocating for the preservation of these two historic homes. They are organizing a rally in front of 180 and 184 West Utica on Saturday, February 22, 2020 beginning at 9am.
Courtney Bajdas works and lives in the City of Buffalo. She is also an Elmwood Crossing Project Advisory Committee (PAC) member
Lead image: 184 West Utica. Image from landmark application.