Severyn Development is renovating seven turn of the century brick homes at 76-106 Florida Street near Canisius College. The project result in 14 apartments, each three bedrooms and one bathroom, with a private entryway, an outdoor deck or patio, and parking for up to three vehicles.
The Severyn team is working with Seth Amman of Arch & Type Architecture on the design and is utilizing historic tax credits to rehab the homes originally designed by George J. Metzger and built by Berrick & Sons in 1901.
The structures have an interesting history. From the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Preservation Studios LLC:
Built between 1901 and 1902 by renowned local architect George Metzger for a prominent local contracting and development firm, Charles Berrick’s Sons Florida Street Houses are an excellent example of a turn-of-the century load-bearing masonry speculative housing complex in Buffalo, New York. Constructed using a variety of masonry materials, the seven houses are a clear cohesive group, with detailing individualizing a repetitive front-gabled form.
The buildings showcase many of the characteristic elements of a modest Queen Anne style that emphasizes classical revival details, and the load-bearing masonry construction is unusual for the two-flat Buffalo Double form. As a result, these seven buildings are the only group of houses of this kind currently found in the Cold Springs neighborhood. Although the vast majority of Buffalo’s residential stock is of wood frame construction, Berrick and Metzger demonstrated that a wide variety of fine masonry materials could be applied to a single, consistent plan, saving cost by standardizing the construction and utilizing their own locally manufactured building supplies. The complex is highly intact, with buildings that retain historic plans and significant historic fabric throughout.
Charles Berrick’s Sons Florida Street Houses is a collection of seven associated residences located on the north side of Florida Street between Main Street and Jefferson Avenue in the Cold Springs neighborhood. These freestanding two-and-a-half-story, front-gabled, two-flat masonry residences were built between 1901 and 1902 in the local vernacular Buffalo Double form and blend late-Victorian Queen Anne and early twentieth-century revival details. They were designed by prominent local architect George J. Metzger as rental properties for Charles Berrick’s Sons, a prolific local masonry company, contracting, and development firm active in the region from the mid-nineteenth century through the early 1900s.
The houses, which exhibited the firm’s masonry skills, material availability, and refined taste amidst the city’s incredible growth at the turn of the century, retain a great deal of integrity, with interesting historic features such as projecting bay windows, pocket doors, and interior and exterior wood detailing. While each house exhibits individual detailing and ornamentation, they all share a common massing and overall plan, giving these houses a distinctive, unified character on a street filled with largely wood-framed houses.
Description of Buildings
All seven residences were built as a group and are largely identical, varying primarily in facade material use and detailing. They are rectangular in footprint with stone foundations and south-facing front-gabled roofs covered in asphalt shingles. The fenestration of all four elevations is the same at each building. The facades are two bays wide, with a pair of non-historic metal doors under a single stone lintel in the western bay and a pair of windows in the eastern bay. The first story was originally covered by a porch, and although the steps, porch foundations, decking, and railings remain, the covers were removed sometime after 1981.
At the second story, the eastern bay features a semi-hexagonal bay window, while the western bay above the entrances contains a single window. A pair of attic windows is located in the gable. Although the fenestration is the same across the district, the masonry materials used on the facades are unique to each residence and are punctuated with a variety of wood detailing. The more costly masonry materials, including the ashlar foundation, wrap partway around the side elevations, where the rest of each building is executed in common red brick and rock-faced limestone.
The interior plans are all alike and feature two three-bedroom, one-bathroom flats on the first and second floors, with shared basement and attic spaces accessed by rear staircases. The basements are unfinished, with stone walls and brick piers. On the first and second stories, the bathroom and bedrooms are located along the west wall, while the living room, dining room, kitchen, and pantry are arranged along the east wall.
The first-floor apartment is accessed through the eastern door of the facade and enters a small vestibule. A large living room with a fireplace in the eastern wall is located to the east of the vestibule. Many of the original mantels are intact. To the north of the living room is a dining room with a large bay window in the eastern wall. These rooms are usually separated by a wide rectangular or arched opening and often closed by pocket doors. West of the dining room there are two bedrooms; one under the stairs leading to the upper unit and one to the north with an additional entrance on the north side that leads to a narrow hall, connecting it to the bathroom and the third bedroom to the north. East of this hall and north of the dining room is a large kitchen. A small pantry and a vestibule accessing the rear stairwell are located north of the kitchen.
The second stories are nearly identical in plan; however, the upper flats are entered through the west door of the facade and up a straight wood staircase to a landing that accesses the central dining room instead of the living room. At the landing, there is a short banister with square newels and a small coat closet on the south wall. The southernmost bedroom is located at the front of the building off of the living room in the space over the front stairs instead of off of the dining room as in the unit below. A bay window that once contained a door to the missing balcony is present on the south wall of the living room. The attic level is accessed from the rear staircase. Most of the buildings have partitions in the northern portion of the attic for storage or additional living space, while the southern half is open and unfinished.
Across all seven residences, there are consistent characteristics as well as individualizing accents. The flats have plaster walls, original wood moldings, and wood floors beneath more recent coverings like carpet and linoleum. Some units have also retained original wood fireplace surrounds, iron registers, and built-in shelving in the pantry and rear vestibule. The fireplace surrounds all vary slightly from one another and the hearths, like the porch foundations and chimneys, often match the masonry materials used on the facades. The houses contain a mixture of two different styles of historic five-panel doors and non-historic flat doors, even within the same units, and transoms are located over the kitchen, hall, rear vestibule, bedroom, and bathroom doors. The rear stairwells feature vertical paneled wainscoting on all levels.
Charles Berrick’s Sons Florida Street Houses
Capitalizing on the anticipated growth of Cold Springs brought about by the expansion of the streetcar line and railroad, Charles Berrick & Sons, a local brickmaking company, contractor, and developer, began buying property in the area. In 1892, Charles’s sons Alfred and John Berrick purchased the lots on the north side of Florida Street from David and Mary Folgelsonger but did not immediately develop them. By the turn of the century, the immediate area was being settled in earnest. Most of the lots on the south side of Florida Street and adjacent Northland Avenue had been developed. To the west, the Buffalo Hospital of the Sisters of Charity (1876) was located at the northeast corner of Florida and Main Streets. To the north, between Main Street and Jefferson Avenue, was the Carnival Court theme park, and to the southeast was the former Hamlin Driving Park land, which had been closed by a fire a few years before.
In 1901, the two brothers, who renamed the firm Charles Berrick’s Sons upon the retirement of their father in 1894, engaged Buffalo architect and personal friend George J. Metzger to design a series of seven duplexes to appeal to families looking to leave the congested city core. They cost $2,500 each to build. The two-flat houses were constructed as investment rental properties for Charles Berrick’s Sons and not as opportunities for individual homeownership as Metzger had advocated for in the neighborhood a few years prior. The firm retained ownership of all seven parcels until 1915.
The construction of these buildings resulted in the renumbering of existing dwellings on the north side of Florida Street. Residents listed in the 1900 census and in city directories as dwelling at 86, 88, 90, 92, and 94 Florida Street prior to 1902 occupied five one-and-a-half-story frame dwellings directly to the east of the Berrick Houses that are no longer extant. It isn’t until 1903 that the directories appear to catch up to the address changes. Based on the directories, some of the buildings were completed in 1901, but it appears construction may have continued into 1902. By 1903, however, all of the houses were occupied.
The buildings showcase the ubiquitous late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century urban form of a two-flat residence, or 'Buffalo Double.'
The buildings also showcase the ubiquitous late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century urban form of a two-flat residence, or “Buffalo Double,” which describes the function and layout of space. All seven of the Berrick Houses exhibit characteristics commonly found in the vernacular housing stock constructed in Buffalo around the turn of the twentieth century. Developers like Charles Berrick’s Sons constructed these as two flats to increase the potential profit from the limited number of buildings, while also appealing to families seeking less crowded conditions than the older tenement housing found in denser parts of Buffalo, such as Canaltown and the near East Side. The two-flat form also opened the door for future homeowners to buy the buildings and then collect rent themselves, helping them to pay their mortgages.
This building form is typical in the city, but the material choice is uncommon, especially considering the economic class of many of the residents that occupied the units. Load-bearing masonry buildings were less affordable than frame ones, a cost that would be passed down to tenants and prospective buyers. As a result, the vast majority of houses built in this two-flat form were frame buildings and any masonry was decorative cladding and not structural.20 A survey of Cold Springs determined that there are only four other masonry residences in the entire neighborhood. Two small brick cottages on Northland Avenue predate the houses on Florida Street by at least twenty years and do not have extant porches. Two other neighboring brick residences located at 1570 and 1566 Jefferson Street to the south were constructed around 1905 as single-family homes in differing Queen Anne styles. These are the only similar masonry buildings in the area and are standalone examples that were not constructed as part of a larger project, making the Berrick Houses unique within the Cold Springs neighborhood.
Charles Berrick’s Sons (Owner/Builder)
Charles Berrick’s Sons was a prominent local contracting and development firm in Buffalo with a history that spans more than 130 years. Founder Charles Berrick was born in Coleshill, England, in 1826 and trained as a mason as a young man. He arrived in Buffalo in 1850 with the intent to continue on to Wisconsin but found the burgeoning city full of opportunity for a skilled tradesman, and in 1852, he started his own building company.
In 1869, Berrick was listed as a builder for the first time in the city directories at 264 South Division Street (not extant), but he moved his home and office to 127 Swan Street the following year. Although the buildings have been destroyed, the alley between Elm Street and Michigan Avenue still bears his name.
In the 1880s, Berrick began manufacturing his own bricks to make his business more competitive, eventually constructing a permanent brickyard at 1445 Clinton Street (not extant) around 1889.22 In 1891, the company was tied as the third largest brick producer in the city, manufacturing nine million bricks, but they were never sold commercially. Berrick stated in 1889 that, “I am manufacturing brick for my use only. Still I am compelled to buy frequently, as I cannot make all I use.” The company also carried a wide variety of stone materials. Its yards supplied all of the Medina sandstone used on the 74th Regimental Armory on Connecticut Street (NR listed 1995) which it built in 1899. It is not known if the Florida Street houses were constructed with the Berricks’ bricks, but as the property owner, the builder, and the materials manufacturer, the company would have been able to construct the masonry buildings much more economically than would have been feasible for other developers, resulting in fine brick and stone residences generally unaffordable for the targeted tenants.
Over the course of his forty-year career, Charles Berrick became one of Buffalo’s leading construction companies. As the sole proprietor before the involvement of his sons, Charles constructed many notable buildings in the city, including several grain elevators, the German Insurance Building (1876, not extant), the original Buffalo Public Library Building (1887, not extant), and St. Louis Church (1889, NR listed 2014).
By the close of the nineteenth century, Charles Berrick’s Sons had expanded from construction into real estate and neighborhood development, commissioning architects like Lansing & Beierl, H.H. Little, and Esenwein & Johnson to design buildings for speculative housing projects. In addition to the Florida Street houses, the company constructed the home of Edward Warren at 20 Lincoln Parkway (ca. 1915; NR listed 2016), the McKinney-Wilson Home at 35 Lincoln Parkway (ca. 1926; NR listed 2016), and the Alfred A. Berrick House at 147 Linwood Avenue (1892; extant).
Charles Berrick died in 1903 and was interred with his wife, Margaret, in Forest Lawn Cemetery. In 1910, Alfred Berrick sold his share of the company to his brother. John retired shortly thereafter and moved to California, where he died in 1919. Alfred later re-engaged as president of the company, which was renamed Berrick-Wright, Inc., from 1943 to 1948, before his death in 1950. Following his second retirement in 1948, the company reincorporated as Wright Associates Building Corporation and remained active until 1987.