We continue the series on walking Buffalo, from the intrepid couple who walked every day—no matter the weather—in the first 30 months of Covid. They think (without being systematic) they walked every street in Buffalo, and many in other cities and towns, taking some 20,000 photos, some of which are shared in this series. While not itineraries, we hope to encourage others to “walk the walk,” to see, observe and appreciate Buffalo—and beyond. William Graebner and Dianne Bennett are also 5 Cent Cine’s film critics, here.
Today’s photo-essay: Look Up! Roofs and Roofers
We’d been walking for months before we got interested in roofs—yes, roofs. We got some help from the internet and from a cousin of Dianne, a contractor with roofing expertise.
There are perhaps a dozen roof types, including the standard “gable” (peaked) roof, which is everywhere. Two other types are quite common in Buffalo. One is the gambrel roof, which has two, rather than one, pitches coming off the top: the higher pitch is at a moderate angle, the lower pitch steeper. The gambrel is sometimes known as the “barn” roof, because it is commonly used for barns; you’ll see it often in rural areas—but also, in the city. The urban gambrel suggests a nostalgia for a simpler, rural America.
Here are two gambrel-roofed houses, on Masten Avenue:
And a huge, and unusual, gambrel dormer, somewhere off Colvin on the North Side.
And that’s Dianne, mask on her arm, observing the non-functional gambrel motif on the side of a large house on Linview Terrace, north of Delaware Park.
So you think you’ve got the gambrel down? The problem is that what we call “fake” gambrels are more common than actual gambrels. The “fake” gambrel has a traditional gable roofline, fronted by a sliver of a gambrel—apparently, just for looks. The designer just couldn’t resist a reference to the barn.
Another popular roof style is the clipped gable, also known as the jerkinhead. It’s a good bet that most of the folks living in a house with this roof don’t know they’re living under a jerkinhead. A good performer in high winds, the jerkinhead looks as if one had taken the standard gable roof and cut off the end, leaving a tilted triangle.
We found a jerkinhead at Raymondo’s Pizzeria, at East Delavan and Ivanhoe.
Off Grider, south of the 33, a row of jerkinheads. They often come in bunches.
Not far from the Amherst Quarry—likely on East Amherst St.–is a home with at least (there are sides that can’t be seen in the photo) 3 jerkinhead roofs.
The Mansard roof dates to the 16th century, but is named after a 17th-century French architect with the last name of Mansard. Seldom seen on houses, it is unfortunately quite common for businesses. Not our favorite. While trekking through Lockport in February in the snow, we came upon an extreme Mansard—the building as Mansard, the medium is the message. With a couple of dormers thrown in.
Finally, there is a roof “configuration” that deserves mention. It is especially common in the Broadway/Fillmore area, just west of the Central Terminal. The “telescope” house takes its name from serial extensions to the main house—apparently to accommodate a growing family—each smaller than the last, creating a descending roof line, front to back.
A green telescope house, with 3 sections, the Central Terminal in the background:
And a 4-section telescope, in the same neighborhood. There may be a “5” somewhere!
Solar panels are becoming more common, even in neighborhoods, like the Fruit Belt, where the houses are often modest.
Buffalo’s housing stock is old, and the city’s roofs are vulnerable to deterioration. We’ve noticed that the first buildings to suffer from neglect are garages. This one, with plants growing out of a large hole, is likely beyond saving:
While looking up at roofs, you’re bound to see roofers in action. For us they approach mythic figures, laboring at perilous heights, carrying heavy loads of asphalt shingles up 2-story ladders (climbed with one hand), every day demonstrating courage.
Whether you buy that or not, roofers are worth observing.
One day in September 2020, while walking East End Avenue (one side of which is in Buffalo, the other in Cheektowaga), we came upon a major roofing job taking place at a 2-story building (with tall stories) at the intersection with Genesee Street. Most of the roofers, including a young woman (who told us her name was “Queenie”), were taking a break at street level. When she saw me photographing the building, she scampered up the tall ladder in her sneakers, eager to have her picture taken, then exuberantly posed for a photo.
Then there was the young man roofing at a 2-story on Fillmore, near Smith Street, wearing patriotic shorts and showing a lot of skin, while holding himself on the roof with his toes.
It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to repair the steeple at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Delaware.
Roofers can seem to be choreographed. In this case, I was reminded of the brave soldiers who raised the flag at Iwo Jima.
And this confident, graceful roofer, working in Riverside with staple gun in hand, could be Rambo, or a gunslinger from the Wild West.