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Historic status recommended for three century old Buffalo buildings

Three buildings that have stood in the Queen City for more than a century are being recommended for addition to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Acceptance to the lists could mean more than just tax credits for the city’s East and West Side communities.

On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the New York State Board for Historic Preservation recommended the addition of 22 properties, resources and districts to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Among them are the former Buffalo Milk Company Building at 885 Niagara Street, the F.N. Burt Company Factory “C” Building at 1502 Niagara Street, and Buffalo Public School 24 at 225 Best Street.

For the owners of each building, addition to the lists could mean close to 20 percent in historic tax credits from New York State, and an additional 20 percent from the federal government, according to Paul McDonnell, chairman of the City of Buffalo Preservation Board. McDonnell said the credits make renovation financially feasible for buildings that previously would have been too costly. All three locations are currently under renovation to become housing.

As McDonnel explained, the process for becoming a historic place usually “begins with an enlightened owner who sees a building that is either abandoned, undervalued, or underused” and purchases it. Then there’s research done on the building, and nine criteria for what makes it worthy of the state and national register.

Among the nine criteria are questions of whether the building is associated with a famous person or architect, if its design is an example of an important architectural style from the time it was built, if the structure is innovative, and if the public considers the building to be a local landmark or place of importance. Only one of the nine measures is required for qualification, but McDonnell said, “We find that generally most of the buildings that we nominate, whether they’re for local districts or state and national meet between six and seven of them.”

Once New York State approves a building for its own register, the building is presented to the U.S. Department of the Interior. Acceptance at the federal level isn’t always a sure thing, but McDonnell said New York State has a good reputation of vetting properties to ensure success with the Department of the Interior.

While the business incentive of becoming a registered historic place is significant for developers, McDonnell is in agreement with state officials who tout the potential for heritage tourism in the process.

"Listing these assets on the State and National Registers of Historic Places will pay homage to historic figures and events that helped shape New York into the great state it is today, while advancing efforts to support heritage tourism statewide,” said Governor Cuomo.

The Buffalo Milk Company Building, constructed between 1903 and 1905, and later reformed as Queen City Dairy, was used for the pasteurization and distribution of milk. It was the first large-scale milk company to do so in Buffalo.

The F.N. Burt Company Factory “C” Building was constructed in 1911 for the largest producer of boxes for cigarettes and cosmetics in the United States. If added to the registers of historic places, it would join another of the company’s factory buildings, located on 500 Seneca Street. Both are associated with general manager Mary R. Cass, who was one of the most successful women executives in the country.

Starting in the 1930s, Buffalo Public School 24 housed several “sight-saving” classes. Over the decade that followed, it became the “headquarters” of courses for the blind, as well as home to several programs designed for students with learning and intellectual disabilities, predating state and federal laws regulating education for all students with special needs.

“We’re sort of seeing this critical mass that’s happening,” said McDonnell, who runs open air bus tours around the city with fellow Preservation Board Member Tim Tielman. “It’s so undervalued sometimes, in Buffalo, that this is the reason people are coming to Buffalo is to see the architecture.” McDonnell said people come from not only around the country, but also around the world to see the city’s structures and take in its history.

As the city continues to develop, McDonnell believes there is also lesson to be learned from the design of the two factories and the school.

“Were those people thinking back then that this was going to be a building that was going to be recognized in 2016? They may have been, and I think that’s the way we’ve got to build today,” said McDonnell. “In other words, think forward. We’re stewards, so when we build today, let’s build for our sons, our grandsons, our grandchildren.”

There may also be power in historic places to bring neighborhoods together. Across from School 24 sits Martin Luther King Park, which has undergone significant renovation by the city. Just two miles west is the ever-growing Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. And along Fillmore Avenue, the East Side community has seen street improvements.

“I think what these properties are doing, they’re finally knitting the city together and so you’re going to now see infill in between. I just think School 24 might be the most important of the three,” said McDonnell. And though he did point out a slight personal bias in favor of the school, due to his full time position as Director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction for the Buffalo Public Schools, McDonnell said the building is important because of the challenged neighborhood and its history.

“Some people go to the East Side and they say, ‘What’s here? My, gosh, there’s a beautiful school from the turn of the 19th, 20th century.’ And if you go by the school I think you’ll see for yourself how nicely detailed the school is. And from my standpoint, schools have always been an anchor in a neighborhood, and this is going to continue as an anchor.”

McDonnell believes any kind of recognition, including that of a place’s historic nature, can only serve to aid in development.

Outside of Western New York, these properties, buildings, and districts are being recommended for addition to the State and National Historic Registers:

  • Hudson Theatre, New York
  • Blauvelt-Cropsey Farm, Clarkstown
  • John Green House, Nyack
  • Stanfordville Station, Stanfordville
  • St. John’s Episcopal Church, Pleasantville
  • The Cornwallville Cemetery, Cornwallville
  • International Shirt & Collar Company Building, Troy
  • The Moss Street Cemetery, Kingsbury
  • Bagg’s Square East Historic District, Utica
  • The Hawley-Green Street Historic District (Boundary Expansion), Syracuse
  • Oak Knitting Company, Syracuse
  • The Syracuse Lighting Company Building, Syracuse
  • Common School 32, Trout Creek
  • George Washington School, Elmira
  • John W. Jones Court, Elmira
  • Jewell Family Homestead, Guilford
  • East Main Street Historic District, Rochester
  • Le Roy Downtown Historic District, LeRoy
  • The Terminal Building, Rochester
Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.