For the first time in nearly twenty five years, a new [National Register] historic district is being proposed in the city. The University Park Historic District would include portions of Larchmont, Niagara Falls Boulevard, Radcliffe, University Avenue, Allenhurst, Pelham, and Capen between Main Street and Kenmore Avenue. The application is a collaborative effort between the New York State Historic Preservation Office, University at Buffalo, and the City of Buffalo. Work on the proposal, now in draft form, began as part of an historic preservation class at UB taught by Kerry Traynor last spring and took less than a year to complete. The primary author was Annie Schentag.
The primary reason the area qualifies as a historic district is because it serves as an intact example of an early-20th century planned residential subdivision of Buffalo. The neighborhood, developed primarily between 1913 and the early 1930s, also exemplifies the importance of the streetcar at the time of its development as well as the rise of the privatization of the automobile. To qualify the entire area as a historic district, “the property type must represent the range of residential subdivision structures associated with the growth of the city into a new form during the period between the Civil War and World War II (1860-1945).”
The proposed district includes 429 buildings, two parks/circles, and four gates that will be included in the historic district. Homes in the area are mostly 19th and 20th century revivals and were built in various styles including bungalows, craftsman style homes, as well as colonial/tudor revivals.
Kathryn Foegen, a ten year resident of a 1915 University Avenue home is very happy with the proposal for the historic district. “The designation could help with the resale value of the homes and the way it’s being presented makes it seem as though it is less restrictive than other historic districts,” she says. Kathryn owns a beautiful home complete with incredible art glass windows, natural wood architectural details, and a great exterior color scheme.
UB’s Kerry Traynor says the new district will differ from the Allentown district. “Unlike Allentown, residents in the University Park Historic District will not have to appear before the Preservation Board for approval before they undertake work on their property,” she says.
“Work done on State and National Register properties must be in compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards only when a state or federal agency is involved, there is a state or federal license involved, or state or federal funding is involved,” says Traynor. “So, unless the property owner is using the State Historic Tax credits, there is no regulatory body involved in work undertaken. Also, the guidelines do not require a property owner to restore a condition which has already been altered. For example, if a house is sided with vinyl, the owner is not required to return the property to its original material if they want replace the vinyl.”
The Development of University Park
Anthony J. Huck was the developer for the area and set out to create a unified appearance. Lot restrictions, building setbacks, and spacing created a lower density neighborhood. The district’s plan is significant in landscape architecture and community planning/development for their association with suburban land development practices of the first half of the 20th century and is reflected in the subdivision’s park-like setting, which includes a landscaped circle, a central park, numerous grassy medians and three sets of stone entrance gates.
University Park’s development reflects the role of expansion in a flourishing Buffalo, combined with the sentimentalized popular notion of a pastoral, suburban lifestyle away from the central city. The proximity to the streetcar and to the expansion of the University at Buffalo made the location of University Park prime for development.
Situated at the terminus of the Main Street streetcar line, the busiest streetcar in the region at the time, the location provided the ability to commute from a residential area into work in the central city. The proximity to the streetcar, the University’s expansion, the evolution of Niagara Falls tourism into nearby Niagara Falls Boulevard, and the pressure from an overcrowded central city all contributed to the successful development of University Park.
In 1913, with the recent plan for expansion at the University, Huck capitalized on a timely opportunity to profit off his land by converting it from farmland into a residential area, selling both pre-built houses and empty lots to be built on, as long as they passed his regulations. Priced at $4,500 to $15,000, the “average” man could buy a lot and build a house on it, living the new American dream. In this way, University Park can be considered one of the earliest planned communities in the region, exhibiting a suburban character through the values of separation and regulation.
While the neighborhood was not targeted at the upper class, who lived largely downtown in mansions, it was an attempt to filter the social demographics of the district, ensuring that along with the pollution, noise and crowding, the “less than desirable” lower class and racial communities did not reside with the middle class in University Park. Similar to many suburbs today, University Park allowed access only to those who could afford to migrate away from the jobs in the city center. This outward migration was made possible due to not only the streetcar, but also the increasing use of automobiles by the middle-upper class. The introduction of the car into mainstream society happened slowly, and during the 1910’s and 1920’s the lower classes could not afford the luxury.
The role of the car in the development of University Park can be seen in the presence of garages, built during the early years of the district. These garages reveal that not only were cars used in order to commute to work downtown, but also reinforces the high socioeconomic class of the residents. At this time, it was rare to include a plan for a garage in the design of a home, and the inclusion of many of the original garages in this district serves as a testament to the class of those who chose to move away from the city.
Huck’s stylistic restrictions on the neighborhood serve as one of the most important predictors of this area’s historical significance. Because Huck valued a “beautiful, harmonious residence district,” he sought to protect investments by ensuring the stylistic character of the neighborhood would maintain its unified character, in order to prevent anyone with different stylistic taste from degrading the value of surrounding properties. In reaction to other, more modern architects working in Buffalo, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Huck intended to create a district with stylistic continuity, not unlike many modern suburbs. This regulation became one of the most valuable assets to the neighborhood, as it created a condensed area with aesthetic integrity that is clearly identifiable with a single stylistic period.
A contemporary journey through University Park provides a rare insight into the nuances of the architectural styles of the period, all collected into the span of a few blocks. The neighborhood hosts some of the most exemplary houses built in the Craftsman, Bungalow, American Foursquare and Prairie Box styles, many of them dating from roughly 1913 to 1920, the height of this stylistic period in a city that contains some of its best examples. The Arts and Crafts movement is of particular significance to the Buffalo region, where many of its founders and architects, such as Hubbard and the Roycroft community, lived and worked. Because of this, University Park is highly significant due to its thorough architectural collection that demonstrates an important era in Buffalo.