Historic Tax Credit Ready: Emerson Place Row Houses For Sale

Row houses could be found by the dozen in cities across American in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although many have been cleared from the urban landscape, a handful remain intact in Buffalo, primarily on the east side. This set of row houses on Emerson Place was constructed in 1893 by Benjamin B. Rice (the architect is unknown). They are a great, intact example and should be held in high regard in the local preservation community.


It was not long ago that these buildings were threatened with demolition in the later years of urban renewal. Thankfully, the right people got together in 1981 and they were declared a local landmark. Then in 1985 the buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They were saved from the wrecking ball, rehabilitated, and re-inhabited. The set at 17 to 21 Emerson Place were not so lucky and were eventually demolished. The row houses on Woodlawn Avenue just around the block were the victims of arson and subsequent demolition just a few years ago.


Unfortunately, that’s about the last time this east side treasure saw investment. The row houses could use a sprucing up and they just may be getting it if the right buyer is lined up.


The entire set is being offered for sale for just over $195,000 via Realty USA, which is a bargain considering the potential return on investment. Since the buildings are already listed on the National Register, the future owner/developer of the property could pursue historic tax credits and give these buildings the rehabilitation they deserve. The tax credits would substantially offset the cost of retaining and repairing original features and finishes, repairing or replacement in-kind of the wood windows, and the interior rehabilitation.


The following comes from the National Register of Historic Places nomination from 1985.


“The two seven-unit buildings were built in 1893 in an eclectic style incorporating Colonial Revival, Shingle Style, and Eastlake features. The two identical fourteen-bay buildings have flat roofs with projecting molded denticulated cornices, vertical board friezes, with sawtooth ends, and decorative shingle sheathing. Each building rests on a stone foundation. The facades are distinguished by seven two-story bow windows each of which originally contained five narrow, elongated sash with transoms. Between the bow windows on the second floor are boarded over one-over-one double hung sash; on the first floor are entrances, also boarded, with sidelights and transoms. The molded entrance surrounds feature an Eastlake style scroll plinth and detailing.


Sawtooth shingles form a flared skirt above the denticulated, vertical board stringcourse marking the second floor. The entrance porches retain their denticulated cornices and scroll supports although the original posts and wooden steps were replaced in the 1970s. The end elevations have boarded over two-story bow windows and one-over-one double hung sash.


The interior room arrangement of each unit generally consists of, from front to rear; living room, dining room, kitchen with side hall and entrance. The second floor has bedrooms and a bath. The only surviving interior features include some period hardware, woodwork, and stairways. The row is currently vacant and in a state of disrepair although it retains the majority of its original architectural details.


The row at #33-41 Emerson Place is architecturally and historically significant as one of a rare surviving group of speculative multi-unit frame residences designed to resemble rowhouses in the City of Buffalo. The row is one of only four intact groups of similar housing remaining in the Masten neighborhood of north central Buffalo, the only area in the city where frame multi-unit rows were built in any concentration.


The Emerson Place row is one of only two surviving rows (see #17-21 Emerson Place) that have been documented as being built by the Rice family, land dealers and developers largely responsible for the construction of rows in the Masten neighborhood from 1880 to 1910.


Built in 1893 by Benjamin B. Rice, the row is one of two (see #17-21 Emerson Place) remaining along the south side of the street, forming the most intact surviving period streetscape in the neighborhood. The row, which is composed of two seven-unit buildings, is architecturally significant as a fine example of eclectic design, featuring decorative shingle sheathing and two-story bow windows.


The Emerson Place row remains as one of the most intact examples of its type and period; it illustrates a distinctive architectural response to the issue of designing standardized urban housing and recalls an important aspect in the late nineteenth century residential growth and development of the Masten neighborhood.”



To see more current photos of the row houses on
Emerson Place and additional photos from 1985 National Register nomination, check
out the photos on Flickr here.

RH-1881
RH-1885
RH-1887
RH-1908
1985 National Register nomination photo

About the author  ⁄ Mike Puma

Writing for Buffalo Rising since 2009 covering development news, historic preservation, and Buffalo history. Works professionally in historic preservation.

18 comments
MrGreenJeans
MrGreenJeans

Small, dark, and fire-traps. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to live in a wooden row house. These things stand today only because of luck.

I've lived in a row house in Brooklyn, where I had 24 inches of brick between my place & the next, and neither sound nor fire could penetrate. Aerial photos show that the Buffalo units in question don't even have brick fire-walls between the units.

Pegger
Pegger

Someone did a very nice job rehabbing the row houses pictured in your link. That third floor must really make a difference in making them more liveable. As much as I admire what these row houses represent. But, after looking at all the elevations, These don't appear to be worthy of rehab and becoming habitable.

Certainly, I am no expert nor do I have any idea of the square footage in each unit. But I think, IMHO, that they must be very small and dark. I went by there a few years ago and if I recall correctly, they face north. I may have that wrong. Regardless of the orientation, the interior units appear to not have too much sun. Yes, that is completely inferential.

I couldn't handle that situation personally. But there must be special people who would love to live in these unique structures. Thanks for including the link.

brownteeth
brownteeth

Yes please email me at 24whitneyplace@gmail.com. I put my offer in the Tuesday after it was listed. I got it for $40k.

Mike Puma
Mike Puma

UGH you're the one who bought that gem! Well at least it's in good hands. I must have called the realtor about it right after you had your offer accepted. Do you need my email?

brownteeth
brownteeth

They are doing a decent job on the exteriors of those. I'm not sure what they're doing inside but hopefully they salvage the woodwork for others to use.

For an excellent example of preserving the exterior but really modifying the interior to be modern is on this season of "This Old House." You can stream the episodes on PBS.org for free. The house they're doing is in Cambridge, Ma in a historic preservation district and the quality is impeccable. The interiors are Scandenavian modern styled with state-of-the-art mechanicals and infrastructure. The exterior is being meticulously restored.

brownteeth
brownteeth

Thanks! I agree there are some real gems still in tact and in excellent care, especially the block where I'm buying. I know I'll never get Elmwood or even West Side prices for rent or sale but my plan is to live there and take advantage of the character and amenities that this house has at a fraction of the cost. The best part is my current home on Whitney place will now be generating over $2k/mnth in rent for both units as of the new year.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

I understand that the contractors working on the rehabs (at $300k a house) on Northampton are stripping all the word work and glass, putting up vinyl siding, etc. Well, at least the houses will still be standing.

The rows houses are a beaut.

paulsobo
paulsobo

There is nothing preventing this from being built today

ivan putski jr
ivan putski jr

Huntington ave in N.Buff has a row too....kind of look out of place in that block but they're interesting.........they probably stopped building these things on the East Side because they're a huge fire hazard.....should have followed Toronto's lead and legislate only brick be used instead

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Great to see the interest in this long under appreciated neighborhood. The quality of construction in the Ellicott, Masten, Michigan corridor rivals some of the best of the Elmwood Village. Both neighborhoods were built about the same time and were equally prosperous. This particular area is relatively stable and intact and deserves attention, I applaud your effort.

brownteeth
brownteeth

I drove by these a few weeks ago for the first time. They are beautiful and very unique to Buffalo in my opinion. I am closing on a house on Ellicott near Northhampton a few blocks west of these this week and venturing into the East side.

Wish me luck! I plan on documenting my newest rehab venture so perhaps I'll post some stories/photos on the web if anyone's interested in following my journey?

hamp
hamp

Beautiful houses. And beautiful pictures.

Black Rock Lifer
Black Rock Lifer

Rowhouses were quite common in the old eastern seaboard cities but never really developed here in Buffalo. Up until the late 1970's there were still a few scattered examples of brick double rowhouses built in the Greek Revival style. One stood on Ash St near Sycamore, one was on Whitney Place near Virginia, and there were a few on Swan St near Cedar. A lone example survives today on Swan but is obscured by modern alterations. The city's best example was a circa 1840 three bay brick rowhouse on Eagle between Elm and Michigan. The building was three stories with a raised first floor accessed by separate cast iron stairways. The corner unit housed a seedy bar in the basement level while the rest of the complex served as a rooming house. The building was remarkably intact including exterior and interior details but was demolished around 1978.

dave majewski
dave majewski

There is a small set - perhaps 4-6... on Sumner Place near Walden on the East Side where I grew up. They have not been cared for very well through the years but they still stand. I had friends I grew up with that lived in every one of these and never realized through the years the historic significance of them. I remember that they all share one big back yard with no privacy.

I recall one evening when a bunch of teens hiding beers in the basement, and parents came home, then we all tried to run out the basement door at one time and the whole limestone cobble wall came tumbling down! It was repaired in a few days by the dad who was a mason. We had to pay a few $ out of pocket - forced by parents! Paper route $.

In retrospect, these apartments were incredibly unique, if you had the chance to be in one that was cared for. I met my wife - now of 32 years - in one of these when we were 13.

There is also a set of about 6 of them on Brinkman St - the net block over. Not sure if they are still there. THanks for this post!

grad94
grad94

beautiful. could be a great family compound or co-op house like the one at elmwood & north.

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