Then and Now: White Swan on Plymouth

Here is yet another glorious example of preservationists in action.  Often times the press likes to play up the drama of the one or two major battles to save historic buildings in the city, which can give the false impression that all progress in Buffalo is held hostage to lawsuits.  Unfortunately the press does not generally cover the dozens of building renovations like this one at 15 Plymouth in the Fargo/West Allentown neighborhood.  In fact, while many buildings certainly are saved (and some lost) after dramatic battles, the real story of preservation in Buffalo is the building by building, block by block preservation being accomplished by regular people saving buildings like this… under the radar everyday. 
The owner of this beautiful house has been meticulously restoring the building for several years.  Over the summer the house had an unveiling of sorts, when the old 1940′s style asphalt cladding was removed and Victorian details were replicated and reinstalled.  Its brilliant white paint and new red roof have created a stunning new presence on the street.  Back in 2000 the West Side Neighborhood Housing Services group purchase the house from the Villa family. The Villa family had owned the house since the 1920s. West Side Neighborhood Housing purchased the building with the intent of finding an owner occupant.  In stepped current owner Dawn Lauck.   Lauck knew she had to have the house as soon as she saw it.  Her brother, seen holding up a window cap detail that he crafted,  has been helping bring the house back to its original glory.  The house was never in very bad shape but had become faded over the years by some poor, but easily reversible, modifications.  The recent improvements are nothing short of stunning.
Neighborhood preservation activist Chris Brown provided me with this history on the house:

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“One of the last houses to be built on the first block of Plymouth Avenue on the east side during the 1870s was the house at 15 Plymouth Avenue constructed in 1879 by builder George H. Chadeayne (Buffalo Common Council, 1879, p. 273).  The house originally had a barn in the rear of the property.  When complete in 1879, the house was valued at about $4,000; but that price included the consideration of $750 for the unimproved 30 by 125 foot lot which Chadeayne had purchased from Charles Lamphier before the house was built.  The first owner of 15 Plymouth Avenue was Harriet C. Benson, who purchased it in the summer of 1879.  Benson apparently rented out the house because in 1880 Charles M. Graves, his wife Mary and their son Henry W. Graves lived in the home.  Graves was a superintendent with the Buffalo Grape Sugar Company Starch Works, owned by William Hamlin.  Kate Cassidy, a servant to the Graves’ family, also lived at 15 Plymouth Avenue.  Harriet Benson passed away by the spring of 1881 and in May of that year the home was sold to James J. & Caroline E. Rardon who moved into the home.  James was a marine inspector at 35 Central Wharf.”
By 1920, Buffalo’s west side was a solid Italian-American enclave and many of Plymouth Avenue’s residents were of Italian and Sicilian ancestry.  One family’s history on Plymouth Avenue is exemplary for many such families living in Buffalo.  The Villa family bought 15 Plymouth Avenue in 1920.  The home, which had been built in 1879, had a number of owners and residents by that time.  The Graves family lived in it until the early 1880s, and then it was owned by James Rardon’s family.  By 1888 the house was again sold and rented out for the next 20 years.  In 1888, the home was occupied by Jesse Willard Smith, an assistant cashier with the Bank of Attica and his family.  By the late 1890s, the house was rented to Berthold Block and his family, well-known wholesale jewelers in Buffalo.  Finally, the home was rented for many years to the Fish family until the Villas purchased it in 1920.”
Peter Villa, just a young boy when his parents bought the house, was encouraged to learn to be a cobbler from Carlo Campagna, an old-world Italian craftsman who lived around the corner at 289 Hudson Street and operated a shoe repair shop at 281 Hudson Street.  Peter became Carlo’s apprentice and eventually opened his own shoe repair business on Hudson Street at Tenth Street, within walking distance of the home.”
“As time went by, Peter married and started a family but never left 15 Plymouth Avenue.  After his parents passed away, Peter purchased the house from their estate.  Through the decades of the twentieth century, the home stayed in the family, changing hands from Peter to his wife and finally to his son Charles.  While an example of a house staying in the same family’s ownership for nearly 80 years seems unusual, similar stories of residents growing up and staying in the Plymouth Avenue neighborhood for decades is a story heard time and again.”
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^Click to enlarge
This part of the city is seeing real process as and is destined to be one of Buffalo’s premier neighborhoods after many years of struggle over the last few decades. 15 Plymouth may not  be a major masterpiece of architecture. Nevertheless, its beautiful details and graceful scale are so much more compelling when you think of all those lives passing through these walls.  Thanks to all the Dawn Lauks in the city who see the importance in saving treasures like this house for now and into the future. Preservationists, they DID build that. 
Images are by Chris Brown
The stained glass replacement window in the gable was crafted by Glass Roots Stained Glass Studio of Buffalo.
If you have a before and after image of your house (in the city) that you would like to share with us, please send to newell@buffalorising.com.

About the author  ⁄ david steele

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