Then and Now: WTF is progress anyway?

I had not planned on writing anything for BRO today but then I came across the images shown here and then I read an interesting interview with property developer Nick Sinatra in this month’s Buffalo Spree.  He is a repat who has moved back to town with a bang, scooping up dozens of undervalued historic properties and renovating them back to their productive prime.  The magazine asked him if he was a preservationist.  It would seem obvious that he is since he has focused his business on restoring buildings, many of which were in distressed condition.  Oddly, he answered that he was not a preservationist.  He stated:
 “I would say that I am not because I find some of them to be too radical – for example, the movement to stop demolition of the Trico Building. That would be for the benefit of the community, I believe: some people stand in the way of progress.” 
I was disappointed to hear this coming from one of the potentially bright new lights who are finally becoming common in Buffalo these days. With the long stream of recent preservation successes in Buffalo the concept that preservationists are obstructing progress should be so throughly debunked by now as to be laughable.  Its like when Mosses parts the sea and the Egyptians still don’t believe he was sent by God to lead the Jews. So they ride right into the water as it crashes down on them – and that was after snakes and plague! To call preservationists radical is odd in light of the fact that more than 2/3 of downtown has been demolished over the last 50 years – that is radical. 100% of the neighborhoods east and west of downtown have been removed – that is radical. In many cases even the roads have been removed leaving absolutely no trace of the city that was once there. No memory of the city left at all. Removing whole neighborhoods is what is radical if you ask me.
The Trico Building on Ellicott Street Downtown, known as Plant No.1, that he mentions is the same kind of building that has been renovated with tremendous success in several places in the city.  In the Larkin neighborhood, restored warehouses are seeding the resurgence of a long dead neighborhood.  Another Trico building on Main Street in North Buffalo has been in productive use for decades since its original use as a factory ended.  That building was kept viable with ordinary investment and maintenance. In contrast Trico Plant 1 has sat rotting in the hands of a government agency for years. Allowing valuable buildings to rot should be considered radical and obstructionist. Yet, we are told with a straight face that it is the preservationists who obstruct progress in Buffalo and people believe it.  In Lackawanna, the mayor calls demolition for demolition’s sake progress and he is taken seriously! Trico sits in a neighborhood full of Lackawanna style progress. It faces vast acres of dead parking lots that drain life from the city’s streets.  Logic would say fill up those parking lots and renovate this great factory building.  Logic unfortunately = obstruction to too many people. The idea that the only place BNMC can expand is to tear down a historic building should elicit guffaws and LOLs.  
That brings me to these images showing the east side of Pearl Street between Seneca and Swan. They are from the Buffalo History Gazette which continues to post a spectacular array of historic images on line.  These pictures are like our conscience. They are evidence of our stupidity and we should take note when one of these “radical” preservationists tries to warn us of our impending irreversible mistakes.  In truth it is not the preservationists who are radicals standing in the way of progress. Progress is blocked by acceptance of the status quo, acceptance of the continual brutalization and destruction of the city’s urban environment. 
The oldest of these images shows a magnificent big old building that, judging buy the cars, was likely in its last few years.  It was a big loss when this building was demolished but the multi level parking garage that replaced it was actually quite charming.  The strips of glassy openings against the bright glazed terra cotta cladding were probably the image of the modernism and progress at the time of this photo.  Although this building foretold of the onslaught that cars were about to bring onto the city it was not a bad way to store the machines that were quickly growing in number.  Today we see this building, still in existence but, ravaged by thoughtless changes.  All the windows are filled with concrete block with just the most minimal opening necessary for ventilation. Its brutal, making the street feel cold and dangerous. It is a disgrace that someone would think that this was a good thing to do.  I can’t imagine how someone could have so little pride in their property and so much disrespect for the people of the city.  Practically this whole block has been wrecked by stupid renovations and massive demolitions.  It was once packed with spectacular architecture – and I really mean spectacular.


So, when preservationists suggest that perhaps you could expand your operation on the parking lot across the street instead of tearing down the historic building, they are not the radical obstructionists.  The radical obstructionists are the people who do thoughtless and ignorant things like this to your city
537508_423856244349819_455726892_n.jpg
Thumbnail image for 191866_437866186282158_1702543921_o.jpg
garage now.jpg
>

About the author  ⁄ david steele

88 comments
4theluvofblo
4theluvofblo

Having lived in Buffalo all my life and recently moved away the lack of and appreciation of preservation barely exists in Buffalo. I live in a city that is much older than Buffalo and it is amazing to see the support of preservation. Just like Buffalo there are many run down areas in my new city, but it seems there is certain wide-spread understanding and support when it comes to preservation. Hopefully Buffalo will wake up and realize that its future is its past.

Billo
Billo

Has he actually said that EVERYTHING needs to be torn down?

Billo
Billo

I understand your frustration, but this is not a problem unique to Buffalo. There have been many, many, wonderful historic buildings torn down all over the country over the years, particularly in NYC. Have you been through the eyesore that is currently Penn Station lately? That is just one example. Grand Central Station, a historic landmark, was very close to being torn down, and that action was being taken in a supposedly world class city. You could argue that most cities are ineptly run, at times.

Mr Sinatra is not saying, as I interpret it, that he thinks the Trico building SHOULD be torn down, only that he disagrees with the attempts to stop its development into something else. You and Steel obviously don't share this opinion, but can you at least admit that it's OK for not everyone thinks this building is worth saving in it's current form? Some people may actually not like it all that much and that is a valid opinion to have.

I get the nostalgia for the past and how great it would be if so many mistakes hadn't been made over decades. But that is not a reason to deem every old building one of historical significance that must be preserved. You have to pick your battles. The Medical campus is actually doing good things for the city of Buffalo.

pfk67
pfk67

You know a few sad thoughts cross my mind.

1. I really have to pinch myself to think of the Bethlehem Steel bldg being gone. It's almost to stupid to imagine.

2. I am 45 and I can tell you the Buffalo I grew up in had already torn down many great great buildings. I of course didn't know because I was too young. But now I see these buildings in pictures and I .... shake my head. Imagine if these buildings still existed? How great would it be to see them and see them preserved.

3. Lastly, for the last ....70 yrs we have had the worst leaders in the country and most of them were democrats. It reminds me of something my Mom used to tell me growing up. "If you keep doing the same things, you're going to get the same results." How much can we all take before we finally say enough and elect someone who isn't the candidate we like, but the candidate who will make some smart decisions that are good for the city. The longer this continues, the more ridiculous we appear to the rest of the country.

sonyactivision
sonyactivision

When it was originally built, I doubt anyone involved considered it to be anything special. Of course any structure built in those days required certain "flourishes" in keeping with the post-Victorian zeitgeist. To see all the handwringing here over this now sadly deflowered and humble edifice seems pointless. No doubt in time someone will see the value in restoring as much of the facade as possible regardless of the use inside but for now, it seems no different than any number of such buildings tucked away in CBDs across America.

whatever
whatever

True, but there is a reasonable different claim than this -

steel>"There can be no reasonable claim in Buffalo that there is not enough empty land to build on so the historic building needs to go."

For some old (arguably 'historic') buildings, there aren't people willing to buy and own them in a way that safely maintains them or rehabs, etc.

AM&A's for instance. That's been offered for sale many times. Even Rocco decided against buying it.

Erie Freight House is another. It was for sale, or else Savarino wouldn't have been able to buy it with intent to build something else there. Why didn't anyone (person or group) buy it at that time who wanted to save it or at least mothball it?

H-O grain elevators were for sale, or else Senecas wouldn't have been able to buy them.

Owners of that church in North Buff were showing developers (Frizlen) through it in recent years, so apparently there were open to selling if anybody wanted it.

And so on...

STEEL
STEEL

You have not seen relentless yet Lady. The beauty of BRO versus other media is that I can keep writing and writing and writing on this subject as long as I want and if anyone is out there reading hopefully they start talking about this important subject and hopefully they start realizing that just because someone owns property they are not some kind of prince who can abuse his subjects. People in Buffalo have been way to accepting of owners who are wrecking the city. More parking lots, trees growing from roofs, concrete block windows should not be acceptable to the people of Buffalo. The city belongs to everyone. If you are an owner of a property your first obligation is to make the city better not worse.

ScreenPass
ScreenPass

You guys should take it outside. Maybe wait at the airport for him to arrive.

DietSoda
DietSoda

Ouch. Not sure I deserved that punch.

Travelrrr
Travelrrr

How small minded of you, Lady--one doesn't have to live in Buffalo in order to "contribute". Steele's published a book on Buffalo's architecture, raised a lot of awareness via his articles, been very involved with grassroots preservation initiatives.

Crisa
Crisa

A little "WTF" goes a long way! And this comment could well cause Steele's post to go past #74!

I check the articles here every so often. Sometimes there are updates on interesting past posts, but mostly not. Seems if it weren't for steel's stuff this Website would have no comments at all. Seems this site should be retitled Steele's Views...

ladyinwhite
ladyinwhite

At least Sinatra is here in Buffao actually putting his money were his mouth is unlike you Steele. Other than these relentless posts what have you actually done? Do you own and renovate property, go to meetings with the common council or preservation board? Easy for you to condemn people or actions from afar. I would have far more respect for you if you were actually here fighting the fight. Why are you not a repat and continue to evade that question?

Superman3d
Superman3d

from Paulsobo "Some of the new cities in the US and the world have nothing to restore. They are competing to create the legacy of their golden age because they have NOTHING."

What city in the US doesn't have a structure worth saving?

Old First Ward
Old First Ward

Exactly. I attended that Ohio St. meeting and had some good conversations with people there but the story is already on page 2 of the archives. Any comments would be buried in an essentially dead story on this site. Lots of good stories making the news out there and we are debating chocolate and red dresses. Is anyone listening? Contact me I have answers.

Old First Ward
Old First Ward

That is a fantastic statement. Very well articulated.

JimmyJohn
JimmyJohn

WTF - So now I'm a obstructionist which is your definition of a preservationist because I think the color doesn't fit the style or period of the building. I'm sure a lot of thought went into the color choice but just for the wrong reasons. Do you like the aqua BLUE eisenbart?

STEEL
STEEL

There was no criticism of Sinatra other than to ask him to rethink what preservation is and to suggest the real radical obstructionists are the buy and hold demo by neglect owners. Sinatra is a big boy. I think he can handle that.

BuffaloQPublic
BuffaloQPublic

paulsabo - re: "Thats a lot of pages ripped right out of the book of our hometown."

An impactful statement to remember.

Eisenbart
Eisenbart

Cinder block windows holding you back Steele? Maybe Sinatra can do us all a favor and buy this building and remove the cinder blocks so you can finally move back to Buffalo and stop being the largest hypocrite on the face of the planet.

You know, I agree with a lot of the points you make but you need to kick it back a notch. You wrote a long winded underhanded post that was uncalled for simply because he doesn't agree with you.

Old First Ward
Old First Ward

Sometimes I have this dream where I am wandering around the Buffalo streets, mainly downtown, and it is mostly deserted with old buildings. Lots of the 3 to 4 story type very densely situated. Sort of like the Birds Eye view from 1880. I know the streets and what should be on them but these buildings I don't recognize. I wander through streets looking for something familiar. But it is an amazing sight and I'm aware of my surroundings. If I happen to enter one it is usually abandoned and falling apart. Then after a while I wake up. Maybe I've been staring at old maps and pictures too much.

LouisTully
LouisTully

Those are reasonable comments. The perception I reference is mostly from comments on here or BuffNews. I'll try and dig up some examples when it's not 9 o'clock on a Friday. Maybe after the bar :)

whatever
whatever

LT - if no examples, not even one, then on what is your perception based that "a lot of times it seems the progress crowd are the same people having Tea Parties and sharing ideologies of people 200 years ago"?

If the 'lot of times' doesn't mean a lot of real instances of an overlap, then it just means a lot of times you've thought it up as a hypothetical?

FWIW, the main advocate of demolishing Old North (Bethlehem building) - the official who did describe in the media that demo as "progressive" and more than anyone made it happen when it did, Mayor Szymanski - seems the opposite of a tea party supporter.

He's a mainstream member of the political party who so often criticizes the tea party movement. He's an enthusiastic endorser of Barack Obama, and supporter of fellow Lackawanna native Mark Poloncarz. He's also spoken very favorably of Cuomo.

Nice counterexample to your example-free-so-far perceived overlap.

I doubt any NYS officials involved with SUNY, UB, or BNMC who control fate of the Trico are involved with anything tea partyish either. I'd guess quite the opposite there too.

And probably I shouldn't even ask what's so bad about favoring any ideologies in the Bill of Rights even though it's over 200 years old.

benfranklin
benfranklin

My improving an abandoned Allentown building 20 years ago, when no one else was buying in the area, and now renting nice apartments in it... I'd say that improves Buffalo a million times more than your posts from far off.

You may be a great architect, but your understanding of the real world, at least here in Buffalo, is lacking.

I'm sure you've heard a fool and his money are soon parted. An investor that rehab's an old building that has no hope to get his money back is neither an investor, or a preservationist, just a fool.

STEEL
STEEL

Based on your comment I see that you are fine with concrete block windows. That is a touch that should help attract a lot of new people to from Chicago.

Eisenbart
Eisenbart

And yet, the world continues to turn. The buildings future is looking up for once, lets pick nits over paint color. I am fairly certain you are the exact person he is talking about and why he doesn't want to associate himself to the word preservationist. Can't blame him.

Eisenbart
Eisenbart

Well well... we have Sinatra who was in Chicago and came back to Buffalo to invest in buildings and Steele who is in Chicago who writes about investing in buildings in Buffalo. Kinda funny right? It must drive Steele mad that Sinatra has done more for Buffalo in such a short period of time than all the years of shouting from the rooftops about Buffalo from the hilltops of Chicago. Talk is cheap isn't it? For a second there I thought Sinatra owned the building and was planning on tearing it down. But now I see I was flashed pretty pictures of pretty buildings from 100 years ago in an attempt to polarize the issue of preservation. Lame.

STEEL
STEEL

I call BS on your statement. You clearly are blind , willfully or not to what is going on in the preservation movement. I also find it sad that so many like you do what it takes only for yourself with no thought of improving the community you live in. Is that really what makes Buffalo run? Maximizing self benefit at the expense of everyone else?

benfranklin
benfranklin

I agree. He's a business person. If the return's greatest rehabbing, that's what he'll do.

This article seems a bit bizarre to me. No investor is a preservationist. I've rehabbed properties, but I'm not a preservationist. If someone wants to buy one of my 'historic' properties, I'd sell it, and leave it up to them what to do with it.

A preservationist is a person on the sidelines, that may be able to increase the value of a property as a rehab, by increasing demand by promoting older structures.

That doesn't put me in the 'tear it all down crowd'. It puts me in the 'I need to do what maximizes value'.

pampiniform
pampiniform

> But like many people he won't consider preservation by default.

I think he's going to be motivated to do whatever makes financial sense by default. If it happens to be preservation, so much the better. If not, then there you have it.

LouisTully
LouisTully

Well, you would readily recognize nonsense so I'll respect your wisdom there.

No, no examples. Just my perception that there are people who stand in support of progress - destroy Old North for progress, destroy Trico for progress, et al. - and there are people who want to return to the days of ol'. Seems like an overlap.

STEEL
STEEL

What does this statement mean?

STEEL
STEEL

Actually I never said that anything was going where the church was torn down. So, what is your point?

Up and coming
Up and coming

Do you have any examples of the "progress crowd" sitting around having Tea Parties, or are you just spouting off nonsense......because it's probably the latter.

LouisTully
LouisTully

Maybe it's an erroneous perception, but a lot of times it seems the progress crowd are the same people having Tea Parties and sharing ideologies of people 200 years ago like fear of a tyrannical government and the need to own a weapon. So progress with destroying buildings, just not progress socially. They should bring back wigs, knickers, and men wearing tights.

Up and coming
Up and coming

The truth never gets old. Also, being an architect provides you the great ability to work virtually, which David obviously isn't familiar with.

STEEL
STEEL

The east side is parking lots as far as you can see and it should take no more time to renovate a building that it takes to tear it down and build something on part of its land. I don't get your point on that. There can be no reasonable claim in Buffalo that there is not enough empty land to build on so the historic building needs to go. More that 60% of Downtown has already been removed for parking lots and mostly bad new buildings. When will you be happy? When we remove 90%?

paulsobo
paulsobo

Buffalo is 60% demolished. There is no shortage of land in the urban core or in the surrounding neighborhoods.

There is no shortage in Erie County or Western NY for that matter.

Now if your arguing for a fund for new buildings, then they exist in the millions of tax breaks and subsidies.

Probably less than 1% of those tax breaks go to restore historic buildings. There is no fund at all to reconstruct iconic buildings demolished.

DietSoda
DietSoda

Wouldn't take 10 years to save--but already we're looking at how many years of discussion/debate? And then how many years would it take to secure investment? And then how many years to secure approved plans by City? Then how much time to build? It adds up!

Which side of the street am I looking at in order to evidence how silly I sound? Can't be sure by your comment.

LouisTully
LouisTully

"Is cool though you're in Chicago"

Getting kinda old. I hope you never have to follow your career away from your hometown. On the other hand...

Up and coming
Up and coming

So the reason why the church and the admin building was torn down was because there's something new going up and the developer said that something new can't go up until they come down? Is cool though you're in Chicago, I don't expect you to know what's going on.

davvid
davvid

More resistance...You can choose to reject everything I'm saying but don't be surprised when pro-preservation people think preservationists are too radical.

I didn't say you are against new/modern design. I'm just saying that you choose to use this forum to focus on preservation or harp about the loss of density. That has become your thing and by association Buffalo Rising's thing. Buffalo doesn't really have a culture of seeking out and testing new architectural solutions or criticizing and appreciating the best of what goes on around the world. There is no "design media" in Buffalo that is promoting that discussion as intensely as you promote preservation and new urbanism.

STEEL
STEEL

What are you talking about - yes they are.

Up and coming
Up and coming

"no one should accept the claim that we cannot have this or that fabulous new building unless something else goes to the landfill first, i.e. trico, lackawanna steel, church on colvin, etc."

I don't think anyone is?

Up and coming
Up and coming

Hummmm how does that saying going again? Some about a pot and a kettle?

STEEL
STEEL

So you are not open to outside criticism? Because why?

ScreenPass
ScreenPass

I'm not blaming anyone. I am simply applauding people who are active on the ground doing, their voice matters. I believe it is more useful than condemning a community's choice from afar.

If you have a problem with that, than good.

JSmith
JSmith

Ugly as that Pearl Street parking ramp is, it's one of the only (if not THE only) mixed-use parking ramps in Buffalo, with active retail on the ground floor facing the street.

JimmyJohn
JimmyJohn

Article is dead on epically with Sinatra. Anyone that would paint an historic building (FENTON) with the color of their company logo is more interested in self promotion and ego than anything. That blue looks awful on that building

© 2014 Hyperlocal Media. All Rights Reserved.