Genesee Gateway Preservation District Expansion Proposed


Plans are in the works to expand a downtown preservation district. Tomorrow the Buffalo Preservation Board will consider the northward expansion of the Genesee Gateway Historic District to include sixteen parcels, fourteen primary buildings, one secondary building, one vacant lot, and one parking lot along Genesee, Ellicott and Oak streets east of the Theater District. They include the properties that Legacy Development and Withrow South Capital Corp. purchased from Bruce Adler in May for $2.7 million. The documentation to justify the expansion was prepared by Kerry Traynor’s kta preservation specialists.

According to Traynor, “the commercial function of most of these buildings, typically as grocery stores or furniture stores, directly relates to the significance of the existing district as a primary commercial corridor during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The architecture of each of these buildings is in keeping with the preexisting district, as all convey the typical forms of nineteenth and early-twentieth-century commercial architecture. All of the buildings in the proposed district expansion are directly related in history, function, and design to the overwhelmingly commercial character of the Genesee Gateway Historic District.”

The local Genesee Gateway Historic District was certified for tax purposes by the National Park Service in 2010. The certified district includes a total of nine buildings on the south side of Genesee Street between Ellicott and North Oak Streets.

From the analysis by kta:

The Genesee Gateway Historic District Expansion is clearly eligible for local landmarking as provided in Section 337 of the Buffalo City Charter 37-14 Criteria for Designation, under Criteria 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, and 9.The Genesee Gateway Historic District Expansion is significant for its architecture as a largely intact collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century commercial and mixed-use buildings that chronicle the growth of commercial activity in the Washington Market

Criteria 1: They have character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the City, State, or Nation.

The Genesee Gateway Historic District is significant for its associations with the history of commercial development in the City of Buffalo. This area was historically associated with the wholesale grocery business which grew up around the Washington Street Market, formerly located immediately adjacent to the east of the district expansion. The expanded district buildings served as commercial destinations for groceries, meat products, furniture, and other household goods. The stories embodied in the buildings in this district expansion represent examples of the ‘American Dream.’ Throughout the history of this district, German immigrants and their descendants established businesses, gained financial success and social capital, and contributed to a thriving commercial area. These buildings have sufficient architectural integrity to convey a historic understanding of their original functions today.

Criteria 3: They exemplify the historic, aesthetic, architectural, archaeological, educational, economic, or cultural heritage of the City, State, or Nation.

Many of the buildings in the district date to the mid-nineteenth through early twentieth centuries and exemplify their respective architectural styles. Each of these buildings was integral to the architectural history and economic character of the area, similar in function and design to the buildings already contributing to the district.

Criteria 4: It is identified with a person or persons who significantly contributed to the development of the City, state, or nation.

Several prominent members of -American community owned businesses and/or resided in the expanded district. Perhaps the most prominent among them was George Urban Sr. and George Urban Jr.., a father and son who built one of the most successful grain milling businesses in Buffalo. George Urban Jr. was also very active in city politics and organizations, serving as First Vice President of both the Buffalo General Electric Company and Cataract Power and Conduit Company, Director of the Bank of Buffalo, Director of the Buffalo German Insurance Company, and chairman of the Erie County Republican General Committee. With a large 5-story mill located in the district on North Oak Street, the Urban family significantly contributed to the district and the development of the City of Buffalo as well.

Other prominent business owners in the district included: John H. Kamman, owner of a large chain of meatpacking stores; Gerard Lang, who had a butcher shop to supplement his brewery business; George Fisher, who had a prominent Flour and Feed Store as well as lumber business; John G. Seeger, owner of a large furniture business; and Louis Hagmeier, who ran a grocery store and saloon in the district during the Civil War. Evidenced in these examples, the district was a neighborhood where many business owners rose to prominence in the city’s economic and political sectors.

Criteria 5: They embody the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural style valuable for the study of a period, type, method, of construction, or use of indigenous materials.

The Genesee Gateway Historic District Expansion is significant for its architecture as a largely intact collection of nineteenth and twentieth-century commercial and mixed-use buildings that chronicle the growth of commercial activity in the Washington Market area. The thirteen contributing primary buildings located within the boundaries of the expanded district are excellent examples of their respective architectural styles and present a substantially intact streetscape along Genesee, Ellicott, and North Oak Streets.

The styles in the district expansion include, but are not limited to Italianate, Nineteenth-Century Commercial Block, and Twentieth-Century Block Styles. While this type of streetscape would have been common in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, extensive demolitions due to Urban Renewal and Expressway construction programs led to the loss of architectural fabric in the vicinity during the 1960s and 1970s. Today, this expanded district presents a rare surviving and largely intact block of commercial buildings spanning a century of design and commercial activity.

Criteria 7: It embodies elements of design, detailing, materials, or craftsmanship that render it architecturally significant.

The Genesee Gateway Historic District Expansion has a variety of styles that manifest themselves in high quality details in windows, moldings, roofing, brickwork, and woodworking throughout the district. All of the contributing buildings in the expanded district retain sufficient integrity of location, design, materials and workmanship to convey historic understanding of the area’s significance.

Criteria 9: It is a unique location or contains singular physical characteristics that make it an established or familiar visual feature within the City.

The Genesee Gateway Historic District Expansion emerged as a primary commercial hub of downtown Buffalo in relation to the Washington Market. The group of commercial buildings in the district was a destination for shoppers for over 100 years. Aside from the Washington Market itself (demolished 1965), the adjacent buildings in the expanded district were familiar sites for anyone who bought groceries and shopped in downtown Buffalo. The towering height of the 5-story George Urban Mill building at 324 North Oak Street was recognizable from a substantial distance, as a marker of the Washington Market area, expanded district, and its surroundings. Historic images and postcards illustrate the towering presence of the 5-story mill building and the commercial activity in the buildings in the district, with the Urban Mill recognizable even from the Washington Market one block away.

Building Specifics

On the north side of Genesee Street between Ellicott Street and North Oak Street, the district expansion includes five buildings on seven parcels. The four-story brick commercial building at 110 Genesee Street was constructed for George Fisher in 1863 and is closely aligned with the history of the district as a commercial area comprised mainly of German-run businesses. The building is three bays wide with a ground floor storefront and original 2-over-2 double-hung wood sash windows on the upper floors, a wood crowning cornice with paired brackets and dentils, showing a combination of the Greek Revival and early Italianate styles.

The adjacent building at 112 Genesee Street was constructed for Fisher at the same time. The four-story, four-bay, brick commercial building features a ground-floor storefront with cast iron pilasters, straight-headed 1-over-1 double-hung sash windows with stone lintels and sills, and dentils under the crowning cornice. The parcel at 118 Genesee Street is a parking lot.

The four-story commercial building at 122 Genesee Street was constructed in two parts and used as a furniture manufactory and store, reflecting the historic growth of furniture manufacturing in the district. The east portion of the building was constructed in ca. 1880, with cast-iron pilasters and recessed storefront entrances flanked by display windows, segmental-arched double-hung sash windows on the second and third floors, and round-arched fourth-floor windows. A corbel panel with dentils and brackets is located below the crowning cornice. The western half of the building was constructed as an expansion in 1902, with segmental-arched windows with corbeled sills and flanking piers with a corbeled base.

The one-story tan brick commercial building at 130 Genesee Street reflects the modernization of the district in the early twentieth century. Constructed in 1930 by architect and builder Jacob A. Gangnagel, the building features two recessed entrances with display windows flanking the curved corner storefront, with multi-vertical light transoms over the windows and entrances and a cast stone band above the first floor. Together, the four contributing commercial buildings on Genesee Street represent a diversity of styles that demonstrate the growth of the district from the mid-nineteenth century into the early twentieth century.

The one-story brick commercial building at 433 Ellicott Street is the youngest contributing building on the street, constructed in 1922 by the Civic Planning Company. The building is a good example of a small-scale commercial building built during the era of continued growth in the district during the early twentieth century, with two storefronts, each with a recessed center entrance and display window with leaded glass band in a vertical lozenge pattern. The parcel at 435 Ellicott Street is now a vacant lot, due to the emergency demolition of the previous ca. 1870 building there as a result of severe deterioration and roof collapse in December 2019.

The three-story brick building at 437 Ellicott Street was constructed ca. 1880 and is a good example of a late-nineteenth-century commercial building typical in the district. Serving originally as a saloon, the building features a first-floor storefront with transoms, rusticated stone lintels over the upper floor windows, and piers with rusticated stone bands and dentils rising to the cornice above.

The Italianate style three-story brick commercial building at 439 Ellicott Street similarly reflects the late nineteenth-century growth of the district, with details such as round-arched 4-over-4 sash windows with keystones, and three cast-iron pilasters with Ionic capitals flanking the entrance and display window.

Three buildings on this street are affiliated with the meatpacking and animal-related industries. The two-story, five-bay, brick building at 441 Ellicott Street is a good example of an early-twentieth-century commercial building, built in 1912 for John H. Kamman as a warehouse and cold storage facility for his extensive meatpacking business that supplied dozens of his local chain stores. The building features details such as stone banded piers, a stone cornice on the first floor, and a corbel panel below the metal crowning cornice with end corbels. The building was once connected to the rear of the former George Urban Flour Mill building on 324 North Oak Street, but this connection was demolished along with the connection portion of the former Mill building in the late twentieth century.

The building at 461 Ellicott Street is also affiliated with the meat industry, as it was occupied by the Gerhard Lang Met and Provisions Company from 1910 into the 1960s. Originally constructed ca. 1888 for the Abel & Bagley Agricultural Implements and Carriages store, the three-story red brick commercial building is a good example of the period, with decorative elements such as a cornice, spandrel, and cast-iron columns largely intact.

The three-story brick commercial building at 455 Ellicott Street was built as one of the first animal hospitals in New York State and continues to operate according to that function today. The building features Italianate details such as locally made Washington Iron Works cast iron pilasters, a recessed center entrance with transom light, an arcaded corbel panel, a stringcourse below the cornice with arcaded corbel panel, and brackets.

The district expansion also includes three buildings on the west side of North Oak Street. The building at 324 North Oak Street is historically affiliated with the George Urban Rolling Mill, which represented an advancement in rolling mill technology at the time it was built. While the rear, five-story portion of the building was demolished in the late nineteenth century, the portion that remains functions as a three-story commercial building The building is a good example of the adaptation of the Italianate style for commercial/industrial buildings. The first floor is divided into four bays by cast-iron columns with foliate caps and paneled faces, and the upper floors are divided into three bays by brick piers. Details such as segmental-arched windows, round-arched windows, and brick corbeling at the top of the primary elevation attest to the significance of the building and its appropriation of the Italianate style.

The building at 328 North Oak Street was constructed ca. 1860, serving as a grocery with residences above for several decades. The three-story, three-bay, brick building features cast-iron pilasters, entrances with transoms, and a projecting wood bay window on the second floor. Round-arched 1-over-1 double-hung sash windows with keystones are located on the upper floors. The building is a good example of the type of commercial and residential building that once was common in the area during the mid-nineteenth century.

The building at 334 North Oak Street was built in three major stages and later combined into a single tax parcel. The oldest portion is near the center of the parcel (historically 340-342 N Oak Street), with the three-story apartment building featuring a cornice with dentils, segmental-arched single light double-hung sashes with stone keystones and sills, and twin entrances under segmental arches with stone keystones. To the north is a two-story portion with twin garage doors on the first floor and three rectangular window openings, currently boarded, on the second floor. To the south is a single-story portion with a flat roof and late-twentieth-century storefront window. The single-story portion to the south is a non-contributing portion of this otherwise contributing building, as it was constructed after the period of significance in ca. 1975.

This parcel also contains the only secondary building in the district, which faces 459 Ellicott Street and is contributing. This building is a one-and-a-half-story brick gabled building with a garage door facing Ellicott Street to the west. It has two round-arched windows beneath the gable and an offset entry, setback substantially from the street.

All of the buildings in the proposed district expansion are directly related in history, function, and design to the overwhelmingly commercial character of the Genesee Gateway Historic District.

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