Press Release: Willert Park Courts

Willert Park announced as One of the
11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the United States.

Buffalo, N.Y., May 30, 2019

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Buffalo Niagara are coming together to announce that Willert Park Courts has been named one of the United States 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Each year, the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places sheds light on important examples of our nation’s heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Over 300 places have been listed in its 32-year history, and in that time, fewer than 5 percent of listed sites have been lost.

Architect Frederick C. Backus created one of the first garden/courtyard housing projects in the nation and the only project in Buffalo to have a significant sculptural program.  An outstanding example of early Modern design recognized by the Museum of Modern Art, Buffalo’s Willert Park Courts were groundbreaking achievements in architecture, urban planning, and landscape architecture. The distinctive bas-relief sculptures depicting scenes of African American life and achievement were purportedly developed in cooperation with the first residents of the complex.

Perhaps even more important than the architectural significance is the cultural heritage represented at this site.  When social housing was first introduced to the United States under President Roosevelt, it was used as a tool to create and reinforce racially homogenous communities.  Locally, Willert Park Courts was designed and sited as a black-only housing project of 170 units, in contrast to the Commodore Perry and Lakeview projects, which were reserved entirely for white families and contained 1700 units between them.  The Buffalo Urban League and other prominent black Buffalonians were deeply involved in their creation, and they served as an incubator of Buffalo’s black middle class, nurturing a generation of our City’s most prominent citizens.

The site has been vacant and neglected for approximately 10 years.  The complex’s owner, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA), has previously announced plans to demolish the historic complex.  A 1942 addition on the site has already been demolished and replaced with townhomes.

“To lose these buildings would continue the destruction of Modern Architecture in Buffalo and obstruct our ability to tell our story as a community – a story that we are still in the midst of understanding” said Jessie Fisher, Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. “As Buffalo begins to stabilize, as population is added, especially to our downtown and adjacent East Side neighborhoods, how will we understand and honor those who have come before and created community?  How will we understand and recognize our complicated past, while working together to create a shared vision for our future?  Sites like this force us to think deeply about what stories we are telling about our City, and how we ensure that the New Buffalo has space for everyone.”

Professor Alfred Price (left), former resident of Willert Park Courts and PBN Executive Director Jessie Fisher (right) discuss development and the chance of possibility for Willert Park Courts.

“The thoughtful Modern architecture of Buffalo’s Willert Park Courts are testament to an earlier era of government-funded affordable housing,” said Katherine Malone-France, Interim Chief Preservation Officer at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Previously recognized by design experts at the Museum of Modern Art, Willert Park Courts were public housing that provided a sense of dignity and pride-of-place to its residents. By naming this site to the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, we hope to raise awareness of a key part of the African American community’s history in Buffalo and also spur interest in redeveloping Willert Park as much needed-affordable housing.”

Preservation Buffalo Niagara will continue to work with community partners to protect what is now nationally recognized as an endangered historic site, in hopes that the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority will re-visit their previous demolition plans and work to find a way to preserve this important piece of Buffalo’s past, bringing it back to life as a place that will once again nurture today’s families and tomorrow’s leaders.

For more information, please contact Tia Brown at 852-3300 or

Update: 238 Carlton

Update: 08/06/19

238 Carlton’s facelift continues! In the past week Carlton has received new rafters and while it’s charred roof once made an interesting frame for the bluest skies, it’s plain to see that this gem looks best covered up. For more sneak peeks of 238 Carlton’s metamorphosis look below.









Update: 07/31/19

And, so it begins! We have received the first pictures of 238 Carlton’s grand makeover, photos credited to eco_logic STUDIO. The roof demo began last week and it has been determined that the floor joists on the 2nd floor deck are charred. Renovation options are being discussed. You can see the first few pictures of 238 Carlton’s below.


African Heritage Food Co-Op and Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Team up to Save Historic Fruit Belt Building

On Friday, May 24th, the African Heritage Food Co-Op and Preservation Buffalo Niagara announced that they have teamed up to save 238 Carlton Street from an emergency demolition order and to bring it back to life as the permanent home of the African Heritage Food Co-Op.

238 Carlton Street parallels the development of the Fruit Belt. It was built circa 1876 by Peter Knapp at the height of the building boom in the neighborhood.  Mr. Knapp was then residing with his family. who had emigrated from Germany to Buffalo in 1834, around the corner at 200 Locust Street. He built the building as a grocery store and residence, and it continued to operate as a grocery store and deli for 93 years.  238 Carlton Street is a fine example of a subset of Italianate Style architecture which finds Italianate detailing added to the simple front-gabled rectangular box popularized by the Greek Revival Style.  While this style is popular here in Buffalo, it accounts for only about 10% of surviving examples of Italianate stylings nationwide.  238 Carlton Street is accented by its cast-iron storefront columns and other character defining features such as a wide overhanging eave, original full-arched 2:2 windows, and its original unique decorative-stepped frieze with fleur running trim.

The property became vacant in approximately 2000 and the previous owner, Borderland Advantage, purchased it in 2017 just after a fire damaged the rear portion of the building.  Despite repeated assurances that the building would be repaired, stabilization work never commenced and the building was scheduled for an emergency demolition by the City of Buffalo.  Preservation Buffalo Niagara and the Fruit-Belt McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force led a successful effort to landmark the building in 2018, and the African Heritage Food Co-Op to become interested in it as a future permanent home, but could not come to terms with the owners.  Finally, in April of this year, an anonymous community member stepped forward, purchased the building, and donated it to the African Heritage Food Co-Op.  PBN will provide initial funding to the AHFC to secure and stabilize the building, and the two entities will work together to fundraise for the remaining funds to complete the vision of bringing this community-owned and community-controlled grocery store to the Fruit Belt.

“This will be an opportunity for the residents to directly benefit economically from the Fruit Belt resurgence” said Alexander Wright, Founder and General Manager of the African Heritage Food Co-Op.  “We plan to hire residents within walking distance and hopefully partner with surrounding institutions to aid in the healthy eating of their constituents. We can not do this without the help of the community and allies.” 

“Preservation Buffalo Niagara commends the African Heritage Food Co-Op for its vision in not only preserving this building, but in preserving the culture and quality of life in the Fruit Belt” said Jessie Fisher, Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.  “We are so proud to stand with these dedicated community partners and to work alongside them on this project.”

The project will appear before the Preservation Board for approvals on May 30th, and stabilization work is expected to commence shortly thereafter.  The AHFC is actively fundraising for this effort.  To support the project and make the Co-Op a reality faster, you can donate through Facebook at AHFCBuffalo, call 716-573-1844, or email

For more information, please contact Tia Brown at 852-3300 or


– Jessie Fisher


Full Remarks: Johnnie Ryan Bottling Co.

Hello, I am Christiana Limniatis, Director of Preservation Services for Preservation Buffalo Niagara

I come to my position with PBN with over 12 years of Preservation Planning experience in both the in both non-profit advocacy and private consulting, as well as my coursework completed towards an MA in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University.

On behalf of PBN and our membership, I am here to ask you to vote YES to landmarking the former Johnnie Ryan Co. Bottling Plant.

As provided in Chapter 1335 Section 05 of the Niagara Falls city code, 822 Niagara Street successfully meets three of the five criteria, specifically that it:

  • Is associated with the life of an individual, or a group of people, or events significant in the national, state or local history
  • Embodies the distinctive characteristics of an architectural style, a period, or method of construction
  • Because of unique location or singular physical characteristic, represent an established and familiar visual feature of the neighborhood

822 Niagara Street successfully meets these 3 criteria not just through its cultural significance but also its architectural integrity.

Cultural Significance:

The building was built c.1946 for local soda company Johnnie Ryan Co. and served as its sales and manufacturing headquarters for over 30 years. This building is a lasting testament to Niagara Falls’ entrepreneurial and industrial history, providing a unique glimpse into the history and industry of post-WWII Niagara Falls.

Additionally, the founders of Johnnie Ryan Co., the Janik Family, were prominent members of the Niagara Falls community. Walter Janik was a former director of the Niagara Frontier Association of Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages, appointed to the Niagara Falls Advisory Board of Industrial and Convention Activities, and served as Postmaster of Niagara Falls.

Architectural Integrity:

The building is an excellent example of Art Moderne commercial architecture. While there are several examples of neighborhood commercial structures which exhibit some Art Moderne elements, there are only two, of what we would consider high-style examples of Art Moderne style in Niagara Falls, this building and the former Niagara Dairy Co-Op at 8450 Buffalo Avenue.

Art Moderne Style is closely rated to its sister Modernistic style of Art Deco. Together both styles were popular nationally from 1920s-1940s, with Art Deco developing first and then Art Moderne.

Art Moderne borrows many of the ornamental elements generally associated with Art Deco but combines them with the sleek and streamlined modernity of 1930s and 40s industrial designs. Art Moderne style buildings exhibit smooth wall surfaces, curved corners, a horizontal emphasis, and glass block windows or sections of walls. 822 Niagara Street express all of those character defining features.

I do not want to tip toe around the obvious, this building will be demolished unless you vote yes to this landmarking designation. The developer has previously stated that that the reason for the demolition is to lower his tax bill.

Voting No to this landmark designation lets every property owner in the city know that shrinking their tax liability is more important that retaining the built environment of Niagara Falls 

Voting No takes dollars away from Niagara Falls public schools

Voting No takes dollars away from Niagara Falls public works

Voting No takes dollars away from Niagara Falls parks

You should vote YES because this building successfully meets the criteria for designations specified in the city code

You should vote YES because adaptive reuses have brought over a BILLION dollars in economic development across WNY and there is no reason that Niagara Falls should be left out of this important economic development tool

You should vote YES because this is a culturally and architecturally significant resources that enhances and supports the history, beauty, and identity of Niagara Falls

Advocacy Alert: Johnnie Ryan Bottling Plant


On March 5, 2019, the Niagara Falls Historic Preservation Commission held a public hearing for the landmarking of 822 Niagara Street. The Commission will be accepting written statements until April 2nd. At that time they will vote whether or not to recommend the application to the NF City Council. The landmark application will then be on the agenda at the April 3rd City Council meeting, where the Council Members will vote whether or not to locally landmark the building.

To submit your written statement to the Preservation Commission you can:

  • Mail it to: NF Historic Preservation Commission
                        745 Main Street
                        PO BOX 69
                        Niagara Falls, New York 14302
  • Drop it off at City Hall in the City of Niagara Falls Planning Office

But don’t stop there! Let NF City Council know that you support the landmarking of 822 Niagara Street. Visit to use PBN’s advocacy platform to send an email to the NF City Council asking them to vote YES to landmarking the former Johnnie Ryan Co. Bottling Plant.

If you’ve gone this far, why not take it to the next level? Call 716-286-4301 and tell them:

I support the landmarking of 822 Niagara Street, the former Johnnie Ryan Co. Bottling Plant, and urge the City Council to vote YES to landmarking it at their April 3rd meeting. 


Wondering how you can stay up-to-date on this and other preservation advocacy issues? Then make sure to: