Creating a Broadway-Fillmore Historic District

In 2016, Preservation Buffalo Niagara was approached by the Historic East Side Neighborhood Initiative (HESNI) to explore preservation options for the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood. Together, we were able to secure funding through the Preservation League of New York State and Councilman David Franczyk to hire Preservation Studios to update a 2003 survey, and make recommendations for how to approach preservation in this important Buffalo neighborhood. After numerous stakeholder meetings and two community meetings held over the course of two years, the first recommendation from that study is ready to be implemented.
Participants in the planning process expressed two strong goals for this initiative: 1) That the district would help to slow demolitions in the neighborhood, and 2) that preservation efforts would open community members up for financial incentives to invest in their properties. The initial recommendation that is being implemented now is for a Certified Local Historic District in the area along and immediately east of the Broadway-Fillmore intersection. A Certified Local District is a locally designated historic district that is certified by the National Park Service allowing those homes and buildings in the district to be eligible for Historic Tax Credits even though they are not listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once formally accepted by the Buffalo Preservation Board and Common Council, the new local district will include a total of 247 buildings, including homes, religious, civic, commercial, and industrial structures (see map for boundaries).

Neighborhood History

This neighborhood’s rise and challenges very much mirror how Buffalo and much of the industrial Northeast and Midwest were developed, and later impacted by urban renewal and sprawl development. By creating this designation, the community hopes to highlight Broadway-Fillmore’s history as a catalyst for revitalization.
The buildings included in the district represent a variety of styles, types, and uses, many designed by prominent Buffalo architects. The district was named after the intersection of Broadway and Fillmore Avenue, which as its name suggests, is the heart of the neighborhood. Broadway (known as Batavia Street until 1877) was laid out in 1821, extended in 1848, and paved east of Fillmore by the 1870s. It was one of the earliest radials in Joseph Ellicott’s plan for Buffalo, connecting Buffalo to the City of Batavia and beyond. Fillmore Avenue was surveyed as a public highway around 1830 and was extended to Broadway in the late 1840s. It was eventually named after former President Millard Fillmore, who lived in Buffalo after his presidency. While much of the area around the proposed district has been heavily impacted by demolition, the proposed historic district itself remains relatively intact, providing a critical view of the development of commercial and residential architecture in East Buffalo.
That said, the historic district is threatened. It has experienced several decades of physical and environmental deterioration from disinvestment, which has led to increased vacancies and high demolition rates. Although many buildings have been lost, the remaining buildings for the most part, retain their historic architectural character, and combine to form a distinct sense of place, recalling a significant era in Buffalo’s history.
The Broadway-Fillmore Historic District has a significant social history tied with its residential and commercial development, representing the period of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Polish immigration on Buffalo’s East Side. The district is part of the area known as Polonia, a Buffalo enclave of what was one of the largest Polish communities in the United States.

Architectural Distinction

The majority of the architectural fabric is defined by detached, frame workers’ cottages consisting of one and two stories falling under the following categories: one-story residences mainly with telescoping additions that expand to the rear of the lot; two-story residences, similarly containing rear additions; two-story residences with no additions; and two-story doubles with separate flats on each level. The Worker’s Cottage is significant for its widespread popularity in American urban and semi-urban areas during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Earlier, more prominent homes are located mainly along Fillmore Avenue and are predominantly built in the Colonial Revival, Craftsman, American Four Square, and Queen Anne styles.
Commercial structures in the Broadway-Fillmore Historic District were largely architect designed. These commercial buildings consist primarily of early twentieth century commercial style; flat-roof, two-part blocks that vary between two to five stories. The early twentieth century commercial style emerged as a contrast to the more decorative Victorian-era styles of architecture popularized in the late nineteenth century. Defining characteristics of early twentieth century commercial architecture that can be found in the district are the use of patterned masonry wall surfaces, shaped parapets at the roofline, and large rectangular windows arranged in groups. A common feature is the “Chicago Window”, one large fixed piece of glass with two narrow, double-hung windows on either side for ventilation. A good example of this can be found at 239 Lombard Street in the Lederman Building. The early twentieth century commercial style is exemplified on Broadway where buildings are primarily two-part commercial blocks, varying from two to five stories. Other less common but significant twentieth century architecture utilized for Broadway-Fillmore’s commercial structures are the Neo-Classical styled Union Stockyards Bank at 949 Broadway, the Art Deco style of the former Lederman’s Furniture store at 239 Lombard Street, and the Art Moderne style department store at 950 Broadway.
Like the commercial buildings, religious and civic institutions followed the residential growth of the area, changing the scale and style of the neighborhood. These architect-designed structures are stylistically distinct in that many are monumental in scale. There are several religious institutions in the district, the most prominent being the Corpus Christi Church at 199 Clark Street, designed in the Romanesque style in 1909 with later additions of a school, rectory, and convent.
Notable architects also designed the schools, firehouses, and police stations needed by this burgeoning population. There are three such important structures in the district: PS 57 at 243 Sears Street, built in a simple Neo-Classical style in 1914; Hook & Ladder Company No. 11 at 636 Fillmore Avenue, designed with a gable-front; and Police Station No. 8 at 647 Fillmore Avenue, designed in the Classical Revival style in 1915.
Social and cultural centers are similarly impressive buildings that were an integral part of Polish-American life. The three most significant social and cultural centers in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood are the Renaissance Revival styled Dom Polski Building at 1081 Broadway (1905-1906); the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle at 612 Fillmore Avenue (1895), and the striking three-story Polish Union Hall at 761 Fillmore Avenue (1914).
As one of the leading manufacturing centers in the country, Buffalo’s industrial economy attracted and employed thousands of Polish immigrants in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. While most of these businesses were located outside of the Broadway-Fillmore Historic District, the A. Schreiber Brewing Company is an extant example of a manufacturing facility located in the actual neighborhood. Located on Fillmore Avenue, this two-story brick building at 662 Fillmore Avenue was built in the early 1900’s, was the largest Polish-American business in Buffalo, and was one of the most successful among a number of local breweries.

Next Steps

The proposed district went before the Preservation Board and the Common Council in March of 2018. We will keep our members apprised of its progress! The Preservation Studios report also gave several more recommendations regarding other sections of the community and individual buildings within the study area. Once this designation occurs, we will look forward to working on additional ways to protect the historic heritage of the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood.

Saving Our Sacred Sites

Religious architecture plays a vital role in urban communities by helping people express religious beliefs, celebrate art and architecture, and come together as a community. But as people and money sprawl out of traditional neighborhoods and attitudes towards religion shift, these community landmarks are increasingly vulnerable to deterioration and loss. In the City of Buffalo alone, over the last two years, no less than three National Register Eligible churches have been demolished.

There are many reasons why we are ultimately faced with the demolition of so many religious buildings. It’s common for buildings, when sold by the religious institution, to place restrictive covenants in the deed. This can make the buildings difficult to re-use, and so buildings may be left to languish for want of a new owner. Municipalities must hold owners accountable for keeping their property up to code and not allow the cycles of demolition by neglect to continue. Code enforcement should be using the full potential of the law to either get owners to fix the property, fix it themselves and then place the bill as a lien on the property, or work to get the property transferred to someone who can and wants to bring the property back to its full potential.

Another key aspect of why religious buildings often sit vacant for many years is because of limitations in the use of Historic Tax Credits (HTC). While HTCs are a key driver of Western New York’s current renaissance turning around countless vacant properties, they aren’t as encouraging to the rehab and reuse of religious buildings. HTC are guided by the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, which can be tricky to apply to places of worship, with their wide-open spaces, high ceilings, and other character defining features. There are, however examples across the state and country of sacred sites that were able to alter or modify the open space and still use HTC, but it takes a lot of planning and negotiating with SHPO and the National Parks Service.

So, what can be done? Here’s some ways that PBN is moving forward to stop the loss of religious architecture and encourage the revitalization of these historic structures.


Over the years there have been many different lists and inventories completed but today we find those lists out of date or they only included sites which were threatened with demolition at that moment. Starting this spring, PBN will be surveying our communities sacred spaces. Focusing on structures originally built as places of worship we will inventory their current use, condition, ownership status, and current landmarking status.

Proactive Outreach

With a current inventory, we can more effectively work with religious institutions, private owners, and municipalities to address issues before they become a problem. It’s easier to find a productive future for an underused building than a longtime vacant building with a pending demolition order.


Every year there are more examples of innovative rehabilitations which are able to marry preservation best standards and a property owner or developer’s project needs. These projects are not just happening here in New York, but across the country. PBN will be exploring and highlighting these projects so we can expand conversation from why we should preserve to how we can preserve. And then working to engage our design community to help show current and prospective owners the potential to be had with our religious architecture.

We can use a few good interns and volunteers to help us survey building and research case studies. If you’re interested in helping or have any questions, contact PBN’s Director of Preservation Services, Christiana Limniatis.

Out of the Shadows: The Legacy of Buffalo’s First African American Architect

Last November, the “Out of the Shadows” exhibit was on display at the Buffalo & Erie County Central Library. The traveling exhibit highlights the life and career of John Edmonston Brent (1889 -1962), Buffalo’s first African-American architect.

Despite devoting much of his architectural career to the Western New York region, Brent is a relatively unknown name. Part of this is due to the fact that many of his buildings have long been demolished, which has been an unfortunate consequence of Buffalo’s urban renewal policies of the mid-twentieth century. Among Brent’s lost buildings was the YMCA at 585 Michigan Avenue, built in 1928 as a cornerstone to what was then Buffalo’s African-American entertainment district (effectively dubbed, “Little Harlem”). The YMCA was demolished in 1977. Some of Brent’s surviving works can be found in familiar locations around the city, including the Entrance Court and Gateways to the Buffalo Zoo, Westbrook Luxury Apartments (675 Delaware Avenue), and Houghton Park (1675 Clinton Street).

As implied, “Out of the Shadows” aims to raise public awareness of John E. Brent’s contributions to Buffalo architectural legacy. His works are a testament to a time period when Buffalo’s rich heritage continued to attract seasoned architects from around the country. To overcome the challenge in traditional preservation methods, due to the fact many of Brent’s works are now gone, a series of local and national recommendations will be undertaken for continued research, including interviews with surviving Brent descendants residing in the city; promotion and preservation of his existing works; and historic designations, landmarking, and curriculum development in local public schools.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara has been a proud collaborator with local historian Christine Parker for this project, which has surveyed over 100 buildings and landscapes over the 50-year career of John E. Brent. Funding has been provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the First Niagara Foundation.

Historic Preservation: A Vital Economic Engine for Western New York

Protecting and utilizing our historic building stock is key to Western New York’s quality of life, has strong environmental benefits, and is critical to helping us build community through an accurate and shared sense of history. However, in recent years, investments in our historic buildings have emerged as something more: a cultural economic driver for the region.
Investments in our historic building stock have become a much-needed job creator and economic development engine, not just in the city of Buffalo, but throughout Western New York. Just the projects involving historic tax credits have created a whopping 6,000 new jobs, which generated $17 million in State and local tax receipts, and over $500 million in total investments through 2017.
Historic Tax Credits have become one of Western New York’s most important assets in recent times. In just the past decade alone, it has become an effective way to improve the local economy while encouraging private investment and promoting small business growth, all while keeping tax rates stable. Far from being a drain on public resources, Historic Tax Credits bring a high return on investment. For every dollar invested in a tax credit-supported rehabilitation project, $1.25 returns to the US Treasury.
Twenty-four states have customized historic rehabilitation with their own state-level programs. New York has both a commercial program that mirrors the federal program, as well as a homeowner program to help people invest in their historic houses.
The following are just a few examples of works in progress were abandoned or under-utilized structures in and around Western New York are set to be revived.

Northland Corridor

This 50-acre factory complex is bounded by Fillmore Avenue, East Delavan Avenue, Grider Street, and East Ferry Street. Many of the factories within this area have been dormant since the 1980s. The neighborhood where this complex is located was largely shaped by the Buffalo Belt Line, which covers a 15-mile radius around the city. This rail line was where factories (such as the Trico Plant #2 and Pierce-Arrow Factory Complex) took advantage of their product trading and shipping through the city’s railroad service.
Although some of the Northland factories are still active, they are largely underutilized, having changed ownership multiple times since the 1970’s. The 1.5 square mile neighborhood surrounding the complex was one of many across the city that was once reliant on the jobs provided by nearby factories.
The Northland Corridor project will be centered on 683 Northland, which is still used for minor storage space. Following a 2014 brownfield study, the building will be rehabilitated as a new business and training incubator, catering to job and career development for surrounding residents.
The plan is to generate long-term reinvestment in the surrounding neighborhood, addressing long-held concerns about unemployment on Buffalo’s East Side. According to David A. Stebbins, Vice President of the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation:
“This project will bring much needed investment and good paying jobs to an economically distressed area of our community.”

Richardson Complex

According to Monica Pellegrino Faix, former Executive Director of the Richardson Center Corporation:
“Simply put, reuse of the Richardson Olmsted Campus was made possible by the Historic Preservation Tax Credits. Federal Historic Tax Credits have been crucial to the success of our work to date to eliminate blight, rehabilitate these historic buildings, and to create construction jobs and long-terms jobs at this National Historic Landmark site in Buffalo.
“500 construction jobs, and 75 new long-term jobs are being created at the Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center which has just opened. Hotel Henry will attract visitors from across the globe who will be attracted to visit the College, the Albright Knox Art Gallery or just stay in a fine historic hotel, all to the benefit our entire region.
“And the best has yet to come as we move forward on the reuse of the rest of the buildings. However, we are finding during our discussions with potential developer partners who we need to finish our work that Phase 2 will probably be infeasible without the federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit program continuing. The continuation of the Historic Preservation Tax Credit program is crucial to the reuse of the remaining 300,000 square feet of this property and the strong economic development and community development impact that will result from this success.”


Buffalo Public School #77

Buffalo Public School #77 was built in 1927. Located in the North Prospect Hill neighborhood, it was designed by Ernest Crimi using bricked Neoclassical architecture.
The building was designed according to early 20th Century requirements for public schools in New York State. With a maximum enrollment of 1,100 students, School #77 was used as an English-speaking facility for Buffalo’s Italian immigrants and Italian Americans that were predominant in the North Prospect Hill neighborhood at the time. It was also used temporarily as a science lecture facility, to coincide with the opening of the Buffalo Museum of Science at then-Humboldt Park in 1929.
In 2007, School #77 was decommissioned. Since then, PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) Buffalo has sought to revive the building as a community-oriented facility. Plans include senior housing and a community performance theatre.
According to Jennifer Kaminsky of PUSH Buffalo, “PUSH and its development entity Buffalo Neighborhood Stabilization Company, Inc. led a multi-year planning process into the reuse of School 77. The community wanted affordable housing for seniors and space for youth programs, arts, and culture.”

Improving Access to the Benefits of Historic Preservation

It is clear that historic preservation is an important component of building healthy and vibrant communities in Western New York. What is also clear, unfortunately, is that these benefits are not reaching across all neighborhoods and all communities. PBN is committed to working to ensure that historic preservation makes a positive impact on all Western New Yorkers. Our 2017/2018 Advocacy and Technical Services agenda includes:

1. Advocacy around the Historic Tax Credit Improvement Act (H.R. 1158/S. 425): This bill will improve access to historic tax credits, an important financing tool, to neighborhood commercial centers and our rural towns and village centers;

2. New York State Tax Credit Advocacy: The New York State Historic Tax Credit has been a key component of commercial projects, and has added incentives for homeowners in low income census tracts. This important program is set to sunset in 2019, so the 2018 Legislative Season will be an important time to not only make sure that this program continues, but to make needed changes that will ensure that this program is benefiting our entire area, not just a select few communities;

3. PBN will continue its commitment to doing proactive survey work to identify and protect our regional historic assets. The Broadway Fillmore survey should be completed this year and then we will begin to implement results, and the Fruit Belt survey should wrap up in the spring. We have provided technical assistance to the University District to begin survey work, and we will be conducting a survey on Buffalo’s West Side from Richmond to Niagara Street, from West Ferry to Forest. Finally, we will be partnering with community members to revisit older surveys done in Cold Spring and Black Rock to begin to implement recommendations;

4. We will continue to provide technical preservation services to communities and individual building owners across the region;

5. We are exploring ways to bring more direct funding and assistance to our lowest income historic homeowners. Watch for more news and ways you can support this effort in 2018.