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).
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.
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.
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.