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Preservation in peril Pan-Am building owner vows to demolish it unless city agrees to canopy for restaurant

The owner of one of only two buildings from the 1901 Pan-American Exposition that are still in their original locations is threatening to tear it down.

Alfred T. Coppola, who purchased the plain white clapboard house in 1982 at 1950 Delaware Ave., said it will be demolished unless the city's Preservation Board decides today to allow Stillwaters restaurant, owned by a friend of his, to put up a canopy.

The board denied the canopy for the building formerly occupied by Lord Chumley's in a resubmitted October vote because it didn't adhere to board guidelines on preserving architectural integrity in the Allentown Historic District.

"If they say let's reconsider and talk about what we can do before the first snowfall, I will then back off," said Coppola, who served as Delaware Council member from 1984 to 2000 and a year as state senator.

"But if that canopy does not go up, then that building's coming down, and it'll break my heart because for years all I wanted to do was restore a little history for Buffalo," he said.

Tim Tielman, a Preservation Board member, reacted angrily to Coppola's threat.

"It's particularly pathetic and outrageous that a former elected official should grandstand in this manner and attempt to hold the city and the public interest hostage to an individual whim or gripe," Tielman said.

Stillwater Holdings purchased a string of historic row houses on Delaware Avenue in September 2006 for nearly $850,000. The buildings are in a historic district, with some designed by E.B. Green and Esenwein & Johnson, among Buffalo's most prominent architectural firms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Stillwaters Restaurant, at 481-483 Delaware Ave., opened four months later in the former Lord Chumley's space.

On Sept. 19, Stillwater Holdings filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Tielman said he thought the canopy issue was resolved after meeting with restaurant representatives July 3. He understood that a decision was reached to drop the canopy request, and design guidelines would be followed for window awnings and new signs.

In October, Coppola appeared before the board a second time -- the first time was in February -- demanding the canopy be allowed.

The exposition building was built in the 19th century and was part of the exposition's Indian Stockade, where artifacts were made and sold to visitors.

The other building still in its original location from the exposition is the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum, which was used as the New York State pavilion.

Coppola, a coordinator at the Buffalo Employment Training Center, was once a restaurateur. He owned Shane's Log Cabin on Main Street from 1967 to 1983. He says the city should help his friend William Goodhue for buying and attempting to renovate the row houses and operating a restaurant.

"If you walk into [Stillwaters'] entranceway, it's hazardous, and the canopy will help add to the safety of the entrance," Coppola said. "It would be a nice canopy. If you look at those buildings and the money this man's put into them, it doesn't make any sense.

"I was appalled by their obstinance in denying it."

Coppola said he painted the exposition building last summer and maintains that because the building is not listed as a city landmark, or located in a historic district, he can tear it down without Preservation Board approval.

"The ball's in their court," Coppola said.

Tielman says the board has a say on every demolition in the city. "We would advise [city officials] against this odious attempt," he said.


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