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GROUP SAVES PAST A PIECE AT A TIME

Carved terra cotta bricks from the former Lydia Hotel, built during the Pan-American Exposition. A leaded glass transom window. A marble fireplace mantel. Piles of window shutters, wooden doors and doorknobs made of copper, wood, enamel and glass.

They line the walls of a temporary storage space on Main Street, architectural treasures that less than a dozen active volunteers have saved from old buildings slated for demolition.

Since late June, the dedicated, nonprofit group has worked with the city to identify historic properties on the city's demolition list in order to save what they can before the wrecking ball comes. And for a few hours Saturday, the group will hold an open house to show the public what it has gathered.

Decorative iron floor vents, carved wooden roof brackets, a 1932 claw-foot tub, wrought-iron fencing, wooden pillars, cast-iron sinks. The list goes on.

Though none of the finds will be available for sale Saturday, organizers say they plan to eventually sell the items to area preservationists and homeowners at below-market costs to keep the items in the community. In the meantime, they're continuing to expand their inventory.

"The reason for the open house is to whet people's appetites and gather more volunteers," said David Granville, one of the key organizers of the group.

Saturday's open house will be held from 10 a.m. to noon at 725 Main St. in the Theater District between Main and Goodell streets.

Visitors can drop off and donate any unneeded or unwanted architecturally significant items they might own and donate money to support the group, though neither is necessary to visit, Granville said. Anyone interested in volunteering is also urged to sign up.

Launched earlier this year, the salvage group has gathered after work on a weekly basis throughout the summer and early fall. Working with a list of addresses provided by the city, the volunteers hit as many houses as they can while the sunlight lasts and truck any salvaged items to their temporary storage area.

Organizers stress that they are not advocating razing historic properties, but in saving as much as they can from a building already facing demolition.

Though the group has salvaged items from 30 properties on the West and East sides, several volunteers said they were disappointed to discover that many of these properties had already fallen victim to architectural thieves.

Even then, volunteers managed to find some amazing gems, including a pair of 8-foot, 21-panel windows that were sitting in the basement of an East Side home. The excitement of saving a rare piece of architectural history makes the job worth it, they said.

"You'll hear a shriek from one room and everyone goes running in," said volunteer Chris Voltz.

All the items salvaged at each address are being photographed and archived for historic purposes, Voltz said.

Robert Sienkiewicz, director of the Mayor's Task Force on Housing, said that next year the city will hand the group property addresses as soon as they are placed on the city's demolition list to give the group more of a chance to beat thieves to the goods. The homes will not be physically marked or spray-painted by the city until after the volunteer group gains access to the building.

Unfortunately, Sienkiewicz will no longer be able to ensure that the properties referred to the salvage group contain an inventory of valuable items. Sienkiewicz is being laid off from his job with City Hall. His last day was today.

He will, however, stay in contact with his co-workers and expects to continue coordinating efforts between the city and the salvage organization, he said.

e-mail: stan@buffnews.com

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