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RESTORED HOME GETS NEW TENANT

An 18th-century mansion-sized building that only four years ago narrowly escaped the wrecker's ball has a new life.

Literacy Volunteers of Buffalo & Erie County has signed a five-year lease for the three-story, 1863 George L. Squier House at 1313 Main St.

"It is an absolute dream to have an iconic presence directly linked to Buffalo's rich history," said Tracy Diina, Literacy Volunteers executive director. The organization will move from its current -- and more expensive -- quarters at 2635 Delaware Ave. on Dec. 1.

"This will allow us greater access to students by straddling the poorest neighborhoods where the needs are greatest," Diina said. "Right now many of our students have to take two to three buses to reach us."

The 36-foot-long brick Italianate building was rehabilitated by Cash Cunningham, president of Cash Realty & Auctions. He purchased it shortly before the City of Buffalo issued an emergency demolition order in December 2000. Days after demolition began, the Preservation Coalition of Erie County obtained a restraining order to halt the work.

Eventually, with the coalition's consent, three-fourths of the dilapidated structures that had been added on to the Squier House were torn down. Renovation, costing $500,000, followed over 2 1/2 years.

Literacy Volunteers will use the first floor for a library, tutor-training center and student center for its students, primarily adults. The second floor will be used for administrative purposes.

Last year, Literacy Volunteers served 733 people, with projections calling for helping 25 percent more students this year. The group also operates four neighborhood drop-in centers.

Cunningham said other potential tenants expressed interest, but he held out for Literacy Volunteers.

"It's an absolutely perfect marriage for the building," Cunningham said.

"Although economically it's maybe not as good as we might have found elsewhere, every now and then you need to lead with your heart and not your head. So we think it's just the right thing to do," he said.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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