There's something sacred about historic preservation in Buffalo.
At least, that's the message readers voiced in response to our proposed lists of top historic, architectural and cultural treasures last month. It's not that readers necessarily think we should save everything -- it's that many thought we shortchanged churches and other sacred sites on our lists.
For the record, our "top-ten" lists did include three churches, and two more and a temple were suggested as alternates. But that wasn't enough for everyone. Five writers wanted the historic First Presbyterian Church, designed by E.B. Green with windows designed by Tiffany, on the list. The cluster of Polish-built churches on the East Side got nominated. So did the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. One reader sent in a list of 19 churches.
Other readers wanted the entire Old First Ward designated as a historic district, and the "Italianish" homes near Grover Cleveland High School also drew a nod. Among other nominated buildings: Hook & Ladder 8 on Chicago Street, the Coatsworth House, National Grid's historic if nondescript early-electricity Terminal House B at Niagara and Busti and Terminal House A nearby, the Elk Terminal, the newly converted lofts at 210 Ellicott St., the Pierce Arrow showroom at Main and Jewett, West Side gatekeeper cottages, and the E & B Holmes machine shop near the Buffalo River.
A reader wanted the Atwater House on Elmwood added to the endangered list, invoking a recent controversy, while another nominated Concordia Cemetery; proposed additions to the "greatest losses" list included the Fargo, Rumsey and Gratwick mansions, the Milburn House where President McKinley died, Millard Fillmore's house on Niagara Square, and the Erie County Savings Bank building on Shelton Square.
The intent of the lists, as our Feb. 5 article suggested, was to get people thinking about preservation, progress and the need for a carefully crafted city preservation plan to guide decision-making on a more proactive, rather than bar-the-bulldozers reactive, basis.
For at least some readers, that apparently worked. But it comes with a caution, as other readers noted. Preservation and progress are not "either-or" opposites; preservation can aid redevelopment, greatly enhance neighborhood property values and encourage rather than block growth -- if it's properly considered, and done. By the same token, lists of buildings to save should be viewed as indicators of clear community consensus, not an exclusionary tally that means all other buildings not on the lists are fair game for demolition.
"One concern held by many is that a focus on single buildings almost assures we will be 'stranding assets' that deserve to be in a healthy context," wrote Robert Shibley, discussing earlier projects to develop a solid base for a comprehensive plan. But Shibley, director of the Urban Design Project at the University at Buffalo, also saw value in specifying historic districts as a step toward an interim strategy.
"The truism is that we should build on our strengths," he wrote. "In short, we should provide initial supports for historic assets in strategically located historic districts." Historic preservation in such districts would build on and add value to other investments in the neighborhoods, which Shibley sees as a strategy that, "if complemented with a comprehensive inventory and the mothballing of key structures at risk (wherever they are), could be part of a comprehensive approach to our historic resources."
Thanks to the Internet, reader responses to our story came from as far away as California, Florida, Maryland and Washington, D.C. -- Western New Yorkers are a loyal bunch. The suggestions sent by readers will be forwarded to the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, which features local treasures online. They also will be sent to Dr. Richard O'Connor, acting manager of the Heritage Documentation Programs at the National Park Service, at his request, so those buildings get added to those document collections at the Library of Congress. It turns out he went to UB for his undergraduate and masters degrees, and like most expatriates, remains fond of, and concerned for, the treasures of Western New York.