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Pano's unveils new expansion plan

The owner of Pano's on Elmwood Avenue hopes to attract community support with his latest plan to tear down a quirky historic house and expand his popular restaurant.

As a court case about the demolition of the house with a triangular gable and rounded tower awaits a mid-January hearing, Pano Georgiadis revealed an architectural sketch of a two-story brick addition that would surround his existing one-story restaurant.

The proposed $1 million expansion would add about 2,000 square feet and 50 seats. The current building is 2,500 square feet and seats 95. The proposed parking addition behind the building would add 12 more spaces to the current 35-space lot.

Plans include a low stone wall separating the sidewalk from the two-story front, which would have a patio, big front windows and awnings. The addition would require land where the circa 1894 Atwater House now stands.

"There's nothing wrong with growing, is there?" said Georgiadis, who opened his restaurant as a small diner down the street 30 years ago.

Yet to some who pay close attention to Buffalo's cache of turn-of-the-century buildings, the tower house, which was home to a bakery and a hair salon until three years ago, is worth saving for its historic and visual appeal.

"We were against tearing down the Atwater House. There's a lot of community opposition to that," said Justin Azzarella, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association, who had yet to see the drawing. He said he expected to discuss the plan at an association board meeting this week.

Georgiadis' announcement two years ago that he intended to demolish the house led people to picket his restaurant, sign petitions and go to meetings at City Hall. When he won the right to knock the house down from a judge last year, the city appealed.

Now with the court date approaching next month, Georgiadis said he has shown his new building plans to city officials and received a positive reaction. However, Melanie Gregg, a manager at the city Office of Strategic Planning, declined to comment "because of the litigation."

"They have it, and they like it," Georgiadis said of city staffers.

He said the process these past two years has been hurtful. At a hearing, he remembers people saying that they cared more for the old house than his thriving business and roughly 75 employees.

"I don't want to fight City Hall any more," said Georgiadis, 61. "I was very stressed."

To him, the Atwater House seems like an old house with a bad foundation and needing more than $250,000 worth of repairs; to others, it seems like a crucial part of the city's heritage.

Charles LaChiusa, a retired teacher who maintains an architectural history Web site at www.ah.bfn.org, lauds the terra-cotta-colored house still standing at 1089 Elmwood.

The house, with its Orleans County sandstone porch and an eye-catching sloped gable and gambrel roof, has a historic place as the oldest on the block. It was the 1894 home of Edward Atwater, once secretary for the association that owned Forest Lawn.

In LaChiusa's eyes, Georgiadis' architectural plan for a revised Pano's doesn't match the Atwater House's beauty.

"It certainly cannot compare," said LaChiusa, a trustee for the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier. Perhaps the house's facade could be preserved, and Georgiadis could build his expansion around the old place, LaChiusa suggested. "So keep the front and build whatever you want around it."

Tim Tielman, of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, had not seen the drawing but said it won't resolve whether the city will allow the demolition. "I think he's afraid he's going to lose in court, and I think he knows it," Tielman said.

Georgiadis said that's not true. "There's no way I'm going to lose," he said.

So far, he said, he has spent $30,000 on legal fees in the court battle. The new drawing reflects his efforts to work with people and follow the design guidelines proposed by the Elmwood Village Association.

"I hope something good comes out of it," he said.

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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