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Idle firehouse to be converted to business/residential use

An idle City of Buffalo firehouse on Elmwood Avenue will soon house a woodworking business and its owner.

Louis A. Haremski has gained Buffalo Planning Board approval to turn the 96-year-old firehouse at 1655 Elmwood Ave. at Great Arrow Avenue, into a private residence and home for his business, Loose Lumber.

"I wanted to buy it the moment I heard it was closing," Haremski said. "It's just taken a few years to get to this point."

Replaced by a larger, modern firehouse on Hertel Avenue in October 2005, the Elmwood Avenue house has sat dormant as the city sought potential redevelopers. Haremski, who expects to take title this spring, was the only one to propose an owner-occupied reuse.

"We were unique because not only are we going to locate our business there, we're going to live there, too. It's a throwback to the days when the shop owner lived upstairs," he said.

Haremski, who designs and fabricates fine furniture for residential and commercial use, will spend upwards of $300,000 on renovations. His plans call for creation of a first-floor shop and display area, and he and his wife will reside on the second floor.

He will also construct a three-bay garage off the back of the property that will serve double duty for materials and vehicle storage.

The former Engine No. 36 house will also be getting a list of facade restorations. Copper panels at the top of the building's signature hose tower will be replaced by window panes resembling the originals, and the former fire truck bay will have its "garage-style" door replaced by a pair of more authentic inward swinging doors.

A new roof, electrical and heating systems and a fresh coat of paint are also on Haremski's "to do" list.

"I think this is a great reuse for that building. It's the type of project we need to encourage and it will be nice for that stretch of Elmwood Avenue," said Buffalo Planning Board Chairman James A. Morrell.

Two other Buffalo firehouses, at 166 Cleveland Ave. and 64 Amherst St., were both successfully converted to single-family homes. The city currently has pending deals on two other empty firehouses on Kehr and Amherst streets that are slated for commercial reuse.

Loose Lumber is currently located a few hundred yards away in leased space at 225 Great Arrow. Haremski, a veteran prosecutor with the Erie County District Attorney's office and lifelong woodworker, formed the business after his DA's job was eliminated.

While he still takes on some legal work, most recently serving as a special prosecutor in a Niagara County murder case in 2008, furniture and cabinet making has become his career and his passion.

Haremski also employs his son, Edmund, in his shop on a part-time basis.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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