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Preservationists mark designation of One Allentown historic district

When the historic house on Plymouth Avenue was purchased in 2010, it had been vacant for a decade. Its interior had been looted, its ornate fixtures pried off and stolen.

Preservationists, neighbors and members of the Allentown Association gathered Thursday in the home's grand foyer to toast its rebirth, and to mark a new and enlarged Allentown Historic District called One Allentown.

"The new Allentown boundaries [approved in February] contain approximately 1,300 structures, including about 320 newly added to the National Register [of Historic Places]," said Daniel McEneny of the state Office of Historic Preservation.

Among other benefits, homeowners within One Allentown are eligible for rehabilitation tax credits.

"The credit will cover 20 percent of qualified rehabilitation costs, up to a credit value of $50,000," explained Julian W. Adams, community liaison for the historic preservation office. "At least $5,000 must be expended on qualifying work and at least 5 percent of the total project must be spent on the building's exterior."

Both the federal and state governments now consider the Allentown Historic District to be bounded by North Street to the north, Main Street to the east, Edward Street to the south, and Plymouth to the west.

Many in the Allentown community have always considered those the rough boundaries, although stretching out to Plymouth is new, said Richard Haynes, a former Allentown Association president. But federal historic preservation officials formerly considered Delaware Avenue as the easternmost boundary, he said, reasoning that new structures built by Benderson Development on Delaware should mark the end of the historic district.

Many of the structures to the east of Delaware were brick and many to the west wood-frame, Haynes said, further making the two areas distinct in the eyes of federal officials decades ago.

"Most of [the Benderson buildings] are now about 50 years old," he said, "and believe it or not, they can now be considered historic."

That, and the historic nature of so many of the properties in the blocks that flank both sides of Delaware, have brought the federal view into synch with the local view of the Allentown Historic Preservation District, Haynes said.

"So now they've said the district can be reunited," he said. "Now everybody must adhere to the same rules and is eligible for income tax credits on their homes."

Many of residents who attended the Thursday ceremony have been watching the rehabilitation efforts of the home's new owners, Thomas Huzinec and Carlos Villarroel. So far, the two have replaced 47 windows, painted the exterior and replaced the electrical, plumbing and heating infrastructure.

"Our estimated six-month project has been going on for over a year, and there remains much to do," Huzinec said.

Their Queen Anne-style home, popular in Buffalo during the Victorian era, features wooden clapboards and shingles, a pyramidal hipped roof and a turret with a rare original ornate spire, according to architectural historian Martin Wachadlo, a who co-authored the nomination for historic district designation with Frank Kowsky, distinguished professor of fine arts at Buffalo State College.

In its heyday, the residence at 18 Plymouth was a gathering spot for turn-of-the-century society parties thrown by Mr. and Mrs. William A. Harris. During the mid-20th century, the house served as a funeral parlor, and was later carved into apartments before being abandoned in the late 1990s.

The cost of the historic district designation project -- which required many hours of research and documentation by Wachadlo and Kowsky -- was sponsored by the Allentown Association with support from Preserve New York, a partnership of the Preservation League of New York State and the New York State Council on the Arts.

"The $9,500 award to the Allentown Association was one of the highest given in 2010," confirmed Tania G. Werbizky of the Preservation League.

The Allentown district was designated a historical district in 1978, noted Chris Brown, former president of the Allentown Association.

Barbara O'Neill resides on Porter Avenue in a historic brick home designed by Edward Austin Kent in the late 1800s. Her home, which has been in her family since the 1950s, is one of the 320 newly added to the National Register. O'Neill attended the One Allentown ceremony on Plymouth because she is interested in the rehabilitation tax credit.

"I'm very happy my home is now in an historic district," said O'Neill. "The tax credit will help in the remodeling. It will help preserve our neighborhood."