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Delaware brownstone gets complete renovation

A pair of businessmen have restored one of the brownstone mansions in the “Midway” block of Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, returning it to use after years of decay, and positioning it to house a law or professional services firm.

The four-story Colonial Revival home-turned-office building at 491 Delaware Ave., near Virginia Street, has been completely refinished, repaired and upgraded during the past year, as owners Walter McFarlane and Lenny Alba renovated both inside and outside the stone-and-brick structure.

Built in 1898 along with other neighboring Midway homes on the site of the former Cornell Lead Works, the house was originally owned by a civil engineer named Charles Miller Morse and his family. It was later owned by a doctor and then by a photographer, but had long since deteriorated. It went through five owners in the past 20 years, and one foreclosure.

The original hardwood floors were ruined, the central staircase had been cut in half, wood molding was missing in places, the carpeting was old and worn, fluorescent lighting was everywhere, the windows were badly in need of repair, and it hadn’t been maintained or updated for modern use. “It simply showed more than a century of use,” McFarlane said.

McFarlane and Alba purchased the property in April 2013 through Castle Jane LLC, paying $302,500, after McFarlane stumbled on photos of it online while he was house-hunting. “I went to see it just out of curiosity as it seemed to have a lot of character even though it was in very tough shape,” said McFarlane. He and Alba “fell in love with its charm and wanted to be a part of its restoration.”

Twelve months later, the century-old building now has new heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, new humidifier and sprinkler systems, a re-coated roof with new flashing, and a new security system. It also has four new bathrooms.

The owners installed a custom-designed stained-glass central skylight above the central staircase, incorporating the Morse family crest into the center of the glass as a tribute to the home’s history.

They also installed new hardwood floors, carpeting and ceramic tile, as well as new recessed ceiling lighting and wall sconces.

Outside the 6,104-square-foot structure, the facade and chimney were repointed.

Now they want to sell it and start all over with another one. “It’s been a ton of fun and we hope it’s new owner will enjoy occupying it as much as we enjoyed restoring it,” said McFarlane, calling it satisfying “to leave something better than we found it.”

The renovation project was the first of its kind for McFarlane, who retired as chief financial officer of a food-manufacturing company after 12 years in that role, and for Alba, who owns Alba Coatings. But McFarlane said it won’t be the last.

“It is great to see all the investment that is happening downtown right now both in large projects and small ones like ours,” he said. “We enjoyed it so I can imagine we will keep going with it. We hope to do one building at a time, choosing a property with some architectural significance.”