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Former North Park Library marked for landmark status

The former North Park Library building, closed to the public since 2008 because of asbestos concerns, was designated a local landmark Thursday by a unanimous vote of the Buffalo Preservation Board.

The Y-shaped brick building at the corner of Delaware and Hertel avenues had been the subject of a proposal by a private developer that involved razing the structure in favor of constructing a retail project that also would eliminate the green space on the corner. The designation now goes to the Common Council for approval.

Following public hearings, the board also unanimously approved the landmark recommendation for two other properties:

• The former Bachelor Building at 331 Franklin St., one of the first apartment complexes constructed in Buffalo, The building is owned by Ellicott Development and was slated for demolition to make room for construction of a hotel between Pearl and Franklin streets.

• The Pratt Street Industrial District on William Street near Jefferson Avenue. The Crosby family, which continues to do business on its property between Pratt Street and Castor Alley, had been seeking permits to demolish some unused buildings there that had fallen into significant disrepair.

Preservation of the North Park Library became a community concern after the city decided the cost of asbestos removal or abatement was not feasible and closed the library.

According to the board, the library building, constructed in 1928-29, meets six of nine criteria that can be used to achieve landmark designation. Only one is necessary.

“This building is a focal point in the North Park neighborhood,” board chairman Paul McDonnell said. “It is the only extant property on that corner from the original neighborhood.”

Board member Timothy Tielman added, “This is an enormously important building even among the libraries constructed at that period. The landscaping alone – that’s the sole little bit of greenery left as you travel up that part of Delaware.”

Board member Richard Lippes concurred.

“This building represents Buffalo at the height of its strength, and it’s also in good shape,” he said.

The second building given landmark status also remains in good shape, if not in pristine historical condition. Current tenants of 331 Franklin St., a building McDonnell described as “hiding in plain sight,” spoke up in favor of protecting it.

Tim Goehrig pointed out the 1886 building was one of the first built here by the architects Green & Wicks – E.B. Green and William S. Wicks – and the board’s report suggests it may be the first apartment building ever constructed in the city.

Developer Mark Croce, owner of several historic properties downtown including the Statler Towers, also spoke up in defense of the Bachelor.

“This is a beautiful building,” he said. “If the current owner wanted to sell it for what they paid for it, I’d write a check gladly. But if you’re going to save the Christian Center on the Pearl Street side, save the Bachelor on the Franklin Street side.” Ellicott plans to incorporate the Christian Center in a new hotel.

“We would always landmark an H.H. Richardson or a Frank Lloyd Wright,” Lippes noted. “This might not be as artistic, but it’s probably more livable than a Frank Lloyd Wright.”

The issue of the Crosby property, a collection of industrial buildings on the lower East Side, was less artistically based. Crosby was one of the first and most successful early stamping plants in the country and a significant part of the city’s industrial heritage. The business is still family-owned, and Jason Crosby came before the board to ask that it delay its vote on landmark status until his company completed its own architectural evaluation of the individual buildings in the proposed district.

Crosby said plans to demolish some of the structures have been put on hold.

“We have taken a step back. We’re re-evaluating things,” he said, in asking the board to table its vote. “We’re asking, ‘Can they be rehabilitated, and if so, what is it going to take?’ ”

Board members praised the family for its willingness to consider other options to demolition, but still voted to designate the Crosby property a historic district, with member Terry Robinson abstaining.

Landmark status does not block all changes to or demolition of properties in perpetuity, but it adds a layer of protection to them.