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Fruit Belt residents renew push for High Street historic district

One block east of the burgeoning Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus are three historic buildings on High Street – a deli, a now-dilapidated former doctor's home and a Baptist church dating to 1875.

Those three structures in the city's Fruit Belt neighborhood again are the heart of a proposal to become the High Street Historic District, an effort by some in the neighborhood that previously failed to go anywhere four years ago.

The Buffalo Preservation Board is studying the issue and will hold a public hearing at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Veronica Hemphill-Nichols, founder of the Fruit Belt McCarley Gardens Housing Task Force, said the idea behind the historic district is to "push back on developers demolishing any more structures."

"It's part of the effort to preserve the historic significance of the neighborhood," Hemphill-Nichols said.

Preservation Board Chairman Paul McDonnell said the section of High Street on the border of the Medical Campus merits a close look.

"We're looking to make a little district of it, and looking to maintain the heritage of the neighborhood," McDonnell said.

Others are still researching its impact.

The Promiseland Missionary Baptist Church on High Street in the Fruit Belt, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The district, which Hemphill-Nichols said would be limited to the three buildings, would include the red brick Promiseland Missionary Baptist Church at the corner of High and Mulberry Street. Its new pastor just received a letter from the city regarding the historic designation proposal.

"I'll research it. Right now, it sounds like a good thing, but I have to look into it," said Rev. Douglas Blakely, standing outside his church Monday afternoon. "We're researching it and will see how we can move forward."

Less than a short block from the church and separated by a vacant lot and three homes is the High Street Deli at the corner of Maple Street.

The 22-year-old manager of the family-owned deli, which was bustling with a steady stream of customers buying subs, lottery tickets, cigarettes and small groceries Monday, said he recognizes the importance of securing the small stretch of High Street as a historic district.

The dilapidated Meidenbauer House, right, on High Street in the Fruit Belt, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

"It's good thing. I think it would be nice," said manager Malik Kaaib, 22, as he cashed out customers. "I grew up in the Fruit Belt. I know everybody in this neighborhood."

Kaaib said his parents own the deli, which his grandfather bought in 1984. The deli building, partly brick with its lower half painted cream with orange trim, extends around the corner of High and Maple. The building, Kaaib said, dates to the 1800s. He said it's important to preserve history as the neighborhood changes because of development on the nearby Medical Campus.

"I have nothing against the Medical Campus. It's a good thing for the (neighborhood), too," Kaaib said. "I want Buffalo to thrive, but everybody needs to get along."

Across the street from his family's deli is a sprawling vacant lot with the Civil War-era Meidenbauer House at 204 High. The 5,400-square-foot home is the combination of two brick Italianate homes joined together in 1890. The original structure was constructed in 1871 and was once the home of Dr. John Meidenbauer, an instructor at the University at Buffalo's College of Pharmacy.

The dilapidated Meidenbauer House on High Street in the Fruit Belt, Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The Meidenbauer residence, now owned by the city and a neglected state, has been vacant for at least 20 years and some historical accounts suggest even longer. In the late 1930s, another doctor, Dr. Lyle Morgan, purchased the home and lived there with his family and practiced medicine until his retirement. It was last used as a doctor's office in 1979.

[RELATED: Buffalo denies landmark status for 4 buildings: ‘These are tough decisions’]

"It's a very unique and a really important house," said McDonnell, who noted the church already has local historic designation but the deli and Meidenbauer residence would be new additions to help form a mini district on the edge of the Medical Campus. "It's a landmark in its own right."

The city took the home in 2005 and demolition was put on hold a year later.

The property's latest history has been laced with friction between City Hall and some neighborhood forces. St. John's Baptist Fruit Belt Community Development had sought a few years ago to locate a market there. That proposal was met with stiff resistance from preservationists and other community leaders, scuttling plans for the market.

McDonnell said residents of the Fruit Belt again are requesting that the historic district idea be reconsidered. Preservation Board member Tim Tielman earlier this month pushed for the application to be reconsidered.

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