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Landmark status nears for 2 of Buffalo's 'oldest remaining buildings'

The Antebellum-era red-brick buildings at 68 and 72 Sycamore St. moved a step closer to landmark status after the Buffalo Preservation Board unanimously voted Thursday that the pre-Civil War dwellings be given that designation.

During the public hearing portion of the meeting, architectural historian Martin Wachadlo was one of two people arguing the buildings are worthy of being landmarked.

"These buildings are extremely important for understanding the past of the city. We have very few remaining Antebellum buildings. For these buildings to have survived is quite remarkable without major alterations," Wachadlo said. "I can’t overstate the significance of these buildings still being here. It would be a tragedy for our city if we allow these to be torn down."

Jessie Fisher, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, said the group reached out to the owner last October to offer financing assistance or help identifying another owner who would fix up the buildings. But they didn’t hear back from the owner.

"We began to get concerned about their advanced state of vacancy and decay," Fisher said. "These buildings are among the oldest remaining buildings in Buffalo. They are strong anchors to the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor Commission."

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Fisher also presented a letter of support from commission Chairwoman Karen Stanley Fleming and pointed out that city lawmakers are "adamantly opposed" to demolition of the properties.

During a Common Council meeting earlier this week, in fact, Council President Darius G. Pridgen and Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk spoke in support of giving the buildings landmark status.

"This is exactly what we should be doing to protect and preserve these structures," Franczyk said.

Pridgen said that demolition should not be an option.

"The lady who bought the building knew what she was buying because she came to me about the building and wanted to make it into a rooming house," Pridgen said. "It had already been a rooming house and had a lot of problems. It became a dumping house for sex offenders."

No one – including the owner – came forward during Thursday’s meeting to oppose the idea of landmark status for the properties. And a request from the owner to demolish 68 Sycamore – but not 72 Sycamore – was denied earlier this month.

"The owner does not want to save the buildings," said Board Chairman Paul McDonnell. "To answer some building code violations, she wanted to demolish them."

The buildings originally were rooming houses and date back to the 1840s, preservationists said. They were contemporaries of the Michigan Street Baptist Church right around the corner, a centerpiece of the abolitionist movement and widely believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. Residents of the Sycamore dwellings likely would have had interactions with abolitionists and perhaps even witnessed or played a role in the Underground Railroad, they said.

The Preservation Board’s vote on Thursday to recommend the buildings for landmark status now goes to the Common Council for consideration.

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