On April 12, a formal ceremony will take place for One Allentown: an historic achievement for the Buffalo preservation community. Julian W. Adams, New York State Historic Preservation Office Community Liaison and Investment Tax Credit Program Coordinator, will lead the observance with remarks to dedicate the newly enhanced Allentown Historic District and the presentation of an Allentown National Register certificate. Representatives from the Allentown Association, the Preservation League of New York State, and the NYS Historic Preservation Office will be among those present to mark the milestone that occurred on St. Valentine’s Day 2012, when new Allentown Historic District boundaries were approved by the Keeper of the National Register in Washington, D.C.
The Allentown district of Buffalo, New York was made a local historic district in 1978 and a portion of it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Until now, there have been two separate and distinct Allentown districts: 1.) the local Buffalo Historic District and 2.) a subset listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Since 2009, the Allentown Association has led an effort to make the Buffalo and National Register historic district boundaries the same: One Allentown.
“The new Allentown boundaries contain approximately 1,300 structures, including about 320 newly added to the National Register. The Allentown Historic District is the largest National Register historic district in the City of Buffalo,” said Daniel McEneny, NYSHPO Erie County National Register Unit Administrator, who guided the Allentown nomination through the National Register of Historic Places listing process. The vast majority of the newly-listed National Register structures are located on Delaware Avenue and other streets between Delaware and Main Street.
“Among other benefits, all owner-occupied residential structures within the Allentown Historic District are eligible for the NYS Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Tax Credit. The credit will cover 20% of qualified rehabilitation costs, up to a credit value of $50,000. At least $5,000 must be expended on qualifying work and at least 5% of the total project must be spent on the building’s exterior,” said Julian W. Adams.
The cost of the Allentown National Register Historic District nomination was sponsored by the Allentown Association Inc., with generous financial support from Preserve New York, the Buffalo Architectural Salvage Committee, the Baird Foundation, Tickets.com, and individual donors. Preserve New York is a partnership between the Preservation League of New York State and the New York State Council on the Arts. “Its $9,500 award to the Allentown Association was one of the highest given in 2010, due in part because its grant review panel was impressed by the Allentown Association’s promise of success,” said Tania G. Werbizky, the Preservation League’s Regional Director of Technical and Grant Programs for Western New York.
Allentown’s significant period of history spans from 1829 (the construction year of the first building on its original site) through 1963 (the last construction year of a contributing structure). The scope of Allentown’s significance includes architecture, landscape architecture, settlement, commerce, and social history. “The efforts of the Allentown Association during the 1960s to preserve key structures from demolition factored significantly into the nomination,” said Martin Wachadlo, who co-authored the Allentown nomination with Dr. Frank Kowsky.
The Allentown National Register Historic District dedication ceremony will take place at 18 Plymouth Avenue, the home of Thomas Huzinec and Carlos Villarroel. An 1892 Queen Anne-style manse and carriage house constructed on the estate of the former Sidway mansion, Huzinec and Villarroel’s home was newly added to the Allentown National Register District. “No. 18 Plymouth Avenue is a lovely example of the Queen Anne style so popular in Buffalo during the Victoria era, with its asymmetrical massing, use of wooden clapboards and shingles, its pyramidal, hipped roof as well as its turret with a rare original ornate spire,” said Wachadlo.
When Huzinec and Villarroel purchased 18 Plymouth Avenue in 2010, the house had been vacant for a decade, vandalized, and some of its interior architectural features stolen by salvage thieves. Its condition was a far cry from when initially built for Mr. and Mrs. William H. Harris. A favorite gathering spot for turn-of-the century Buffalonians, the Harrises frequently hosted society parties, ice cream and strawberry festivals, as well as musical and literary presentations in their home. At one particularly memorable event held in July 1900, Russian tea was served in the dining room while “heads and palms” were read in the tower room. Literary readings, a piano concert, singing, and whistling solos concluded a splendidly entertaining evening. During the mid-twentieth century, 18 Plymouth served as a funeral parlor and was later carved into apartments before being abandoned by the late 1990s. Several subsequent owners attempted to bring back the home’s grandeur, but the task overwhelmed them. The home remained unoccupied, increasingly being threatened with demolition.
Huzinec and Villarroel’s dream to live in and restore 18 Plymouth to its 1890s heyday was assisted by their utilization of the NYS Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation Tax Credit. “A complete transformation is in process as we return 18 Plymouth to its single family configuration: 47 windows, new exterior paint, cracked lathe and plaster replaced with drywall, all electrical, plumbing, and heating infrastructure replaced… the list goes on and on! Our estimated six-month project has been going on for over a year and there remains much to do,” said Huzinec.
“While extending New York State tax credits to owners of approximately 320 new properties is an immediate benefit of the Allentown National Register Historic District, there are several other reasons why the initiative is important beyond the Allentown community,” said Christopher N. Brown, chairman of the One Allentown committee. “Consistency in historicdistrict property rights, responsibilities, and standards will create an opportunity for improved communication, education, and future preservation program eligibility of Allentown’s structures. The Allentown neighborhood is a regional tourism destination because of its hotels, restaurants, art galleries, cultural venues, and events such as the Allentown Art Festival. A uniform historic district will help to ensure an improved Allentown visitor experience,” added Brown.
One final step remains in the journey to reconcile the disparate local and National Register Allentown Historic District boundaries created over 30 years ago. Minor revisions to the local Buffalo district (approximately 40 properties) will be pursued later in 2012.