Delaware Avenue is a history of Buffalo, recorded in brick and stone. The street speaks of the affluence and influence of a generation of people who propelled Buffalo into world prominence before the turn of the century. It also, sadly, speaks of a city that was perfectly willing, at one point, to destroy the evidence of its own past in order to create hamburger stands and motels along this boulevard once shaded by a soaring vault of trees which was very nearly an architecture in itself.
Stop at No. 438 Delaware, known as the Dorsheimer Mansion. William Dorsheimer was a Buffalo attorney who became the city’s Commissioner of Parks and engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to de-sign Buffalo’s park system. Dorsheimer was later the Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York. He engaged an aid school friend, H. H. Richardson, to design this house in 1870. Richardson would later be recognized as the great monumental architect of the nineteenth century, responsible for the revival in Romanesque forms which usually bears his name.
There is nothing Romanesque in this Second Empire Style building with its projecting right bay. Stone courses run continuously around the building separating the stories, while vertical stone trim corners the building and frame the windows, giving the three-storey structure a curiously modern geometric appearance. A decorated spandrel heads the first-floor windows while carved rosettes center the continuous stone lintel at each second-storey window. Pedimented dormers interrupt the Mansard roof-line. A wooden portico over a door on the north side is supported by brackets and a second-storey oriel extends over the porch. N should be pointed out that if a rush for commerce came close to obliterating Delaware Avenue, the same rush is responsible for saving what remains, as corporations and professional businesses have taken over unwieldy mansions like this one and restored them at private expense.
Robert Adam, the senior partner in Adam, Meldrum and Anderson Dry Goods and Carpets, Wholesale Goods Store at 400 Main Street, had the house at No. 448 Delaware built for himself in 1877. Built in the Second Empire Style, dormers projecting from the structure feature odd little gable-like roofs. The center dormer is fronted by a pediment featuring a foliate cut-out pattern in the tympanum. Scroll brackets supporting the straight-sided Mansard roof alternate with medallions. Two projecting pavillions flank the center entrance; the left-side pavillion is covered by a pyramidical tower while the pyramid on the right-hand pavillion is fully engaged in the main roof. A first floor window faces diagonally and is recessed under a portico-like affair upheld by a single column.
At No.468 Delaware there is little left to see, but much to remember. The main house is gone, and the carriage house has been so be-decked as to hide the simple Italianate origins of the 1865 structure. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, who bought extensive shares in the Buffalo Morning Express in 1867, came to Buffalo in 1869 to edit the newspaper and lived in a house on this site for a year. Clemens’ first child was born here, Later, as Mark Twain, Clemens would write of Tom Sawyer’s adventures, of his friend Huckleberry Finn and of human pretensions in such pungent satires as Letters From the Earth, which was considered shocking in its day, and seems remarkably current one hundred years later.
At No. 484 Delaware is one of the several homes built by the Cornell family and incorporating theatres somewhere inside (there is one more on Franklin Street). This French Chateau was built in 1894 for Douglas Cornell, son of the founder of the Cornell White Lead Works, which once operated directly across the street. The entire top floor was a fully equipped theater, under a steeply pitched hip roof. A round tower with a witch’s cap juxtaposes the main mass while semi-circular porch sets it off at street level. A baroque-style dormer houses single-light windows flanked by very ornate pilasters and capitals. Douglas Cornell’s son Peter, although trained as a physician, made a business of theater and Katharine, Douglas’ granddaughter became an internationally known stage actress.
Across the street, where the Cornell family business once operated, are eleven extraordinary structures. Rowhouses became popular features of urban streetscapes in the late nineteenth century and Buffalo boasts a number of fine examples of the genre (see North Pearl Street); but seldom do rowhouses anywhere display the amazing diversity and wealth of feature demonstrated in these examples, built in 1893-95. Their styles include Georgian Revival No. 477), Renaissance Revival (Nos. 475, 479), Colonial Revival (Nos. 481, 491), Classical elements (Nos. 483, 497), Queen Anne styling (Nos. 483, 493), Richardson Romanesque (Nos. 487-489, 499), and Sullivanesque elements (No. 497), indicating the influence of Louis Sullivan, the renowned architect, whose own work is exemplified locally in the Guaranty Building.
At Delaware and Allen are three buildings which give a hint of what the streetscape looked like just a bare half-century ago. No. 577 Delaware, a lovely Tuscan villa, has been altered to house a retaurant, but retains most of its original features, including its roof-top cupola, a rare bit of preservation. At No, 589, a clay-tiled gable roof hangs over a charming house built in 1909 that overlays the premises of the Arts and Crafts movement on a Classical American form. The house was originally owned by John L. Eckel, a professor of Psychiatry at the University of Buffalo, who became an authority on combat-related syndromes due to his work as a medical officer during World War I. Next door, at No. 591 Delaware, a Colonial Revival structure boasts a monumental bow-shaped portico supported by massive Corinthian-Tuscan columns. The building, which looks as if George Washington might actually have slept there, was in fact erected in 1900.
Just next door, a three-storey Second Renaissance Revival building houses a club. Although there were and are a number of clubs in Allentown, the Twentieth Century Club is pointed out for your notice because it was the first club run by women, for women, in the United States, Miss Charlotte Mulligan was the founder and first president of the organization whose purpose was to enrich the cultural and educational milieu of its members. Governor Odell, Booker T. Washington and Wu Ting Fang, a visiting foreign minister from the Imperial Court of Peking, were among the guest lecturers at the club’s Wednesday morning meetings.
At No. 641 Delaware, nearly hidden in a surrounding wasteland of smoked glass and blond brick, is the Wilcox Mansion. When Judge Masten purchased the former officers’ quarters of the Poinsett Barracks, he engaged architect Thomas Tilden to remodel the large, rather featureless structure in in 1848, It is likely that the monumental portico, as well as the palladian windows and stone lintels were added to the facade at that time. A careful examination will demonstrate that the windows on the building’s side are not linteled at all. The appearance of lintel is the effect of a cunning painter’s art. The house was enlarged by George Cary in 1901, in anticipation of the necessity to entertain visitors to the Pan-American Exposition.
The mansion was sold for use as a restaurant in the 1930’s. Closed and deteriorated, it came close to demolition before being restored and opened to the public in 1971 on the 70th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt’s swearing-in in the Wilcox library. A National Historic Landmark, the mansion is partially restored in the interior. Its staff and friends conduct guided tours of the Allentown district.
Your last stop on Delaware is No. 672, one of the two remaining houses designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White, whose genius for the creation of evocative images of “home” once stamped Buffalo’s streetscape with its particular vision. Stanford White, who would later be murdered by Harry Thaw in a battle of passions over a young Gibson girl who rode a red velvet swing in White’s New York hideaway, was a principle of the firm.
The last of the two is the Pratt Mansion, next door. A third McKim, Mead and White house was razed to make room for a Howard John-son’s restaurant, and one was razed to create parking. No. 672, known as the Butler Mansion was built in 1894 in the Renaissance Revival style. The building is fronted by a monumental portico over fluted Corinthian columns, and headed bya massive entablature. The third floor balcony is surrounded by a cast-iron balustrade, echoed by cast-iron grillwork in the first floor porch and second floor balcony. The ironwork on this residence from gate to roof is of an exceedingly fine stamp. The entrance is flanked by Ionic pilaster strips and round arched single-light windows, crowned with a fan design set in their semi-circular blind transoms. A stone belt course separates the second and third stories, stone quoins corner the structure, and a balustered parapet runs the flat roof. A porte chochere rises on square Doric supports on the north side of the house.
The Butler family, which published the Buffalo Evening News, kept the house virtually unchanged while they lived in it. In 1976, the house was sold and later became a target for demolition until it was purchased by the corporation who now uses it for office and conference space.
If your walk through Allentown demonstrates nothing else, it should demonstrate that no building is beyond use. Time after time on this tour you will come upon buildings which would have been lost to the community except for the efforts of preservationists and the far-sightedness of investors who could see their potential. Where good old houses have been razed in Buffalo not much good has come of it, since nothing of comparable quality could possibly replace them, and where they have been saved, they tend to have a regenerative effect on the areas around them. Preservation is not an esoteric or an intellectual issue for the few. It is an utterly practical matter on all fronts. End of editorial.
No properties were found on this street.