City Hall Fiddles - Buffalo's Historic Properties Burn

I spoke with a couple firemen who were there dowsing the charred remains at 7am. 75% of the roof was burned and the view from above goes direct to the basement. The cause, arson. An accelerant was most likely used and fed the nightmares of neighbors whose well kept homes were always in the proximal path of another fire in the City's increasingly larger vacant housing stock. Fortunately everyone was wakened and no one was hurt on Woodlawn this morning.
woodlawn row houses - 7am this morning
The fire wrecked any realistic hope of ever saving one of the last sets of row houses here in the Queen City. Designated by the City's Preservation Board with local land mark status in 1982, the Woodlawn Row Houses were architecturally and historically unique. Here's the archive.
rear of woodlawn row houses - 6:30am this morning
fixBuffalo readers may remember the other historic - local landmark and National Register - property, The Wollenberg Grain Elevator. It was owned by the City and never maintained or properly sealed. It burned three years ago. It was the last remaining wooden grain elevator - the forerunner of Concrete Atlantis - and an integral part of our city's historic and industrial past. It was never marketed by the Division of Real Estate and clearly could have been part of the City's resurgence, similar to the Waasaic Project.

An emergency demolition is the most likely scenario for what remains. The path to the City's Division of Real Estate is well worn. Responsibility lies there. Accountability doesn't. Why?

See flickr slide show - Burning Woodlawn!
ArtspaceBAVPAWoodlawn Row HousesfixBuffalo flickr
Creative ClassShrinking CitiesSaturdays in the Neighborhood


Christopher Byrd said...

David...you must feel like you have lost a dear relative...I am sorry.

Anonymous said...

WITH THE BURNING/ARSON PATTERN OF DELAPITATED. VACANT HOUSES IN BUFFALO'S EAST SIDE.are you really suprised. It was inevitable that this would happen..now the city will have another emergency demo to deal with.
COULD THE ATTENTION you brought to this vacant building helped target the arsonists to target this?
Time to move on and adjust to the way of life in Buffalo, shootings, robberies, arson, inadequate leadership etc.

light of day is far away said...

"The path to the City's Division of Real Estate is well worn. Responsibility lies there. Accountability doesn't. Why?"

Because John Hannon, City Director of Real Estate, is married to Congressman Brian Higgins' sister.
No Mayor, either Brown or Masiello dares piss off the Congressman by firing his bro-in-law,.

kelly said...

That is so sad. I remember going to take photos of the grain elevator before that burned. I feel terrible for people who are stuck living near these buildings. How can so many people not see the importance and potential of these places? I know you need people with money to take a gamble but for the city to let these places slide down for so long is just horrible.

I am moving my mother to NC on Monday and after months of looking at houses and towns we have seen some great mid to late 1800 homes that are appreciated down there. I wish people here appreciated history more.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Mayor will be over with the Impact Team to mow lawns and sweep the streets to show he's doing something! We have a lipstick on a pig mayor.

John Straubinger said...

Rather than chasing strawmen like Hannon, whose marriage to Higgin's sister as an excuse for no-worry incompetence about his job seems off-base as a reason for what happened this morning, let's ask the Mayor about why the city never did anything about the row houses or ask James Pitts what happened to his plans for his renovation of the row houses. I'd also like to know what the motive is for arson here. The buildings aren't insured, I assume, so is this arson for fun, for watching them burn, for adding more vacant holes to the landscape?

Betty Barcode said...

My heart goes out to you. Is emergency demo really the only option?

Anonymous said...

aww man that sucks really bad. Sorry to hear this.


Anonymous said...


I just logged onto your website and read the terrible news about this tragedy and I am so sorry as I know this was one property, among many, that you so dearly wanted to save.

I suspect the damage is too extensive for any type of resurrection.



Ryan said...

Seems to fit right in with Brown's plan to demolish by neglect.

I'm sure he's been waiting for this plot to become available for some heavily subsidized new-builds.

Just watch.

Becky said...

I agree with Ryan more or less. They were standing in the way of "progress".

So sorry to see the rowhouses like that. When my son's school was at Traditional for a year I often looked at them, feeling like I was familiar due to Fix Buffalo, along with other buildings in the area.

RaChaCha said...

David, I couldn't be sorrier to see this news, especially with the occasional signs of hope over the last year or so, and ESPECIALLY with the enhanced preservation tax credits signed *just last week* which would have made a rehab project on this building so much more feasible -- even in this economy.

This gets even more poignant if you look at my article earlier this year (follow the link on my name), when Assemblyman Sam Hoyt introduced the bill for the enhanced tax credits. I used a photo of Woodlawn Row Houses to head the article.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry for your loss David. It is sad that you had to be the one to call 911 on the property that you tried so hard to save.

Jackie said...

This is heartbreaking. I am so often surprised why we care so little about our historic landmarks while we work so hard to preserve ones of the mayans, egyptians etc. They are not more important than american heritage. Being trained in archaeology it breaks my heart how skewed peoples views are on these things.

Now to rebut something one of the Anonymous said. I don't think this was inevitable, something could have been done but no one actually got to it, in typical buffalo style. It is people like you David who make buffalo better. You care. We do not need to adjust to the way of life here, that is stupid and will let people think that robberies, shootings, arsons, and simply messed up leadership is ok. The people who just adjust are the people who let these things happen, the people who let the city get so bad. It is not, we need not to adjust but to do something about it! Why have Americans forgot this? Did we sit back and let the British do what they wanted? No we fought. Do not adjust, fight!

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you buy them David..

The first thing that would happen was you would never get any rent from any tenants.. They could be in prestine condition but they need the money for other things.

They second thing is this building is historic, you would need permission to even paint. It would have to be the same paint and condition as 100 yrs ago otherwise you would be prosecuted.

I would of read about you in front of Judge Henry Novak for not maintaining your derelict property.

Cynical said...

Anonymous 9:49 PM, August 07, 2009,

That bit about needing Preservation Board approval for paint is a fairy tale - simply isn't true. Even if you did something patently improper like install vinyl windows, change window sizes, fail to repair your roof for years on end, among other examples taken from real properties in Allentown, Inspections and the Court will do nothing to you - NOTHING.

John Hannon's political connections may or may not be relevant, but there is certainly something that keeps this much less than competent person in his position of responsibility, so speculation about what it is seems germane to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

Cynical .. You should buy it and fix it up.

This grand property can be had for close to nothing now..

The problem is it is easier said then done.

We both know everyone is talk.

See you on the front page of the Buffalo News later..

skarnath said...

David - condolences. Sometimes fighting the good fight doesn't produce positive results. But the good fight still needs to be fought. Keep the faith...

natalie said...

i wanted to add my condolences...i know you've been closely following woodlawn for at least as long as i've been a reader (2 years)

Rod McCallum said...

Sure are a lot of people that feel sorry and blame "them" but if you are connected enough to feel bad and you don't live here then you are as much to blame as "the city", the mayor, John Hannon, etc. Your lip service is salt in the wound. Actions speak louder folks.

David, I miss your frequent posting. Thanks for inspiring others in the face of discouragement.

de Vereaux said...

I smell smoke and fish in the air. This is real sad and shows how the city does not want to put in real work on projects. So easy to give someone a lighter and fluid insead of putting a plan together and following through with it to produce something with history. Now you will get the same looking pre-fab housing with no character. Sorry that you could not complete the fight for this property. Just like Buffalo, so much potential little execution

olcott_beach said...

The Woodlawn Row structure was perhaps a tragedy in the making and I truly believe that we are all saddened more for David Torke than the actually building.

However, there are so many blighted buildings throughout Buffalo that need to be addressed so where do you begin or who should be making those choices? I would like to parody channel 2 who once hosted a program that claimed they would rebuild Buffalo “one house at a time”.

Unfortunately, the homes that sit idle waiting to be resurrected often become a target for the mad arsonist of east Buffalo – if and when this person or persons is caught, it will probably be some punk from West Seneca or Orchard Park!

As long as Buffalo remains in its current economic slump; the rebuilding of our many treasured homes will remain unchanged.


Anonymous said...

The Division of Real Estate is a joke. There are enough do-gooders who care about Buffalo to make major improvements quickly but Real Estate has its finger on every block of the City. When someone goes to the office with the desire and means to rehab or take over properties they are not given the time of day by John Hannon. What's worse, he exudes hostility towards applicants, and potential purchasers, as if the director of the Division of Real Estate has better things to do than get blighted properties back on the tax rolls. The people who comment saying that so and so should have bought and rehabbed the row houses don't understand that there have been interested parties in the past but there has never been a consummated deal. Why? Because D of RE haggles about the price as if they are holding valued properties.

A disaster the scale of the abandoned and vacant properties in Buffalo might not have happened on purpose, but the disaster, this crisis continues in some part because it is to the advantage of those with power.

John said...

As soon as I heard about this, I thought about FixBuffalo.
So sorry to hear it.

Denizen said...

David, my condolences. These houses have been one of your primary passions for as long as I can remember reading your blog.

In a city that has received such a vast amount of anti-poverty HUD money to address housing issues, it's purely criminal that so much environmentally unfriendly, architecturally abominable had been built with those funds instead restoring the dwindling treasures we already have.

Using such funds for a full renovation of the row houses could have been a no-brainer move, preventing 4 of those ghastly "vinyl vics" from marring the city's urban fabric.

Oh well, what's a couple more vacant lots to us?

Keeping on fighting the good fight. Hopefully there will be a victory one of these days.


Anonymous said...

Burn baby burn - gasoline and a match - who would have thunk!

Nice pictures David - you were right there with your camera and watching