These old houses represented several different front lines in the battles over the development of the new Buffalo over the last decade or so.
As recently as the early 1980s, the row of houses on the east side of Elmwood Avenue between Forest and what was then a tiny breakfast joint named Pano’s were still mostly residential.
While the ’80s wore on and Elmwood found itself in the midst of an urban revival, the onetime ground-floor apartments in these big old homes became store fronts, housing businesses that fit into the vibe that was spilling out of Allentown and SUNY Buffalo State and meeting somewhere in the middle.
City-sponsored efforts to bring neon sculpture to the Elmwood strip gave a new glow to the Bidwell Parkway area, as well to the Neon Art Store pictured above. Play It Again Sam Records and later Home of the Hits were sources of music that couldn’t be found elsewhere.
As plans for development of the block into a hotel were first floated in 2006, the buildings were vacated and fell into disrepair — not that several of them were in great shape to begin with. Discussions between builders, neighbors and preservationists continued for more than a decade, and the houses were further neglected. Early in 2018, the big old houses came down.
As individual homes, they weren’t historically or architecturally significant, but as the now-shovel-ready gash of earth sits at the corner of Elmwood and Forest, we’re left to ask whether the loss of the tiny piece of our city’s soul will be worth putting up something shiny, multi-use and income-generating. (A 40-unit condominium project by Chason Affinity Cos. — which required eight zoning variances and was the subject of many complaints by neighbors — is planned for the site.)
The question that remains is, if we wipe out too many of the shabby old houses, can we still keep the essence of what attracts people to Buffalo?