Preservation Ready: The Lyceum stands alone
*Elizabeth Licata, Spree's editor and author of this article, recently discussed concerns with the Lyceum with WBFO's Eileen Buckley on their series entitled Press Pass. Click here to listen.
In 2006, Phil Nyhuis wrote about St. Mary’s Lyceum for Spree’s first architecture issue, commenting, “It seems like a natural for a condo conversion with the lovely walled garden in back and the well-kept Pine Street neighborhood next door.”
Five years later, no such conversion has happened—or seems likely to happen in the near future. The partially-occupied building at 215 Broadway remains an elegant remnant of a once-thriving parish: German Redemptorist St. Mary’s, founded in 1844, when Broadway was Batavia Street.
The Lyceum was constructed in 1909 by the Most Holy Redeemer society, founders of St. Mary’s. Built to be fireproof, it originally held three bowling alleys, a swimming pool, a library, a large auditorium, a billiard/card room, a gymnasium, hot/cold showers, and more. Its Classical Revival exterior features a symmetrical façade, gable roof, and pilaster-supported pediment.
During the early part of the century the Lyceum was held up as a model Catholic clubhouse, with its healthy combination of social and athletic functions, but sometime during the 1930s, it ceased to function as a clubhouse and—until 1970—became classroom space for St. Mary’s Business School. It then housed a health/social services center. (At this point, much of the first and second floors were transformed into small office spaces.) The Lyceum is now bereft of the church and convent that once accompanied it. They were destroyed by fire (the church) in 1986, and demolished (the convent) in 1990.
In the early ’90s, the building was purchased by the Belmont Management Company (under the name Belmont Contracting). Founded by Bruce Baird in 1975, Belmont manages affordable housing throughout New York state. The company currently occupies about four to five thousand feet on the second floor of the Lyceum. As Baird explains, “We’re not in the mode to be able to rehab the whole building. We want to hold it together so that someone else can come along and rehabilitate it— we would love to have someone step forward to do more with the building.”
Baird also notes that basic roof repairs will soon be necessary: “The roof is critical and the exterior cladding, including the decorative terracotta is important. The terracotta—which requires a specialist—needs the most work.“ He adds, “We’re not quite as worried about the inside, as long as the water is kept out. The issue is weatherproofing the building.”
Baird thinks that the Lyceum is ripe with unique possibilities, especially for creative reuse of the larger auditorium and gymnasium spaces, but admits that the “someone” who will come forward to rehab and reuse the entire Lyceum is still a question mark.
Could the Lyceum once again become part of a campus? The Michigan Avenue Heritage Corridor—comprised of the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church, the Nash House, and the Colored Musicians Club—is a couple blocks away, with the Colored Musician’s Club just down the street at 145 Broadway. The Lyceum could certainly be a handsome addition to this small clutch of cultural attractions—perhaps as a museum to help show off all the artifacts the Nash and CMC are too small to display. It could also, as we speculated in 2006, be a great residential complex. Like so much vacant or underused historic architecture in Buffalo, the Lyceum is all possibility.
Elizabeth Licata is editor of Buffalo Spree.
Interested in the Lyceum? Contact Bruce Baird, Belmont Management Company, 854-1251. Many thanks to Phil Nyhuis for his earlier article, and to Dana Saylor-Furman, Old Time Roots, for her additional research. Thanks also to David Steele and Frits Abel. The Preservation Ready series is done in conjunction with their Facebook group, Preservation-ready sites.
Sources: Nyhuis, Philip, “East Side Gems,” Buffalo Spree, 7/06. Dana Saylor-Furman sites Preuss, Arthur, “A Model Catholic Club-House,” Forthnightly Review 28, no. 3 (February 1, 1921), p. 42, and Nancy Piatkoski’s “St Mary,” in the buffalolore.buffalonet.org website, as well as records found in city atlases and through the city of Buffalo Permit office. Chuck LaChiusa’s website, Buffalo Architecture and History (buffaloah.com), is always a helpful source.