Developing / Turner Lofts
Architect/entrepreneur Jake Schneider's transformation of former Niagara Street industrial buildings
Photos by Katie Scheider
One of Buffalo’s most interesting and innovative developers, architect/entrepreneur Jake Schneider, has again come through with an exciting conversion. This time, he’s transformed some derelict buildings directly opposite the 190’s Niagara Street exit ramp into highly desirable city lofts. (Look at slideshow below.)
The original 1848 four-story Gothic Revival timber structure was built for Turner Brothers, a company that manufactured and distributed soda, ginger wine, sarsaparilla, and other syrups across the Eastern Seaboard—and then nationally and internationally. The business, founded by five enterprising Turners, predated the Civil War with factories in New York, Buffalo, and San Francisco. The building was later occupied by a children’s carriage manufacturer before being purchased by American Household Storage Company in 1903. The storage company constructed an adjacent six-story concrete frame structure in 1901.
Both bottling heritage and storage themes have been thematically emphasized throughout the completed project. Paying homage to the Turner Brothers, an attractive stained-glass panel of the company’s logo has been crafted for the lobby by artisan Catalina Costner. The panel is surrounded by a brightly lit glass etagere filled with green and blue bottles; the entire array emits an arresting glow at night. Striking photos on large canvases, of blue and green sea-tumbled glass, by photographer Katie Schneider, punctuate the industrial scene.
Original unit doors from the building’s years as a storage facility are also featured throughout the complex. The first appears as a coffee table in the lobby, again reminding visitors of the site’s early functions. Additional original doors are mounted in sequential rhythm in the wide upstairs corridors to suggest the spacing of storage rooms, interspersed with the contemporary natural maple entry doors to new apartments. Finally, the doors can be seen positioned horizontally as foundations for kitchen islands and peninsulas inside the apartments.
The project presented huge challenges, as there were actually five buildings—each with different floor plates—that needed to be coherently combined into one. A superstructure was cleverly integrated into the building’s interior allowing vertical circulation with two elevators and stair towers. This allows ADA access while incorporating the various grades of both the concrete and wood-framed structures. The result makes harmonic sense, and creates a structure that makes a strong statement about the current complex’s industrial aesthetic and history.
On the exterior, the original Turner Brothers façade has been preserved and enhanced. It is interesting that the roadbed in the original photos is much higher than current grade, whereas the level of most thoroughfares has risen by adding layers of paving over the years, the current grade is substantially lower. Therefore, the current street and sidewalk grades do not allow access from Niagara Street; instead, there is a convenient entrance to the main building entry from the side parking lot.
The finished project has created forty residential apartments, including thirty-two one-bedroom and eight spacious two-bedroom units. (An emphasis on attracting a younger demographic is the reason for the majority of one-bedroom units.) Schneider notes that his company’s philosophy is “Big on amenities!” Thus, the complex includes an ample bike storage room, a “dog wash” shower, a fitness center, a valet room where dry cleaning can be dropped off and picked up, and—most spectacularly—a roof deck with wrap-around views of the city. In season, it’s outfitted with furniture and planters, with twinkling lights completing the scene. The bike amenities are consistent with Schneider’s previous project, Apartments@the HUB, an 80,000-square-foot restored building on Swan Street that incorporates a bike retailer and a pub with a bike theme, for an overall emphasis on fitness and biking in an urban environment. The developer observes, “Younger people want alternate modes of transportation and prefer to not rely on their automobiles.”
The Turner apartments are distinctive and generous in size. The building’s awkward concrete mushroom-shaped columns could have deterred some, but Schneider chose to make them a feature in the nine different floorplans of the units. Master bedrooms have double French doors that symmetrically balance the columns. Most of the units have electric fireplaces with mantels and fireplace surrounds. All of the kitchens feature stainless steel appliances, wooden cabinets, granite countertops, subway tile backsplashes, and islands with seating. They have wide-planked pre-engineered floating wooden floors, tile baths, and retain original building materials (such as speed tile walls) wherever possible. “We show the historic fabric whenever we can and leave it raw where possible,” explains Schneider. The two-bedroom units have huge laundry rooms and two sizable bathrooms. Closets may also be described as enormous, and include pantries, utility closets, and huge walk-ins.
Views of the neighborhood from generously supplied windows show a flurry of construction and remodeling activities, evidenced by new roofs, new fences, landscaped yards, and many other projects in progress. “Ten years ago, there were gangs and people afraid to live in this neighborhood,” Schneider notes. “Today, that perception is changing and we are thrilled that we could participate in reclaiming our neighborhoods.”
Turner Lofts is located on Niagara Street directly adjacent to the West Village Historic Preservation District. That puts it within a half mile from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, a few blocks from Niagara Square, the new Delaware North headquarters, BlueCross BlueShield, and within walking distance to the waterfront. There is well-lit and secure off-street parking.
Ru’s Pierogi, an appealing restaurant and pub, occupies space on the ground floor of the complex. The brainchild of partners Zack Schneider and Andy Ruszczyk (head chief and creator), the eatery is both a business tenant and a successful way to draw the neighborhood into the building with affordable food and a local pub. Ru also has a food truck.
Schneider’s next project (spring, 2017) is Shea’s Seneca Theatre in South Buffalo. The theater had been partially torn down in the seventies; what remains is the original theater lobby, which is said to be breathtaking and on par with the lobby of Shea’s Buffalo on Main Street. The barrel-vaulted two-and-a half-story space will become a special event and banquet space to be joined by twenty-five apartments, retail, and Second Generation Theatre Company’s permanent home. Schneider is excited about the location near the edge of Olmsted’s Cazenovia Park, and sees the potential for his project to spur further development.
Barry A. Muskat is Spree’s architecture critic and frequent contributor. He has followed downtown development for years as every Grade C brick structure in the city’s building stock has been spoken for, and the search for the next new neighborhood revitalization continues.