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The Graystone—Can this building be saved?




The Graystone today

Joe Cascio

Nearly hidden away on the small one-way block of Johnson Park South between Elmwood and Delaware, the Graystone Hotel is a derelict six-story residential building with striking architectural features that have inspired the hopes of preservationists for years. Its neoclassical façade features graceful ancones supporting handsome pediments above window treatments with small balustrades between stories, roofline pediments, and a distinctive columned portico that reaches all the way to the curb. The building was designed by Buffalo architect Carlton T. Strong and Ernest L. Ransome, an English-born architect who first experimented with reinforced concrete construction by using twisted metal rods to strengthen the material. When the Graystone opened in 1897, it was one of the first large-scale buildings in the nation constructed of reinforced concrete. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also distinguished by the way its construction technology was used to create a building with the appearance of a stone exterior.

Charles Sherrill, the original owner, planned to create 120 luxury apartment suites and call the building the Alabama Apartments. But he apparently confused Buffalo with Manhattan and—more than a century too early for the Avant—lost his financing when it became apparent that the local gentry wasn’t clamoring for downtown luxury apartment living. (800 West Ferry, Darwin R. Martin’s grand gothic high-rise, was built more than thirty years later.) When new owners bought the building, they changed its name to the Berkeley Apartments and opened it as an apartment hotel for short-term tenants with rents ranging from $25 to $50 a month. The hotel hosted important visitors to the Pan-Am Exposition in 1901 and in 1912 it became the Graystone when the building was sold once again.

Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, the hotel was owned by William Luigart, who advertised 150 rooms for rent on the European Plan (i.e., meals not included) with daily rates ranging from $1.50 and up. According to the ads, the Graystone was “convenient to everything” and offered “the best without extravagance.” In the late 1950s, reflecting the general unraveling of Buffalo’s urban fabric, the Graystone began its gradual decline. In 1958, the 104-room hotel was sold at auction after a mortgage foreclosure by the Buffalo Savings Bank. The high bid of $81,000 was offered by a syndicate of local businessmen including a hotel manager, a property management executive, and an architect. In its most recent inhabited state, the Graystone comprised sixty-one rooms rented through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the late 1980s and early ’90s, a period wherein—according to one Johnson Park resident—the building suffered its greatest indignities.

The Graystone subsequently passed through a series of limited liability companies until it was purchased by Carl Paladino and Ellicott Development for $150,000 in 2002. The following year, the company began interior demolition on the building in order to create forty new apartments. That work stopped in September 2003 after a worker was seriously injured after falling through the roof while operating a construction vehicle. Since then, the roof has not been repaired, the exterior finish of the rear east wing has vanished, and Paladino has made occasional proclamations of new plans for the building. Meanwhile, Ellicott has received thirty-four invitations to Buffalo Housing Court as a result of property violations at the Graystone. In January 2011, workmen were once again conducting interior demolition on the building—under a new permit—and Bill Paladino at Ellicott Development assured Spree that work will begin this May or June to construct twenty-four moderately priced apartments due for completion “next spring [2012] at the latest.” Once again, the Graystone and Buffalo hopefully await the long-promised restoration of this historic building.

 

 

Philip Nyhuis is a frequent contributor to Spree on architecture and other subjects. Research assistance on the Graystone was provided by members of the Louise Bethune Society of Architectural Historians and Chicago architect and WNY ex-pat David Steele.

Sources:
U.S. National Register of Historic Places on Waymarking.com (www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM1275_Berkeley_Apartments)
Sharon Linstedt, Buffalo News, 3/11/08
Buffalo City Directories, 1914–1959
Chuck LaChiusa, “800 West Ferry St.,” Buffalo as an Architectural Museum, (www.buffaloah.com/a/wferry/800/index.html)
 

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