Columbus Parkway: a treasure on the edge
By Jana Eisenberg; photos by kc kratt

The Henry Hagen House (1907), an example of freely rendered Colonial Revival architecture.
Editor’s note: Plans for the new Peace Briudge and the expansion of its plaza—which apparently must happen on this side of the border—will affect one of Buffalo’s most significant West Side neighborhoods. We don’t know what the eventual outcome will be or how this distinguished community will ultimately be affected, but we thought it would be relevant to take a closer look at the architecture and personalities of these magnificent homes.

Buffalo’s Prospect Hill neighborhood is a notable one; in 2008, the Preservation League of New York State named it one of its annual “Seven to Save” areas, and the same year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation placed the neighborhood on its “Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places” list.

Serious architectural and historic cred is required to earn spots on those lists. And according to many in Buffalo, Prospect Hill is one of the city’s most overlooked historic assets. We decided to see for ourselves. We took in Columbus Parkway from Porter, working northerly toward Niagara Street.

Thomes along Busti Avenue and Columbus Parkway include: Angelo Acquisto House (1948); Elmstone Carriage House (1884).

Martin Wachadlo, an architectural historian and ubiquitous player on the Buffalo preservation scene, joined us. “Prospect Hill is unique as Buffalo’s only neighborhood with good examples of design from every decade from 1860 to 1960,” he says. “It’s also the only historic lakefront Buffalo neighborhood.”

“This area was desirable for many years; Front Park, which opened in the 1870s, was Buffalo’s most popular park,” he adds. It’s part of the Olmsted system; the designer is said to have felt the site was one of the most ideally suited places for a park in all of America at the time.

George Sandrock House (1886), Frank Giancola House (1932) and Abner Cutler House (c. 1885).

It was a strongly Italian neighborhood for many years. “Pre-Civil War, Prospect Hill was popular; it was known as a nice city neighborhood until the end of the nineteenth century,” says Wachadlo. “During the 1920s, the Italian community, rising in affluence, began moving northward from the canal-side area. Up until the ’50s, they continued to build good quality homes here.”

Carole Perla has lived on Columbus Parkway since 1973. She and her late husband, Carl Perla, Jr., a Niagara district council member, raised their family in their circa-1884 home. They learned that it was designed by Rochester architect James G. Cutler, whose greater claim to fame is that he patented the office-building mail chute.

Dr. John Naples House (1939) and Linda DeTine’s home, built for Edgar B. Jewett (1880).

The exterior of the DeWitt Baker (Certo) House (c. 1883)
Interior of the Certo’s home with historic mid-twentieth century linoleum floors, front hall, original Woodworked staircase and stained glass windows.
“My husband grew up in this neighborhood,” says Perla. “We love the park, its closeness to downtown, and the water. There is so much history here; Richard Moe, National Trust for Historic Preservation president, says, ‘Unless history lives in the present, it has no future.’ I think that applies to our neighborhood.” Perla and others cite D’Youville College’s expansion and development efforts as having a positive effect.

The neighborhood holds homes in varying degrees of preservation, some perfectly pristine and some altered by former or present owners. Linda DeTine’s three-story corner property, for instance, was build in 1880 for General Edgar B. Jewett, and still retains much of its original woodwork.

Mel Holden, along with her husband and little girl, lives up the block. Their home is a more modest building constructed in 1899. Says Wachadlo of the Holdens’ home, “This is a typical middle-class home of the era: it’s not huge, but well-built with exquisite woodwork. They paid attention to detail, design, and construction. You can see that in the curved leaded-glass windows and pocket doors.”

It is expensive to keep up an old house, Holden admits: “We have done a lot since we bought; we refurbished some of the bay windows, insulated, added a new roof, and painted the interior. [We also] put in a kitchen door and a new deck. We paint part of the exterior every summer.”

Holden feels that the neighborhood has a special charm: “It’s quiet; there are great old trees. There’s Prospect, Front, and LaSalle Parks. The library is five minutes away, and downtown is an easy thirty-minute walk.” She and her daughter walk up to West Side hotspot Five Points Bakery and Urban Roots; they can even walk to Canada.

The neighborhood’s diversity is also a draw. “There are younger and older, renters and owners, newer residents and those who have lived here for decades,” says Holden. “There are school principals, teachers, lawyers, doctors, artists ...”

Holden says that Prospect Hill represents opportunity for young people and potential for the city. “This neighborhood is not horrible or gone to seed,” she asserts. “If the bridge project was dead, people would buy those good, affordable houses and fix them up. All it takes is a few people with vision, who dig a neighborhood and are willing to work with the bones of old houses, to make the area come back.”

Across the street and down another few houses is Dennis and Suzanne Mason’s home. It’s an 1896 colonial revival brick house. “The Masons’ home was designed by August Esenwein, an important local architect,” says Wachadlo. “Its interior detailing is remarkable: An extraordinary wooden staircase, with Ionic newel posts; a wonderful three-unit stained- and leaded-glass window.”

Adds Wachadlo about the structure’s exterior lines: “I don’t know of another house like this still standing in Buffalo—the scale is almost that of a public building.”
The Masons bought in 1989. “My wife wanted a big old house in the city,” says Dennis Mason. “This had what she was looking for: the woodwork, size, waterfront location, ‘walkability,’ parks … we jumped at it.”

“In an old house, when something breaks, it can be tricky to fix,” Mason says. “I get ideas from guys at old hardware stores. We wouldn’t change the front or side windows; we put on storms, which have to be special ordered because of the height.”

A few more houses up the block is Peterjoe Certo’s c. 1883 Queen Anne style home. Wachadlo points out the artistic flair applied to the gable’s exterior; it’s an example of “roughcast,” a technique which made it fashionable to mix broken glass and small rocks with the cement used to coat the outside of the building.

The John Russ (mason) House (1896), designed by August C. Esenwein; master staircase (The bench to the right hides a secret compartment); and The Masons’ living room.

Inside the home are several additional unique elements. “There is outstanding original stained glass,” Wachadlo says. “Also, unusual tongue-and-groove-closure pocket doors—they’re very effective when you want to shut off part of the house to preserve energy or block out noise.”

In the early 1940s, it became popular to inlay linoleum in lieu of carpets, and two of Certo’s rooms contain this feature. “They are almost abstract modernist patterns,” notes Wachadlo. “This is unusual; they did it for color, and for the ‘modern’ convenience. The house also has all of its original windows.”

Windows are a hot topic with preservationists and homeowners. “Original windows are very important,” Wachadlo says. “It’s ‘greener,’ more efficient, and ultimately cheaper to refurbish and preserve original windows rather than replace them.”

If you replace the word “windows” with “neighborhoods," that’s a pretty good basic philosophy for Buffalo’s neighborhood treasures.

Jana Eisenberg, a Buffalo transplant in residence since 2002, writes on many topics for Spree.


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