Ernest Franks House

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Ernest Franks House
Ernest Franks House

Photo credit: PRS

184 West Utica Street, Buffalo NY 14200

ACTION!

  • The City of Buffalo Preservation Board accepted the application for local landmark status and scheduled a public hearing for 4:00pm February 25.

Owner

  • Nick Sinatra dba S&N Buffalo Properties

Physical Description

  • 2 1/2 story red brick house in the Flemish Revival style.

Current Condition

  • Vacant.

History

  • From The Campaign for Greater Buffalo's full architectural description, photos, and criteria for landmark designation as submitted to Buffalo Preservation Board (5 MB PDF here):
  • (1) As a rare example of Flemish Revival style domestic architecture in Buffalo, the Ernest Franks House has character and value as an expression of the heritage and culture of Buffalo and New York State. The territory that is now New York State was first colonized by the Dutch in 1609, the same year the Dutch Republic itself was recognized by the European powers. The architectural style brought over by the original settlers of New Amsterdam (which became New York in 1664), Beverwijk (Albany) and the Hudson Valley was Flemish, characterized most prominently by the step gable.
  • Impending loss of independence in the consolidation of New York City in 1898 caused Brooklynites to embrace the Flemish architecture of its first hamlets as tokens of distinctiveness. This spread throughout metropolitan New York and the state with the approach of the tricentenary of the founding of New Netherland in 1909. The second New Amsterdam (Buffalo), founded by Dutch capitalists itself, shared in the cultural moment.
  • (3) The Ernest Franks House is a cultural artifact that embodies the historic, aesthetic, and architectural heritage of Buffalo and New York State. It is at once physically characteristic of its era, the early 20th century, and a conscious effort to celebrate and emulate the architecture and aesthetics of the 17th century.
  • (5) It embodies characteristics of the Flemish Revival style valuable for the study of early 20th century architecture and the use of indigenous materials. The use of local sandstone in many different forms, and brick, as well as the adaptation of the Flemish Revival to emerging and prevalent American forms, make the Ernest Franks House a repository of knowledge.
  • (6) The Ernest Franks House was designed by Albert Schallmo, a master architect who significantly contributed to the development of the City and State. Schallmo was an extraordinary artist in brick. The Franks House may be his first commission and it shows, at an early age, a careful choice and use of materials to create a distinctive house on a tight budget. It is valuable for that alone.
  • Schallmo went on to design, with partner Chester Oakley, four unsurpassed masterpieces of brick architecture: Roman Catholic parish churches for Blessed Trinity, St. John the Baptist, St. Casimir, and St. Luke. He also independently designed several houses and a school in Williamsville, and, with Oakley, several characteristic buildings at St. Bonaventure University in the Southern Tier.
  • (7) The details of step gable, quarry-faced, dressed-, and rusticated sandstone, dense jumbo brick, flared roof and dormer, and superb overall craftsmanship render the Ernest Franks House architecturally significant. These are all details found in Flemish architecture as it developed from the 13th through 17th centuries, was transplanted to the New World, and was interpreted by, particularly, New York State architects at the turn of the 20th century. It is also a monument to the prideful craftsmanship of masons and bricklayers in Buffalo’s Golden Age.

Recent Events and Actions Taken

  • January 2020: Sinatra Development, which owns the house and an adjoining parking lot, has applied for a demolition permit for an 18-unit townhouse development. Neighbors and concerned citizens opposed to the demolition showed up in force at a January 23 Preservation Board hearing on the demo request.
  • February 6, 2020: The City of Buffalo Preservation Board accepted the application and scheduled a public hearing for 4:00pm February 25.

Other Pertinent Facts

  • Statement by Bob Pedersen, President, Atlantic-West Utica Block Club: I want to touch on two issues raised in the response to this piece: the long period of neglect of the houses and the last minute rush to landmark 184 West Utica.
Both the houses were purchased by Kaleida from private owners in 2007/08 to expand parking on W. Utica for their proposed WCH Hodge Avenue clinic, ultimately never built. They were successful in grabbing 5 properties on this street by offering 2x market value, and in the case of 184, almost 3x ($150K vs. $65K). During the 3 years they held them, they exhibited reasonably attentive stewardship, partly because they had their roving security patrols and outward-facing RampCam. Our organization and others adamantly opposed these demos and were ultimately successful. In 2010/11 Kaleida decided to migrate WCH to the expanding Medical Corridor and sold all their residential properties on Hodge and W. Utica to Dan Saunders of Buffalo Land Holding (BLH) for cents on the dollar. The understanding was that BLH would rehab the properties and either lease them himself as investments, or sell. Dan did that with half; the other half, including 180 and 184, received no attention. His oft-stated plan for 184 was to eventually rehab and sell to his daughter and family, who was at that point in the military. Didn't happen. During this period, the intrusions and vandalism at 184 began. We would call Dan, we would call the police, we did whatever we could to keep the lid on. In Nov 2014, Dan sold the untouched properties - 2 on Hodge and 180/184 on W. Utica -- as a package to Nick Sinatra and Philip Nanula (Essex Homes) for about $500K.
Sinatra was in the middle of major acquisitions on W. Utica at that time, including 4 properties from Mike Hananel's California-based Horizon group, and somewhat later, the Cadet property. We learned in Jan 2016 that his interest in 180/184 was to tear them down for townhomes (similar to the current project) as part of his proposal for WCH re-purposing. I met with Sinatra and his counsel at the time, Peter Savage, to discuss the issue, and it was agreed that there would be no demos if his project were chosen by Kaleida; "it made no sense to tear houses down to build others." When he was not granted the project, he put 180/184 on the market the following spring for $189,900 each. Despite the ridiculously high ask (he had convinced the City to reduce the appraisal of 180 to $10K, and 184 to $58K), I witnessed some serious interest when I visited the first open house. But according to the RE agent later, despite offers, Nick would not deal. Shortly after, Ciminelli was off the WCH project, Sinatra/Ellicott was offered the opportunity, and the sales signs came down. At the first meeting of the Project Advisory Committee when plans for Elmwood Crossing were revealed, the houses were again gone. I protested, recalling the earlier agreement. The response was "circumstances have changed."
It was at that time the stewardship of the properties really deteriorated. The squatting increased and oversight slackened. For example, when 184 was tagged during the Greek Festival last summer, two requests to have them cleaned were ignored. The City finally acted and slapped liens on the property. Two break-ins a few months later went un-addressed, so a neighbor and I did the re-boarding. There was a continuing pattern of indifference and classic "demolition by neglect." To now hear the developers tell the Boards that the properties are in bad shape is to recall the old chestnut about the kid who kills his parents and then begs mercy from the court as an orphan.
The developers have known from the beginning that we liked the townhome project but opposed demolitions, and we've tried to talk them into revising, without effect. In the end, we felt our only hope was to gain favor with the Planning and Preservation Boards when the townhome project was reviewed. No one I ever spoke to or worked with suggested that 184, regardless of how much we admired that house, might be worthy of landmark status. It was not until the Preservation Board application from the developers last month was reviewed by the Campaign that it became clear to people more knowledgeable than our membership that it needed investigation, and that was quickly undertaken, encouraged by the Preservation Board itself. In that respect, this was indeed a last-minute action, but the underlying opposition was always there. I sit on the Project Advisory Committee; I meet with and e-mail my fellow block club leaders and the developers and their staffs regularly. Opposition was no secret and widely supported by our membership. I take full responsibility for the lost opportunities that a better knowledge of architecture would have made possible early on. But none of us here will ever accept blame for the behavior of Kaleida, Saunders, and Sinatra over the past decade and the state in which we now find these properties!

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Added 2020-02-01 • Last changed 2020-02-14