Berrick & Sons Demonstration Homes

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Berrick & Sons Demonstration Homes
Berrick & Sons Demonstration Homes
Photo credit: City of Buffalo Preservation Board

84 to 102 Florida Street, Buffalo NY 14208

Owner

  • Severyn Development
  • Canisius College owned these houses since the 1990s, and sold them all to Severyn Brothers in October 2020.

Physical Description

  • A row of seven stone or brick 2 1/2 story dwelling houses.

Current Condition

  • January 2021: Undergoing restoration.

History

  • Designed by prominent local architect George J. Metzger for Charles Berrick and Sons, a prolific local development firm active in the region from the mid-nineteenth century through the early 1900s. The houses, which were demonstration homes intended to exhibit the firm’s skill and taste amidst the city’s incredible growth at the turn of the century, retain a great deal of integrity, with interesting features such as projecting bay windows, pocket doors, and original woodwork.
  • From the local historic designation nomination:
The Berrick & Sons Demonstration Homes are seven associated residences located on Florida Street between Main Street and Jefferson Avenue in the Cold Springs neighborhood of Buffalo, New York. The two-bay, two-and-a-half-story, front-gabled standalone duplexes were built in a row on the north side of the street in 1901 and blend Late-Victorian Queen Anne and early twentieth century revival details. They were designed by prominent local architect George J. Metzger for Charles Berrick and Sons, a prolific local development firm active in the region from the mid-nineteenth century through the early 1900s. The houses, which were demonstration homes intended to exhibit the firm’s skill and taste amidst the city’s incredible growth at the turn of the century, retain a great deal of integrity, with interesting features such as projecting bay windows, pocket doors, and original woodwork.
While identical in bays, massing, and plan, the south-facing façade of each building varies in materials, window shape, and detailing, with different combinations of brick, limestone, and sandstone utilized for the walls, sills, lintels, and porch foundations. These materials continue part of the way around the side elevations, where the rest of each building is faced in common red brick. At the western bay of the first floor, two modern doors are located within a single opening under a flat lintel. The eastern bay features a pair of one-over-one wood windows, also within a single opening and with a flat lintel. One building has had the double windows replaced by a single-light fixed window. The first story of each dwelling was originally covered by a porch, and although the porch foundations remain, the covers were removed from all seven residences sometime after 1981.
At the second floor, above the doorway, there is a single one-over-one wood window, and in the bay to the east, there is a semi-hexagonal wood bay window. These bay windows vary in detail, with some featuring raised panels above and/or below the openings and plain or dentilled cornices. The center projecting bay originally contained a door to the balcony but the opening has been boarded or covered in vinyl siding in four of the seven residences and replaced with a window in the other three buildings. Some of the paneled areas above and below the sashes of the bay windows have also been covered in vinyl or plywood. A few of the original one-over-one wood windows have been replaced by vinyl one-over-one sashes, but most remain intact. At the attic level, four of the residences feature eave returns, while the other three have closed gables. Some of the eaves have details such as dentils and brackets. In the gable of six of the residences, there are a pair of one-over-over windows within the same rectangular opening. The gable windows in the other two residences are separated by round arches. One of the two retains its round-arch wood sashes, while those at the other building have been replaced by modern vinyl windows.
The side elevations are five bays long and feature one-over-one windows with stone sills and lintels. The basement windows have been replaced with glass block throughout. Most of the original wood windows on the first and second floor are intact, and those that have been replaced with vinyl sashes are primarily on the west elevation at the bathrooms. A second entrance is located on the east side of each building, accessing the rear stairwell, north of a two-story semihexagonal bay window trimmed to match the one on the façade. All of the side doors are replacements.
On the interior, the plans are all identical and feature separate upper and lower units accessed by front and rear staircases. The basement is stone, sometimes with wood partitions. The first-floor apartment is accessed through the eastern door of the façade and enters a small vestibule. A large living room is located to the east, with a brick fireplace along the eastern wall. Some of the replaces have been removed or enclosed within the wall. In many of the units, pocket doors separate this living room from a dining room to the north, with a large bay window on the eastern wall. As with the fireplaces, some of these pocket doors have been removed or enclosed. North of the dining room is a large kitchen. The kitchens are the least intact rooms in the residences and showcase decades of updated cabinetry, and wall and floor coverings, however some of the kitchens retain the original wainscoting and one features the original tin ceilings. A small pantry, often with original built-in shelving, is located northeast of the kitchen. North of the kitchen, there is a small vestibule leading to the rear stairwell. While this vestibule still features built-in cabinetry in some units, the rear stair is intact across the seven duplexes, with original wood stairs and wainscoting. West of the dining room and kitchen, there is a narrow hall that accesses two bedrooms and a bathroom.
The second story follows the same plan, however, the unit is entered through the west door of the façade and up a wood staircase to a landing, which accesses the central dining room. A third bedroom is located in the upper units at the front of the building off of the living room, in the space over the stairs. The attic level can only be accessed from the rear staircase. Some of the buildings feature attic partitions and evidence that indicates additional living spaces may have once existed in the attic level. All of these partitions are at the rear of the buildings, with the front of the attic left open and unfinished.
Within all seven buildings, many of the original details are still intact. There are original wood floors throughout, although some of these are overlaid by carpet or vinyl flooring. All of the interior doorways feature transom windows, including in the vestibules, bedrooms, and halls. Although there are some hollow-core modern doors, many of the original multi-panel wood doors are still present throughout. These seven properties have been impacted by renovations and the removal of the porches, and some historic fabric has been removed from individual units, however, the original layouts and architectural accents such as plaster walls, decorative iron registers, large wooden bay windows, fireplaces, wainscoting, transoms, and pocket doors are largely intact and the buildings retain integrity of location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association, especially as a cohesive group.
Statement of Significance
This district is significant under Criterion C in Architecture as an example of early demonstration homes constructed by a single well-known developer and the only group of masonry houses of its kind known to have been designed by prominent Buffalo architect George J. Metzger. Metzger has a significant architectural legacy in the development of Buffalo from the latenineteenth century through to today, and hundreds of institutional, governmental, religious, military, commercial, residential, and industrial works throughout the city and surrounding towns are attributable to him. Although his prominent works are well-known, such as Hayes Hall at University of Buffalo and the 106th Armory State Arsenal on Masten Avenue, fewer of his residential buildings have been identified from this period, especially those of middle- and working-class people. These seven masonry homes are unusual examples of Metzger’s work, in both their scale and repetition, and provide a more complete picture of the types of buildings Metzger designed. They represent fine, but affordable, options for upwardly-mobile middle-class immigrants leaving the city core at the turn of the century and are the only series of masonry duplexes in the surrounding neighborhood, and possibly the city. Berrick and Metzger demonstrated that a wide variety of fine masonry styles could be applied to a single, consistent plan, saving cost by standardizing the construction. Each residence is individualized through variation in materials and detailing, but similar architectural characteristics are carried across each building, creating a feeling of continuity. Although these buildings are not individually significant, as a group they exhibit the skills of both the developer and the architect and were tailored to a specific class of buyer normally precluded from architect-designed masonry homes. The proposed period of significance begins in 1901 with the construction of the demonstration homes and ends in 1950, when the neighborhood first began experiencing population loss and demolition as the white immigrant population that initially settled the area began relocating to burgeoning suburbs outside of the city.
History
The residences along Florida Street were built at the northern tip of the Cold Springs neighborhood, bordering the Hamlin Park neighborhood to the east, both of which emerged as prominent suburbs at the turn of the twentieth century. The Cold Springs neighborhood grew from a small settlement near Ferry and Main Streets into one of the early streetcar suburbs in the city. The Hamlin Park neighborhood grew out of similar conditions and was recognized in 2013 by the National Register of Historic Places for its significance under community planning and development and landscape architecture as an illustration of several important aspects of nineteenth and twentieth century subdivision planning in Buffalo. Proximity to streetcar lines along Main, Jefferson, and Masten Streets led the neighborhoods to develop rapidly at the turn of the twentieth century, as well as its proximity to entertainment features such as Hamlin’s Driving Park to the east and Woodlawn Cemetery and Delaware Park to the north.
During this period of rapid development, Charles Berrick & Sons, a local contractor and developer, engaged architect George Metzger to design a row of seven demonstration homes to appeal to middle-class Polish, German, and Jewish families looking to leave the city core. Berrick & Sons became a prominent masonry contracting firm during the latter nineteenth century, with brickyards on Clinton and Swan Streets. They built the Larkin Powerhouse (1902-1905), fine homes at 20 and 35 Lincoln Parkway (ca 1915 and 1929), and their own large company complex at 1151 Main Street. Metzger began a career in architecture in 1872 and rapidly became one of the most popular architects in the city, where he designed hundreds of buildings. Berrick and Metzger worked in tandem on a number of projects around Buffalo as far back as 1885 and had a lengthy professional relationship by the end of the nineteenth century. By then, Charles Berrick & Sons had expanded from construction into real estate and neighborhood development, contracting architects like Lansing & Beierl, H.H. Little, and Esenwein & Johnson to design buildings for speculative housing complexes.
In 1900, the area around Florida and Main Streets was still sparsely settled. To the north, between Main and Jefferson Streets, was the Carnival Court theme park, and to the southeast was the former Hamlin Driving Park land, which had been closed after a fire a few years before. Although parcels along Humboldt Parkway to the east and in Parkside to the north had begun attracted residents in the 1880s and increasingly through the 1890s, the seven brick doubles are some of the earliest residential buildings on the surrounding streets. In the subsequent decades, as demand increased, the houses built in northern Cold Springs and throughout Hamlin Park to the east were designed and built primarily by contractors. Almost half of all the buildings in Hamlin Park have been documented as being constructed by one of a handful of building companies during the 1910s and 1920s, utilizing existing plans or pattern books for the homes instead of commissioning an architect like the seven demonstration homes.
Although the area thrived as a streetcar suburb during the first half of the twentieth century, the neighborhood began declining in population around 1950 as white families relocated to new suburbs farther out of the city. The immediate area transformed throughout the 1950s and 1960s into a middle-class African American neighborhood, however, destructive block busting policies led to significant demolition in portions of the Cold Springs neighborhood. Unlike Cold Springs, adjacent Hamlin Park was spared the blight of urban renewal and remained largely intact. The district’s proximity to the dense Hamlin Park neighborhood and the buildings’ quality masonry construction has resulted in the survival of all seven of the residences when many other buildings in Cold Springs have been lost.
Sources:
Chuck LaChiusa, “George J. Metzger,” Buffalo As An Architectural Museum, accessed October 4, 2020, https://buffaloah.com/a/archs/metz/cb.html.
Erie County Building Permits Office, Building Permit #13459, September 3, 190.
Mike Puma, Derek King, and Caitlin Boyle, “Hamlin Park Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, 2013.

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Added 2021-01-08 • Last changed 2021-01-09