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City, State, UB Collaboration Offers Buffalo Its First New Historic National Register District in 25 Years

University Park District offers a bucolic example of early 20th-century urban planning

Release Date: December 30, 2010

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Many elegant early 20th-century homes were constructed in the University Park neighborhood, Buffalo's first residential National Register Historic District since 1986.

A home in the new University Park National Historic District, comprised of the sections of Larchmont and University Avenues; Pelham Drive; Allenhurst, Radcliffe and Capen Roads, and Niagara Falls Boulevard in the City of Buffalo.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A successful collaborative effort between the University at Buffalo, the New York State Historic Preservation Office (NYSHPO) and the City of Buffalo is expected to result in the establishment of the first National Register Historic District in the City of Buffalo since 1986: the University Park Historic District.

The district is currently listed on the state register and is expected to be officially listed on the national register in spring, 2011.

The proposed University Park District comprises more than 252 residential buildings, plus other structures (including garages) and a park on portions of Larchmont Avenue, Niagara Falls Boulevard, Radcliffe Road, University Avenue, Allenhurst Road, Pelham Drive and Capen Road, all located between Main Street and Kenmore Avenue.

The possibility of a University Park Historic District was first raised in a spring, 2010 University at Buffalo graduate planning course, "Preservation in Practice," taught by architect and architectural historian Kerry Traynor, M.Arch, M.S. (The tax benefits available to property owners are described by Traynor at www.buffalo.edu/news/12130).

Traynor, a clinical associate professor of architecture and urban and regional planning at UB, is president of the preservation consulting firm, kta preservation specialists. Her students conducted a preliminary assessment of the properties in question.

The proposal then was developed in detail by Annie Schentag, a spring, 2011 candidate for a master's degree in urban planning from UB. In November, her completed application, including its analysis of the neighborhood's historic place in the context of American settlement trends, was submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Schentag says the district's homes were built between 1913 and 1933, but most went up between World War I and World War II. She says they are largely adaptations of the American Foursquare, Craftsman, Bungalow and Prairie Box styles, in this case, conceived largely as a reaction to Buffalo's booming, industrial urban style.

According to Traynor, the area is a subject of historic preservation not because of its architecture, but because of the place of its neighborhood design in the history of American urban planning.

The property was originally owned by the family of developer Anthony J. Huck, who envisioned, designed and constructed it to be significantly more pastoral and private than surrounding areas; a district whose suburban flavor sequestered it from the bustle of nearby Main Street.

To this end, Schentag says, the original planners employed a number of stipulations regarding lot size, building setbacks, designated green space and distance between houses to create a calm, bucolic sense of place quite different from neighborhoods organized in other areas of the industrial city.

To start things moving, Traynor's 30 students frequented the library of Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, examined legal records and maps and walked the streets of the district, bounded by Main Street, Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard. They developed descriptive lists of its buildings, citing their architectural styles, date of construction and later modifications. They also conducted preliminary assessments of the street, circle and park landscaping that give the University Park development its particular suburban flavor.

"Architectural preservation," Traynor says, "requires an architect or planner to know exactly where and how to find information and how to use it.

"The purpose of the studio was to give the students a real project that would teach them how to conduct an architectural survey, ascertain property and neighborhood value and in doing so," she says, "come to recognize that nothing exists in a vacuum; that the story of a building also is the story of a neighborhood, and that both relate to the history of a city."

Schentag then took the raw material developed by Traynor's students, including their charts and building descriptions, and refined and developed the material to meet the requirements of the lengthy and detailed National Register application.

She was assisted in her efforts by Canisius College undergraduate Chelsea Petrucci; Daniel McEneny, historic preservation program specialist with NYSHPO, and Michele Brozek, senior planner for historic preservation, City of Buffalo Office of Strategic Planning.

The preparation of the proposal was a great collaborative effort and Traynor says the residents of the district were happy to be associated with the project and were helpful to everyone involved in its preparation.

In her application, Schentag notes that the district's peaceful, sylvan nature is largely shaped by University Circle, a grassy plot 70' in diameter, landscaped with blooming shrubs and trees surrounding an ornamental five-light steel and concrete street lamp, which marks the entry to the district.

"It forces drivers to slow their speed," she says, "and creates an atmosphere fit for ambling around the landscaped elm-lined medians lined connected to a centrally-located park."

According to Schentag, in 1913, Huck subdivided his family's property into residential parcels on Larchmont, Radcliffe, University and Niagara Falls Boulevard. He expanded the subdivision in 1920 to include Allenhurst, Pelham and Capen, adding grassy medians on Allenhurst, Larchmont, Pelham and Capen and additional gates at the Main Street entrances to Allenhurst and Capen.

In assessing the development strategy for University Park, Schentag places it in the context of 20th century settlement trends and the emergence of suburban communities in America.

She says, "The lot size restrictions put in place by the original 1914 plan, for example, contribute to the district's overwhelmingly suburban atmosphere and provide a fascinating peek at the mindset that devised this type of community."

Schengag and Traynor point out that on University Avenue, for instance, every house is set back at least 30 feet and every street is 60 feet wide, which gives the appearance of plenty of open space and reflects a "suburban response" to the lack of planning control in the expanding industrial city.

"If we contrast it to the high-density development in the city," Schentag says, "we can see that the imposition of building restrictions in University Park described a development strategy that promoted refuge; a planned community that reflected a strong cultural desire for regulations that permitted control of one's own environment.

"The experience of preparing this nomination has been invaluable," she says, "and I have greatly benefitted from being able to pursue this project from start to finish. It has been a wonderful opportunity to contribute this nomination, and I hope that these efforts will continue to inspire further historic preservation efforts in Buffalo."

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

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