Rebuilding Buffalo’s West Side, one building at a time
Published Tuesday, June 22, 2010
By Joe Kirchmyer
For decades it served as a neighborhood school on Buffalo’s West Side, opening its doors in 1928 as Annunciation School, and closing in 2005 when it was known as Catholic Academy. For the next four-plus years, it stood quiet. No more bells. No more announcements. No more students.
Located at 257 Lafayette Ave., it’s a building that may very well have sat vacant for many more years had a West Side resident and businessman not seen some glimmer of hope in the well-constructed building with the mammoth windows.
That man was Karl Frizlen of The Frizlen Group, a local architectural firm. Together with his business partner, contractor Paul Johnson of Johnson & Sons, they would breathe life back into the once empty building just a block or so east of Grant Street. Today it stands as a significant success story — not to mention 100 percent occupied.
On the ground floor of this 35,000-square-foot National Historic Landmark now known as 257 Lafayette Center, visitors will find an active office incubator system consisting of several small business sharing services and space, including The Frizlen Group, Rose Garden Early Childhood Center (owned and operated by Frizlen’s wife Judith), Preservation Studios LLC, Yots Law Firm, Upgrade Academics and SPLiCE.
The two floors above the office space are where 20 classrooms were once filled with schoolchildren. Those classrooms have since been converted into 20 apartments each boasting 900 square feet of living space — and each one currently occupied.
“We saw the potential in the structure of the building,” said Frizlen. “It’s very well built and was ideal for conversion into apartments because the classrooms were left in place. We didn’t have to demolish any walls or do anything like that.”
All of the apartments feature a living room, two bedrooms, a full bath, kitchen and laundry area. Energy Star appliances, 12-foot windows, central ventilation, ceiling fans, storage lofts, bike racks, a security system and on-site parking contribute to a long list of positives.
Just as important as seeing potential in the building, Frizlen and Johnson also saw outstanding potential in the neighborhood.
“We had to ask ourselves if we could attract people into the neighborhood,” Frizlen admitted, “but then we noticed a new coffee shop at the corner of Grant and Lafayette, and we knew that would help revitalize the neighborhood. That encouraged me ... as did the church directly across the street.
“It’s a great neighborhood and I really like the whole Elmwood Village and what it has to offer,” said Frizlen. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, he came to the U.S. in 1978 and lived in Texas until a job brought him to Buffalo in 1988. “In many ways, the West Side reminds me of the Old World with the small businesses and stores and the walkability of the streets. And of course, the people here are extremely friendly and family oriented. It’s a great neighborhood in which to raise kids.”
Going Down a Green Path
In addition to Frizlen and Johnson contributing to the neighborhood by revitalizing a vacant building, the building itself is helping the environment. According to the 257 Lafayette Center website (www.257lafayette.com), “The renovation followed LEED (Leader in Environmental & Energy efficient Design) standards and is a certified Energy Star building with multiple green and environmental benefits.” Among the environmental highlights:
• A photovoltaic solar panel system to provide approximately 33 percent of the building’s electrical demand.
• Energy Star-rated building with a 25 percent increase of energy performance above building code requirements.
• High-efficiency radiant heating system.
• High-efficiency electrical fixtures and Energy Star-rated appliances.
• Insulated building envelope and window restoration.
• Recycling of construction waste material with a 50 percent diversion from landfills.
• Reuse and restoration of windows, doors, hardware, etc.
• Purchase of low-emitting construction materials for enhanced indoor air quality.
• Daylight harvesting.
• Rainwater collection and bio-retention system, to collect and purify parking lot runoff water to irrigate native plant rain garden.
• Household waste recycling center in basement.
Throughout the building are numerous examples of the reuse and restorations mentioned above. Each apartment unit, for example, still features the original chalkboard — tastefully incorporated into the stylish decor — from the classroom that it once was. Original doors and transoms remain in place, while the extra large windows continue to allow significant natural light to enter and brighten the building.
In one of the long residential corridors, guests will also encounter a handsome wooden display case featuring decades-old remnants of the former school, while classrooms in the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center make use of desks, tables and chairs left behind when the school vacated the building.
Another centerpiece of reclaimed items is the shared administrative desk located near the main entrance to the commercial portion of the building. While it looks brand new, it was actually constructed from leftover chalkboards and marble bathroom partitions!
Next Stop: Horsefeathers
Fresh off his success at 257 Lafayette, Frizlen has now set his sights on rehabbing another vacant West Side structure, the former “Horsefeathers” building on Connecticut Street. If historic tax credits are approved by the state, the local architect plans to convert most of the five-story building into apartments. He also hopes to establish a unique year-round indoor farmers’ market at the site.
Most of all, he hopes that like 257 Lafayette Center, it becomes a place where people who love the city will simply feel at home.