The demolition of a vacant, downtown building Monday night has infuriated city preservation officials, who said they should have been notified in advance.
The circa 1855 building, at 273 Main St. at Swan Street, in the Joseph Ellicott Historic District, last operated as Bernstone's Cigar Store and was the downtown home to Third National Bank before becoming part of M&T Bank in 1962. The one-story building, designed by pre-Civil War architect Calvin Otis with a classical cast-iron storefront, had several stories removed that year.
"This can be nothing but a sin of commission. It is an egregious violation of the public trust," said Tim Tielman, a member of the Buffalo Preservation Board.
James Comerford Jr., commissioner of the city Department of Permit and Inspection Services, authorized the emergency demolition because he said the building was unsafe. He disputed the building's age, saying department records showed the building was erected in 1946. But he said it wouldn't have mattered, since the building was dangerous.
"It was falling apart. The floor was so wet it was sinking. There were holes. I looked in there and said, 'I'm not going in there, it's too dangerous,'?" Comerford said.
He said he approves emergency demolitions on a weekly basis and is not required to inform the Preservation Board. While that is true, Paul McDonnell, the board's chairman, said he thought it should have been done as a courtesy, noting there were architects and engineers who could lend expertise.
The building is owned by Bernard Herman of Toronto, who leases adjoining space to Allpro Parking. Comerford said Allpro approached his office about tearing it down.
Inspector Terry Krug concluded the building was too far gone to be saved and too dangerous for anyone to walk in. After Comerford concurred, he required a structural analysis by Tredo Engineers, which also was in agreement.
Comerford said the owner wasn't written up in advance because the outside of the building appeared sound. But McDonnell said too many emergency demolitions have a similar ring.
"Demolition should not be the solution to building code violations," he said.