Located in Buffalo’s 14208 ZIP code is a “charming, stable” middle-class neighborhood filled with houses that were constructed in the late 19th and 20th centuries.
They were designed in the Victorian, Queen Anne Revival and Bungalow/Craftsman architectural styles.
Many of them sell for as much as $100,000 and were constructed by prominent Buffalo developer William P. Volgamore.
This is Hamlin Park, home to 2,800 East Side residents, mostly African-American. It is also the East Side’s first local historic residential district and now a state historic district. And, backers say, it’s well on its way to becoming the East Side’s first national registered historic district, as well.
This week, the state designation was approved by the state Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation and it should be signed by the commissioner in a matter of days, making Hamlin Park homeowners eligible for tax credits to help them take care of their properties.
From there, an application goes to the National Park Service for federal historic designation, which could bring more tax credits to help both homeowners and business owners preserve what one preservationist calls the “golden period” of black middle-class community building in the 1960s and 1970s.
And that’s what many neighbors are hoping for.
Decades ago, the neighborhood became Buffalo’s first historic district on the East Side, meaning rules apply as to how work can be done on the properties. However, the city designation includes no incentives or assistance for homeowners, said Stephanie Barber, president of the 400-member Hamlin Park Community and Taxpayers Association.
“In order to get those things, we needed state and federal designation,” she said. “That was the whole thing. If you do improvements to your house, you should get some of these benefits. It takes a lot to keep these old houses going.”
The rules on how work can be done are the same at all levels, Barber said.
But if the neighborhood gets listed on the state Register of Historic Places, homeowners can receive 20 percent tax credits from the state on upgrades and projects on their homes, including heating, plumbing, furnaces and roofing, explained Michael Puma, project manager at Preservation Studios, which works with owners, developers and municipalities to develop historic preservation projects.
Commercial properties – both business and rental properties – listed on the national register basically would be eligible for 40 percent tax credits – 20 percent from the state and 20 percent from the federal government, he added.
Bounded by Humboldt Parkway, Jefferson Avenue, and East Ferry and Main streets, Hamlin Park is not much different from the Richmond Avenue community on the city’s West Side, said Tom Yots, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara.
“It’s a stable community,” he said. “The neighborhood is just as historic in Hamlin Park as in Richmond. They have the same value in history. The houses have the same integrity. The only difference is the houses on Richmond are huge. Hamlin Park has charming houses that have been kept up.”
About 2,800 people live in Hamlin Park, making it “a fairly big district,” Barber said.
For the survey part of the designation application, Puma, a graduate of the University at Buffalo’s department of architecture and planning who is in the process of purchasing his first home on Beverly Road, walked practically every street in the district and spoke to about 1,200 residents.
Many of the single- and multi-family dwellings were custom-built between roughly 1912 and 1918 and were designed by Volgamore with about a half-dozen design variations, Puma said. Some of the columns were made of wood, others wrought iron. There were bay windows, flat windows and some windows with leaded glass.
The first residents were German, Jewish and Irish. In the late 1940s, a large migration of Southern African-Americans moved to industrial cities in the north like Buffalo, Puma said.
“It was the African-American place to move after” World War II. “People had money from working in factories,” Yots said.
It became a “whole golden period of black middle class” in the 1960s and 1970s.
To counter the period of “disinvestment” that followed, resources are needed to preserve, appreciate and develop Hamlin Park. It has a certain workmanship, a certain story behind it that makes it a treasure, specifically as an African-American community that represents that whole golden period of black middle class life, said Terrence Robinson, founding and current trustee of Preservation Niagara.
Creating a pool of money validates and recognizes the significance of the community, he said.
About two years ago, the Hamlin Park group partnered with Preservation Studios and the Preservation League of New York State with the help of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, Yots said. Preservation Buffalo Niagara hosted public meetings on behalf of the Hamlin Park neighborhood group and was the local sponsor for the district’s historic designation nomination, Yots said.
Yots’ son, Jason, an attorney and the chief executive officer of Preservation Studios, saw the project as a community service, and his law firm provided the research, writing and submission of the nomination document for Hamlin Park on a pro bono basis.
He also received about $10,000 in grants from the state’s Preservation League and the City of Buffalo to help pay for the survey and to hire some administrative people. Otherwise, the process would have been too cost-prohibitive for the Hamlin Park group, Tom Yots said.
“People were protecting and preserving their properties, but they were not getting benefits,” Tom Yots said. “It was getting overlooked.”
Douglas Pressley of Beverly Road has lived in Hamlin Park most of his life, and Danny Harris, who owns three properties on the block, welcome the incentives that come with historic designations. “Now we can get some help too.” Pressley said.
In addition to Hamlin Park, five other sites in Western New York were added to the state register of historic places this week. They are Buffalo’s E.M. Hager & Sons Co. Planing Mill, 141 Elm St.; the Buffalo Zoo Entrance Court; the Meldrum-Edwards Building, Pearl Street; the Town of Tonawanda Municipal Building in Kenmore; and the Herschell-Spillman Motor Co. Complex in North Tonawanda.