After years of abandonment and decay so severe that trees grew through the roof of the six-story building, the former Graystone Hotel in downtown Buffalo has been given new life as a 42-unit apartment complex, following a two-year reconstruction and redevelopment effort by Ellicott Development Co.

The new Graystone Residences open today at noon at 24 South Johnson Park, with a mixture of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. Rents are from $750 to $1,600 per month – mostly in the $900 to $1,200 range – with about 25 percent to 30 percent already leased, said Ellicott CEO William Paladino.

A decade in the making, the $6 million-plus renovation marks a major turnaround for a historic building that dates back more than a century and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its neoclassical facade, it is one of the earliest U.S. examples of using reinforced concrete for large-scale, multistory buildings. It also features ornate window treatments, pediments between stories and at the roof and a columned entryway.

The building, between Delaware and Elmwood avenues north of Chippewa Street, suffered decades of neglect and decline that left its interior crumbling and its infrastructure weak, with many of its reinforced concrete beams and walls having been penetrated by previous owners’ work.

“The complete structure had to be reinforced,” Paladino said. “The previous owners had just totally destroyed the place. They just butchered it.”

Designed by Buffalo architect Carlton Strong and constructed between 1894 and 1897, the Italian Renaissance-style structure was originally known as the Berkeley Apartments, and was intended to be a luxury apartment building stretching to the west of Delaware, the city’s most prestigious street.

But with only the west wing finished in 1895, owner Charles Sherrill ran into financial trouble after finding little appetite for luxury living downtown. A new owner took over, simplifying the plans to finish faster. When it opened in late 1897, it was an apartment hotel for short-term tenants or long-term business travelers, with 63 units that varied in size from one room to six rooms. It hosted visitors to the Pan-Am Exposition just a few years later.

When it was sold again in 1912, it became the Graystone Hotel, with 150 rooms, and continued for the next few decades.

But the tide eventually turned against it in the 1950s, starting with a foreclosure by Buffalo Savings Bank that led to the sale of the then-104-room hotel at auction in 1958. It was acquired by a group of local businessmen, including a hotel manager, property management executive and an architect, and later by others, who did not invest in maintenance or upkeep. The building became vacant in the early 1990s.

A decade later, Ellicott bought the derelict Graystone in 2002 for $150,000, with elaborate plans to redevelop it into 27 large luxury apartments. But that plan literally fell through in 2003 – along with the roof – when a large section collapsed during interior demolition, injuring one worker. Redevelopment plans were put on hold until the residential rental market picked up again.

Ellicott returned to the project two years ago, starting with six months of environmental work and six months of stabilization to repair and reinforce the deteriorated concrete structure with new beams.

“When people thought we weren’t doing anything, we were doing a lot, but it was a slow process because of the condition of the building,” Paladino said. “Just to fix the building structurally so people could go in and work, that took six months.”

Then Ellicott analyzed the interior with preservationists for five months to see what had to be done before starting the actual work. “We caught a lot of heat for that building, that and 199 Scott St.,” Paladino said, referring to the old Fairmont Creamery, another downtown building that he has owned for years and is now redeveloping. “We knew we were going to complete the projects, but there’s a process that has to take place. You have to take your time with buildings like that. You don’t want someone to get hurt in there, and you’re investigating what’s happening with the physical structure.”

Ellicott received historic tax credits and a mixture of tax breaks from the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

“People can see the final product. It looks great,” Paladino said. “It’s very satisfying to finish this project and have it be so well-received. People have given us many compliments. It really improves the look on that block and brings something that was dormant for 30 years back to life.”