When its roof collapsed and bricks from a buckling wall landed in neighboring yards in 2008, the end was near for the old livery on Jersey Street.
But after neighbors and preservationists sued to stop an emergency demolition, and then a developer went to work on the 1889 building, the West Side fixture was saved from the wrecking ball. It will reopen in January as an apartment complex.
The solid block of Medina Sandstone, with carved horse heads on either side, once more proclaims the former livery stable’s name – White Bros. Livery & Boarding Stables – above the entrance of the building in the Cottage District.
After spending $3.4 million on the project – financed largely through state and city sources – developer Sam Savarino was able to save most of the front facade, exterior walls and the belfry tower on the building.
Rents for the renamed White’s Livery Apartments’ 12 one-bedroom and two two-bedroom apartments, including parking on the first floor, will range from $500 to $800, about half of what market-rate apartments are going for. Tenants will be chosen by lottery.
“It really gives the neighborhood distinction. Not everyone has a four-story stable in the middle of their block,” said Tim Tielman, executive director of Campaign for Greater Buffalo, which went to court to stop the city’s emergency demolition in 2008.
“The beauty of the arched windows and carriage entrance are reminders of how we should always build. The bas relief of the two horses was icing on the cake. It would be nice if we made signage like that today,” Tielman said.
He also applauded the neighbors who kept pressure on the city.
“They came out in droves in court, and essentially stood vigil for a month until a court-aided plan was devised. Dozens of households were involved,” Tielman said.
The building is now owned by a subsidiary of West Side Neighborhood Housing Services, since not-for-profit ownership was a requirement of the project’s financing and funding.
“There is a need for affordable housing. We want to have mixed incomes, but we don’t want the area to be gentrified,” said Linda Chiarenza, the neighborhood group’s executive director. “We’re thrilled that the property values are going up, but we want everyone to feel welcome on the West Side of Buffalo.”
The energy-efficient units are a far different use than when wealthy Buffalonians boarded horses downstairs and their stylish coaches upstairs. The carriages, after the horses were unhitched, were put on a turntable and put onto a freight elevator that took them to the second floor.
The building’s turnaround comes five years after the roof collapsed and the emergency demolition was requested.
Nearby residents asked Savarino to get involved.
“A lot of the neighbors thought losing the building would be bad because it was part of the fabric of the neighborhood, literally and figuratively, and that total demolition wasn’t necessary,” Savarino said.
The developer also had a personal interest in the neighborhood. He lived on 16th Street for years, and he sits on the boards of nearby D’Youville College and Gateway-Longview.
Savarino spoke to Mayor Byron W. Brown about letting him find new life for the structure at 429 Jersey St., near Richmond Avenue.
“The mayor said if I was willing to make a commitment to the project, he would see if he could,” Savarino said.
The developer purchased the building for $1 from owner Robert Freudenheim. City inspectors had fielded numerous complaints about dangerous conditions at the building, but the case never reached Housing Court.
Savarino inherited the city’s $500,000 lien on the property and had to ride out a mistaken sale of the building by the city at a tax foreclosure auction that October.
The project’s primary funding came from New York State HOME funds, City of Buffalo HOME funds and a federal home loan bank. Savarino provided interim financing and took on other risks.
The city’s help was crucial, Savarino said.
“The mayor pulled through on his commitment, and it certainly was the biggest part in getting this funded, along with the state. The city got a bit of a black eye on how the building got to the state it was in, but they did step in and did what they promised me and the neighbors they would do,” Savarino said.
The project, which involved Buffalo’s Stieglitz Snyder Architecture, had its share of challenges.
“It was a dangerous situation. The bricks were almost powderized from water damage, and the higher you got, the worse the brick was,” Savarino said. “We had to stabilize the front to keep it, the exterior walls and the belfry tower up, which were the most iconic parts of the structure. The upper floor did fall down, and that was rebuilt. But everything else is as it was.”
The third-floor facade now resembles the original arched windows and twin peaked-roof towers.
Unexpected remediation work to stop fuel oil from leaking from underground storage tanks – from a time when the building was used as a filling station – resulted in a six- to eight-month delay, Savarino said.
There also wasn’t enough of the exterior left for the building to be eligible for historic tax credits, which could have lessened the financial burden.
But now, the building is about to find a new life, with energy-efficient apartments that are handicapped-accessible. Two units are dedicated to sight- or hearing-impaired tenants, and all come with Energy Star appliances to keep utility bills down.
“It’s been difficult for us over the last four years or so, being involved in the project and seeing it through to completion, but a lot of the neighbors have been living with the risks from this structure for a very long time,” Savarino said.
“I’m glad to see this long travail has finally come to a good end.”