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New York's Second City Relishes Ruins of the Rust Belt

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Welcome to CityScapes, a column in which we explore some of the nation's oft-overlooked cities and towns: their local history and real estate offerings. Have a suggestion? Do let us know.

In 1906, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design an office building for the Larkin Soap company in Buffalo, N.Y. At the time, Buffalo was a growing industrial city, fueled by the Erie Canal, iron and steel, and the transport of grain from Midwest farms to Eastern urban markets, and Larkin was a successful mail-order concern. Wright produced a monolith of a building for Larkin (above) that exemplified the company's—and the city's—rising fortunes. Forty-five years later, the Larkin Building was torn down to make way for a truck stop. By 1990, the population of Buffalo had shrunk below 1900 levels, a startling decline for a city just across the state from NYC, whose population more than doubled in the same period. But for fans of architecture, there are certain upsides to a receding economy.

THE BACKSTORY:

Photos: Buffalo Architecture


So how did Buffalo architecture buffs benefit from their city's industrial decline? Well, for one, they missed out on much of the building boom of the latter half of the 20th century, meaning classic buildings like the dazzling Guaranty Building by Louis Sullivan (above) weren't knocked down and replaced with a mediocre modern office tower. And the same inadvertent preservation holds true for similarly impressive works of the mid century, like Eliel and Eero Saarinen's Kleinhans Music Hall (below), which is an elegant mixture of Eliel's Arts & Crafts style and his son's modern sensibilities, completed in 1940. That's not to say that economic decline was the sole factor in the preservation of these historic structures and others like them. Concerned Buffalo citizens have had a hand in active preservation efforts since the beloved Larkin building was reduced to a pile of rubble. Architects have also taken an interest, and Chicago architect David Steele has published a book of some of Buffalo's greatest architectural marvels, now available online. In October, the National Trust for Historic Preservation will hold its annual conference in the city.

Photos: Buffalo Architecture

WHAT'S ON THE MARKET NOW:

? This 8,700-square-foot 1910 stone mansion is just the right relic of Buffalo's past. Set on a half acre, the home boasts a wood-paneled study, very formal living and dining rooms, eight bedrooms, and a marble foyer with sweeping staircase and wrought-iron balustrade. This all rings in at $1.5M, making it one of Buffalo's most expensive listings.

? For the apartment dweller, this well-preserved pre-war apartment building—set on storied Delaware Avenue—offers up 2,500 square feet of 1920s living for just $579K. Complete with a private elevator landing, this apartment mixes highs—a renovated kitchen and classic detailing—and lows—the ill-conceived drop ceiling in the living room.

? In the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, $399K buys a five-bedroom home on 1.2 acres with a "French country facade" and a "contemporary colonial" layout. While we can't attest to the accuracy of those architectural claims, we would say this seems like a deal for a slice of bucolic semi-suburbia circa 1935. There's even a swimming pool for when all that lake-effect snow finally melts.
· Buffalo Buildings book [official site]
· National Preservation Conference 2011 [official site]
· 50 Tudor Place [Realtor.com]
· 925 Delaware Avenue [Realtor.com]
· 590 Le Brun Road, Amherst [Realtor.com]