BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An early morning fire leveled most of the historic building on 68 Sycamore Street, Wednesday.
The fire started at 3 a.m., and it took several hours for fire crews to put out the flames. During this time thick smoke billowed through the downtown area.
The Battalion Chief, at the scene, told 2 On Your Side that they were taking it slow for two reasons. First, they did not want any firefighters to get hurt in the collapsing structure. Second, they did not want to damage the structure next door, 72 Sycamore Street, which is also a historic building.
"It's just something that can never be replaced. So, it's a hard day for us," said Jessie Fisher, Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. The organization fought for the past year to save the two buildings from demolition.
Fisher admits both properties had been sitting vacant for some time, but things were looking up because the properties had just been purchased by well-known developer, Rocco Termini. Also, the Local Landmark applications for the two properties was approved by the city of Buffalo this past summer.
Fisher tells 2 On Your Side, they had also just completed some of the preliminary paperwork to also have them listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"It really was a witness to a huge number of events in our country's history and our city's history." explained Fisher. "There were only 27 states... when that building was built. So you can see how much it has stood the test of time and how long it's been here."
Built circa 1843, it was one of the oldest pre-civil war era structures still standing in downtown Buffalo. The city itself had been incorporated only 11 years earlier, in 1832.
According to historical documents, the two story home was built and lived in by a shoemaker and his family. It later became a saloon and a boarding house.
"It was a rare piece of federal style architecture in Buffalo," added Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture, and Culture.
Sitting at the corner of Sycamore and the Michigan Street corridor, the focus is now to preserve 72 Sycamore.
Fisher says she has been in contact with Termini and that he's still dedicated to that mission. It appears he had plans to begin construction on 68 and 72 Sycamore this spring.
Some of the ideas for the two buildings had included making them a mix of living and commercial space for artists in the local African American community.
We're told Termini plans to continue developing those ideas for 72 Sycamore. Preservation Buffalo Niagara plans to continue the application process to have the remaining building listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"All the numbers and everything were based on two historic buildings," says Fisher. "So we'll definitely have to take a look at it."
The following are brief narratives, about 68 & 72 Sycamore, which were included in the Local Landmark nomination submitted by Preservation Buffalo Niagara:
68 Sycamore Street, built c. 1843:
The lot now known as 68 Sycamore Street was purchase by Joseph Staub from the City Bank of Buffalo 1842. The two-story, late Federal style semi-detached house was likely built in c.1843, as its first appearance as a residential address was in the 1844 city directory. A shoemaker by trade, Joseph Staub was born in Germany in 1809. He lived at his Sycamore Street house with his wife Maria (also born in Germany), and their New York born children Mary, Josephine, Frances, and Magdalena. Originally the property was numbered 46-48 Sycamore as it was a double house. A review of city directories shows that Staub and his family resided in 46 Sycamore along with an occasional tenant, and rented out 48 Sycamore to two tenants; Casmere Diebold, a tailor, was the first tenant in 46 Sycamore and Nicholas Wilhelm, a shoe maker, was the first tenant in 48 Sycamore. The 1850 Census lists the value of Staub's real estate as $2,000. The 1854 Quackenboss & Kennedy Atlas list the property as a "first class brick dwelling" and "part store" in the main block of the house, and a "second class brick dwelling" in the rear addition.72 Sycamore Street, built c.1848:
The lot now known as 72 Sycamore Street was purchased by Eliza Quirk from the estate of Peter B. Porter in 1845. We know that by the end of 1848 there is a structure on the property because in January 1849 Quirk and the lot are listed in a Notice of City Tax sale for an unpaid bill, a debit she must have paid as she continued to own the property. The property is also in the 1849 City Directory that the property first appears listing Quirk as residing in 50 Sycamore (but under her other name Eliza Smith) and with tenant Aaron Weil, a cigar maker, residing at 52 Sycamore Street. City directories show that Quirk resided in 50 Sycamore (listed under the name Eliza Smith) and continued to rent out rooms in both 50 and 52 Sycamore throughout her ownership. Like neighboring 68 Sycamore, many of Quirk's tenants were skilled tradesmen but she also had some more interesting roomers including several actors, musicians, and several different cigar makers.
Out of the ashes of 68 Sycamore Street, Fisher hopes that a new appreciation for historic buildings can be born. She says they don't need to fall into disrepair.
"It's hard to have vacant buildings," acknowledged Fisher. "So, we always try and tell owners keep them secure and then work with us. We'd love to work with you to help find either a new owner, if it's not something that you can take on, someone who can get the building occupied again. Especially in some of these up and coming neighborhoods where we know there's a market. But we know some people are just sitting on some real estate, and often the result is fire. So we really want to make sure that we take those buildings that we get them occupied that we find new users and new uses for them."