Linwood Avenue - Table of Contents

The Allure of Linwood

by Anthony Chase
Reprinted with permission from ARTVOICE
Vol. 10, No 32, August 5, 1999

Linwood Avenue is a street of uncommon beauty. Running parallel to Main Street and Delaware Avenue, it boasts some of the most impressive houses in Buffalo - quite a distinction in a city known for its architectural legacy.

For the historical importance of its architecture, and the remarkable condition of these homes, Linwood is surprisingly under-appreciated. Many people see it only while zooming towards the suburbs; neighboring Delaware steals a lot of the attention, and in a city with buildings designed H.H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and McKim Meade and White, it is difficult to be a star. Nonetheless, for the concentration of spectacular homes on the avenue, Linwood more than earns its distinction as a Historical Preservation district.

Indeed, on Saturday, August 28, the Preservation Coalition will offer a tour of one block in particular, the section running from West Utica Street to West Ferry.

Timothy Tielman, executive director of the Preservation Coalition of Erie County gave ARTVOICE a preview of the tour. Tielman is a youthful 40-something, with Christopher Newtonian silver hair. For his mild manner, he manages to exude a tremendous enthusiasm for architecture, for urban living, and for the city of Buffalo.

"Linwood Avenue is notable for the number of original houses still standing on their original sites," says Tielman. Standing at the beginning of the Utica to Ferry block, looking north, he remarks that, "Linwood is exceptional for this kind of neighborhood, especially for its age. On Delaware Avenue, for example, a lot of the original houses were demolished to make way for newer, grander houses. Some of this area of Linwood was developed in the 1870s, but mostly 1880s and 1890s, and it remains pretty much intact"

NOTE: The photos on this page were not part of the original article as published in ARTVOICE.

Click on illustration for larger size

405 Linwood

412 Linwood

420 Linwood

424 Linwood

429 Linwood

446 Linwood

After the initial 19th century development of the street, there was a small flurry of building in the early years of the 20th century, as late as World War I. Actually, Linwood provides a nice microcosm of a progression in American residential architecture, from Colonial Revival, to Queen Anne, to American Foursquare.

The most well known house on the street is 429, probably a Silsbee and Marling house - similar to the Bemis House at 267 North Street. It's a rather spooky building, easily recognizable from the gargoyle-like statues on the roof. It also
has a wonderful cast iron porch.

"This is a good use of what a cast iron porch and railing should look like," says Tielman. "It exhibits the strength of iron, because it's composed of relatively small pieces, but they are joined together in such a way that it looks like a column, and even the railing itself appears substantial and kind of tough -- not flimsy and weak. All of these houses are very well designed."

Which houses on the street interest Tielman most? Without hesitation he responds, "The Shingle houses really intrigue me!"

Linwood's Shingle Houses are certainly eye-popping.

"The key elements of the Shingle style are the dominant roof covered by wooden shingles, expressing horizontality rather than verticality," says Tielman. "Also the use of windows together to form strips, and the use of decorative panels."

The shingles on parts of these houses look as if they are stretched tightly around and over the structures, giving a naturalistic curve. Free-form and variable, Shingle style borrows wide porches, its shingled surfaces, and asymmetrical forms from Queen Anne style. It is closely associated with H.H. Richardson (an architectural god, best known in Buffalo as the designer of the towers at the Psychiatric Center), and fromRichardson Romanesque it borrows an emphasis on irregular, sculpted shapes.

Indeed, Richardson had been the first architect to design a true American Queen Anne style house (William Watts Sherman house in Newport R.I.) and on Linwood, we see Shingle Style and Queen Anne style merge.

"A house can be Queen Anne and Shingle at the same time," explains Tielman. "It depends on the predominance of things like the roof and the use of shingling versus things like clapboard or brick."

Queen Anne style satisfied the need of the newly rich of the 19th century industrial era to flaunt their success. It is the style of the Gilded Age, and ubiquitous in the boom towns of that era - Buffalo included.

He identifies 446 Linwood as an excellent example.

"This purple house is what most people think of when we say,Queen Anne Style. It has a very large engaged tower off to one side. It has a conical roof, large gables, large chimneys and then smaller dormers. In this case a bay coming out.

What you will see on a Queen Anne house that you won't see on a correct shingle style house is the use of classical ornaments. On this one you see the classical columns. It is a giveaway that you are dealing with Queen Anne rather than Shingle. One of the things about Shingle is that you want to express the nature of the wood."

Tielman identifies adjacent houses at 412 and 420 as superior examples of Queen Anne Shingle Houses.

420 is a looming brown home with a sloping domed roof over a central tower. This feature serves to unify the enormity of the house. Tielman dubs the house "magnificent."

Across the street, he calls 405 "a great house, with a very sympathetic paint scheme. They showed admirable restraint in painting the carved wood features on the house. Usually people go ape when they have something like that, using garish colors.. This is done in matte finish paints in the same tone as the rest of the house, very nice. It is Shingle/Queen Anne. The massiveness is shingle. The two brackets holding up the gable are pure Richardsonian

Tielman also takes a moment to admire the taste with which 412 has been maintained.

"That's a nice carriage house behind 412. They have not made the common mistake of painting the garage door white. The color of the main building is appropriate for a garage. A garage should always be the equivalent or darker than the mass of the building, because a garage door is a feature that you do not necessarily want to have show up prominently."

He faults the painting of a nearby Shingle Style house, which departs from the appropriate naturalistic, earth tone schemes of the others.

"You know what doesn't work on this house? The light color. Generally you would have darker colors. We have a brown house, a green house, a brown house, and then this yellow and white. What makes it more jarring is the dark windows. If they had painted the house a deep red to pick up the brick, it might have worked better."

Tielman appreciates details. He can spot a modernized window or aluminum siding a mile away. "They picked that up at Home Depot, now didn't they?" he remarks at various moments. He frowns at brick work that has been pointed up with new mortar in too light a color.

"This house would be a Queen Anne. There is probably shingle behind that siding. What happens is that the husband dies and the salesmen read the obit, and they go to the widow who has insurance money and they tell her, look, "You can't take care of this house. We can give you a low maintenance option that will improve your estate." It doesn't.

It would be fair to say that Tielman adores details.

"The thing about these houses, a hundred years after they were built, is that they are grand and large, but have elements of domesticity which is derived from the use of small window panes, the use of the wood and fireplaces."

He points out the "pebbledash effect" used in the gables of a number of the homes, whereby pebbles are imbedding in cement. "That's something that McKim Meade and White pioneered in the 1880s. H.H. Richardson and McKim, Meade, and White were pioneers of the Shingle Style. They also would imbed broken glass into cement stucco for the effect."

Tielman can see extraordinary potential through past mistakes. Mistakes in renovation inspire him to launch into detailed analysis.

"This one has an unsympathetic addition in the front, but if you look at the original building, it is a good example of American Foursquare."

"Underneath that siding is a dandy house! I would assume that it is shingles on the top floor and probably clapboard underneath. Look at those beautiful French Doors and that wonderful carriage house. And look at the stairway, those rounded stone blocks; those are fantastic! That house has a lot of potential.

"Too bad there is no sign control here. A problem on Linwood is that with the doctors and other professionals who have been here almost since the beginning of the street, and with the social service agencies moving in, signage becomes a big issue. Signage itself can make people think that it's not a residential area, and that can have an impact on property values. Doctors and Lawyers don't need to list all their degrees; they just need a discreet sign to indicate that their clients have arrived at the correct address. That way, from the street you can't tell if a house is a private home, or a doctor's office, or a group home, or a social service agency - it preserves the residential dignity of the neighborhood."

The houses on Linwood Avenue offer an excellent opportunity to discuss the genealogy of American Architecture with amazing clarity.

In this regard, Tielman finds the house at 424 to be fascinating.

"This is kind of a modernized interpretation, but still, its integrity is largely intact. You can see how simplified the Shingle style allowed you to become in terms of organizing a house. The basic scheme that Richardson, and McKim, Meade, and White hit upon was these were based on 1600s 1700s archetypes, but they opened up the interior space and made a lot fewer rooms; the rooms were a lot bigger, it was easier for light to penetrate the interior. They wanted to express this volume on the outside. It became the hallmark of the Shingle Style: more simple surfaces and a dominant roof. So here you get a hip roof over everything and this is hyper simplified. It is really advanced for its time.

"And what is really interesting is that you can see in this house, how eventually Frank Lloyd Wright got some of his ideas about organizing space. Frank Lloyd Wright was influenced by H.H. Richardson who was the giant architect of his era. In fact, Stanford White was a draftsman for Richardson, and all of these architects were related to each other by schooling or by apprenticeship across time. And what Wright did, is to take the Shingle Style to its extreme. In fact, his first house, the Frank Lloyd Wright House and Studio is a Shingle House. But what he did and it was started by McKim, Meade, and White and Richardson, was to extend the axis of a house right out into the landscape."

One of Linwood Avenue's most remarkable features is that the houses have maintained their value, despite the fact that they are quite close to Main Street and what many would consider to be "bad neighborhoods."

"You build good quality and good quality endures," says Tielman.

The residents of the street are an interesting mix. There are single family homes, and houses divided as rentals. There are empty nesters and couples raising families. The large number of gay people have earned Linwood the title, "Gay Coast" in the gay community.

"People without children are vital to cities," says Tielman. Without them, whole city neighborhoods would collapse. Whether they can't have children, they are gay or lesbian, they are empty nesters, these people are key to revitalizing neighborhoods, because they don't have the children issue."

This remark prompts me to ask the "schools" question. Is that the reason so many have gone to the suburbs, when they could live in spectacular places like this?

"The issue of good schools is usually a code word for racism," says Tielman bluntly. "My children are in the Olmsted school program, which is a fantastic program. City Honors is the top academic high school in WNY. It beats by 50 the second place high school in Regents scholarships, and theoretically, if you live in a grand house here, you can afford to send your kids to someplace like Nichols if you wanted to, because you are paying nothing in taxes compared to what you would be paying in a $400,000 house in Amherst. In terms of raising a kid here, why not? These are huge yards, ostensibly you want a child to have a big back yard. These are as big as any yard in suburbia. I think you are dealing with other issues besides what's good for the children."

The residents of the street tend to be very devoted to Linwood. As we walk past a stunning Shingle House with Richardsonian brackets holding‚ its massive roof, a woman walking a sees us gawking and asks, "Why don't you buy that one over there? It's coming up for sale, and we want a good neighbor!"

Another man tells us that he is from Brazil and renting an apartment in an impressive Shingle house. "I've lived in a number of American cities. I like it here, because it has the convenience of the city, but is really like being in the country. It is quiet. I hear the birds every morning!"

One woman explains that she is from the neighborhood. Her father was a doctor in Buffalo, and she has raised her family in an unbelievably beautiful Queen Anne style house constructed of Medina sandstone. She tells a story that typifies a common Buffalo urban attitude.

"When we made the offer on the house ten years ago," she recalls, "we were bidding against a group of lawyers. An elderly woman was living here alone. On the day we submitted our bid, we sent her a bouquet of flowers with a note saying, "We look forward to raising our three children in your beautiful home. She accepted our offer, even though it was ten thousand less than the lawyers!"

Indeed, for generations, the homeowners on Linwood seem to understand that they are stewards to an urban legacy of elegance and gracious living.

The tour of Linwood begins on Saturday, August 28 at 9:30 a.m. It is a two-hour walk and costs $8 ($6 for Preservation Coalition members). For more information call 852-4831, otherwise simply show up at the Northeast corner of Linwood Avenue and West Utica Street at the appointed time.


Photos and their arrangement 2002 Chuck LaChiusa

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