How House - Table of Contents............ Harold L. Olmsted - Table of Contents

History of the James and Fanny How House
41 St. Catherine's Court, Buffalo, NY

By Olaf W. Shelgren Jr. and Francis R. Kowsky

The text below is excerpted from the
1997 James and Fanny How House Nomination for the

National Register of Historic Places

The James and Fanny How House is architecturally significant as an outstanding, intact and unique example of Tudor Revival domestic architecture in the City of Buffalo, NY. The significance of the How House as enhanced by its setting on St. Catherine's Court, an early twentieth-century cul-de-sac with other revival style houses.

Designed by architect, landscape designer and artist, Harold L. Olmsted, the house is also important as one of the few examples of a building designed entirely by Olmsted, who worked more on renovations of existing houses than on designing new ones.

James How

Memorial window in Westminster Presbyterian Church

The original owner of the house, James How, was for many years, a leader in the social and artistic life of Buffalo serving, for example, as president and on the board of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and as president of the Country Club of Buffalo.

His first wife, the former Mrs. Fanny Barnum Keating, an accomplished pianist and composer, died in 1932. Nine years later he married Elizabeth Wright Buckminster.

Mr. How was born in Brooklyn on September 21, 1876. After attending grammar school,he went to work at the Fulton Fish Market where his boss and lifelong friend was Alfred E. Smith, who later became Governor of New York.

Mr. How moved to Buffalo about 1901 as manager of the Hartford Rubber Works, which later became a part of the United States Rubber Company. From 1904 until his retirement in 1938, he was manager of S. O. Barnum & Son, a sporting goods, toy, and variety store in Buffalo.

In 1923 James and Fanny How bought the lot at 41 St. Catherine's Court so they could be close to Mrs. How's son, Theodore Keating, and his children, who lived at 25 St. Catherine's Court. They applied for a building permit on 29August 1924 and the house was completed in the same year.

Other owners

Location / Historical context

Although the How House and the neighborhood it is located in is the result of early twentieth-century growth in Buffalo, the area began to be settled in the nineteenth century. The land that this house is now located on was part of the Charles F. Wadsworth estate in the mid-1800s (and later became part of John J. Albright's estate). Other large estates lined West Ferry Street which was the main route to the ferry that ran between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Canada.

By the mid-1880s, Buffalo was considered the nation's leading inland port, earning the nickname the "Queen City of the Great Lakes." Railroad transportation continued to expand during this period as well. In the 1870s, the first of many lines from Buffalo into the coal regions of Pennsylvania was opened.

It was during the period of the early 1880s that John J. Albright moved to Buffalo. He moved here due largely to the city's rail and shipping facilities which proved advantageous to his coal business. In 1900, Buffalo was the eighth largest city in the United States with a population of 352,387.

The coming of the Lackawanna Steel Company in 1903 made Buffalo one of the most important manufacturing centers in the country. Albright played a major role in securing the land where the steel plant was built. By 1915 Buffalo was ranked the eighth highest industrial city of the country based on the value of products manufactured here.

A building boom took place during the 1920s. While John J. Albright had lost much of his fortune by this time due to poor business investments, other people prospered thanks to the healthy economic conditions of the period. The development of the neighborhood in which the How House is located is a reflection of this 1920s economic boom. Successful professionals and industrialists decided to build here in what evolved into one of Buffalo's fashionable neighborhoods.

How House

Harold L. Olmsted

The design of the How House is one of the most inventive and unusual English inspired residences in the neighborhood. Harold L. Olmsted use of surprisingly varied spatial elements, his design of unique stylized architectural detailing and the incorporation of what appear to be salvaged building components give the house a unique and distinctive character.

The influence of Gothic precedents in Olmsted's work is evident in the wood label moldings over the windows, the fanciful porch balustrades with their pointed arch motif, and the front door with its foliated arch moldings.

The two-story stair tower at the front facade is reminiscent of a feature often found at an English manor house.

Albright Mansion: The design of the How House complemented that of the former John J. Albright Mansion which was on the lot directly to the east. The Albright Mansion was built in 1903 to the designs of architect Edward B. Green. The exterior of the stone house was a copy of St. Catherine's Court, a Tudor country house near Bath, England.

Whether Olmsted consciously took his architectural clues from the impressive mansion is not known but there were many similarities including steeply pitched slate-shingled gables; Tudor arch doorways; prominent chimneys; and windows with label moldings.

Building materials

Throughout his career Olmsted completed many building projects involving the renovation of existing structures and was known to reuse old building parts. Although not documented, visual inspection of the How House indicates that salvaged materials from older buildings have been incorporated into both the interior and exterior of this structure.


The design of this early twentieth-century house illustrates the shift of family life away from the front porch toward the more private space of the backyard. Long the hub of social life, the front porch lessened in importance during this period as outdoor activities turned away from the street and toward the backyard. The tall Median sandstone wall surrounding the southeast yard of the How House enclosed a private yard and patio space.

Special thanks to Lee Oprea for her assistance and encouragement
How House - Table of Contents
Photos and their arrangement © 2003 Chuck LaChiusa
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