Georgia Forman House -Table of Contents

History - Georgia Forman House

77 Oakland Place, Buffalo, NY

An excerpt from
Oakland Place: Gracious Living in Buffalo
Martin Wachadlo
Published by Buffalo Heritage Unlimited

Although the first home on Oakland Place originally stood here, this site is better known as the home of Buffalo's Roman Catholic bishops during the last half century.

The Olmsted House

The original mansion was designed by Charles F. Ward and built circa 1888, on a wide lot, soon after Oakland Place was created. ... The house was built for William D. Olmsted (1842-1924) and his wife, Mary Olive Matthews.

A prominent industrialist, Olmsted had moved to Buffalo from New York in 1878. He worked in the flour-milling firm of Schoellkopf & Matthews. (George B. Matthews lived at 830 Delaware Avenue directly behind the Olmsteds.) Olmsted later served as president of the Niagara Falls Milling Company. He was also connected with the Niagara Falls Power Company, a major supplier of electrical power formed by "King Jacob" Schoellkopf and George B. Matthews. (Schoellkopf s son Louis lived across the street at 48.) William lived in the house at 77 until his death. In 1927 his widow sold the mansion to Georgia M. G. Forman [for $50,000.00], who demolished it to make way for an even grander home.

The Forman House

A native of Lockport, Georgia M[ead]. Greene (1871-1955) had married Howard A. Forman (1870-1931) in 1892. Howard's father, George V. Forman of 824 Delaware Avenue, had made a tremendous fortune in the oil fields of northern Pennsylvania. Howard was vice president of the Eastern Oil Company and later succeeded his father as president. Howard's brother, George, was worth $5,000,000 when he died in 1925, and it is likely that Howard's fortune was similar. However, Howard was evidently not the most faithful of spouses, and he and Georgia separated around 1920; Georgia was obviously very well settled.

After living modestly on North Street, Georgia commissioned her new home from the prominent firm of "Edward B. Green & Sons - Albert Hart Hopkins" in 1927. The grand Tudor manor house of random cut limestone was completed the following year.

The principal façade, which is almost symmetrical, hints at E.B. Green's classical predisposition, as do the Ionic volutes atop the finials flanking the entrance bay. The composition is anchored by four massive stone chimneys that soar above the roof. The slates on the roof, which get progressively smaller and thinner as they rise, add to the perception of height. The metal gutters and collectors are unusually well detailed. In keeping with the medieval flavor of the design, leaded casement windows are used throughout the home.

An open Gothic arch on the north side leads to the stone garage that has space for five automobiles on the first floor and an apartment above. The garage's residential quarters, which are accessible via a spiral staircase in a tower, were originally occupied by Mrs. Forman's son, Lawrence, and his wife, Jane Weed. The residential quarters bear a separate address of 81 Oakland Place. The house and apartment share splendid views of the grounds, including the garden terrace and substantial back yard.

The interior

The grand home's entry vestibule, which has walls of stone and a diamond-patterned coffered ceiling, provides a foretaste of the splendor to come.

The entryway leads to a main hall built on two levels: a small staircase with delicate iron railings passes beneath a Gothic arch supported by stone columns on the way to the hall proper. A carved frieze surrounds the room under a pitched coffered ceiling. Pointed arch doorways open onto the home's other principal rooms, including a loggia with fine views of the terrace garden. The staircase, in contrast to those in many other homes on Oakland Place, is small and tucked into a corner. It denotes the more private nature of the upstairs rooms.

To the south off the main hall, the library extends the entire depth of the house. The centerpiece is a large stone fireplace with carved paneling above, and all of the walls feature tall built-in bookcases. Large casement windows at either end of the room have transoms with antique stained glass roundels, and carved heads project from the central doors. The plaster ceiling, done in geometric relief with Tudor detail and a grape vine border, is the most elaborate on Oakland Place.

A study is located at the opposite end of the hall. It is a cozy classical room with floor-to-ceiling wood paneling in a natural finish. A marble fireplace is located at one end of the small room; it has a lovely carved wood surround of flowers, swags, and a fruit basket. A semicircular niche with shelves graces the opposite wall.

In contrast to the medieval flavor of the library and hall, the dining room is classically detailed. It features an elaborate black and white marble fireplace supported by pilasters, with a small, carved relief wolf and stork drinking from a vase. The beautiful plaster ceiling includes a border of painted fruit; the ceiling's other details are highlighted in gold.

The pantry, original cabinetry intact, is located beyond the dining room and is larger than many kitchens. It leads to a kitchen that retains its original ceramic tile walls, range hood, and built-in Jewett refrigerator.

Georgia Forman

At the end of 1952, when Mrs. Forman was in her 80s, she moved into the Campanile Apartments and sold her home to the Catholic Church [for $50,000.00]. The new Roman Catholic Bishop of Buffalo, Joseph A. Burke, had decided that the location of the Episcopal palace on Delaware Avenue, in front of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, had become too noisy with traffic. The diocese therefore purchased the Forman mansion on tranquil Oakland Place, and it is there that the Roman Catholic bishops of the Diocese of Buffalo have lived for more than half a century.

This comment appeared in Mrs. Forman's obituary: "Her house was a meeting place for distinguished men and women from this city and abroad." Even today, an opportunity to visit 77 Oakland Place is not to be missed.

Both the photograph and text are reprinted from Oakland Place: Gracious Living in Buffalo
Text © 2006 Martin Wachadlo / Photograph © 2006 Chuck LaChiusa
Photos and their arrangement © 2006 Chuck LaChiusa
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