The Delaware Avenue Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
On Delaware Avenue, one of Buffalo's principal arteries, a last series of large turn-of-the-century residences stand well set back on expansive lawns behind the tree-lined sidewalk. These fourteen structures form the two block long Delaware Avenue Historic District on the west side of the street between North and Bryant Streets.
Westminster Church and the cottage-like residence beside it (#726) are the only mid-nineteenth century representatives in the district. Most buildings are the second ones to be built on their lots and as a whole they illustrate a spirit of "one-upmanship" between Buffalo's magnates between 1890 and the First World War.
The structures included in the district are described as follows:
The block between North and Summer Streets (from south to north):
Number 672 and 690 Delaware Avenue are a pair of houses designed in 1894 and 1896 respectively by McKim, Meade and White for George and Charles Williams. Number 672 is a symmetrical three story structure built of yellow brick with a flat roof surrounded by a balustrade. It has a porte cochere on the north side and a carriage house to the rear.
The red brick Number 690 is also three stories but appears smaller than its neighbor to the south. It has a hipped roof and a two story front porch with Ionic columns. On the interior a sculptured fireplace, a carved staircase, tiled walls, and gold leaf wall decorations remain as well as many of the original brass and crystal wall fittings. The house stands behind a wrought iron fence and its carriage house is to the rear.
Number 698 Delaware Avenue is a brick and glass three story structure built in the 1960's and is unrelated to the Delaware Avenue ambience in scale, spirit and location on its site.
Westminster Presbyterian Church is a large stone structure built in 1858 with a steeple centered on the front facade. Three front entrances are located at the polygonal base of the steeple. To the rear are a number of related church buildings some of which are attached. The original flagstone sidewalk is still intact in front of the Westminster Church complex.
Built probably in the 1850's at the time of the church, 726 Delaware Avenue is a two-and-one-half story brick building with a hipped roof supported by a bracketed cornice. The three bay wide front facade has a series of oval windows spaced between the brackets at the attic level. The finely detailed front doorway has a fanlight and two side lights. It is off-center and is sheltered by an iron porch which runs the length of the front facade. The building was originally owned by Westminster Church and was bought once again by the church in 1956 to serve as the "Hospitality House."
The United Way Building is a modern two story brick building constructed behind the wrought iron fence that belonged to its predecessor at 742 Delaware Avenue. The pseudo-Georgian building with quoined treatment at the corners, a belt course between stories and an arched doorway melts well amongst its earlier neighbors on the street.
The block between Summer and Bryant Streets (from south to north):
The massive, stone, Gothic at 786 Delaware Avenue designed in 1913 by Edward Green for Stephen M. Clement is set well back on an unusually large lot. Henry Russell Hitchcock notes in his survey of Buffalo architecture 1816-1940 that the Clement residence was based on an English manor house. It is now the Red Cross building.
800-808, also known as 806 Delaware Avenue, is a large Renaissance Revival house built for Seymour Knox by Charles Pierrepont H. Gilbert in 1915. The two story stone building is now owned by the Montefiore Club of Buffalo. The main entrance is on the north facade. Most of the windows are paired and are rectangular in shape with transoms. Three first floor French windows, however, have arched tops and open out onto a terrace. A wide belt course separates the first and second stories and above the dentilled cornice a balustrade runs along the edge of the flat roof.
Partially hidden from the street by trees, 824 Delaware Avenue is a two story brick house with a two story front porch supported by full length columns. It has a gable roof, and the first floor windows have pedimented lintels. The front doorway is arched and above it is a second floor Palladian window with a small balcony. The building was constructed at the turn of the century for George Foreman, was later owned by Oliver Cabana, is now the Children's Aid Society Building.
830-832 Delaware Avenue, formerly the George Brewster Matthews House, was built in 1901. This is a two-story brick building with stone trim. It is also owned by the Children's Aid Society.
The half-timbered 844 Delaware Avenue, formerly the Thomas R. Lockwood House, is two-and-one-half stories. The first floor is brick with stone trim and the roof is steeply pitched with a front dormer. It was built in 1888, was bought by the Catholic Diocese in 1950.
864 Delaware Avenue, now owned by the Buffalo Association for the Blind, is a three story red brick building designed in 1898 by Esenwein and Johnson. A later wing has been added.
888 Delaware Avenue is a two-and-one-half story brick building with stone trim. The gable roof has a row of richly detailed dormers with arched or pedimented tops. A festooned motif runs along the roofline above a relatively inconspicuous dentilled cornice. The corners of the building have a brick quoined treatment. The main entrance is on the north facade where a large arched doorway is flanked by stone urns. The facade fronting on Delaware Avenue has a one story porch with paired columns. The house was designed in 1903 by Buffalo architect Edward Green.
900 Delaware Avenue is the Presbyterian Home for the Aged.
The baronial residences in Buffalo's Delaware Avenue Historic District are the architectural fruits of a fiercely competitive free enterprise era of American history. In these prosperous peacetime years between the Spanish-American and First World Wars, Buffalo hosted the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 and for a short time the city's commercial and industrial prospects looked unlimited.
The designated two block-long district is only a small surviving segment of the spectacular Delaware Avenue referred to for years with both awe and reverence by Buffalo's chroniclers. "Delaware Avenue that mattered began at Niagara Square with the house of Millard Fillmore and ended at Gates Circle..." wrote one of the avenue's residents Anson C. Goodyear. In Goodyear's eyes:
"The Delaware Avenue of my early days was the champion residential street of the United States. Further west in Cleveland, Euclid Avenue had some pretensions, but we did not admit a great rivalry. The great elms along the way towered over green stretches of lawn, some imposing mansions...and a coterie of curious characters."
From an outsider's perspective Carl Carmer describes the same atmosphere where..."...the rich old families living in heavy elegance...safely immured in their wrought-iron trimmed castles and their mansard-roofed mansions..."
Delaware Avenue was one of the principal links leading from the heart of the city to the Pan-American Exposition held in Delaware Park in 1901. This ebullient and electrified trade fair was an important economic stimulus for Buffalo. In addition to the national publicity it created, particularly with McKinley's assassination at the Exposition and the subsequent inauguration of Teddy Roosevelt, records show that during these years the city enjoyed full employment, and unusually high sales profits which in turn led to increasingly large bank accounts.
This economic prosperity left its mark with a wave of new construction along Delaware Avenue. Within the historic district the two Williams' houses (#672 and #690) were designed by McKim, Meade and White on the corner of North Street and Delaware Avenue. Seymour H. Knox, a partner with his brother-in-law, F. W. Woolworth in the 5 & 10 cent business came to Buffalo in the early 1900's and bought the George Howard house on Delaware Avenue, which he replaced in 1915 with a magnificent Renaissance villa designed by Charles Pierrepont Gilbert (#806). Knox may have been competing with his neighbor to the south, Stephen M. Clement, president of the Marine Bank, whose huge Gothic residence designed by Buffalo architect Edward Green was built on the lots of three previous houses around 1911. George V. Foreman, president of Eastern Oil Company and founder of the Fidelity Trust Company was another of Knox's neighbors living at 824 Delaware Avenue. In describing the closely knit community on Delaware Avenue, Anson Goodyear relates the punctual habits of George Foreman, his father-in-law.
"Every morning he left his house at a certain hour and met George L. Williams at his house, just above North Street, to walk to the Fidelity building together. Mr. Foreman boasted a very prominent corporation and leaned backward to achieve his balance. Mr. Williams was emaciated and bent forward for his. It was a procession on which people checked their watches."
Today the Delaware Avenue houses of the Williamses, the Knoxes, the Foremans, the Goodyears and the Clements have been largely taken over by non-profit organizations, and thus the proposed district still holds the turn-of-the-century flavor for which all of Delaware Avenue was once known. The district is an important resource for understanding Buffalo at its peak of economic prosperity as well as the pretensions and sense of humor of its small but cohesive "ruling class."
Buffalo Courier-Express, June 1, 1952.
Buffalo Courier-Express, May 28, 1955.
Buffalo Evening News, June 20, 1970.
Carmer, Carl Listen for a Lonesome Drum, William Sloane Associates: 1936.
Goodyear, Anson C., "Delaware Avenue 1877-1927," unpublished manuscript. Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.
Groves, Robert "Demolition Derby on Delaware Avenue." Buffalo Courier-Express, September 23, 1973.
James, Isabel Vaughen, "Pan American Exposition." Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society: 1961.
Moore, Charles, The Life and Times of Charles Follen McKim. Riverside Press: 1929.
‡ Brooke, Cornelia E., New York State Division for Historic Preservation, Delaware Avenue Historic District, Buffalo NY, nomination document, 1973, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.