Williams-Butler House - Table of Contents

House Landscape and Fountain
Jacobs Executive Development Center, UB Downtown

672 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY

TEXT Beneath Illustrations

In 1979, Delaware North Companies (Website) bought the house and the adjoining property on North Street, the Metcalfe House.  After a fierce preservation battle, Delaware North demolished the Metcalfe mansion next door (also designed by McKim, Mead and White) for use as a parking lot.

Fortunately, the American Wing in the Metropolitan Museum of Art has the complete entryway of the Metcalfe house on display. In addition, the Burchfield/Penny Art Center at Buffalo State College has rebuilt the dining room from this house. Prof. Frank Kowsky was in charge of that project.

Delaware North renovated the house over an eight-year period at a cost of $6 million.

In 1990, Delaware North sold the building to Varity Corp. to serve as its world headquarters.

From 1980 until 1996, Victor A. Rice was Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Varity Corporation.

Varity removed the parking lot, installed a lush garden/parking lot, and constructed the lighted fountain located in the center's granite courtyard. They also renovated the mansion.

The English Garden and Grounds were designed and and installed in 1990-91 by the English Gardener at the request of Victor Rice. Much of the parking was removed to install the fountain, entrance, and fish pond.

The concept was for an English-style garden of bulbs, shrubs, and perennials blooming continuously throughout the growing season and with year-round color and texture in the garden. The Rice family, and Victor in particular, were very involved with the plans, choice of plants and plantings.

A company owned by Peter Levin did all the work on the fountain. The gazebo is a memorial for Peter, who died in 1997.

The English Gardener landscaping company maintains the grounds (in August 2011).

Varity was acquired by a Cleveland Co., and in 1999 the house and garden was again acquired by Delaware North Companies, whose CEO, Jeremy M Jacobs Sr., then deeded the property to
SUNY at Buffalo, with a new name: Jacobs Executive Development Center.

Comments on the 2001 Landscape Photographs
By Rebecca Allen
Landscape project designer

I was invited to the opening event hosted by then new owners Varity.  As landscape project designer I laid out the hardscape (example, Medina sandstone cobblestone around the base of the fountain, as a point of local pride), and landscape site plans, selected the materials, and designed the fountain and plaza, small reflecting pool next to the carriage house and curved seating area on the opposite side.

Part of what made the project so unusual was that
Varity acquired both the Butler Mansion and the adjacent property so a total of around 5 acres of urban land recouped for mostly open space. A very rare occurrence. The parking lot couldn't be helped due to employee need, but at least they agreed with my insistence on keeping the large existing trees and putting in the lot around them. I'd had commercial experience with creating campus style open space, and suggested the paths connecting the parking area with the main building as a way of unifying the look of the property. Varity owner Victor Rice, who was English, supported having a garden on the grounds.

It looks as if it's grown in really nicely. The plaza fountain plantings have been re-done from the look of things but it's held up and looks as if it's being well maintained. Happy news.

The construction was done by local firm BRD. Peter Levine, BRD co-owner, selected Beautiful River (the one I worked for during that time) to design the grounds.  I was about 26 or 27 and it was a thrill to have this kind of opportunity. There's usually a lot of dues paying before a designer can have is level of input I'd gotten.

The engineering portion of the project was farmed out to Cannon on Grand Island because the landscape company I worked for was a small design & build firm without a staff engineer. Cannon was known for a lot of engineering work and was increasing their design profile at the time, and they wanted the design work for themselves. Nevertheless, they were happy to be involved in any capacity give the prominence of the site and the budget.

Here's the  basis of the idea. When my idea of including a prominent water feature was accepted, I hit my old art history books (specifically Italian gardens - because why look anywhere else, right?), and came up with the concept of a basin, brimming with water yet punctured by hidden spouting jets. Centuries back, an Italian garden designer named Torricelli had seen a full wine cask punctured by a bullet and the resulting trajectory of the water completely fascinated him. He did some further experiments. Depending on where on the side of a full cask a hole was punctured, the water came out at various angles because of the difference in water pressure along the side of a full cask. Thus was born: Torricelli's hydraulics principal, and I applied it in creating that fountain. Mark (?) did add a nice band of leaves cast into the basin, and he worked out how to get the jets to spray through the brimming water.

Special thanks to Mary L. Magnan, Director of Gift Planning at UB, for her assistance

Photos and their arrangement 2011 Chuck LaChiusa
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