John W. Cowper House - Table of Contents
History - John W. Cowper House
An excerpt from
Oakland Place: Gracious Living in Buffalo
By Martin Wachadlo
Published by Buffalo Heritage Unlimited
This magnificent manor house, built by one of Buffalo's most prominent master builders, is actually the second home to occupy this site. The original was a frame Colonial Revival dwelling that was evidently constructed in 1894-1895, when the property was considerably narrower than it is now. This house had a prominent front bay with a full-width front porch, shingled gables with Palladian windows, and a port cochère along the north side. It appears to have been constructed by Eli D. Hofeller, a builder and real estate dealer, as a speculative home, and it had a frequently changing array of occupants. This changed around 1917 when John and Josephine Cowper took up residence: they remained at this address for the rest of their lives. The Cowpers were fairly new to the city but they were somewhat familiar with Oakland Place because they had previously rented across the street at 143.
John W. Cowper (1871-1944) was a native of Virginia, where his father had served in the Confederate army. Cowper initially worked as a civil engineer on railroad projects before entering the contracting business with John Stewart & Company of New York. He supervised the construction of many of the firm's projects in America and England, including the Savoy Hotel in London. After working for other firms, he moved to Buffalo in 1914 and founded the Cowper Construction Company the following year. Cowper's firm was an instant success, with numerous projects throughout the nation. His firm's Buffalo projects included City Hall, the Rand Building, the Buffalo Athletic Club, and the Courier-Express Building, as well as many others.
Cowper decided that his success merited a new home, and in 1928 he commissioned Hudson & Hudson to create the design. He had additional land available for this construction: in 1919 his lot size had expanded considerably when he acquired land that had previously been part of the backyard of 226 Bryant Street (which is now 138 Oakland Place). This same division of land allowed for the construction of 130 in 1921. The architects provided a grand Tudor-style manse with an exterior of stucco trimmed in stone and bands of stone-framed casement windows. The side gable design is braced by massive stone end chimneys, and the roof slates get smaller and thinner as they rise, a common feature in homes of this style. The off-center projecting entry bay introduces a note of asymmetry to the formal composition; a stone in the gable gives the date of construction.
The stone entry arch leads to the main hall that has a curved staircase and wrought iron balusters rising beneath a chandelier. There is a small library to the left of the entrance; the room features full-height paneling and a concave plaster ceiling with small birds in flight in relief. The living room is behind it; it was built to accommodate the centuries-old wood paneling taken from Monmouth House in Wales. The very large medieval fireplace is a carved stone replica of the original, and the plaster ceiling border features an alternating pattern with an owl, a dog, a rabbit, and a rooster. The dining room is located across the entry hall; it has china closets hidden behind doors in the paneling and leaded glass doors which lead out to the stone terrace. Upstairs, the rooms have Art Deco detailing. The most notable is in the original bathroom, which is covered in black, white gold, and blue Carrera glass and topped with a frieze of mythological creatures.
In 1929, just as John Cowper began building Buffalo City Hall, the Cowpers moved into their new home. Cowper died in the house in 1944, at the age of 73; his death followed four years of poor health. Their only child, John Jr., died a year later of pneumonia at the age of 36, and his funeral was held the family home. Josephine lived in the house until her death in 1968.
Present owners: John Schultz and Sandra Schultz
See also John W. Cowper House - Table of Contents