Founding of Landmark Society Inextricably Linked to Saving Coit House
First-and-current Society President's Reminiscences
By Tony Fryer
As the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier marks its thirty-fifth year, it is fitting to glance backward as well as into the future. While there were much earlier efforts to mark the sites ,history, and buildings in Western New York, our thirty-five years make the LSNF the oldest on-going preservation group here.
The Landmark Society grew out of concern for preserving Buffalo's oldest post-War of 1812 residence, the c. 1815 Coit House. Miss Olive Williams, an Allentown resident, hosted a tea to which the following group of women and men were invited:
- Appleton Fryer
- Frederick Houston
- Gertrude Notman
- Mary Josephine Broquedis
- O. William Shelgren Jr.
There was no Landmark Society yet, but there was urgency involved, as the city's Board of Health had condemned the building. The owner refused to make improvements to conform to code, and demolition was imminent.
The group assembled to organize an effort to save the house, although we had no treasury, no legal status, and no lawyer. William Magavern was immediately asked to represent us legally.
I met with the owner to secure the property from demolition. Bill Magavern provided a binding contract, which the owner signed, and I provided $1000 from my personal funds.
Shortly thereafter, I transferred the contract to the Landmark Society, which, several months later, transferred it to Henry and Linda Priebe, who agreed to a restrictive covenant to maintain the exterior of the Coit House in its original appearance.
The Priebes maintained the house for a number of years. When Henry died, he willed it to his two daughters, who lived there some time before selling it to the Allentown Association.
Subsequently, the Landmark Society leased space in the Coit House for two or three years and spear-headed a cooperative effort, which was suggested by C . Douglas Walter, to put a new roof on the building. Ted Sanders and I met with the representatives of two unions in the roofing trade, who donated workers, and several materials suppliers. Management and supervisory skills were provided by Joseph A. Sanders Roofing Co. All these services, valued at $50,000, were provided free of charge. Hamilton, Houston & Lownie contributed architectural expertise. Funding came from the Baird Foundation, the Margaret Wendt Foundation, the City of Buffalo, and New York State to cover resources not donated.
We presented the package to the Allentown Association (Jonathan White), which accepted the proposition and added its efforts to the cause - a true collaboration for a civic project.
The Coit House is currently up for sale, or it may possibly be relocated downtown to become part of the Inner Harbor Project or the Cobblestone District. The Landmark Society continues to actively support the Allentown Association in these efforts.
Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier
The original LSNF board was composed of a number of men and women dedicated to preserving history, architecture, and natural sites, and nurturing appreciation of them:
Mary Jo Broquedis, designer
Peter Clement, architect
Walter Dunn, historian;
Rosey Esty, gardener/preservationist
Tony Fryer, businessman/historian
Fred Houston, architect
Bill Magavern, lawyer
Bob Meech, stockbroker
Gerry Notman, preservationist/gardener
Ginny Tillou, artist
Bill Shelgren, architect
Crawford Wettlaufer, industrialist/collector.
It was this group that in 1970 actually founded the Landmark Society and decided to make it a regional organization with a mission of "Enhancing Appreciation of Built and Natural Landmarks through Advocacy and Education."
Other Buildings Saved with the Aid of Landmark Society Advocacy
Old U. S. Post Office, now home to the Erie county community College city campus
Four adjacent Delaware Avenue mansions now homes to corporate headquarters, a charter school, and the International Institute
Washington Place, four century-old houses on the East side adapted for reuse as medical offices
The National Landmark Guaranty Building, for which the LSNF holds a covenant protecting its fašade in perpetuity
Victor Hugo Mansion, now a boutique hotel
Warren & Polly Hull House in Lancaster.
The LSNF also advocated for state involvement in the restoration of the Darwin Martin House and against demotion of the Atwater House, whose next chapter hasn't been written yet.