Welcome to Painting for Preservation!

Welcome to Painting for Preservation! This initiative, founded by artist Sara M. Zak, is aimed at drawing attention to distressed, at-risk, and under-utilized historic locations through on site art making.

Mission: To bring together artists of all media in support of historic distressed properties and communities. To create artwork on-site related to the location as a means of raising positive awareness of the space.

My hope is that we can continue this effort in Buffalo and expand the concept to other architecturally rich cities. Please e-mail Sara M. Zak if you are interested in starting a Painting for Preservation initiative in your city at info@paintingforpreservation.org

Our goals:

1. Raise awareness of at-risk, distressed and under-utilized locations and their neighborhoods

2. Create a record of historically rich locations through art

3. Create a community of artists invested in the urban landscape

4. Bring exposure and provide assistance to artists interested in documenting at-risk historic neighborhoods while also collaborating with members of those same neighborhoods.

5. Involve communities in sharing their stories of local historic architectural and their neighborhoods.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Painting for Preservation: Another Chapter for the Fairfield Library?

Artists at Fairfield Library; Photo by Stan Jennings
Gathered on the grassy corner lot of Amherst and Fairfield Streets, over 25 architects, artists, families and local residents, organized by Painting for Preservation, admired the proportion and classical detailing of the Fairfield Library through out the morning of Saturday, August 13. The ca. 1897 building was designed by William Sydney Wicks as a Unitarian Church in the Colonial Revival style. Wicks was the architectural partner of E.B. Green, who together designed 104 buildings in 36 years of partnership, as Green & Wicks.

The church building was occupied by a Lutheran congregation until it was purchased by the City in 1924 and operated as a library until 2005 when it was closed by the County. Having been vacant and neglected for nearly six-years the frame building is showing signs of increasing deterioration. The building, at a little over 6,000 square feet, represents a realistic rehabilitation project viable for the private or the public sector. The last appraisal of the property in 2007 set the price at $75,000 and though approached many time to sell, the Common Council has denied all transactions. No specific plans have been made public.

It is the goal of Painting for Preservation to bring creative attention to neglected historic places in the City of Buffalo. Both the act of gathering at the historic, and often, distressed location and in creating artwork with the building as the subject, stirs new innovative conversation about rehabilitation possibilities. Typical Art-Ins attract artists, architects/preservationists, photographs, resident and community activists; all are welcome to participate and observe. As a group, Painting for Preservation, has organized seven Art-Ins and will host a gallery show at the Statler Towers during the National Trust for Historic Preservation's National Preservation Conference in Buffalo in October.

Like many of the locations chosen by Painting for Preservation, these historic places have back stories and personal meaning to its organizers and participants. For all those involved at the Fairfield Library Art-In, the purpose was magnified by both the deterioration of the lovely historic building and the closure of the Library that was an anchor of community and culture for over 80 years.

In 1924, the former church was purchased by the City and became a branch of the Buffalo Public Library. Merging City and County resources, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (BECPL) system was incorporated in 1953 and from this point on-ward, the building asset of the Fairfield Library was owned by the City of Buffalo but all operations were managed by Erie County. The Fairfield Library remained a neighborhood branch with high circulation numbers until it was permanently closed in October of 2005 and since been vacant.

Not without cause, because of declining city population, the BEPCL commissioned Aaron Cohen and Associates Ltd. to complete The Library Service Strategic Plan, 1999-2003. The criteria for library-worth Cohen Study focused on size, parking and room-for-expansion, all characteristics not found in the urban, neighborhood branch libraries like North Park and Fairfield, putting them at a disadvantage to remain open. Finally, the report recommended closing both libraries and constructing a new North Buffalo Community Library. A similar tactic in other areas called for closing 20 additional branches through out the 52-library system.

Still in 2004, the American Library Association ranked the BECPL as the leader in number of library facilities per capita with one for every 18,000-or-so residents, providing nearly twice as much access than other library systems nationwide. This was reported in "A Plan for Moving On" developed by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership.

When budget cuts in 2005 made the recommendations of the Cohen Study more feasible, the Fairfield Library was permanently closed in October of that year. As previously determined in their cooperative agreement, the physical building reverts to the City of Buffalo along with charges of its maintenance.

This hand-off from County to City is part of the problem. Buffalo has little budget to maintain the many City-owned properties, much less find suitable reuse strategies for them. So Fairfield Library no matter its historical or cultural significance became one of the over 7,000 vacant properties crumbling under City-ownership. Just recently, within the past month, was the Department of Real Estate given the budget to produce and hang For Sale signs on many of its properties.

A Buffalo Rising commenter, presumably from the neighborhood, mentioned that the City fails to maintain the lawn and residents often mow the lawn. The planters on the corner lot are tall with weeds and wildflowers. On a positive note, some artists chose to highlight the greenery.

Amanda Maciuba's Sketch
The Fairfield Library has been for sale by the City of Buffalo for several years with official RFPs for purchases distributed in 2007. An employee of the City of Buffalo Department of Real Estate stated that there has been interested ever since the building when on the market. Also of note, the property is listed on the City of Buffalo website with having Deed Restrictions but after additional research the Department found no restrictions. The listing has yet to be updated.

Residents, including Jeanine Baran of the Vernon Triangle Block Club, are hopeful for new stewardship,
“As a community, we are concerned about the building, and the first thing that came to my mind was maybe this [the Art-In] will attract some positive attention and a buyer.”
The last appraisal for the building that can be documented was $75,000 several years ago. Residents of the area have been hearing that a more recent appraisal valued the building at approximately $50,000. The process to purchase public building from the City of Buffalo requires Common Council approval based on the interested party’s vision for the property and their ability to finance it. No such buyer has been found.

Depending on the scope of work of Fairfield Library restoration, the cost can be roughly estimated in comparison with a budget prepared by Watts Engineering & Architecture, P.C. for work at the North Park Library at Delaware and Hertel Avenues in 2008. The report, available at the BECPL website, gives a probable cost at $696,700.

A popular target of finger-pointing for the Fairfield Library’s abandonment is mold and asbestos. Issues of mold and asbestos are common in all buildings not just historic buildings. The new $137M Federal Court House on Niagara Square has been on hold for months due to mold. Mold can be treated and asbestos can be contained, sealed and/or removed, and is commonly done skillfully during building rehabilitations.

There is tremendous neighborhood support for renewing the building’s place in the greater North Buffalo neighborhood. The Parkside Community Association has consistently strategized for the building’s preservation and reuse but has yet to get the right mix of funding and vision. Currently, the PCA has secured funding through the State’s Main Street Program for the mixed-use and commercial buildings along Main Street between Florence Street and Leroy Street; over $402,000 has been awarded. Perhaps with the momentum of a successful grant program and the leadership of Ben Johnson as Executive Director, there is still a place for community ownership at the Fairfield Library.

Other ideas for the property have included restoration as a private residence; most obviously a community center or community library; perhaps reuse by a small congregation.

Meagan Baco's Painting

The neighborhood has a strong cultural presence most notably Wright's Darwin D. Martin House in the National Register-listed Parkside East and Parkside West Historic Districts and with local businesses like Sweet_ness7, Fairy Cakes and Wil’s BBQ taking hold of Parkside Avenue across from the Buffalo Zoo, the location of the Fairfield Library is prime.

While the For Sale sign was a harsh reminder that this piece of Buffalo architectural history, public access to enlightenment and of many North Buffalonian’s family lore was abandoned - it can also be spun as an opportunity for new stewardship. The yellowed sign taped to the closed front doors of the Fairfield Library that though written in a positive tone, is much harder to read:

"After 80 years of service Fairfield Library is permanently closed. Thank you for your patronage and letting us be part of your lives and expanding your horizons."

The following photos by Steve Siegel:

Joan Shaw, NFPAP President

The Nowicki Family - Great to have a family participate and they were the youngest P4P participants yet.

Carol Siracuse's Beautiful Watercolor

Mickey Harmon and Dana Saylor

1 comment:

  1. Photos and thoughts of Fairfield Library by Becky Harbison: http://clarencegrad72.blogspot.com/2011/08/fairfield-library.html