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Memorial Acted Appropriately In Demolishing 'Historic' Site

By Frank Parlato

The reality is that virtually all of the buildings in the city with any real historical significance burned or were torn down a long time ago. The recently demolished four plex, called the Evelyn Apartments (above rear) was not properly a historical landmark worthy of denying the owner its
property rights.
The former United Office Building – now the Giacomo Hotel – gets an honorable mention for the mob-run card game that operated on its top floor for decades. Lookouts could see when the cops were entering on the street far below.
Our Beaux-Arts style City Hall, conveniently located at 745 Main St., has been the scene of nearly continuous criminal activity since its completion in 1924.
Murders and suicides have continued at the faux swank Jefferson Apartments on Rainbow Boulevard.
The Magaddino Memorial Chapel at the intersection of Niagara Street and Portage Road was likely the
scene of more murders and
gangland disappearances than any building in the state, or at least west of the Hudson.There are historical buildings in Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center caught some flack these last few weeks because it demolished a building it owned on Tenth St. on Feb. 15.

The blow-back was largely felt from a group of so-called historic preservationists who apparently expect others to pay for their preservationist goals.

They wanted the property preserved at all costs (except, of course, at any cost to themselves).

Memorial, it is true, demolished what was once perhaps a piece of Niagara Falls history but had become a vacant, 97 year-old, dilapidated building.

In its place is now a vacant lot nestled between Memorial's ER1 emergency room and its Hamilton Mizer Primary Care Center.

The building they razed was a two-story fourplex. Built in 1916, by an Italian immigrant named Lou Pacella, as an income property, Pacella lived with his wife and children in a single family house in front and built this fourplex in the back of his lot.

Normally fourplexes do not merit having a name, as larger buildings do, but one of the children was named Evelyn (Pullo), and in 1976, she inherited the building and named it after herself, calling it the Evelyn Apartments.

As the neighborhood surrounding Memorial fell into rack and ruin, Pullo, then 96 years-old, and trying to maintain the half-vacant and rapidly deteriorating, aging property, was able to persuade the Niagara Falls Commission on Historic Properties to designate it as a local landmark in 2009. Perhaps she thought they, or the designation, would help her in some way with funding.

It did not.

As the property deteriorated and became entirely vacant, she sold the building to Memorial in 2011, knowing full well the hospital planned to demolish it.

In fact, Memorial had a plan to use the land for a primary care facility, a plan that later fell through.

She said she didn't want to sell, but could not afford to maintain the property.

Pullo, now 99, lives in the Schoellkopf Health Center on the Memorial campus.

Last June, when Memorial set forth on the pathway of developing the land where the fourplex sat, the Commission on Historic Preservation, which offers neither funding for restoration, nor does it have the ability to buy the properties they designate historic, voted to deny the hospital's request to demolish the building.

The Niagara Falls City Council, however, being practical people, voted to override the commission's denial and allow the building to be razed, despite the "historic" designation, so that the property owners rights were respected first.

The recent protests came because, despite the health center plans falling through, the building was demolished anyway.

Hospital spokesman Pat Bradley said that, in its deplorable condition, the building presented a safety hazard and so the hospital chose to demolish it rather than risk anybody getting hurt there.

City Code Enforcement Inspector Michael Gonzalez told the Niagara Gazette that the building was, indeed, a prime candidate for the wrecking ball. Because of extensive water damage to the walls and weakened floors, "You could barely walk on the floors," he said.

According to a recent evaluation made available to the Reporter, the building was out of code compliance, was functionally obsolete, and could not be restored to rentable condition for anywhere near what it would be worth on the market, making the property financially worthless.

While offering no help to Pullo when she struggled to keep the property, after the dangerous, vacant and economically worthless property was demolished, one of the members of the commission, Jamie Robideau, said that the commission should have been notified before the permit to demolish it was granted.

"From our commission's point of view, that certificate (granting the right to demolish the building) became null and void the minute the plans for the health center were canceled," Robideau opined.

Tom Yots, former head of the commission, and now executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN), was more vocal.

"This is an outrageous action," he wrote in the PBN newsletter. He then sent a letter to Mayor Paul Dyster demanding an immediate investigation to determine who is responsible for the "outrage."

Dennis Virtuoso, the city's director of Code Enforcement, whose department issued the permit, said the city council resolution granting the certificate of appropriateness gave the owners the right to demolish the building. The elected council has the power to overrule the appointed commission, he said.

To which Robideau complained that the commission is not taken seriously in city hall.

"There's a general lack of communication and lack of respect for what we do," Robideau told the Gazette.

The issue raises some interesting questions about the rights of property owners versus the desires of preservationists to impose their ideas of what should be designated as historic, such designation, of course, coming as a liability, as it comes without compensating the owners for what the preservationist wish them to not do.

Possibly equally intriguing is the bald fact that preservationists see history almost everywhere, with a callow disregard of people's rights. They would keep a hundred vacant properties preserved, even if it pauperized every owner.

At the end of the day, there was nothing architecturally significant about the Evelyn.

It was, after all, a simple fourplex.

The reasons for its landmark designation went along the lines that the architectural firm of Kirkpatrick and Canon, designers of Niagara Falls City Hall, the Unitarian Church, the Jefferson Apartments and many residences built in the early 20th century, designed it, much as they also designed hundreds of other undistinguished residential buildings for customers who paid them to do so.

While numerous Niagara Falls residents lived in the Evelyn Apartments over the years, including someone named Montgomery, a superintendent of the Carborundum Company; Hamilton Mizer, a publisher of the Niagara Falls Gazette, and a school teacher named Lily Rush, one of the first women to receive a Master's Degree from Niagara University (1936), these individuals or their modest accomplishments do not merit the taking away of the property rights of an owner without compensation.

Had it not been demolished, its modest past might have been eclipsed by a sad future, if it caught fire, or youths got in the vacant building and fell through the floors.

Ultimately, if preservationists like Yots and Robideau wanted to save the fourplex, why didn't they buy it?

Or raise funds to preserve it through a trust?

Apropos of that is the desires of a city.

Simple justice demands that, if a city wants a historic designation to prevent an owner from doing what is in his or her best interest with a property, then the city ought to be willing to pay the owner for his financial losses.

Mayor Paul Dyster wished to have Yots and company designate his own street as part of a historical district a few years back.

Somebody will probably tear that place down someday too.



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Mar19 , 2013