Oh Those Documents

Well we’re rolling into December and still no deed.  But for the last month, the delay has been on our part, not City Hall’s.  We were waiting on the property survey (now completed) and the title search (pending).  What was supposed to be a two week affair has turned into four, partly because of the Thanksgiving holiday and partly because the title search has been a “tough one” (so say the professionals).  I cannot say I am surprised about that, given the age of the house and its location in a part of town that has seen much change over the years.  Hoping for early this coming week on the finished title search, and then we should be able to set a closing date quickly and get this thing done.  Excelsior.

*Edit (12/8/2012):  I should add that the cost of the property survey was $400.  The survey company was Millard, MacKay and Delles Land Surveyors, LLP.  Their office is at 150 Aero Dr. in Buffalo and their number is (716) 631-5140.


One thought on “Oh Those Documents

  1. The City of Buffalo has kept terrible records of its lots and houses and buildings. Three houses my great-grandfather built (beautiful, each very different, but arranged wonderfully into a three-house plat, so we had five rental units besides our own huge flat with view of St Mary of Sorrows Church, Genesee St., were four blocks from then a beautiful well-kept Humboldt Park (when I ask how it was re-named and by whom, I’m simply given the reply that “the City of Buffalo” re-named it MLK Park!) are razed now. I’m told it happened during the ’80s by someone who knows how to look these things up. But IMAGINE: the house I was born and raised in as a child, 441 Johnson St., I am told never existed. The house behind it, either. All that’s left is a “lot” for 439, the where the first and smallest of the three houses my great-grandfather, Joseph Mueckl, built. Someone “bought” that lot — I can’t imagine what for. ALL of the block except one house at the corner of Best and Johnson and one other falling-down shabby place is GONE — “urban prairie.” THIS four blocks from what was one the most beautiful, or the most beautiful, Omsted park in the city. The blond-brick walls across the street, straddling Best St., Johnson St., Timon St., and others (can’t recall the fourth one at the moment) house some of the most beautiful Gothic buildings I’ve seen anywhere. It had been turned into a detention facility, which finally the African-Americans who were mainly migrants from the Deep South sent with one-way bus-tickets to Buffalo some generations ago and told they’d have great jobs (in the middle of a German neighborhood next to downtown, with no employment much to speak of for manual workers or service workers), decided was an insult to them (to have razor wire atop the yellow brick walls and a detention center thought of as the only proper facility for what they now considered “their” neighborhood) got the County to sell off for next to nothing (I saw the sign “$6000 for sale for the entire complex!) Go a few blocks west of Best and you’ll run into Dodge St. A huge block of beautiful formerly Diocese of Buffalo-owned majestic buildings that started with a German orphanage. Last I was told they were for sale for $1.00 (the preservationist who knew this would never tell me how to buy them, though), scooped up by the Texas developer-slumlord who had a major Buffalo commissioner in his pocket (now “retired,” I’m glad, but far too late). To my knowledge they are still rotting and being vandalized by the day.

    I spent several trips back to my home city in the years 2001 – 2007. I had done major restorations of historic houses in Juneau, Alaska; Colorado Springs, CO, and La Junta, CO, and massive work on a house in Arizona, another in California. But going back to Buffalo just BROKE MY HEART, to see and even imagine the neglect and trashing of such a scale.

    I couldn’t tell the story of all I found out if I wrote even one book on it. Corruption. Neglect. Racial gerrymandering and exploitation both of the original inhabitants of the Near East Side (Germans) and those “replacing” them (African Americans). This “zone” of Buffalo to this day is a “Shadow Area” where one has to be extremely careful of everything. The layers and tiers of bad politics here are so immense it is mind-boggling.

    I have photos of our house at 441 Johnson Street, with the number very visible. What evidently happened is that whoever owns or lives in the house at the corner of Best and Johnson just wanted more space, so they extended a chain-link fence past what was another, smaller house (another mysteriously “disappearing address,” and have hobos living out of rusted buses and with huge rags hanging from wires).

    I’ve thought seriously of trying to work with this neighborhood, which I deeply loved as a child and which held my family’s history from the time they emigrated from Germany. But I find that in meetings at City Hall many “planners” don’t even “know” the area exists, and if they do, they count it as “black areas” appropriately in the condition they are in. You know, “What can ya do with things like that?”

    I find other cities with German heritage like Buffalo re-installing the trolley cars (even Milwaukee, Wisconsin is in the midst of a huge transportation by rail project) and repairing and selling inexpensively properties that can be preserved (instead of putting them on a demolition list). Indianapolis is close to a success story for restoration of its German heritage and integration of it into a diverse and restored downtown as well.

    But Buffalo — oh, my God. I’m a decade older than when I started re-investigating this tragedy, and I am right now trying to recover from a major set-back with my health, and I plan to work with more preservation when I recover. But — Buffalo — the POLITICS are the tragedy.

    I commend you on what you are doing. I don’t know if I’d try in Buffalo, because of the sadness the city evokes in me as I see what happened to the entire German-American heritage there, which was the largest ethnic group in Buffalo at the turn of the 20th Century.

    I am right now in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin is German and Scandinavian territory that was never so badly trashed as Buffalo. Madison is one of the top cities ranked in nearly every category for “good living” in contemporary scholarly and media reports, and there is increasing celebration and recognition of its German roots. Breweries flourish, as do upscale German bars and restaurants and societies to preserve German culture. There are NO slums, the downtown keeps developing tastefully and well, and the state university’s fortunate spread throughout the state capital city is a blessing. I have advocated for years that Buffalo needed to put SUNY Buffalo IN Buffalo — smack in the heart of the city. Universities don’t go bust economically or quickly move away. But, no, in Buffalo a closed “gentleman’s agreement” stuck the majority of the campus out on the bleak plains of Amherst with 1960s architecture, such as is being torn down (rightfully) in most of the world (cheap concrete-block boxes, sealed up windows, A/C systems that regularly circulated recycled used air, and endless parking lots). How sad.

    I was recently noticing that the Architecture Dean is a new one, a former faculty member I met about urban planning in Buffalo and a man sensitive to preservation issues. I have some hope with this man having the deanship there.

    UNLESS people work at cleaning up the politics in Buffalo there is little hope that one by one the city will restore much before it’s torn down. It takes COMMUNITY ACTION and VISION more than private heart-inspired but harrowing and draining commitments.

    I’m too told to live another century to see what happens there — viz. if such community can be built and if the university can properly involve itself in the City of Buffalo preservation that it needs. I know it’s improved in a few pockets and downtown a bit in the past decade. I’ll be interested to see what I see when I am well enough and have enough money to knock around there again. Perhaps I will do research and write about it. Documenting all this history is so tremendously important, because the written documents are not as easily destroyed as the buildings.

    Meanwhile, all blessings and good wishes to you on your preservation home venture. Each such venture hopefully will spark more people’s imagination and sense of integrity.

    Joseph John Leitner Lang, Ph.D.
    Madison, WI jlslcd6214@hotmail.com

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