True Green Cities/Celebrating Ten+ Years: Larkin Men’s Club – Once a Convent, Then a Men’s Club, Now Market Rate Housing
Celebrating Ten+ Years! It’s been twelve years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected.
Rehabilitating a Neighborhood Building with a Storied Past
Over the past five years I have been working on a lovely building in the Larkinville neighborhood of Buffalo, about a mile Southeast of downtown. The owners wanted to rehabilitate the 1889/1904 building now known as the Larkin Men’s Club, which had been vacant for years, for new housing using historic tax credits. It was not a simple route to get there. After preparing a Determination of Eligibility for the building, the State Historic Preservation Office informed us that our best path was to get the local historic district listed as a federal Certified Historic District. The owner was willing to support that given they have a variety of buildings in the district. The Larkin Certified Historic District was certified July 22, 2019. The district is significant under Criterion A for its contributions to the evolution of the American mail order retail business. The Larkin Company was one of the great industrial concerns of the United States. At the company’s peak around 1919, its factory complex occupied 65 acres of floor area and employed about 2,000 people in the manufacture of hundreds of household products, sold by mail order to customers across North America. Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic masterpiece – the Larkin Headquarters, was located adjacent to this site (but demolished in 1950.)
The Larkin Men’s Club
The Larkin Men’s Club is a contributing component to the Larkin Certified Historic District. The Part 1 for this project was approved on December 12, 2019. The building at 696 Seneca Street is the only remaining building from the original campus of the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a German-language Catholic parish established in 1875. Built as a church rectory and convent, the Larkin’s Men’s Club property consists of two, Late Victorian Italianate two-story red brick buildings on the eastern end of the former church property. The church complex included the church (1876; demolished in 1936), the parochial school (c. 1878, demolished before 1931), the rectory (1889), and the convent (1904). These two remaining buildings, the rectory and the convent, comprise the Larkin Men’s Club which were joined into a single structure by a two-story hyphen in 1918.
The 1889 rectory building (south wing), designed by Architect Raymond Huber, is two-and-a-half stories high, rectangular with a rear “L”, with a hip roof. It is constructed of red brick with a cut limestone foundation below a projecting stone water table. The building features acentral bay rising to a corbeled gable, topped by a sheet metal parapet, round arched entrance openings, plain windows with concrete sills on the first floor, stone sills supported by corbeled brick brackets at the windows on the second floor, and segmental brick arch lintels (topped by projecting cut brick hoods) with carved stone keystones. The second-floor window of the central bay features a round arch opening with a carved stone keystone, above which is a blind brick oculus.
The 1904 convent building (north wing), designed by architect Carl Schmill, is two-and-a-half stories high, rectangular with a hip roof. A two-story flat roof hyphen connects it to the 1889 building. It is constructed of red brick with a quarry faced limestone foundation. Windows feature quarry faced sandstone sills and heavy lintels. The central entrance, reached by stone stairs, is also recessed beneath a heavy stone lintel. A one-story porch projects on the west side of the building, supported by two original pilasters.
Working with Schneider Architectural Services, our team submitted a Part 2 (historic tax credit application) to the SHPO and NPS for the building’s rehabilitation in October. As often happens with these projects, we have had various discussions with SHPO and the NPS regarding the design approach. We anticipate starting construction later this spring, reactivating a hole in an important historic district and story in America.