Historical association lobbies preservation ordinance

Chronicle file photo of the Cheektowaga Historical Association.
Chronicle file photo of the Cheektowaga Historical Association.

CHEEKTOWAGA – The Cheektowaga Historical Association hopes that town lawmakers will draft and enact a historic preservation ordinance to protect and preserve the town’s surviving historical sites.

Legislation on the books would clear the way to establish a Historic Preservation Committee to guide owners of a historically designated building during remodeling projects.  It would also allow the town to be designated as a “Certified Local Government” with the federal government which could open the door to additional funding and technical assistant to municipalities.

Maureen Gleason is a member of the historical association – an independent group made up of citizens which receives grant money from the town.  She briefed the town board during last week’s work session.

“Designating and creating awareness of our historic and architecturally unique sites instills civic and personal identity and pride,” Ms. Gleason told councilmembers. “It creates an incentive for owners to maintain the upkeep of their sites.”

Rick Rusiniak is the town historian and owns the former home of Dr. Victor Reinstein.  He says the house is historic and is a beautiful place that should be designated and preserved.

“There’s a fireplace in there that the Reinstein’s themselves kind of adjusted and it is not totally original.  I would like to make it original, and maybe this would help me.  It has a beautiful staircase.  It needs some work, we could restore it and make it better,” said Mr. Rusiniak.

Owners of residential and commercial buildings that are recorded on the National Historical Register can take advantage of tax credits and federal grants.  Mr. Rusiniak says that could help the current homeowner of the Geroge Urban Mansion on Pine Ridge Road.  Previous owners removed a wraparound porch which to restore – comes with a costly price tag.

“They don’t have the money to restore and put that porch back on.  It’s a beautiful home; if it had a porch it would look gorgeous.  We don’t have that many sites in town,” added Mr. Rusiniak.

The mansion was home to George Urban Jr. and his wife, Ada Winspear.  Urban reinvented how grain was milled in Buffalo and was a member of prominent social circles.  He was friends with Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland, and Thomas Edison.  His friendship with the latter was influential in Buffalo becoming one of the first cities in the nation to have electricity.

“There’s a lot of history here,” Mr. Rusiniak said.  “Anything along Cayuga Creek – the Indian Villages that were here.  In our backyard at the Reinstein’s, there was a park and dam setup, and you can still see the foundation of the dam still in there.”

He also says many homes along Indian Road served as stops on the Underground Railroad.  The homes were built out of railcars from the Gardenville Yards.

“When they went from wood cars to steel cars, they tore all those cars apart, and they used them for homes.  It’s really cool how they built them.  I opened up a stairway, and it said, ‘Ship to Buffalo on it,’ and we left it open so you can see it,” said Mr. Rusiniak.

He says the creation of a historic preservation committee would be there to help the community, not become a roadblock.

“It can be very smooth.  We’re not here to beat anybody. You want to just keep the aura of the property without changing the face. You can remodel things on the inside like redoing the bathroom to make it comfortable for yourself.  Like mine, I have a galley kitchen that has been hodgepodge together.  There’s nothing historic about the kitchen that’s in it,” said Mr. Rusiniak.

A town source with knowledge of the presentation says the matter has been referred to the law department for additional research.  Any resolution brought to the floor is the responsibility of the Historic Preservation Committee co-chairs, Councilmembers Tim Meyers and Chris Adamczyk.