Tonawanda News

July 15, 2012

Kenmore residence an art deco one-of-a-kind

By Danielle Haynes
The Tonawanda News

KENMORE — The residence at 33 Delaware Road in Kenmore is a bit of an anomaly. It at once is hard to find and unique to the other homes surrounding it.

“One thing that strikes me is how well it fits into the block,” said Kenmore Historian Ed Adamczyk. “It is distincitive, on the other hand it is the same size as the houses next to it. In some ways you almost have to look for this place and once you find it, it’s hard to miss.”

Jennifer Walkowski, architectural historian for Clinton Brow Architecture in Buffalo said the art deco structure — designed by Buffalo architect Duane Lyman — would have been quite a shock to people when it was built.

“This would have been the height of modern style. It would be now like getting a glass box built,” as a residence, she said. “It would have been very cutting edge and definitely would have raised some eyebrows in a Colonial revival neighborhood like this.”

“This is not your traditional, cozy (home),” she said. “You need someone interested in interesting spaces and with an imagination” as the owner.

Which is where Rita Auerbach comes in. As a retired art teacher who now spends her days as a watercolor artist, the owner of the residence is perhaps uniquely situated to appreciate the beauty — and sometime quirky nature — of the building.

The history

Thirty-three Delaware was built in 1933 for the medical offices of Dr. Daniel E. Stedem. It is situated directly across the street from another notable building with hints art deco design, the Kenmore Municipal Building, which was constructed in the same year.

Auerbach said it was quite an ordeal for Stedem to obtain permission to even build the building ... it didn’t exactly look like every other structure on the street.

“He had to go to great lengths all the way up to Albany to get a variance on the design in this community and it was approved,” she said

Adamczyk said that in order for Stedem to comply with building regulations in the neighborhood, it had to include a residential space, which is found in an apartment in the back of the building.

During this time “it was typical to have a doctor or dentist office in the same place where the doctor lives,” Adamczyk said.

Stedem didn’t live at the medical offices, but at one point rented out the apartment to his son, Auerbach said.

The basement held X-ray facilities, including a dark room to print the images on film, while the second story was home to a dentist office.

Auerbach, who grew up in Kenmore and as an elementary student went to Washington School, said she very clearly remembers that dentist’s office ... and not fondly.

The man who practiced here “was my dentist and I actually came here and I hated it,” she said. “I remember sitting behind that door,” she said, pointing to an entryway with a laugh, “hoping he wouldn’t see I was here.”

By about 1960, 33 Delaware went up for sale as Stedem ended his practice. Dr. Ralph Argen, Auerbach’s brother, bought the offices and practiced there for about five or six years, Auerbach said, after which he moved into offices on Sheridan Drive and their parents used the building solely as a residence.

“My parents moved in here and my mother was a decorator ... she started to knock around some walls,” Auerbach said. “The place had five bathrooms and two bedrooms.”

The Argens moved out of the home in 1990 and Auerbach and her husband purchased the building from her brother in 1990. The Auerbachs made even more renovations, making a building full of bathrooms and small exam rooms into a habitable space. The living room was once a waiting room, a hall closet was once a receptionist’s counter and one large bathroom and laundry room was once two smaller bathrooms.

But it was that upstairs dentist office that made Auerbach, a watercolor artist, realize she just had to have that building.

“When my brother wanted to sell it I knew it had to be mine, because of having (an art) studio like this,” she said, gesturing to what was once the dentist office she dreaded.

Another round of renovations took place six years ago, Auerbach said, and other than a few details, not much of the original interior of the building has remained.

The building

Thirty-three Delaware was built at the peak of Lyman’s career as what Walkowski described as one of Buffalo’s top architects. Dubbed the Dean of Western New York Architecture, Lyman’s career spanned some four decades. He and the firms he worked under were responsible for Williamsville South High School, Christ the King Chapel at Canisius College and the Niagara Mohawk Building in Syracuse, which Walkowski called one of the nation’s best examples of art deco architecture.

“He was a master of many different styles, and would work in all sorts of palletes for his customers,” Walkowski said. “He does a lot of nice work especially toward the later period of his career, sort of moving in the modern direction.”

Fellow Western New York architect from a generation earlier, “E.B. Green was never comfortable with modern architecture. Lyman was definitely more comfortable and capable working in the modern style,” she added.

It would not have been unusual for a notable architectural firm like Bley and Lyman to take on a smaller, more residential project like 33 Delaware, particularly during the Depression.

“Architects at that time would not have turned down pretty much any commission,” Walkowski said. “Lyman did work on smaller commissions, like a house in Lockport he designed in the 1950s,” on Berkley Drive.

While much of the interior of the building has changed over the years, Auerbach said she kept the exterior untouched apart from reconstructing the front steps and porch because of deterioration over the years.

Most of the art deco features of the building are found on the facade, which is constructed with varying elevations and recesses, called a setback.

“The emphasis was very clearly on the front elevation of the house. The side elevations are more utilitarian ... less highly designed,” Walkowski said. “The parapet it’s definitely a simplified art deco building as compared to (Lyman’s) other buildings.”

“One of the hallmarks of art deco buildings is what’s called a setback, or the tiered sillhouette. Buffalo City Hall a perfect example ... as the building gets higher, the floor space is reduced and this a nod to that sort of profile.”

Designers of art deco buildings show a great attention to decoration, and while 33 Delaware doesn’t have quite the ornamentation seen in the Niagara Mohawk building’s large “Spirit of Light” figure, there are little details that harken to the style in the facade’s subtle outcroppings and recesses, for example, or the overlapping geometric lines on the ceiling of the living room.

“You want something modern and something appropriate for the mission, which is a doctor’s office,” Adamczyk said. “I think they did a fine job.”

“It beautifully compliments the Municipal Building.”