North Pearl Street is, in many ways, the most conscientious example of
a prosperous Victorian residential street left in Buffalo, despite the changes
suffered by some of its homes during the 1950's infatuation with modernization.
The shaded street offers the passerby a certain ambience, an almost super-eral
quiet in which it is nearly possible to hear the clatter of carriage wheels in
the alley behind, the buzz of crickets, and the songs of children eager to play
one last game before nightfall.
North Pearl Street homes were built for 19th century Buffalo's upwardly
mobile population and the structures reflect their builders post-Civil War
prosperity. They are conservative mirrors of period styles, but built in brick
and stone rather than in wood. Most importantly, these well-to-do young
settlers could afford ornament and nearly every house on the street wears
elegant and often unusual jewelry,
Zig-zag courses span the brick work at No. 1 North Pearl, and all the
windows and doors are crowned with eyebrow moulding. A Queen Anne bay was an
early attempt at "modernization", giving the house an odd, lop-sided
At No. 17 North Pearl, a remodeling which removed an Eastlake porch has
actually restored the French antecedents of its Second Empire Style and exposed
the wonderful round arched second storey windows to clear view. Across the
street at No. 18, a flat-roofed Italianate built in 1869 sports an exquisite
segmental center projecting cornice which is underpinned by a dentitated frieze
and modilfion bracketing while four massive brackets of complex scroll work
support the whole projection at its points of segmentation.
At No. 34 North Pearl is an excellent example of a Queen Anne structure
treated with a variety of building materials and a wealth of unusual details.
The two-and-one-half storey building, built in 1892, is covered by a steeply
hipped roof and massed against a gabled entrance pavillion. The shingled gable
pediment houses paired windows overhung with carved and scrolled entablature.
Linen-fold corbels support the frieze. The pavilion houses a segmentally
arched, double door entry, the shape of which is repeated in the window above
and in the first floor facade windows. A three-part second-storey window on the
main mass is topped by a transom set, flanked by engaged fluted Doric columns
supporting a dentilated and medallioned double frieze which also rolls around
the roofline of a tower set on the left hand side and balancing the building's
mass for an altogether stately treatment of the Queen Anne form.
Further down the street, at No. 47 North Pearl is a three-storey Second
Empire residence built in 1878 whose roof has been exceptionally treated by the
asymmetrical placement of a dormer housing paired windows and crowned by a
unique swan's neck pediment. It is counter-balanced by a smaller dormer housing
an ovate four-fight window. The narrow mass of the house is visually expanded
by the classic Italianate device of giving great length to the main floor
windows, which are segmentally arched, while shorter round-arched windows grace
the second storey. The building is an excellent example of Second Empire
styling adapted to a long, narrow space.
Across the way, three houses show a variety of treatments used to
individualize the simple Italianate form. At No. 48 North Pearl, an early house
built in 1866, flat-headed windows and doors shoulder pedimented caps, and a
low slung gable roof is supported by paired brackets for an altogether classic
appearance. At No. 52, a quatrefoil window lights the gable end under a slender
moulded bargeboard in a more Gothic treatment. Further on, No. 56 North Pearl
is enriched by a fretted Eastlake bargeboard, scalloped to frame a pair of round
arched windows in the gable end separated by fluted pilasters.
rounded-arched dormers supported by delicate pilasters segment the
slate-shingled Mansard roof at No. 70 North Pearl, in which the treatment
accorded the main pavillion has been faith-fully echoed in the secondary mass.
The first floor is beautifully lit by narrow segmentally arched windows behind
cast iron balconets and a seven-light arched transom over the side-lit door
with paneled reveals.
No. 85 North Pearl is heady old wine in a relatively new bottle. Built
in 1920, it reflects the craze for all things European experienced by young
Americans (after World War I) who wanted to bring home a little of the timeless
grace and beauty they had found Over There. The three-storey apartment building
has a front-facing Mansard cap. A stone belt course separates the third floor,
over which rectangular four-over-four light windows have been set and headed by
a continuous stone lintel. The second and third stories are centered by
eight-light French doors which debouch onto cast iron balconies. First and
second storey lintels are centered on a keystone. The entry is surmounted by a
moulded hood supported on corbel stops and covering a round arched transom.
Across the intersection, Romanesque becomes the rule. A style of
architecture which depends on low massing of structure, pyramidal accentuation
and a broad semi-elliptical arching of additive forms, the Romanesque style has
been most successfully used in churches and institutional buildings where the
overwhelming weight informs the visitor of the ponderous importance of the
business within. North Pearl Street, however, stands out as a prime examplar of
the Romanesque form well turned to home uses.
No. 120 N. Pearl is a building demonstrating the adaptation of
Romanesque elements to the double-house structures popular at the end of the
nineteenth century. The two separate sections of the structure are mirror images, centered by a hip-roofed dormer set into a
hip roof with clipped gable ends. Each section is fronted by a gabled pavillion,
the shingled pediment of which is marked by Stick embellishment and houses a
window whose upper sash has a muntined border of tiny, square lights. The
second storey features flat-headed windows on splayed brick and terra cotta
sills. The first floor tri-part transomed windows are set in a semi-elliptical
arch with engaged, turned posts. A basement of rock-faced stone completes the
rustication of the structure's heavy mass.
Down at the end of North Pearl Street are five abutting buildings which
are incomparable in the c_ty.
Nos. 174-182 North Pearl Street are five tenements built in 1888 by architect
Fred Fischer. Individual rooms were rented, and a central kitchen, dining and
living room area were available for the use of gentlemen tenants. Eighty or so
years later, the buildings had deteriorated to seedy rooming houses, the
original spaces divided and sub-divided into rooms no bigger than jail cells.
When architect E. Bruce Garver bought the buildings in 1972, the stench, the
debris and the sheer effort required by their condition seemed unbelievable.
Nonetheless, the well-built shells had been virtually untouched by time and
every original feature was intact.
The three-storey structures are nearly identical, being flat roofed,
and having the first floor facade entirely consumed by a semi-elliptical arch
which is accented with delicate cast iron traceries. Porch and basement rails
are wrought iron. Three-sided bays of copper on wood overhang the entry arch
and have alternating pyramidic and round caps. Corner pilasters divide each
unit, and corbel panels under the frieze provide an ornamental note to the
otherwise austere facades. Restored and renovated as townhouses and apartments,
the Romanesque buildings are a demonstration of the wonders that can be worked
on an old house by a sensitive and creative hand.