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February 19, 2015 - 12:47pm

Local developer announces plans to restore and preserve Mid-century building in city's central corridor

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, business, preservation, D.A. Tufts Construction.

There are few examples of Mid-century Modern architecture in Batavia, especially among commercial buildings, and one that has been neglected for a long time has found a savior.

D.A. Tufts Construction has purchased 438 East Main Street, which is at the corner of Main and Harvester and is perhaps most often thought of as the former WBTA building.

Dave Tufts said he's admired the building since he was a little kid and is a big fan of Mid-century Modern, so he want to be sure to preserve the era's clean lines and Jetson-style modernism of the structure.

"It's one of my favorite periods, so we're excited about it, to be honest with you," Tufts said. 

Tufts plans to convert the 2,900-square-foot first floor to office space, suitable for business or medical use, and the second floor will become two large apartments (1,300 square feet each) with open floor plans (appropriate for the era) and high-end amenities.

In a statement about their plans, the Tufts said, "The repurposing of the building goes along with the current trend of people returning to urban areas to enjoy downtown living."

They will also construct two more apartments on the property and all four apartments will have private garages.

The exterior will be upgraded with a new entry way and balconies for the apartments, but preserve the stamped brick facade common to the Mid-century Era and simple lines that dominate the look and feel of the current building.

The last tenant of the building, T-Shirts Etc., moved downtown four years ago, and the building has been vacant since. It's sort of gone to seed over all those winters and summers of emptiness.

Renovation work has begun inside, but there's a lot of work ahead for his crews, Tufts said, to bring out the best the building has to offer.

Tufts said Julie Pacatte, economic development coordinator for the city, has helped them throughout the planning process.

Pacatte said she helped the Tufts by developing a marking list for potential office space tenants and also helped them with an application for a grant from National Grid for main street revitalization projects, which she expects will be approved.

"We're thrilled about the project," Pacatte said, because it hits on so many of the city's economic development goals -- from providing mix-use buildings; bringing more viable commercial space and residential space to the central city corridor; and providing higher-end housing (apartments with garages) that doesn't currently exist in the market.

"We love that they're honoring the architectural style of the property," Pacatte said.

Lucine Kauffman, president of the Genesee County Landmark Society, said the Tufts' plans sound like good news.

"I think it's great to start raising awareness to start saving Mid-century buildings," Kauffman said. "When we think about preservation, we usually think of buildings from the 1800s, especially in this area, but there are a lot from the first half of the last century that are certainly worth preserving."

Converting a former commercial building into a mix-use structure (apartments and commercial) fits right in with the trend nationally toward what planners call "new urbanism," Kauffman said, which has so many benefits for local communities, such as economic growth and reduced crime, and it's good for the environment, by reducing the need for commutes and not filling landfills with demolished buildings.

"It's especially true in a city like Batavia, where there has been so much urban renewal and so much devastation," Kauffman said. "I think it's important to move forward and make the best of what we have now. When you see the plans for the Save-A-Lot building, what was done with the Williams building (Alberty Drugs), and what Tompkins has done with their building where WBTA is now, where they're kind of dressing it up, that's the best we can hope for, where people make the best of it."

Kauffman is aware Mid-century Modern may not be to everyone's liking, but that doesn't mean Mid-century Modern shouldn't be preserved.

"Buildings don't have to be grand," Kauffman said. "They don't have to be fancy. They don't have to be anything. They don't have to be esthetically pleasing to everyone. So long as a building represents a specific era or a specific architectural style, it's worth saving."

Jim Urtel Jr
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The only thing they should have saved here was their money! This neighborhood is beyond saving. I lived at 434 East Main for 8 years and witnessed so much crap in that area it was disgusting! GCASA uses that whole block as their coffee and smoking lounge. As does Atwater and the halfway house. I had "Little Harlem" move into the Hud approved apartments next door. While sitting on my front porch at night I witnessed a ton of criminal activity every night, from prostitution to drug deals to full blown gang fights with the wonderful neighbors across the street. Our parking lot was used as a pathway from Harvester to the Family Dollar store and the cars were robbed numorous times. I was never so happy to move out of a place in 2012 when I left! Good luck putting anything of high end value in that area. Within 2 years, it will just be another Hud welfare house!

david spaulding
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I found the article to be very positive and I wish Mr. Tufts all the best and success in his venture.

Bea McManis
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Cleaning up a neighborhood has to start somewhere. This is a good beginning. I wish them good luck.

Ed Hartgrove
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As for the area being used for a 'smoking lounge' (Jim Urtel's comment), you can thank our "overseer's" for some of that. It was their war against smoking that contributed to such behavior.

And, it's too bad Ms. Kauffman didn't tell your local gov't that buildings didn't necessarily have to be 'fancy'. That type of info might've saved taxpayers buku $$ when it came to the building of the airport's Taj Mahanger they've planned.

david spaulding
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Taj Mahanger ......lol... I love it Ed, thanks for the chuckle.

Jim Urtel Jr
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I wish them all the luck in the world but I am just telling you from experience that he will have his hands full finding high end tenants that will put up with the crap in that neighborhood.

Jeff Allen
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It's strange to see the words preserve and restore used with a building of that architecture, guess I'm getting old.

Bea McManis
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Jeff, about 30 years ago I was at the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum with my son (now retired from the USAF). We came upon a display of a relatively new jet plane. I noticed the date it was manufactured and was shocked to find out it was made and used AFTER my oldest grandson was born. For some reason the feeling I had that day still sticks with me. I just witnessed something in a museum that is younger than my grandson! Odd feeling, indeed.

Jim Urtel Jr
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I was scolded, labeled as a racist and banned from the Batavia neighborhood watch site for using the same comment I posted on here! Comparing the house I lived next to to "Little Harlem" is that offensive? Well sorry but that is the truth!! If I am going to be banned from a site for stating the truth then so be it but being called a racist for it is ridiculous when I am no such thing!

Scott Ogle
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"Comparing the house I lived next to to "Little Harlem" is that offensive?"

Yes. It is.

How odd, Jim. In a prior off-topic post on a Batavian thread, you denied employing racial tropes, or as you said yourself, "there was no racial anything employed", and how you were just another victim of capricious moderation for merely expressing your opinion. Maybe you really don't get it, but your usage was offensive, is inappropriate for Neighborhood Watch, and that's what got you removed.

If you don't want to be mistaken for a racist, don't speak as one.

C. M. Barons
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Mr. Urtel will have to adopt a new xenophobic metaphor: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/nyregion/06harlem.html?pagewanted=all&...

Jeff Allen
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Only the New York Times could get away with that article

Scott Ogle
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"Dave Tufts said he's admired the building since he was a little kid and is a big fan of Mid-century Modern,"

I don't share Mr Tufts' enthusiasm for Mid-century modern architecture. I didn't even realize it was an actual style. My prejudice probably derives from growing up in a Midwestern suburb where the oldest buildings dated all the way back to 1946. All the office buildings looked like this. To me the buildings seemed to indicate that architects had run out of ideas. And there were dentists lodged in every one of them! I was just over-exposed to it, I guess. Not to my taste.

Howard B. Owens
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Billie and I had a mid-century modern house in Bakersfield and one in Pittsford. Furnished as much as possible in mid-century modern.

To me, it was the apex of American architecture.

We were once subscribers to this great magazine:

https://www.atomic-ranch.com/

Now we're in a Victorian, which is a nice style, too, and we imagine we'll be here for a while, so we've been slowly replacing everything mid-century in our house with a variety of styles.

Scott Ogle
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I like some of those atomic-ranch homes pictured. (And the cool Eames chair makes anyplace posh.) I think it's just the office buildings that give me the blues. Plus, it seems that it was during the post-war home building boom that it was decided that porches weren't really necessary to a home. Something I love about homes in Batavia are all the beautiful porches.

Howard B. Owens
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Porches are a part of new urbanism.

The whole post-war suburban trend was bad for America in the long run, but I still like the architecture wherever I find it.

For the record, the mall is not mid-century. It's a form of post-modern or contemporary architecture known as brutalism, which is as awful as the name sounds. Just saying ...

Scott Ogle
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I recall a home in my old neighborhood, designed by a friend's architect father. They called it a "butterfly" style house . Its two buildings, the home and separate garage, staddled two sides of a small creek, and were joined by a cantilevered bridge. The roofs were pitched about thirty degrees , opposite each to the other. All done in redwood, set in a copse of birches. I loved it.

Scott Ogle
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"For the record, the mall is not mid-century. It's a form of post-modern or contemporary architecture known as brutalism, which is as awful as the name sounds"

Brutalism indeed. You've inspired me to update my architectural awareness.

I am sore afraid.

Jim Urtel Jr
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Well that`s what the house was.If anyone feels that calling it "Little Harlem" is racist well I am sorry but it was a true comparison. It was a revolving door of drug dealing, they would have outdoor parties with 50 to 100 people drinking and smoking weed completely blocking off our shared driveway. They threatened physical harm to my girlfriend and neighbors daughter. There was a gang fight with pistols, swords, baseball bats, etc. that shut down Main St one night that the sheriffs came and did a great job of controlling. I could go on and on. What would you compare it to, paradise? I am sick of politically correct! If you would have lived next to it, you would have felt the same way unless there is something wrong with you.

Jim Urtel Jr
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That`s not being a racist, that`s just speaking the truth. If you would have lived next to it, you would have felt the same way. As I said before though, that`s not the comment that got me banned. The next day I stated that anyone without a health condition who cant shovel their sidewalk is lazy. Quite frankly if that is too offensive and gets you banned, so be it! You and Bea can keep your group, NO GREAT LOSS! Take care.

Howard B. Owens
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Harlem is a socio-economic diverse community with a rich cultural heritage and tradition of turning out citizens who have contributed significantly to our society.

I fail to see how calling something "Little Harlem" is racist; on the other hand, if it's meant to imply something negative about Harvester Avenue, the comparison fails.

Harlem is not a slum. It's not a drug den. It's not a ghetto. A lot of well-heeled folks live in Harlem, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Angela Bassett, Neil Patrick Harris and Mandy Patinkin.

I'm not really sure what Jim was trying to say with this comment about "Little Harlem." The local neighborhood he's referring to is mostly white, so if it was intended to imply something racial, it fails on that point, as well.

Jim Urtel Jr
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Whatever, we`ll just see how this high end apartment building pans out. As I said before, I hope it works out for the people spending their money to fix up the building but in that particular neighborhood, from 8 years past experience, I doubt that any high end clients stay there very long and I figure it will be turned into another Hud haven so the owners can recoup there money. Good luck.

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