Buffalo Brutalism

Demolition of Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments stalled by single tenant

East News Preservation
Demolition of Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments stalled by single tenant. A recent photo of the complex at Niagara Street between Caroline and West Mohawk. (Courtesy MIT Libraries)

Demolition of the Paul Rudolph-designed Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo, New York, has accelerated, and the full destruction of the housing complex is being stalled by a single tenant. John Schmidt has refused to leave his unit in what remains of the brutalist buildings, despite having received an eviction notice, over what he feels are strong-arm tactics from developer Norstar Development Corporation.

Finished in 1974, the waterfront development held 426 affordable units and was part of Paul Rudolph’s unrealized master plan for a revitalized Buffalo waterfront. Featuring sharp angles made of concrete and mono-pitched roofs made of heavy, serrated metal, the complex’s design was unmistakably Rudolph’s.

The Shorelines Apartments in 1975, shortly after opening. (Courtesy EPA/Library of Congress)

Norstar, a private company, purchased the site with the intention of demolishing the state-built homes and overhauling the complex. The first phase of demolition and redevelopment began in 2015, and has already replaced five of Rudolph’s cascading buildings with seven townhouses and a short apartment block, for a total of 48 new affordable housing units.

While the final phase of the project was slated to begin this spring, Schmidt’s unwillingness to leave has held up the rest of the process. His defiance is understandable, as Norstar had previously promised Shoreline residents that they would have time to relocate, before advancing the demolition timetable without warning.

The housing completed during the redevelopment’s first phase is decidedly more modern. (Courtesy Buffalo Rising)

While Schmidt is now the last resident in what remains of his 300-unit complex, his reason for staying isn’t driven entirely by preservation. Schmidt is demanding an apology from Norstar for displacing the 222 families who have been forced to relocate, as they were told that the buildings had fallen into an unlivable condition. The local community has disagreed, and argues that the apartments are still structurally sound.

Norstar has dismissed these claims, and reiterated that no one has been forced to move under false pretenses.

“We are pleased that we can bring people very nice, new affordable housing in the downtown business corridor. We do have to relocate these people to rebuild housing, people will be able to come back, but they do have to qualify under that state’s section 42 low income housing regulations. But at this point, all of our residents are income qualified,” Norstar representatives said in a statement.

Many of Rudolph’s buildings have met ignoble ends in recent years, despite outcry from preservationists and architects. Earlier last year, one third of Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center was partially demolished and replaced with a more modern-styled annex. Judging from the type of buildings that have emerged from the first phase of the Shoreline’s replacement, the same process is repeating itself in Buffalo.

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