Back in 1995, photographer Jet Lowe snapped this image of Louisiana Street in the Old First Ward for the Historic American Engineering Record, below. Eight houses are the foreground for the Standard Elevator, 1 Saint Clair St., built in 1928. It is a portrait that communicates, better than other vantage points, the landscape of Buffalo's iconic industrial waterfront neighborhood.
I decided a few weeks ago to retake Lowe's image, below, to catalogue the change over 18 years. Only one of eight houses still standing in 1995 remains in 2013.
The change is difficult to notice on shorter time scales, but over nearly two decades, it is clear that population loss and rising vacancy is taking a toll. This toll includes the loss of one of the neighborhood's iconic scenes—the series of Louisiana Street workers cottages, captured by Jet Lowe, against the backdrop of one of Buffalo's few grain elevators that are still in operation.
According to some of the standard metrics of neighborhood health, the Old First Ward is in gradual decline. From 2000 to 2010, the neighborhood lost another 20.9% of its population and 9.2% of its housing units. Median home values declined by another 26%, to $37,100.
Will one of Buffalo's most historic neighborhoods, with offers some of the planet's best industrial vistas, survive this gradual erosion? Some signs point to yes. The hipster and the working man alike have joined forces to make Gene McCarthy's a neighborhood hotspot. New parks are sprouting up along Ohio Street, which is slated to be reconstructed as a complete, green street. Silo City is now an emerging cultural center - see City of Night.
Time will tell if these improvements can stem the tide of decline. I'll be keeping an album going on the Old First Ward here. Stay tuned.