Old Bergman Tools Building, Buffalo, NY

I sent this as a private message to KD, but he thought it could warrant a post. This is very much a "work in progress" (sorry, my brain thinks in puns, it's a curse), but if anyone would like to contribute, I can provide some boots on the ground.

This building is located very close to my house. It's right along the Niagara River on Niagara Street, which is a very historic area in Buffalo. The destruction of the Buffalo "community" and Black Rock in the War of 1812 allegedly occurred all along this stretch. The YouTube channel Bushwhacking History in Buffalo has some detail on this stretch, though I'm not completely familiar with all his content. Not enough hours in the day...

Anyway, the property is being renovated:
The current building is a two story, 12,000 sf, brick and block building and our plan is to put a two story 12,000 sf addition alongside of the existing structure. Our plan for the existing façade is to remove all existing paint, expose existing brick, tuck point and repair, as well as seal existing brick. We plan on infilling boarded up window openings and keeping with the colors and integrity of the existing neighborhood. Our addition will be comprised of brick and metal panels to order to complement the existing brick building.
1569niagara.jpg

Naturally, when I walked by it, I wanted to snap some pictures. There's been a lot of construction going on lately that seems to reveal subterranean levels underneath existing structures, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery (survivor of the Pan American Exposition) renovation has been interesting to see, with what you can actually make out from the road anyway. That's just one example, there are countless in my area.

Anyway, here's what I got for the Niagara St building:

IMG_20210729_1556181.jpg

IMG_20210729_1556202.jpg

IMG_20210729_1556246.jpg

IMG_20210729_1556250.jpg

IMG_20210729_1556418.jpg

I'd like to get some more pictures from around the back, but I had to sort of climb up a small knoll by a fence to get these, they're taken from the left hand side of the building from the perspective of the picture I posted from the Buffalo Rising site.. and getting closer would have been trespassing on an active worksite (there were people around). I might go back later in the evening some day. Regardless, it seems like the "basement" half-windows were in fact full windows and possibly there's another level even under that. I also was wondering what exactly is the large cube that they're installing(?) is. As the article says, they're expanding the building and putting in a parking garage, so I assume it has something to do with that, but it's very odd looking (like a vault). My wife suggested it's something with central heating and air that they're putting in, which seems possible, but odd too. It wouldn't be for a parking garage obviously and if you had to do that for the renovation, seems like you're approaching a point where you should just tear the building down and start over (as they did to another one somewhat nearby to put in an urgent care, which is located rather hilariously where the hospital was located on the Pan American exposition map).

I'm going to dig back into some maps of Buffalo (this is a bit north of the city center and might appear on Black Rock maps instead), but so far, I found a couple things on the history of this building, including this picture:

Bergman.jpg

Source
There is not much early information at all on this company. We do know it was located at 1569 Niagara Street, Buffalo NY 14213 in 1908 and prior, before the move to Niagara St.. The picture of the Bergman factory below is from the website Preservation Ready.

We found this article from Domestic Engineering and the Journal of Mechanical Contracting, Volume 47 and dated May, 1909 noting that Bergman has moved from 102 Seneca St. to it's new factory at 1573-75 Niagara St.
So, if you're interested in helping me "dig," please feel free. I probably ought to head down to the history museum at some point... I've been wanting to follow-up on the Exposition construction photos (and whatever else they have) for years. In the meantime, any thoughts on:
  • How many levels are we looking at here?
  • Why do we have full windows that are subterranean? Aside from mud flood theories, is it plausible this is the result of some sort of prefabricated kits?
  • What is the object they are working on?
 
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I am not sure the door on the right (in the last OP image) was designed as a door.

As far as I understand, this is the block we are talking about.

niagara-st-buffalo-1.jpg

Map
We probably need to figure out when the building at 1569 Niagara Street was built, and what we had there before this building was built.
1902-map.jpg

Found this dated with 1908, and this with 1909.

1908
bf1.jpg

Source

1909
bf2.jpg

Source

As far as I understand, we need to find some photographs of this block dated with approximately 1880-1910. That 1902 plan shows a whole bunch of buildings within our block, but the middle of the block is obscured.
 
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  • Banta

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    I am not sure the door on the right (in the last OP image) was designed as a door.

    As far as I understand, this is the block we are talking about.
    You have the correct block identified. Good point about the door, too. It looks like a modified window space. That door is facing Niagara St and it isn't blocked off by construction currently, so I can very easily get a closer shot, as it appears the same as in the early 20th century Bergman Tools pic.

    This obviously isn't a super large building and I really think I'm going to have to go to somewhere to find out when it was allegedly built, as the usual online tools appear to have no information. This is already slightly confusing for me because I'm not sure whether it would be a county or city record. Any suggestions would be appreciated, but I'll attempt to educate myself.

    The 1902 bird's eye map is great, especially that it contains the Exposition grounds, which I literally lived in the middle of a few years back, completely unbeknownst to me at the time. There's some anomalies there I want to explore eventually too, but first things first!
    I don't think I can see our building on this 1902 map.
    No, it appears like a word or something is obscuring the position. Looks like it says "ink" but maybe I'm just thinking that because of the "printing works" behind it. (EDIT: My wife suggests it says "Printing Ink Works") Which I think could be the manufacturing building roughly behind our Bergman Tools building (entrance on Forest Ave).

    In any case, I do have some errands to run today, but I'll start going through some older maps in more detail later on tonight. If I get a chance, I'll get a close-up of the door, if not I think I want to really get some closer pictures in general tomorrow (being a Sunday, it should be easier).

    Also, regarding the "vault" they're installing, perhaps an elevator of some kind?

    Edit: Okay, I'm out and about, but I did quickly drive by the building and snapped a picture of the "door." It's gone, but it seems to confirm KD's suspicion:

    IMG_20210731_1233323.jpg
    IMG_20210731_1233286.jpg

    Looks indistinguishable from the window spots.

    Also, and since I was just passing by I didn't get closer, I could tell that they've removed the "vault" object from the boxing, and it does appear to be a cement elevator shaft or something. They've made decent progress since Thursday, so I will definitely try to get closer tomorrow, as they could start burying everything relatively soon.
     
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    This is probably the "vault" you are talking about. Well, once they are done and there is indeed an elevator inside, that's gonna be interesting. Make sure you visit to count them levels :)

    niagara-street-building2.jpg

    We have so many of the older structures utilizing this basement solution, don't we? Windows definitely match, but it's hard to say for sure whether there is much more down below. You will need to get inside, once they get done renovating.

    niagara-street-building.jpg
     

    Banta

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    This is probably the "vault" you are talking about. Well, once they are done and there is indeed an elevator inside, that's gonna be interesting.
    Heh, sure. I will try and take the picture tomorrow, it appears the crate contained a cement, hollow column which I think is an elevator shaft. It looks like this, from what I could tell from a little distance:

    vani-scala1.jpg

    Source

    We have so many of the older structures utilizing this basement solution, don't we?
    Right, that's why I suggested some sort of "kit" situation. So you have an effectively a three story pattern with window cut outs on every level, but you bury the first level and call it the basement. However, I don't think that makes any sense really, because you're dealing with essentially bricks. Why not just brick up the bottom part of the window?

    And to be clear, there is stonework underneath most of the half windows, whether that's original or not, I have no idea, but look closer here:

    IMG_20210729_1556181~2.jpg

    The red is ground level. Look at the space next to it, it appears to be a doorway. But as the Bergman Tools picture in the OP shows, there is definitely no doorway on that side:

    Bergman~3.jpg

    Picture is blurry, but I don't see how there could be a staircase to a basement door for instance. Question is... could that have possibly been the "original" entrance? It is roughly in the middle of the current "side" but obviously there are many buildings where you enter on the long part of the rectangle, so to speak.

    And the reason again we can postulate an alternative entrance is because it looks like the "current" one is exactly like all the windows. It had just been bricked up to accommodate a door:

    Bergman~2.jpg

    1569niagara~2.jpg

    IMG_20210731_1233286.jpg

    All three pictures are depicting the door, the last one after they have apparently removed the additional bricks and door. Maybe this is just how you construct a building sometime prior to 1908, I am not sure. But the buried door I have trouble reconciling, almost especially since it does appear that most of the other basement "half-windows" ARE complete. When did someone do that? Why not do them all?

    Edit: Sorry, some of the closeups didn't format right, on my phone on a spontaneous weekend trip, and can't get to a computer to properly fix them.
     

    Jinxy

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    Lol, I thought, let's take a Google streetmap trip first, and the first building I see is a former medical kind of center ( Metholatum ) with a "parking garage" under it...

    Screenshot_20210801-145149.jpg
    I noticed that these buildings are close by a suspicious island and a previous harbour .

    And also, look at those pier, it's massive.

    So we have a suspicious island, a suspicious pier (more than 1) a suspicious exposition.... 🤔🤔🤔

    My link is not working; here one of the piers:

    Screenshot_20210801-161624.jpg
     

    Banta

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    Lol, I thought, let's take a Google streetmap trip first, and the first building I see is a former medical kind of center ( Metholatum ) with a "parking garage" under it..
    Right, essentially right on the river. Which is key for two reasons: obvious being building subterranean levels next to the water and also that this whole stretch is literally where the British burned "forts" and the "city of Buffalo" to the ground.
    And also, look at those pier, it's massive.

    So we have a suspicious island, a suspicious pier (more than 1) a suspicious exposition....
    Yes, and it is good for context, but there's almost to much to say about the area for this thread. I still have some more map review to historically place the specific building in this thread, and then I may want to go into more detail about some of the very nearby features.

    As for the pictures, I just got back into Buffalo this evening, purposefully before dark to go to the construction site, and it immediately started thundering as I got out of the car. So, I'm taking that as a sign that perhaps the better play is to try and go down tomorrow and talk to someone. I would like to know what the construction crew thinks about a door entrance that was seemingly buried. It is not a very large project at all, really, and it's not like they're renovating the Pope's house or anything. At least on the face of it...
     
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  • Jinxy

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    Yes, and it is good for context, but there's almost to much to say about the area for this thread
    I understand. But we can all rub our chins like: hm hm something perculiar about this building 🤔
    purposefully before dark
    In Holland it is quite 'normal' to ask when you pass by, make a small talk like "hey is see you renovate the building, how is it going?"
    And then the answer might be "o, hell of a job, we found a 2 story basement underneath, can you imagine?"

    But in USA everybody drives cars.
    BB.


    To return to your context: There is a thing going on in this whole area.

    At first, this explorer La Salle. One of his friends wrote letters to the French maritime in 1861 about that area they found around Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Ok. That escalated quickly in 20 years, from child eating wild Indians being at war with each other in a remote area to a whole city.

    Then I found this map and I thought, hm I know these names 🤔

    Then I noticed many buildings looking soo familiar... In Holland.

    Then I remembered the Holland Land i Purchase. Mind you, nobody ever told me about this. This is not taught in schools. Even it is from my home country, it has no Wikipedia page in Dutch.

    I remembered it, because I thought Paolo Busti is not only a strange name, but he also looks like Pasquale Paoli who appeared as a hero(?) in the USA. Never heard of this guy before.

    The more I dive into it, the more I think that the Napoleon wars, the deconstruction of the "ancient regime" (in whole Europe and Russia, not only France) the American wars were all about the same. That that was the first world war. Because (i think) the Hanze trading had to be demolished.

    Here not a single word of the Holland land Purchase.

    My 2 cents on this, is that this, and many buildings over there are built on the remnants of a previous civilisation.
    Just look at the different stones from the base floor.
    In Holland it is normal: if there is no need for hey poles, they make a 'basket' as foundation.
    In Amsterdam they just built on top of the previous medieval fort, because that was of a quality they would never achieve in a sinking (swamp) land.
     
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    @Jinxy, this is a discussion dedicated to a specific building. We are trying to dig into it, to see if there was a structure prior on the site where this specific building was built. I'm pretty sure there are other abnormalities in the area. Our entire world is full of those. In a discussion dedicated to a specific building let's try to look for things pertaining to this specific building: 1569 Niagara Street, Buffalo, NY.

    @Banta, I tried each and every way to find a photograph of the area predating 1908-09. Can't find anything. Sounds like you might have to visit an archive or two.
     

    Jinxy

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    Then I wish you good luck about this specific building to find out.
    I spent half a day connecting dots because it is not just one building on some Buffalo site, it is my missing history too.
     

    Banta

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    Then I wish you good luck about this specific building to find out.
    I spent half a day connecting dots because it is not just one building on some Buffalo site, it is my missing history too.
    I understand your feelings, and there's a lot of context here that's relevant. But, if we stray too far from the specific topic, we will quickly be submerged in more detail than one can reasonably correlate. Basically, we need to identify the size and shape of the puzzle pieces before we can coherently put them together.

    I apologize for the couple day absence, I have had other matters to attend to. Therefore I haven't been able to make it over to the work site during construction hours. However, I did sneak over there tonight and was able to get closer. (The signs around the site did not say no trespassing, only to "please" stay out because it's under construction. I obviously did not enter the building.)

    Here's what came out of the "vault" box. Maybe it isn't an elevator shaft, as there's an additional one propped up against the building now:

    IMG_20210804_2005476.jpg

    Left: what was boxed up
    Right: structure against building
    IMG_20210804_2005561.jpg

    structure against building
    IMG_20210804_2010474.jpg

    close-up of subterranean doorway
    IMG_20210804_2012210.jpg

    back of the building
    IMG_20210804_2011344.jpg

    close-up of back of the building

    Being closer, it's really hard to say if there's an additional level underneath... maybe it's stonework, maybe it's just the ground. I suppose I have to consider that they knocked the wall down to create the underground doorway, so I would really need to ask to be certain. I have a few more pictures, but I want to take some time to assemble them in a more coherent fashion, as it's hard for someone without the context to necessarily understand where ground level is.
    I tried each and every way to find a photograph of the area predating 1908-09. Can't find anything. Sounds like you might have to visit an archive or two
    For that, I presume the Historical Society is my best bet. Before that though, I want to see what we have in terms of building records. After a little bit of digging, I believe I need to visit City Hall (worth a click if you've never seen it) for that... perhaps there will be photos too there, but I don't tend to think so.
     

    GalleryPeanut

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    For that, I presume the Historical Society is my best bet. Before that though, I want to see what we have in terms of building records. After a little bit of digging, I believe I need to visit City Hall (worth a click if you've never seen it) for that... perhaps there will be photos too there, but I don't tend to think so.

    Good job on the field work so far.

    Could you offer one of the workers lunch for a look around? A back story might be doing a digital report for school on historic construction methods of Buffalo. Or you would like to collect a few pics for the guy at the senior center who says he built the original building, he can't make it to the construction site.

    Too far out of the box?
     
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  • Jinxy

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    Was Buffalo a swamp before?
    Because then this is a strange way of construction with "different" (old looking) stones underneath the "new" stone building; digging a 'basket' and make a stone basis is more for sandy soil.

    We learned from the Antwerp buried wall that they built walls as deep as 7 meters underground, as a prevention of sinking, until they invented hey poles.

    Here are about all the maps of Buffalo. Also a Burned Buffalo Map, 1813

    Off course. A great fire

    And I am not allowed to open this link?
    Neighbors balk at design of planned West Side health clinic | Local News | buffalonews.com

    But apparently the people do not like the new design.
     

    Banta

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    Could you offer one of the workers lunch for a look around? A back story might be doing a digital report for school on historic construction methods of Buffalo. Or you would like to collect a few pics for the guy at the senior center who says he built the original building, he can't make it to the construction site.

    Too far out of the box?
    No, those are good suggestions, but I don't want to lie... I think just genuine curiosity (perhaps combined with saying I'm doing some blog research on the area) should suffice. The larger complication this week is my children, I don't really want to drag them down there and that would stop any request to poke around. They don't work on the weekends though and tomorrow I have other obligations, so hopefully I can get down there Monday or Tuesday and try to talk to someone during their lunch break. If possible, I'll record the conversation, but I'll have to get a feel for how comfortable they are first.
    Was Buffalo a swamp before?
    Because then this is a strange way of construction with "different" (old looking) stones underneath the "new" stone building; digging a 'basket' and make a stone basis is more for sandy soil.
    I wouldn't say "swamp" per se, but it's definitely very soggy along the waterfront. Similar to the investigation around the Pioneer building in Seattle, we might be dealing with some areas being filled in. I say that because, as you noticed above, there's a pretty elaborate breakwall system extending from downtown Buffalo in the south, all the way north to the "Black Rock" region. I have it highlighted below (along with Unity Island), in relation to the building we're discussing:

    waterfront.JPG

    The first construction of the break-wall is allegedly in 1821, finishing just a year later, and is tied in with the construction of the Erie Canal, as Buffalo is the western terminus of the canal.

    The relevance of all of this will become clearer when I make my maps presentation, but simply put, there's a been a lot of changes to the way this area looks over the last two hundred years. For a quick example, the Unity Island wiki has this:
    Extending from the southern tip of Unity Island is a long, narrow stone pier known as Bird Island Pier, completed in 1860. The structure once connected Unity Island to the former Bird Island, a small land formation, rocky on its southern end with fertile soil to the north. Kenjockety's father cultivated corn there. The island was noted in the personal journal of DeWitt Clinton, who surveyed the area prior to construction of the Erie Canal. An 1829 map of the Niagara River and proposed Black Rock Harbor illustrates the then-proposed Bird Island Pier connecting Unity Island to Bird Island. By 1880, however, Bird Island had disappeared, the rock which composed it having been used to construct the Black Rock Pier to support the Erie Canal.
    I rotated the map so it's north/south and matches the Google map image above. I also marked where the OP building "would be" constructed.

    1829_Black_Rock_Harbour_map.jpg

    1829 map illustrating a proposed harbor on the Niagara River, showing the locations of Bird Island and Unity Island
    So, in 1829 they say Buffalo was "owned by New York State" and lower Black Rock was "owned by individuals." Curious. Makes me wonder... are either even a part of the "United States" at this time? (Whenever this 1829 actually was...)
    Here are about all the maps of Buffalo. Also a Burned Buffalo Map, 1813

    Off course. A great fire
    Yup, but as stated in the OP, this time it wasn't a cow kicking over a lamp or something silly... the British and the the War of 1812 were the culprits.
    Buffalo News articles are very hit or miss. You're supposed to get five free articles a month, but I am unable to access anything on their site for months at a time. The issue appears to be the folks on West St (runs parallel behind Niagara St) don't really want the extra traffic.

    Anyway, this week has been very hectic, I should have more to add over the next couple days. At the risk of derailing my own thread, I do want to point out the proximity of the Pan American Exposition grounds (while not anywhere near as big as some, the size still blows my mind a bit). It sort of shows why we need to try and stay on topic here too, the area is bursting with interesting historical features (with the Niagara river itself, of course, leading to Niagara Falls).

    panam.JPG

    Blue Square: Former Pan American Exposition Grounds
     
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    Jinxy

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    Buffalo News articles are very hit or miss
    I am not allowed to read it because I am not on American soil.
    It happens more often.
    out the proximity of the Pan American Exposition
    I did notice a few strange things.
    On the site of this alleged exposition there was around 1885 a "parade" ? and a driving park? What were they driving?? Uninvented cars?

    Why did they name the city center (where your building is about) the Old city?
    I mean, old?

    This one is also interesting; they have a hydraulic canal from the mountains (?), and a railroad almost next to your building.
     

    Right Arm

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    I am not allowed to read it because I am not on American soil.
    It happens more often.
    ProtonVPN: Secure and Free VPN service for protecting your privacy

    This will get your computer to tell the world you are somewhere other than where you are and it is free and as far as I can tell works pretty good.

    Hope thats not to off topic.
    1829 map illustrating a proposed harbor on the Niagara River, showing the locations of Bird Island and Unity Island
    That star fort is a very interesting shape.

    Blackrock is a word that keeps coming up for me and I cannot yet tell why but these things usually jump out of the matrix when the time is right.
     
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  • anotherlayer

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    Been forever since I've spoken up on this board since the rebuild. I pop on and just like old times, a thread about Buffalo!
     

    Banta

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    Just wanted to pop in, been busy with family and other obligations. The construction is still ongoing, and I did attempt to find someone to talk to last week, but it appears I really need to try and hit them up on their lunchbreak. In any event, I have a lot more to say about this but likely won't have time until next week.
     

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