EAST AURORA, N.Y. (WIVB) – East Aurora is taking the first step toward saving what preservationists consider an important piece of local history.
Members of the village’s Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to designate the houses where Fisher-Price founder Irving Price once lived as a historic landmark.
“If you really care about something, there is always restoration that makes things quite splendid. It’s just, you have to have the guts to do it,” said the Commission’s Co-Chairwoman, Saxon Deck.
“Since the turn of the 20th century, it’s amazing how the tide has turned, about taking care of our village and its history.” Commission member Kitty Turgeon said. “For too long, nobody paid any attention.”
Both homes at 259 and 253 Main Street were built in the 1800s and are currently vacant. Price bought 259 Main Street in the 1920s and called it home for many years.
The current owners of 259 and 253 Main Street – including Gene Wachala, who also owns Pasquale’s restaurant across the street – want to tear the decaying houses down to make way for a new building and parking lot.
“It’s a mix use building, commercial tenants on the first floor, four residential apartments on the second floor with associated parking in the rear,” explained Corey Auerbach, an attorney with the Damon Morey Law Firm, Wachala’s ownership group.
2990 Seneca LLC purchased the homes in 2012. Auerbach said the parking lot would be used as overflow for Pasquale’s restaurant patrons as well. Auerbach also said his clients would be willing to incorporate the property’s historical significance into the new development.
“We’d love to put a kiosk on this site, demonstrating the importance of Irving Price, and his accomplishments, and the things that he’s done,” Auerbach told residents at Thursday night’s public hearing, who packed the small board and courtroom on the second floor of Village Hall.
Many spoke vehemently against tearing down the Price house.
“As far as these buildings, to me it’s a no-brainer. If we were in Niagara-on-the-Lake, or Saratoga Springs, or Woodstock, Vermont or Charleston, South Carolina… this wouldn’t be a discussion,” said Mason Winfield.
“[We've heard from people who have said] ‘We moved to East Aurora because of the historic flavor, aesthetic of the village.’ Well, what are we doing with our historic flavor?” asked Chris Burke.
“People come from all over the world to see the Main Street we have,” Dan Castle, who is also chairman of East Aurora’s Planning Board, said. “And I think that’s just a really important and precious thing.”
“People don’t come to East Aurora to see the parking lots, they come to see the historic fabric,” Village of Aurora Board Member Libby Weberg told News 4 earlier Thursday.
“Part of East Aurora’s history is Fisher-Price and the Price home,” said resident Kateri Ewing. “I think it’s a shame to buy a building, to allow it to go to pot, and then tear it down to build a parking lot or a strip mall, or a convenience store.”
Auerbach countered, “Just because someone of significance lived at a property doesn’t necessarily mean it has historic value.”
Although the Historic Preservation Commission has now given the properties historic landmark status, this does not mean the buildings won’t be demolished.
The final decision rests with the Village Board.