Willert Park Courts (1939–1944) in Buffalo, NY, is again in the news as preservationists continue the fight to save the first public housing built for Black people. The Buffalo Municipal Housing Agency (BHMA) believes there are too many hurdles, financial and architectural, to make preservation of the buildings possible. A strong local preservation coalition is actively pursuing the opposite course. Preservation Buffalo Niagara is asking to be named interim developer for two years while fundraising and building a redevelopment team that would work in collaboration with the local community.
Frederick C. Backus designed the site incorporating elements of the Bauhaus, German modernist community planning, and the International style, in the vernacular brick apartment blocks. Additionally concrete sculptures depicting important themes of African American history and heritage are found throughout the 10-building complex. Although Willert Park Courts is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, BHMA, the owner, has not sought landmark designation. Last year, a Docomomo Modernism in America Award recognized the advocacy efforts of Preservation Buffalo Niagara and Michigan Street Preservation Commission to secure the site’s future.
An excellent article in the Architect’s Paper lays out the history and cultural significance of Willert Park Courts as well as the complexes that can arise when preservation comes up against demand for new affordable housing.
“Whose History? Buffalo says its first National Register–eligible African American housing project can’t be saved. Preservationists beg to differ,” The Architect’s Newspaper, March 1, 2021.
Read our previous post from last summer on the Willert Part Court preservation efforts.