It happened in 2006 when this story was destined to be told. The building’s voice haunted me for another six years before I could begin the research on the dilapidated empty four-story apartment building located on the corner of Niagara and Potomac on Buffalo, New York’s West Side. It talked to me via mental telepathy, as I passed by on my way to work.
In 2012, I vowed to find out why I heard the building’s plea. “Please tell my story before evidence of my existence is gone.” Now looking back in time, I realize it was the beginning of a compelling story waiting to be told about the legacy of many of “Fred’s” tenants and their families who lived in the building from 1900 through 2015.
An Orphan Building Research Team of three was organized, including me and at the time, Pat, Janet and I were novice historical researchers. After six more years, we became seasoned researchers with a detailed biography of an apartment building growing up in the 20th Century and beyond.
We couldn’t wait to find out who built apartment building 1469! Our team discovered that forty-two year old Irish-American Edward F. Pickett was the architect. His father was a laborer and his mother was a seamstress who lived on the West Side of Buffalo, New York.
Edward was a go-getter and by 1895 he was employed by Bull & Brown, a local bicycle manufacturer located on Main and Chippewa Streets in the City of Buffalo, New York. There he became a department manager, skilled in developing bicycle-related patents. By 1896, he was Vice President and Secretary of the Non Punctual Tire Company. Within a year he was a draftsman for the Great Northern Fire Elevator Company, a storage facility. Our research team was amazed by his achievements and traced him as long as possible, but had to move on mainly because we had to find out was who building 1469’s builder and first owner?
These important people in the history of 1469 Niagara St.; the architect, builder, and first owner, constructed the framework for an enormous cast of characters. The individuals arrived in my mind only after extensive research going back in time, year by year, reviewing major historical events in Buffalo and America, both nationally and internationally, focusing on the effects on immigrants, refugees, internal migrants, and descendants of enslaved peoples of Africa who arrived in Buffalo between 1900 and 2015.
Each character revealed themselves slowly only after reviewing and re-reading research notes for hours and hours at a time. Then, there was a second and third wave of notes with character ideas that fit perfectly into the historical period of time. Gradually, all my characters felt like an extended family and I tried to make them speak the way they would if they were alive today. Each chapter was written and rewritten at least three or more times until I felt satisfied. Many character questions had to be answered. For example, why did they move into the building? What were their back stories? How did they handle hardships, loss, and despair? What happened to them in the future? How did they survive and have hope for life in America?
Our team identified each tenant that lived in the building from 1900 to 2015, including their ages, occupations, family members, borders, and employment, knowing it was impossible to be completely accurate because of possible recording errors. It took about two years before building #1469 got the name Fred and readers of the unusual reason knew why first hand. Edward F. Pickett was a remarkable character and little did he know he was setting the stage for a legacy of many generations.