by Staff Writer
image above: The children above are posed before two apartments at Willert Park in 1946. In the first row at leftis Pete Laughlin (2nd from left) and Joan Laughlin (third from left ) Current building in background (color).
Nestled away in the heart of the city is a living monument to the history of Buffalo’s Black community; one of only a few structures of Black historical significance left in the area.
The Willert Park Complex/AD Price Courts was built in 1939 during the time of Federal mandated segregated public housing. It was a thriving development – the first of its kind for African Americans in Buffalo.
Today it sits neglected and deteriorating. Yet the ancestral energy of Black life legacies and history can still be felt. “It is currently being kept vacant and deteriorating because its owner, the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority (BMHA) is in anticipation of its demolition,” a statement from Preservation Buffalo Niagara read. The agency has been fighting to save Willert Park for at least a decade because in addition to its historical and architectural significance , they believe it can be revitalized as much-needed affordable housing.
This Thursday Preservation Buffalo Niagara and the Michigan Street Preservation Corporation will hold a joint press conference to oppose the demolition of Willert Park Courts. Community partners invited to speak include activist/scholar Dr. Henry Taylor, community activist Charley H. Fisher, and former Council President and historian George K. Arthur.
In staunch opposition to tearing down the courts, all three pointed to the paramount importance of Willert Park’s historical ties to the community. “Willert Park represents an essential part of African American history,” Dr. Taylor told The Challenger. “It represents a symbol of our culture.”
“We have spent millions to preserve the Darwin Martin House (in Noth Buffalo)” he reflected – “essentially a dead monument .” That being said he continued, “surely we can preserve this living monument…in our community and still provide housing.”
George K. Arthur also used the Darwin House comparison. He called Willert Park “a major part of history of the Black community of Buffalo.”
“Almost every Black structure of historical significance has been torn down,” he continued. “There are only a few left – the Michigan Street Baptist Church, Durham Memorial AME Zion Church on Eagle and Michigan, and Willert Park. What we’re saying to BMHA is give us a few years to come back with a development plan to prove Willert Park can be saved and cost won’t be a factor…and we can make them livable. When it comes to Black history why is it always about cost? ”
Last year Willert Park Courts was named one of the United States’ 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “I’m 100% in support of the effort to save Willert Park” said Charley Fisher. “I believe there is an attempt to destroy every single piece of historic land in the community….It will be an atrocity if we don’t stop this. Eventually we will have nothing left of a community we lived in and cherished for so many years.”