Willert Park Courts, completed in 1939 with a later addition completed in 1944, were designed for African Americans from the start and remained as such throughout its years of occupancy.
Frederick C. Backus, a local architect, was brought in to design the project. His design called for ten buildings containing close to 175 residential units, situated mostly parallel around a central courtyard.
This was one of the first public housing developments to incorporate such an arrangement and a wide use of green space. To give the design an aesthetic other than the brick façade, Backus worked with Robert Cronbach and Harold Ambellan from the Federal Arts Program to design sculptures with the theme of work and working class life.
The tinted concrete panels, situated at the entrances of each building, added a different look to the project and made it one of the first in Buffalo to involve sculpture in housing design.
The complex is significant culturally, historically, socially and architecturally as the first housing complex for African Americans in Buffalo and as an early International Style design. The complex is threatened with demolition.
Despite receiving approval for local landmark designation by the Buffalo Preservation Board, the Common Council denied its designation because its neighbors “were opposed to it, although they do want to see the artwork embedded in the walls preserved.”
The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Willert Park Courts as one of 11 national sites that could be demolished in the coming year.
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