Mixed Use Housing @ Barcalo Living and Commerce Building

Imagine the activity in the former First Quarter in the early 1900s. You can see remnants of it in the industrial buildings that have survived, even when they are underused and often neglected. One of these structures housed Barcalo’s manufacturing plant. It is made up of nine buildings filling a city block where they used to make items including tools, mattresses and the famous BarcaLounger chair.

Respecting its history and a vision of its future, architect Karl Frizlen and general contractor Mike Masters are developing the Barcalo complex. When the two-year construction project is completed in 2023, there will be 116 apartments and around ten businesses in the Barcalo Living and Commerce building (read more).

During the height of Barcalo’s manufacturing days, the facility had waterfront access in the form of a hand-dug basin off the Buffalo River where barges could load and unload products. Later, when trucks replaced ships to transport goods, the Ohio basin was filled in and is now called Father Conway Park.

The area was attractive for business not only because of the access to water, but also the many residences where workers lived in the neighborhood. It was populated mainly by Irish immigrants relegated to the water’s edge. Back then, living by the water was not considered the prime real estate it is today.

In addition to the BarcaLounger, a symbol of relaxation, the company has become known for its coffee break policy. In 1902, the Barcalo Manufacturing Company made history by officially incorporating a coffee break into the benefits enjoyed by employees. The company also had a cafeteria where employees could take their lunch breaks, a novelty at the time.

The initial building was designed by the architectural firm of Green and Wicks in 1899 and the last building was completed in 1919 to accommodate the growing business. The complex’s buildings were separated by an exterior walkway that Frizlen and Masters are currently transforming into an art gallery and museum.

They interview art professionals to organize exhibitions in turn. The “Art Alley” is nearly two football fields long, ideal for large exhibits and art displays, including a permanent historical display of pictures and artifacts from the building and Buffalo’s past.

German-born architect Karl Frizlen tells the story of his engineer father showing him an adjustable wrench in the 1950s. Frizlen remembers the excitement of the design and utility of one of tools manufactured by Barcalo. While clearing the building before construction, Frizlen discovered patents for adjustable wrenches which he plans to exhibit.

Soon, when residents look out of the large apartment windows to the north and east, they will see homes, schools and churches. To the south and west, the view spans the Buffalo River, grain elevators and rail yards. Father Conway Park is directly across Louisiana Street, west of the building. Side by side, there is evidence of the industrial past and a framework for the future.

No longer a center of manufacturing, the Old First Ward is now attractive as a dining, leisure and residential area. There are parks, kayak launches, restaurants, and piers for strolling and fishing. When the Barcalo is completed, there will be a fitness centre, brasserie, restaurant, café, launderette and offices in the commercial space on the ground floor. Parking will be inside the building and in the parking lots to the south and north of the building. Tenant amenities will be lounges throughout the building, a dog wash and storage facilities.

In Barcalo’s story, the past meets the future in an updated historic hull with state-of-the-art modern interior finishes, technology and comfort. When the restoration of Barcalo Living and Commerce is complete next summer, 116 apartments and ten commercial spaces will breathe new life into an underutilized building, located in a decent and highly deserving neighborhood.

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