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5 Questions With: David Torke, Activist & Blogger

Get To Know a Buffalonian

David Torke
Woodlawn Row Houses

Last Friday, in the early morning hours, David Torke saw smoke bellowing from the top floor of the Woodlawn Row Houses, a city-owned, dilapidated structure he’d been tracking for years on his blog, Fix Buffalo ( He called the fire department, and over the next few hours and days that followed, documented the destruction of one of the city’s few remaining row houses, which he’d been trying to save from demolition by neglect.

How long have you followed the plight of the Woodlawn Row Houses?

They first hit the radar back in the 1990s when I moved into the neighborhood. I began blogging about them shortly after the city took possession, over six years ago.

What drew you to them?

The fact that they were designated a local landmark by the city’s Preservation Board and then somehow forgotten is rather remarkable, especially in a city that places a premium on architecture and preservation. There are now two remaining sets of row houses in the immediate neighborhood where there used to be 20. I thought it was so cool when I moved into the neighborhood 16 years ago when a neighbor brought out an old photo album and showed me pics of people sitting on the row house roof watching a baseball game at Offermann Stadium.

How would you characterize city government’s reaction to your activism on their behalf?

Officially or unofficially? Let me check with my HR department and get back to you.

The Woodlawn Row Houses are landfill now. Where is your attention focused now? Can you name, say, three or five important structures that are endangered by neglect or “progress”?

I’ve become increasingly interested in photography and the preservation of stories about this city. I’ve been transfixed on the long empty streetscapes on the city’s East Side. Genesee Street is particularly wild. My blog’s banner pic is from there, from what seems like a lifetime ago. There are so many places, wide open in the ’hood—Lyth Cottage on Harwood and that concrete place on Main, where Reynar Banham and Buckminster Fuller used to teach. You know that space, the one inspired by Gropius’s Fagus Works. Beautiful places.

You spend a lot of time in and around derelict structures. Do you ever think this obsession is a little unhealthy?

At times. I’m attracted to that fascinating intersection of memory, history, and identity. In so many ways, the work of Buffalo’s own Richard Hofstadter has illuminated my investigation of this city. He grew up in my neighborhood, when Buffalo was the real shit. Today the city more closely resembles a failed state somewhere in the Balkans. It’s such a fascinating time and place, racing against the bulldozer’s slow and steady pace.

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