David C. Bryant had a knack for looking ahead and thinking about the past. It was part of his love for life and his passion for that community.
You could see it in his bright smile – and in the relationships he built that led to the renovation of many of the historic buildings that characterize downtown Dunkirk-Fredonia. When someone came to New York State University at Fredonia in 1970 for a position in the philosophy department, Bryant’s path turned from education to aesthetics pretty quickly.
It led him to become a master at adopting suffering structures that are now considered local landmarks. Many of these are located in close proximity to both parishes’ Central Avenue.
Though his work was not fully celebrated at the time, it was overshadowed by a dark and confusing economic period in North County. For city dwellers, they were still exposed to the shock and impact of a flawed urban development plan that destroyed the character of neighborhoods and business districts. Blocks filled with history were demolished as large factories and manufacturers went into shutdown mode.
It was an uncomfortable change for Dunkirk-Fredonia.
Bryant, who died at his Brocton home on February 5, aged 83, was a calm leader during this time of worry and uncertainty. After his contract with the college expired, his life devoted himself to buying and renovating a number of structures that had been neglected but meant so much to these communities and their history.
“He was an unsung champion for our community” said Sam Bryant, his son. “Really from 1970 until his death. He just never stopped and he was a delight … who really cared about everything around him. “
Both his son and a longtime development partner, John Bankosh, referred to Bryant as a in his early years “Workaholic.” Every project was a personal investment – in time, sweat and money.
Bryant’s venture into this extraordinary real estate business was helped by SUNY in David Palmer, who was also a colleague in the Philosophy Department. In what Sam Bryant called “Side appearance” The two bought a pair of maisonettes in Dunkirk, renovated them, and rented them for an extra income during class.
It turned out that this was a new beginning – and a foundation for things to come.
¯ ¯ ¯
Shortly after leaving college, the younger Bryant said, his father’s life took on a different tenor. He was able to get a job as an engineer at Newbrook Machine Corp. secure in Silver Creek, which undertook critical and consistent military and industrial projects.
At a meeting with the plant owner, Bryant a “Pistol he built from scratch” said his son. That craft and the case his father had created earned him the job on the spot that led to formidable opportunities that included space and nuclear fusion.
“Dad went through a really sudden transformation when he became an engineer. … He became a very different man in many ways. “ Said Bryant.
Despite the success, further promotions in the company were unlikely. “He was advanced, but everyone above him was family.” said his son.
This led to the purchase that changed a life for Bryant and a perspective for the rival communities. He and Palmer bought the Middlesex Garden Apartments at 343 Central Ave., Fredonia, around 1978 after selling their Dunkirk maisonettes. Bankosh referred to the complex as “Just a disaster.”
“It was really in quite a difficult state when they recorded it,” she said. Bankosh made notes of the apartments. “You have done a lot of renovation and conservation. … It was all sweat capital that contributed. “
As his son noted, Bryant played that “Swing the hammer” Role and focus on design at the same time. Palmer took care of the money. Soon after, the duo would buy the Fenner building at 33 Church Street in the village.
However, her greatest success came within the next three years. Their efforts at the other two locations were noticed and The White Inn, similar to today, was near rock bottom.
“It was a dungeon” Bankosh said.
Bankers urged Palmer & Bryant to take over the site in the early 1980s, sparking a renaissance of what many still consider the Fredonia gem. “The reconstruction … was very important” Bankosh said. “They had very high standards in this regard.”
¯ ¯ ¯
While he was impressing at Fredonia, another nearby thoroughfare continued to suffer. “The situation in downtown Dunkirk … when Palmer & Bryant decided to invest in that area was pretty bad.” Bankosh said.
In the mid-1980s, major structures such as the Stearns building next to City Hall were nailed up. The Stearns Court at 334-336 Central was sentenced.
Even the buildings with tenants suffered. The Odd Fellows location at 314 Central used kerosene to heat the shop windows inside the building, while the famous and elegant Masonic Temple across the street was only inhabited by the Masons on one of the four floors.
“I think David Palmer and David Bryant were responsible for turning Dunkirk around through their investment.” Bankosh said.
In addition to taking over the properties, the two have also done something to bring new businesses and tenants into these buildings – elevators. As the load increased, when the Masonic Temple was 100% full, traffic – in terms of cars and pedestrians – returned to the city
“You deserve a lot of credit … and David Bryant had a hand in each of these buildings” Bankosh said.
In addition to these six buildings on the 300 block, other city projects for a children’s office and the medical office building at 609 Central Ave. accepted. Palmer & Bryant had become a full-time family and work affair through their work and reputation. Bryant’s first wife Kathleen and Palmer’s wife Nancy were closely involved in the business. “They were the unsung heroes” Said Sam Bryant.
Together they formed a team of landlords who were very closely connected to their properties.
¯ ¯ ¯
Bryant, a dedicated member of the Fredonia Rotary Club, also gave back to the community by supporting a number of nonprofits and helping others. He was also a key player in the renovation and refurbishment of the Fredonia Village Hall and Opera House, which were slated for possible demolition in the early 1990s. He and architect Carol Case Siracuse, who later moved to Buffalo, put the plan together to restore the majestic structure as it is today, including the elevator.
He also quietly helped restore the Forest Hill Gatehouse & Chapel in the village cemetery. In all these efforts, Bryant remained humble while embracing the wonders of the area with his second wife, Lucille. He valued the outdoors and exploration – right here at home, while listening to others for knowledge rather than offering his wisdom.
Despite all of his accomplishments, Bryant felt a sense of civic responsibility – and after the fire in the Masonic Temple he had revived in February 2010, he pondered options to bring something back to the shattered block. The scars of that fiery evening still haunt Dunkirk today.
Bankosh remembers talking to Bryant shortly after the inferno to reinvest where this historic site was. “We tried to develop a project … but we just couldn’t find anything that made financial sense at all.” he said.
¯ ¯ ¯
Some of Palmer & Bryant’s greatest work three decades ago is suffering again. The 300s block of Dunkirk, owned by investors outside of town, has seen a number of setbacks since the great fire 11 years ago. Even the White Inn, which is still actively being marketed, is full of question marks.
That being said, there was a spirit and legacy of Bryant that this region must embrace.
“He was absolutely the most positive guy I have ever met in my life” said Bankosh, who has been a partner with Bryant since 1982. “He’s the guy I tried to emulate the best I could. … I think the community owes him a lot. “
John D’Agostino is the regional editor of OBSERVER, the Post-Journal and the Times Observer in Warren, Pennsylvania. Send comments to email@example.com or call 366-3000. 253.
Bryant works in a trench during the restoration of the Middlesex Garden Apartments in Fredonia. David C. Bryant, left, shows his famous smiles with his father Charles and son Samuel.
Latest news and more in your inbox