OLEAN — For the past 10 years, Della Moore has moved her beloved African American Center for Cultural Development from one facility to another in hopes of finally finding a permanent, sound structure to call home.
The search recently ended when local attorneys Ed Wagner and Jack Hart approached Moore and offered to donate the site of their former law practice, a beautiful Queen Anne home at 214 N. Barry St., to serve as the new Center.
The spacious house, built in the early 1900s, was recently reroofed by a generous donor, and will undergo restoration. Moore has set up the Center’s headquarters and limited operations, as well as some African American memorabilia in the building. It is hoped the new Center will be fully restored and operational in the summer or fall of 2021.
The building is well-situated as it sits adjacent to the Cattaraugus County Camps of Jamestown Community College and parking lot. This will make the Center’s museum and headquarters accessible and accommodating to college students and staff, as well as visitors.
“I’m really ecstatic,” Moore said of the Center’s new location, adding she first learned of the donation from Wagner’s wife, Elaine, several months ago.
“She called and said, ‘Della, my husband wants to talk to you about a place,’” Moore said of the initial conversation with Elaine Wagner. “I then talked to (Ed Wagner) and he said, ‘I’ve got a place for your Center. I want to donate this house.’”
Moore said after she had seen the two-story house, she fell in love with it, but was torn between giving up the historic East State Street church previously earmarked for the Center. After thinking and praying about the new offer, and taking it before the Center’s board, they decided to accept the donation of the house.
Moore had previously hoped to move the Center into a church at 201 E. State St., which is owned by Kevin Dougherty. The structure, however, needed extensive restoration work before it could be occupied. The Center had been awarded a $225,000 Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Grant a few years ago to restore the church, but would still had to raise $143,000 to match its share of the funds. Moore said she later received Dougherty’s blessing to move the Center to the North Barry Street house.
She said the good news is that the Center can transfer the DRI grant to the new project site, and use the $30,000 raised by the organization for its match, as it has been reduced to a 10% match for the project.
For his part, Wagner said he and Hart had followed the development of the Center over the last 10 years, and “were in a position to either sell the home or give it to a worthy organization.
“And Jack and I could think of no better use for our former offices than the African American Center,” he remarked.
Wagner, who retired in 2017, and Hart, who has moved his practice, said they had used the house for their law offices for 30 years. The building, which had been listed for sale but received no reasonable offers, had sat empty for two years
“We did actually get offers after we talked with Della (about the donation), but we were obligated to Della,” Wagner said. He noted the inside of the two-story house works well for the Center as the offices flow into each other and there is plenty of storage space.
“It’s just a unique house — it’s very attractive and a one-of-a-kind building,” Wagner commented.
Hart noted the Center “will be more than just a cultural and historical center for the community, it will also have the potential to have a strong economic impact on Walkable Olean, thanks to the people it will draw, increasing foot traffic.”
John Bartimole, who has assisted the Center with publicity, said the donation of the house was an “incredibly generous, over-the-top gift, not just to the African American Center but to the community and what it’s going to do for the future.”
He said Moore is working on partnerships with several agencies in the area that will collaborate on educational and training opportunities for African American residents and entrepreneurs.
In addition, the Center has established a fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation to support its ongoing fundraising goals. Kirk Windus, communications and fund development manager for the Foundation, said the community can further help the Center by donating on its behalf during the Cattaraugus Gives fundraiser Dec. 1.
(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)