Weekly Feature



2015-11-18 / Lifestyles

Preserving the Past

Brown family unites to renovate, restore church
by MARY BEST, Ken-Ton Editor


The Offices at 168 Robinson, located at 168 Robinson St., North Tonawanda, is a converted rectory boasting eight offices, two of which are vacant and available to rent. The Offices at 168 Robinson, located at 168 Robinson St., North Tonawanda, is a converted rectory boasting eight offices, two of which are vacant and available to rent. Family bonding can involve a variety of activities, from gardening and crafting to movies and game nights. For the Browns, who hail from North Tonawanda, it’s renovating and restoring a church, school and rectory. Paul Brown and some of his children, Eric and Luke Brown and Jessica Fields, own the complex, which they began working on in October 2014. The search began when Luke Brown was looking for space to rent for his law firm.

“The owner of Ascension Church contacted my dad and hinted to him that all three properties were for sale. My dad and I walked the properties. I said we could use the rectory for [my] office space [and] be in charge of renting it out, and then it grew from there,” Brown said.

Fields said one reason the complex attracted them was their personal tie, as her father and she and her siblings attended Ascension School.


Members of the Brown family stand in the entryway of the Offices at 168 Robinson. From left are Eric, Paul and Judy Brown, Jessica Fields, and Dana and Luke Brown. Members of the Brown family stand in the entryway of the Offices at 168 Robinson. From left are Eric, Paul and Judy Brown, Jessica Fields, and Dana and Luke Brown. The work on the rectory was completed in January, much of it done as a family, working weekends and some weeknights. Paul and Eric Brown, both plasterers, did a lot of the renovation work, along with members of their union, Fields said.

Luke Brown was able to move into his new office on March 1, occupying one of eight offices the building holds. Currently, there are only two vacant spaces.

Fields said her favorite part of the finished space, all of which was designed by Luke Brown’s wife, is the conference room, which boasts refinished floors and Buffalo-themed artwork.

“I really like that we can offer that to the tenants and they can have their own conference room when they need it,” Fields said.

The second project was the church renovation, which needed only a new floor and paint job that the family did on its own, she added. They began in March and finished in July. The space is occupied by Fit Method, which offers personal training, mixed martial arts and Zumba classes.

Luke Brown said the last part of the complex to tackle is the school, which they plan to convert to one-bedroom apartments. “We have the initial blueprints done,” Brown said. “We are having it preserved historically, so we hired an architect who specializes in that so none of the historical aspects gets ruined.”

Fields said even though her brothers and father had experience renovating houses and apartment buildings, this was the first time they’d taken on a church, school or rectory.

“It was built in the 1890s, and we wanted to bring it back to its original glory. It had so much character, and we wanted it to be a unique office space and be something you actually look at when you come to work,” Fields said. “To cover it up would’ve been a crime because it was so beautiful. “We didn’t cut corners,” she added. “We had a few wood floors that were so ruined that, instead of getting rugs to cover them up, we replaced them. We wanted to make it as close to the original as possible.”

Their adherence to the building’s original design isn’t surprising given the family’s interest in older homes.

“Three of us at one point owned houses that were from 1890 or older, so we all kind of like that style of home,” Luke Brown said. “When we saw this … building, at the time, the floors were all warped, the ceiling had fallen in and it was important to us to bring back the character of it.”

Besides keeping his memories of attending school there alive, Brown said he thought the space would be beneficial to any tenant.

“The more people that are in here, the more clients that are coming in, and they are going to see this great old building that we’ve helped to revitalize in this area that is starting to have a good comeback right in this neighborhood,” he said.

“I think it has a lot to do with the character of the buildings themselves,” Brown added. “There’s a lot of great old buildings [and] they don’t make them like this anymore. If they’re just sitting there dying [and] you can re-purpose them for another use, get people in there using them again and living there, it [would be] great to see these old buildings get a second life.”

Fields said the experience was all the more worthwhile because she did it with her family.

“It’s fun most of the time to work together and see what you accomplish start to finish,” she said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating, but there’s no one else I’d do it with besides them.”

“It’s challenging at times, but through the whole thing, we stick together, work as hard as we can to achieve our goal, and at the end of the day, I think it just makes us a tighter, stronger family,” Brown said.

The rectory is located at 168 Robinson St., North Tonawanda. For more information on renting the remaining offices or to see a larger gallery of photos, visit 168robinson.com.

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