For a few years now I have been requesting and gaining access to some interesting Buffalo places that are inaccessible to the general public. I have done that by simply calling up whoever can grant access, and they have always said yes–except, that is, for one instance (so far). That one place is the roof of the Liberty Building.
I dreamt since a very young age of getting up there to see the twin rooftop Liberty statutes up close. In recent years I was hoping to write a Liberty story for BRO using images that very few people, if any, have seen. Alas, call after call went unreturned. When I did get through to someone in the building management office I was promised a return call with a response to my request. You guessed it…no return call. One day, I went directly to the building to see if I could request access in person. I got no further than the guard in the lobby who said I was trespassing and that he would call the police if I took any pictures of the building. Now, I don’t expect to be granted access to places like this but an answer one way or another would be nice. Anyway, that same day I also called HSBC center and was graciously granted entry to that tower after a brief explanation of what I was doing. I will share those images in the near future.
In the mean time, I have been taking many pictures all around downtown and was intrigued by how many of them included the Liberty statutes. I am not sure if this was just by chance or if I was subconsciously being drawn to them. Statues are relatively uncommon roof top decorations. The Liberty Building may be the only building topped by a replica of the Statue of Liberty. One of the most well-known building top statues is the massive William Penn balanced atop the massive tower of Philadelphia City Hall. Possibly the more viewed rooftop statue in the world is the Statue of Freedom that caps the United States Capitol dome. (Ironically, a slave sculpted it.)
The twin Buffalo Liberties were crafted by self-taught artist, Leo Lentelli, in 1925. They stand 30 feet tall and are perched over 300 feet above the sidewalk. They basically served as advertisements and image-makers for the former Liberty Bank. Liberty Bank was originally called the German American Bank but its name was changed to the Liberty Bank after WWI to remove any connection to that war’s main enemy. The Liberties face east and west to signify Buffalo’s strategic place as a major commercial link in America’s geography. When the bank merged with another institution in the 1980s, its distinctive name disappeared. Soon after that, the bank moved its offices to Fountain Square and the Liberties became odd skyline relics.
Looking over my (Liberty) pictures I was reminded of a great little book I have by a St. Louis photographer. It is a book on the gateway arch and the city – a collection of very simple but powerful images that are seemingly unrelated except that every picture includes the Arch, sometimes as little as a small fragment or a reflection. My pictures are not as sophisticated, but I started to think about how important these sculptures are as civic art in Buffalo, and how little we know about them.
I was about ready to give up my quest to get up on the roof when I came across this amazing close up view of the green ladies by Joe Cascio. His PBase gallery is filled with amazing images of Buffalo. I hope to do another BRO story featuring him and his work in the near future. He took this dramatic image with very powerful telephoto lens from (I am guessing) city hall. The detail revealed in his picture is amazing. I have never before seen so clearly what these statues look like. I always wondered if they were just a cheap knock-offs, with poor proportions and minimal depth or detail. But it is clear in this image that the Buffalo liberties were crafted with great skill and care. Thanks, Joe, for letting Buffalo see one of its great secrets, hidden in plain sight.
A couple additional things in closing: I am still looking to get up on the roof. I will keep calling until I get a definite “no.” To get a better idea of the scale of these statues, note that there is a ladder in the arm that allows a person to climb to the lantern to changing the bulb. Finally, you can see many more liberty building images here.
Top image © Joe Cascio 2009