Last week I
wrote about a couple of Buffalo’s small-scale architectural treasures that had
been lost. The Buffalo Crematory – one of the subject buildings in that
story – houses another treasure that remains in place, but is mostly hidden and
hopefully waiting for the day it can once again be revealed. The good
news about this treasure is that it is hidden in plain sight and can be
experienced with a little work.
As I noted
in the last story, I was passing by the Buffalo Crematory a few months ago and
was shocked to see that a wonderful piece of sculpture had been removed from
the entry portico. To find out more about this unfortunate event I went
inside where I was greeted by the building caretaker and a local squirrel that
regularly stops in to get a bite to eat (I am not kidding). The caretaker
was a friendly (unfortunately I cannot recall his name), and he showed me
around the main room and gave me a brief history of the building.
Crematory is one of Buffalo’s least known great buildings and is somewhat of a
hidden treasure in itself as it is tucked a bit off Delaware, on Delevan, behind
a gas station. It was designed by Buffalo’s master architect E. B. Green.
Green was a true master architect and is highly underrated on a national
level (read completely unknown). He was extremely facile, producing
buildings of the exquisite quality in any style he chose to work within. Green
may not have pushed architecture into new areas but he had a complete
understanding of what architecture was all about and knew how to use its tools
at the highest level. The Crematory was designed in what became known as
Richardson Romanesque (after H.H. Richardson who pioneered the style), and it
could easily pass as something done by Richardson himself.
treasure within this building is an amazing fresco painted onto the entire
surface of a barrel vault at the south end of the main ceremonial space. Frescos
are created by painting directly onto wet plaster, so that the pigments become
part of the plaster. In this way the work of art is not simply paint
applied to the surface but is actually an integrated part of the building.
the most famous fresco is the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The
fresco technique is very durable. It will not peal off like paint, but it
is susceptible to other forms of damage. The over 400-year-old Sistine
fresco was meticulously cleaned in the 1980’s at a cost in the millions. Restorers
labored for over 12 years to reveal brilliant color that few realized was
there. Similarly, the fresco in the crematory is quite magnificent but is
barely visible because of a coat of shellac that has blackened from age and
grime. The mural is very dim except for a small patch that was cleaned as an
experiment. The small patch measuring just a few inches took several
weeks to complete. It was done as an experiment but there are no plans to
completely restore the ceiling.
Apparently there just is not enough money
in the cremation business to pay the high cost of work that will take many
hours of painfully slow work. Still, the fresco remains, and even in its
diminished state is an extraordinary sight to see. These are the little
treasures that Buffalo needs to become more aware of and take pride in; they
don’t exist everywhere.