There’s nothing better to reinvigorate your passion for preservation than being able to attend an event at a historic building that was once on the short list for demolition. To be able to see a performance by The Cowboy Junkies in such an intimate setting was just about as good as it gets. Would the Cowboy Junkies have even come through Buffalo if it were not for Babeville? Would the voice of lead singer Margo Timmons have sounded as ethereal as it did at any other venue? Would the almost spiritual nature of the show have been replicated elsewhere? I’m of the belief that there is a time and a place for everything, and when Mary Timmons (in the sultriest of sultry voices) proclaimed that she loved Buffalo at Thursday’s show, I’m pretty sure that she had Babeville on her mind.
Babeville is the type of venue that no matter where you are seated – be it front row or balcony – you feel a tinge of jealousy for the person sitting in the other place. I’ve sat in the balcony and wanted to experience the show from the first row. I’ve been seated in one of the front rows, and have yearned to be up in the balcony. There are no bad seats in the house… in fact, they are all great, giving the viewer as much of a chance to interact with the space as with the performers. That’s why there never appears to be a rush to get up front to a show at Babeville (maybe a bit when Ani is in town), rather it’s almost like a big social affair where people are just happy to be in Ani’s house enjoying the vibe.
Even a trip to The 9th Ward – the intimate bar/performance area in the bowels of the former church – is a treat. When the opening act, Lee Harvey Osmond, took the stage, he apologized for being late, as the band had been hanging out at The 9th Ward and had lost track of time. Everyone seems to lose track of time when they are at Babeville. That’s why it’s so important to remember that all of these collective experiences almost never happened.
I still remember when the sidewalks surrounding Asbury Delaware Avenue Methodist Church were closed to foot traffic (for what seemed to be a lifetime) because chunks of the structure were falling to the ground. It was a scary time, and one that ultimately changed the course of preservation in our city. Babeville is a chink in Buffalo’s armor. Every time someone goes to Babeville to see a show, they come away with an understanding as to just how important Buffalo’s architecture is. What is even more important is that that person also comes away with the knowledge that there are buildings in Buffalo that need ‘support’, and every last measure should be taken to preserve a building for future uses like the one we see at Babeville.
Now I’m seeing that same sort of vision for The Richardson-Olmsted Complex. The project is one of the largest historic preservation undertakings of all time. There was a time when there was no Richardon Olmsted Corporation. A time when there were no braces holding up the structure. When water flowing through the walls of the building was just a bummer, and people wondered if and when a plan would ever be realized. Someday, like Babeville, visitors will experience The Richardson-Olmsted Complex and they too will come away with many of the same feelings that we feel when visiting Babeville (but on a larger scale). There are smaller at-risk structures in Buffalo that we must worry about, because developers have a hard time figuring out how to make money when so much has to go into a project, and the breakdown of units is relatively small. That’s not the case at The Richardson-Olmsted Complex. Ultimately there is money to be made from such an enormous undertaking, and there is money in place to get to the point where the right players will be attracted, and now we have a board that understands the politics, the financial angles, and the preservation tactics needed to pull off what I am convinced will be Buffalo’s biggest coup.