“I drafted a resolution (see below) that would help to prevent poaching of our architectural treasures. Putting Saint Gerard in suburban Atlanta is like putting it an an area with no appropriateness. It’s not reflective of that neighborhood – it is reflective of Buffalo and the immigrants who built it. This plundering could start a rolling effect – just think if a wealthy overseas investor started to look at Buffalo as a place to purchase authentic architecture. It’s bad policy. I’ve asked the City’s law department to draft a law that would augment the power of the Preservation Board to weigh in and decide these cases on a case by case basis. I can’t imagine that the Preservation Board would allow this type of architectural plundering to occur. I’m hoping that the process will speed up come fall.
PREVENT ARCHITECTURAL PLUNDER
The material world of things and places that surround us has evolved over many years. Since being designed in the early 1800’s as a gateway to Western New York, Buffalo has experienced significant changes in its population and economy. As a continually evolving and vibrant metropolitan area, Buffalo is fortunate to have retained much of its rich and varied architectural heritage while maintaining a truly unique sense of place. While not all of the changes that the City has undergone have been for the positive, the success of other cities in overcoming adversity suggests that, by learning from our past mistakes and making prudent decisions, Buffalo can not only survive, but indeed continue to thrive for years to come.
One of the greatest threats facing Buffalo today is undoubtedly the plunder of its architectural assets. A recent example of this is the decision to dismantle Saint Gerard’s Roman Catholic Church on Bailey and East Delavan Avenues in the Lovejoy Council District and to reassemble the structure in Georgia. St. Gerard’s was constructed over 100 years ago by immigrant craftsmen and represents an irreplaceable part of Buffalo’s cultural and architectural legacy. If removed, Buffalo will not only be losing a building and suffering damage to its historic urban fabric, but will suffer the loss of a tangible and important link to those who built this city and helped make it great. The dismantling of a building that has outlived its originally intended purpose may initially seem like an “easy fix,” but ultimately this strategy is misguided and sells our city short.
Unfortunately, the sale and dismantling of St. Gerard’s is only the most recent example of the plunder of Buffalo’s architectural heritage. Years ago, the Bank of Buffalo building was dismantled to be rebuilt elsewhere, but the new construction that was planned for the site never materialized and all that remains of the site is a surface parking lot. Similarly, today the building blocks of the Bank remain, but whether it will be rebuilt, and if so when and where, remains a mystery.
Buffalo is not the first city, nor will it be the last, to fall victim to architectural plunder; the Parthenon in the historic City of Athens was notoriously stripped of its statues in the 19th century for display in a British Museum. Years later the Greek Government took steps to ensure the return of priceless sculptures, and many cities have realized the value of enacting laws to prevent plunder of their historical assets. As elect
ed officials, we owe a similar duty, to both those who came before us and those who will inherit this great city, to protect Buffalo’s architectural assets.
History has shown us that the dismantling and demolition of historical assets, at best, offer short-term solutions to long-term problems. The Common Council recognizes this and is committed to working with the City’s Preservation Board, Code Enforcement, and Planning Officials to enact laws and institute proactive policies for protecting Buffalo’s historically significant structures and encourage their adaptive reuse.