As much as we have made great strides in recent years when it comes to our architectural heritage, we still have a long way to go when it comes to preserving our past. We are fortunate to have architectural greats in our midst, yet at the same time I cringe to think of what was lost. Thankfully other cities, such as Vancouver, are just now beginning to realize what a day trip has in store for its citizens when it come to Buffalo’s architectural wonders (see 24 Hours Vancouver).
“For years, some of the city’s most notable structures sat neglected and deteriorating, while others came close to being demolished. But in recent decades, many have been — or are being — restored, while other important buildings were saved from the wrecking ball and are now celebrated as part of Buffalo’s rich architectural heritage.” – 24 Hours Vancouver
Not only does 24 Hours Vancouver rattle off some of the recent lovingly restored favorites, such as The Martin House and the Guaranty Building, it also highlights the up and coming Richardson-Olmsted Complex and speaks of the untold wonders in store for visitors in years to come.
When out-of-state visitors come to Buffalo, they don’t just see the iconic greats. They also see the historic neighborhoods that are filled with lesser architectural wonders, yet equally important when grouped together, that range from houses to churches. Each time we lose one these assets, say Saint Mary’s on the Hill (now gone) or Whites Livery (saved for the most part) for example, our neighborhoods take irreparable hits.
In this day and age, we need to pay attention to what other cities focus on when they shine a light on Buffalo. For the most part it’s our architecture, which is fine. Because if they come for our architecture they will find the restaurants and the shopping areas. We’re finally able to appreciate the great saves (as Steel is so keen to point out), since Buffalo is becoming known as a city with architectural might. At the same point we’re still missing the boat in fringe areas of the city where even demolitions appear to be progress to the misinformed or those who stand to make a buck from the work (see Riverside Men’s Shop).
On Saturday I was heading down Grant Street, wondering when someone besides Prish Moran was going to step up and rehab some of the jacked-up-looking buildings. Remember when Prish first decided to invest in Grant Street? Since that time we have seen incremental improvements, but there are still some monumental fixes that need to be made. Elmwood and Hertel are amazing destinations in Buffalo, but they can’t be the only ones. When you go to other historic cities there are myriad commercial districts to visit, each more vibrant than the next. If someone in power (corporate or government) was to take a comprehensive look at Grant Street, and all of the old brick structures that are currently underutilized, I’m sure that immediate strategies could be implemented.
^A mix of our historic building stock – gone, being rebuilt, buried under prefab facades, lying in wait, crumbling (demolition by neglect), for sale. Each one an opportunity… or a missed opportunity.
Amherst Street is a great example of how far a street can come in a relatively short period of time. Thankfully much of the infrastructure was intact on Amherst Street and didn’t suffer from massive swaths of parking and bland drug store build-outs… like Niagara Street, Grant Street, and just about every other commercial street in the city. Therefore the old storefronts have been readily available for inexpensive rehabs (for the most part), and visionaries continue to invest in the street – both property owners and entrepreneurs. At the same time even Amherst Street could stand to have a few of its more complex architectural blunders remedied.
A city needs a healthy mix of stand-out jaw dropping beauties and significant architectural infill in our neighborhoods. Kleinhans Music Hall and the Ellicott Square Building – those are two of our iconic greats that will capture the attention of cities such as Vancouver. But we can’t just rely on the big guns to be our salvation. Each and every one of our neighborhoods must be strong. Once visitors have come to see our top ten, or twenty architectural gems, they will then explore various urban pockets. We need to pay attention to the urban fabric of our first and second tier neighborhoods where tourists will naturally end up visiting. After all, these are the places where we, the residents, want to enjoy to the fullest year ’round… without experiencing the sour notes that are found in every neighborhood in Buffalo. If we delve into our past, we should be able to successfully resurrect many more of the beauties that, for some reason or another, are not contributing to the revitalization of this city.