Today marks another great day for Buffalo, past, present, and future. The Buffalo History Museum has unveiled its $2 million historic restoration project, located at the Museum’s lower level. This expanded 4,400 sq. ft. gallery section of the museum – the Portico Gallery – has been boarded up for years – for so long, in fact, that relatively few people even knew it was there. But now, it is gleaming in all of its glory.
The gallery leads down to a rotunda and park side door which once served as a grand entryway to the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.
Not only is this “new” gallery space perfect for exhibitions, it also features three doorways that lead to the exterior of the building, which provides visitors with spectacular vantage points via the rotundo. There are two beautiful elevated lawns on either side of the gallery space, perfect for all sorts of outdoor events. These lawns now join the portico as readily accessed assets that elevate the Museum’s overall standing when it comes to viability and functionality.
The meticulous reconditioning of the Portico Gallery was the second major phase of the restoration of the lower level, which is part of the Museum’s new Master Plan. It was also part of the original architect’s – George Cary – vision for the building.
This was the second phase of the “Restore, Reactivate, Reconnect” project, which restores one-third of the total space within the Museum. Prior to this, Phase I – completed in fall 2019 – saw the restoration of the park side entryways and windows, which is meant to reconnect the building’s original entrance to Delaware Park. That initial phase included construction of new exhibit space on the second floor.
“This project is the culmination of our Restore, Reactivate, and Reconnect Campaign,” said Greg Tranter, President of The Buffalo History Museum’s Board of Managers. “5 years of planning and execution has resulted in transforming 6,000 sq. ft. within our building – both what is now our Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Gallery and the space under our portico that was closed to the public for 30 years. This directly opens the Museum back to Delaware Park and provides us a new space for the community to gather, appreciate, and connect with history.”
“Debuting a revitalized historic gallery and reconnecting to the community’s cherished Olmsted Park System – I can think of no more perfect means of honoring the 120 anniversary of our iconic building and this tremendous community resource entrusted to our care,” said Melissa Brown, Executive Director of the Buffalo History Museum. “Through working diligently with key funders, supporters, and organizations in the community, we ensured this project was completed timely despite the challenges of the pandemic. With the opening of the Penfold Portico, we continue to grow as a vital cultural asset for our community. By utilizing this space to welcome school children, programs with community partners, exhibits featuring our vast collection, and more, we are playing our crucial role in showcasing the diverse stories of the people who call Buffalo and Erie County home.”
Carmina Wood Morris, DPC served as architectural partners on the project, offering invaluable in-kind services to help realize the vision of the restored space. Construction partners for the project were RP Oak Hill Building Company with plaster work by Swiatek Studios.
“Carmina Wood Morris is humbled and honored by the opportunity and trust the museum has placed in our team to guide the restoration of this gallery,” said Paul Lang, Managing Principal of Carmina Wood Morris, DPC. “It has truly been a privilege and we look forward to more years of partnership restoring this historic gem. Thank you to The Buffalo History Museum, the RP Oak Hill team, and the contractors and tradesmen who bordered on artisans to bring this wonderful space back online. The gallery is breathtaking and we can’t wait for the community to enjoy it once again.”
Empire State Development Vice President and Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, “New York’s museums are a jewel in the state’s tourism crown; they showcase themes as unique as the communities they call home, supporting jobs and welcoming visitors from around the world. The Buffalo History Museum’s renovation, made possible by a grant through the state’s Regional Economic Development Council initiative, ensures that this popular family attraction remains one of the area’s premier cultural assets, inviting more people to explore Buffalo and all there is to see and do in the surrounding region.”
Financial supporters of project include the Dormitory Authority of New York State, New York’s State Historic Preservation Office, Empire State Development, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the City of Buffalo, County of Erie, Charles D. and Mary A. Bauer Foundation, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Richard and Karen Penfold, and generous individual donors and friends.