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Preservation Community rallies behind the Great Northern (& sign petition)

Legislators join community stakeholders to urge City to rescind demo permit and use new receivership program to save historic grain elevator

Over the weekend, a group of preservationists came together to express their concerns and dismay regarding the possible demolition of the Great Northern grain elevator on Ganson Street. New York State Senator Sean Ryan and Assemblymember Jon Rivera, along with representatives from Preservation Buffalo Niagara, joined a growing vocal contingent that feel that the City did not do its due diligence upon granting building owner Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) a demolition permit. The preservation party stated that the City should have retained the services of a independent structural engineer.

Once again, the preservation community is left scratching its collective head per Mayor Byron Brown’s commitment to save the historic structures that are at-risk in the city. Recently, we have witnessed numerous demolition-by-neglect scenarios. The Mayor talks a good game, but at the end of the day, there are those who feel that his head is not in the preservation game. For various unknown reasons he just doesn’t seem to care about our historic building stock, which is unfortunate because it’s one of the things that is commonly revered, both locally and throughout the world.

ADM purchased the building in 1993, three years after it was designated a local landmark. In 2003, it was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the saddest parts about all of this is that there have been a number of parties that have come forward expressing their interest in saving the Great Northern, including developer Douglas Jemal. Jemal stepped forward, stating that he’s had heavier lifts when it comes to saving and developing structures, and made it clear that he was interested in purchasing and preserving the local landmark.

It was the first elevator in the world to be powered by electricity, with Buffalo’s Electric Elevator, and helped prove that Nikola Tesla’s AC power (from Niagara Falls) could be transported long distances, which made the world as we know it. It used enormous, tall cylindrical bins that gave the grain elevator its classic look, and its non-structural brick cladding makes it one of the largest and distinctive brick edifices in the world. It is the last “Brick box” elevator in the world.

“For years, we have witnessed the steady destruction of Buffalo’s cultural history,” said Senator Ryan. “Every time one of our historic landmarks is left to deteriorate and then demolished, we lose a small part of what makes Buffalo, Buffalo. In their haste to deal with what they perceived to be an emergency situation, city officials relied on an assessment made by an engineer hired by the company that has been waiting nearly 30 years for an opportunity to tear this building down. This situation is a prime example of why the City of Buffalo created its new receivership program – and the city should make use of it. ADM must be treated like any other Buffalonian who lets a property fall into disrepair. We love to celebrate the successes of preservation in Buffalo, but we create those successes by taking action in times like these.”

Built in 1897, the Great Northern is believed to be the last grain elevator of its kind in the United States.

“The potential loss of the Great Northern represents another unfortunate example of this region’s inability to keep intact its industrial architectural heritage that sets WNY apart from everywhere else,” sated Assemblymember Jon D. Rivera. “ADM had the opportunity to demolish the structure for decades, but instead chose to demolish by neglect. We need to be more adamant in preserving Buffalo’s unique history while reprimanding those property owners who refuse to maintain it.”

“As the steward of such an important building for both the history and culture of Buffalo, ADM has a responsibility to manage the Great Northern in good faith,” said Buffalo Common Councilmember Mitch Nowakowski. “Decades of inaction have resulted in a building that has deteriorated before our very eyes. I strongly urge ADM to do the right thing to preserve this building for future generations, or work with a buyer who will.”

“Buffalo’s historic building stock has proven to be a treasure trove of economic development opportunities,” noted Jessie Fisher, Executive Director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara. “When we allow a large corporation to destroy our heritage for their own short-term ease, we are allowing them to destroy the very things that are bringing our city back to life. We urge ADM to be responsible corporate citizens and agree to sell this iconic building to those who are able to see its value, and we call on Mayor Brown to work with the preservation community to ensure that we stop being in the position of constantly responding to self-created emergencies, but have a clear and actionable plan to protect our very valuable legacy.”

The next step? The preservation group has stated that, “If ADM will not make repairs, then the building should/would go to a receiver, who would then make the necessary repairs, stabilize the building, and find an interested buyer, such as Jemal.”

Click here to sign the petition to save the Great Northern. 

Author: Rachacha

A significant contingent of faculty and students from the UB School of Architecture and Planning were present at the rally, including Dean Robert Shibley.

Dean Robert Shibley

It was great to see the school standing up for Buffalo’s historic architecture. Professors Beth Tauke and Greg Delaney were among those rallying the troops, saying,

Many of us think that it is important for our School of Architecture and Planning to weigh in to save this important structure, an icon in our community. The Great Northern is the oldest surviving elevator in Buffalo’s Grain Silo District. This carries significant added weight as Buffalo is the city where the grain elevator was invented—an innovation which was then exported throughout world.

They added, “Actions like this are what members of caring public universities do to support their communities.” Amen.

Photos by Rachacha:

Lead image: The Camapaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture started the petition to City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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