The leaders behind the Michigan Street African-American Heritage Corridor have a vision for the Michigan/Broadway neighborhood surrounding the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church and the Nash House, and that doesn’t include the City’s Broadway Barns at Broadway and Nash Street. Though unsightly today, the building, the 65th Regiment also known as the Broadway Armory or Broadway Auditorium, has an interesting history.
From the Campaign for Greater Buffalo:
In 1858 money was approved to build several arsenals around the state. Buffalo’s cornerstone was laid in May 1858 and the building completed in January 1859 (below). The architect was Calvin N. Otis, a noted gothicist.
The 74th and 65th regiments were based in the building. The arsenal stored munitions, and was surrounded front and rear by open areas that could be used for drilling. Otis was the author of numerous influential architectural essays in the mid-19th century, and contributed many designs to Andrew Jackson Downing’s Rural Residences, itself an influential book of the Gothic revival.
The 74th moved to its own armory in 1868, but in 1884 the 65th built the giant drill shed in front of the arsenal, which still survives and is the basis for the current city facility. It incorporated the portal of the 1858 arsenal into the back wall of the drill shed. The drill hall is 270 feet long and over 160 feet wide. The buildings were converted to a civic gathering hall in 1910 (below).
In 1948 the arsenal portion at the William Street end of the property suffered a large fire and was demolished by the City, save for the portal that had been incorporated into the drill shed (see second last image below). This portal is thought to be the only remaining work of Otis in Buffalo, and the oldest fragment of a major public building left in the city (the Buffalo Lighthouse is older, but is technically a piece of infrastructure).
The walls of the 1884 drill shed survive as the inner walls of the lamentable “renovations” and additions that were constructed after the property was repurposed as the streets and sanitation garage in the late-1940s. The upper extremities of the corbelled drill hall walls are visible above the yellow brick of the additions. Peeled off, the drill hall would be revealed, intact. The Broadway frontage was bastardized by the work in the 1940s and 50s.
Mayor Brown and Common Council President David Franczyk say the City’s garbage trucks and plows should be relocated from the heritage area. But they’re not only targeting the messy operations, they want the building gone too. The cost of building a new truck maintenance facility is estimated at $25 million.
Franczyk told The Buffalo News:
“You go to the Nash House and you see this monolith there that just takes over a third of the block,” Franczyk lamented. “It’s out of proportion. It totally takes away from that experience.”
“If you’re a tourist coming in, you see this building with trucks going in there — garbage trucks and plows,” Franczyk grumbled.
Look no further than NYC for an example of building reuse. There, the 168th Armory has been converted into a track facility. Reopened in 1993, it’s just one of many possible uses if the fleet operations move. If the building does come down, the tourists get a full-block site to picnic in. Just like the Buffalo Forge property a few blocks to the east.