I had not planned on writing anything for BRO today but then I came across the images shown here and then I read an interesting interview with property developer Nick Sinatra in this month’s Buffalo Spree. He is a repat who has moved back to town with a bang, scooping up dozens of undervalued historic properties and renovating them back to their productive prime. The magazine asked him if he was a preservationist. It would seem obvious that he is since he has focused his business on restoring buildings, many of which were in distressed condition. Oddly, he answered that he was not a preservationist. He stated:
“I would say that I am not because I find some of them to be too radical – for example, the movement to stop demolition of the Trico Building. That would be for the benefit of the community, I believe: some people stand in the way of progress.”
I was disappointed to hear this coming from one of the potentially bright new lights who are finally becoming common in Buffalo these days. With the long stream of recent preservation successes in Buffalo the concept that preservationists are obstructing progress should be so throughly debunked by now as to be laughable. Its like when Mosses parts the sea and the Egyptians still don’t believe he was sent by God to lead the Jews. So they ride right into the water as it crashes down on them – and that was after snakes and plague! To call preservationists radical is odd in light of the fact that more than 2/3 of downtown has been demolished over the last 50 years – that is radical. 100% of the neighborhoods east and west of downtown have been removed – that is radical. In many cases even the roads have been removed leaving absolutely no trace of the city that was once there. No memory of the city left at all. Removing whole neighborhoods is what is radical if you ask me.
The Trico Building on Ellicott Street Downtown, known as Plant No.1, that he mentions is the same kind of building that has been renovated with tremendous success in several places in the city. In the Larkin neighborhood, restored warehouses are seeding the resurgence of a long dead neighborhood. Another Trico building on Main Street in North Buffalo has been in productive use for decades since its original use as a factory ended. That building was kept viable with ordinary investment and maintenance. In contrast Trico Plant 1 has sat rotting in the hands of a government agency for years. Allowing valuable buildings to rot should be considered radical and obstructionist. Yet, we are told with a straight face that it is the preservationists who obstruct progress in Buffalo and people believe it. In Lackawanna, the mayor calls demolition for demolition’s sake progress and he is taken seriously! Trico sits in a neighborhood full of Lackawanna style progress. It faces vast acres of dead parking lots that drain life from the city’s streets. Logic would say fill up those parking lots and renovate this great factory building. Logic unfortunately = obstruction to too many people. The idea that the only place BNMC can expand is to tear down a historic building should elicit guffaws and LOLs.
That brings me to these images showing the east side of Pearl Street between Seneca and Swan. They are from the Buffalo History Gazette which continues to post a spectacular array of historic images on line. These pictures are like our conscience. They are evidence of our stupidity and we should take note when one of these “radical” preservationists tries to warn us of our impending irreversible mistakes. In truth it is not the preservationists who are radicals standing in the way of progress. Progress is blocked by acceptance of the status quo, acceptance of the continual brutalization and destruction of the city’s urban environment.
The oldest of these images shows a magnificent big old building that, judging buy the cars, was likely in its last few years. It was a big loss when this building was demolished but the multi level parking garage that replaced it was actually quite charming. The strips of glassy openings against the bright glazed terra cotta cladding were probably the image of the modernism and progress at the time of this photo. Although this building foretold of the onslaught that cars were about to bring onto the city it was not a bad way to store the machines that were quickly growing in number. Today we see this building, still in existence but, ravaged by thoughtless changes. All the windows are filled with concrete block with just the most minimal opening necessary for ventilation. Its brutal, making the street feel cold and dangerous. It is a disgrace that someone would think that this was a good thing to do. I can’t imagine how someone could have so little pride in their property and so much disrespect for the people of the city. Practically this whole block has been wrecked by stupid renovations and massive demolitions. It was once packed with spectacular architecture – and I really mean spectacular.
So, when preservationists suggest that perhaps you could expand your operation on the parking lot across the street instead of tearing down the historic building, they are not the radical obstructionists. The radical obstructionists are the people who do thoughtless and ignorant things like this to your city