Last month, I met up with my brother and his girlfriend for a day in Buffalo – their last stop in a two-week road trip through the northeastern United States on their way to Rochester. My brother and I grew up in Rochester, with strong family ties to Syracuse; the first time either of us could remember visiting Buffalo was for an event in 2001. Since then, I’ve been back a few times, but had never explored the downtown area.
What a surprise! I was floored by the quality and variety of Buffalo’s architecture. I had heard that Buffalo was like an outdoor museum of architecture, and of course I knew of some of the outstanding buildings there, but Buffalo really must be seen to be believed. We saw panoramic views of the city from the City Hall observation deck, a whimsical giant beer tap protruding from the corner of a row of New Orleans-like buildings, a building sporting two (originally three) replicas of the Statue of Liberty, a former church that now houses municipal offices, some incredible public interiors… The highlight for me was the moment when I rounded a corner and found myself looking at a church by Richard Upjohn with the famous Guaranty Building by Louis Sullivan in the background.
I was impressed by evidence of the efforts over the years to capitalize on the city’s world-class architectural heritage, and by the many buildings that have been rehabilitated in the past couple of decades (many using the federal tax credit program, which has rarely been used here in Rochester), but of course they are fighting discouraging demographic trends common across upstate New York. To a greater extreme than Rochester, Buffalo was built to support a population that has since dwindled dramatically, and it is more and more difficult for fewer and fewer people to maintain the rich cultural legacy of a more prosperous time.
After a self-guided downtown walking tour, we headed to Graycliff, the summer house Frank Lloyd Wright built for the Martin family on the shore of Lake Erie, about half an hour south of the city. It was a beautiful spot and an interesting story of a house that is being brought back to its former glory against tremendous odds.
I could see why the National Trust chose Buffalo over a very competitive field of applicants for their National Preservation Conference in 2011. It will be a wonderful setting full of preservation stories. We were glad to support Buffalo’s bid and are eagerly looking forward to taking part in the conference.
Posted by Katie Eggers Comeau, Advocacy Coordinator