This past weekend the rehabilitated South Lawn, a reflection of the original pleasure grounds designed by Olmsted & Vaux, for the grounds of the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, officially opened as the newest park in Buffalo. Following seven years of studies and evaluation, stabilization, and demonstration projects, this is the first significant construction project completed for the community at the site by the Richardson Center Corporation, the (almost) owner and manager of the site, the Richardson Olmsted Complex. I say “almost” because we are still negotiating the transfer of 42 acres of the remaining 90 from New York State to our nonprofit. But it should be in place by the end of the year. People often say to me, “Seven years and all those studies, why did it take so long?!” And I just laugh. From my standpoint, it’s taken just the right amount of time.
Enjoying a “Green” Landscape
Landscape architects, Andropogon Associates from Philadelphia, designed and oversaw the construction of the landscape. Their project landscape architect, Chris Mendel, is a Buffalo native which makes this glorious green space even more personal. The Buffalo News published an excellent description of the project including what makes it so “green”, in addition to the fresh new landscape color! Only native species were used in the planting of trees and shrubs – maples, oaks and birches, and elderberry, juniper and dogwood among them – complementing the two large oak and ash trees believed to be older than the Richardson-designed buildings. Sustainability was a guiding principle. The gravel from the torn-up parking lot was reused in granulated form, and stone and soil were also recycled. Rain gardens, including one by the bridge, were created to capture rain water. Some 125 trees, which are expected years from now to provide a dense canopy along Forest Avenue and elsewhere, were planted.
The South Lawn opened earlier this fall when we removed the construction fencing that’s been around the front of Richardson’s masterpiece for years. But the ribbon cutting and big celebration was September 28th on what turned out to be one of the most glorious days of the year – 75 degrees, sunny with puffy clouds and low humidity. The five acre park was filled with families, friends, groups all day. Bicyclists used the bike racks and wove around the winding roads. Kites, jugglers, hula hoopers and bands were strategically placed around the grounds. Five food trucks ran out of food and beverages – which was both good and bad. Children crawled beneath the new bridge while groups of adults congregated on it. Children and dogs played in the rain gardens. And everyone tried to get a peak into the buildings, but the day was about the landscape, not the buildings, so we only offered landscape tours not building tours, and every one of those was “standing room only.” A stage set up in front of the Towers, featured local bands all day. After the ribbon cutting I spent the rest of the afternoon roaming around documenting the day for our Facebook page. And I have to say, for someone who has spent close to 30 years working on the complex in one fashion or another, it was absolutely one of the highlights of my career – to see the place so alive and full of hope. It was hard to keep from crying!
Sometimes Patience is the Best Preservation Tool
I think that taking seven years to get to this point in our process was just the right amount of time because we took our time understanding what we had, evaluating options, determining the economic and use needs in the neighborhood and Buffalo, and sharing our findings and ideas with the community. Our corporation was created and funded by the State and former Governor Pataki, to act on behalf of the citizens of Buffalo. We know that the $76.5 million that the state allocated us must be responsibly used and managed. And that’s why we took seven years to conduct what I believe is the best preservation process I’ve ever been involved with in 30 years as a preservation architect. We completed a Historic Structure Report, a Cultural Landscape Report, a Master Plan, two economic feasibility studies, and an Institutional Development Report for the Buffalo Architecture Center. We stabilized all the buildings, patching holes in the roofs and walls, ensuring that no further deterioration would happen on our watch. And we purposely chose to rehabilitate the South Lawn first as a gift to the city of Buffalo. Our new park is more than a park – it’s a symbol that if you wait long enough for the right time, preservation becomes the future, and there’s no groovier place in town than eating gelato under an ancient oak tree with your friends while you listen to a band framed by Richardson’s towers.
For a series of photos documenting the ribbon cutting, please view this Facebook folder. For a series of photos documenting the day long party, please view this Facebook folder. You don’t have to be a Facebook member to view them.
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