True Green Cities / Richardson Center Opens its Doors for the National Preservation Conference

This post is cross posted on the National Trust’s Buffalo Unscripted Blog.

By Barbara A. Campagna & Monica Pellegrino Faix

Why Should You Visit the Richardson Olmsted Complex in October?

Richardson Center photographers

The “Shutterbug” photographers for the Buffalo Unscripted event at the Richardson Olmsted Complex on July 24th. Photo courtesy Jason Lloyd Clement.

For the first time in over a decade, the Richardson Olmsted Complex will be opening its doors this October to the public and the National Preservation Conference for tours, meetings and receptions.  This National Historic Landmark complex was originally designed as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane in 1870 and took over 20 years to complete.  The design of the buildings by noted American architect H. H. Richardson as well as the grounds, designed by famed landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, were intended to provide restorative and humane treatment of mental illness.  Many changes to the buildings, landscape and mental health treatment occurred on the site over time.  Sections of the complex were demolished and the buildings gradually deteriorated. In 1969 the three brick buildings on the east wing were demolished to make room for an adolescent treatment facility indicative of the continuing changing approaches to mental health treatment.  The last patients were moved from the ward buildings in 1974 and the Towers were last used as administration offices in 1995. 

After years of pressure from prominent Buffalonians,preservationists, and elected officials, $100 million in funds was dedicated in 2006 by then NYS Governor George Pataki to rehabilitate the Richardson Olmsted Complex.  Of the $100 million, some of the funding was used to complete two other arts institutions, the new Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Frank Lloyd Wright Darwin Martin House Visitor Center,  leaving $76.5 million.

In 2006 the board of the Richardson Center Corporation (RCC) was appointed by then Governor George Pataki to chart the future course of the rehabilitation.  Since then, one of the most comprehensive preservation processes ever followed has laid the groundwork for the rehabilitation of the 9 core buildings that remain and 42 acres of Olmsted’s landscape.  (See our website for the list of documents which can be downloaded). 

Our Showcase Space is A Show Stopper

Like many cultural institutions and historic sites around the city, we have used the National Preservation Conference as a target for completion of much of our planning as well as our “coming out” party!

Building 45 Restoration

Restored plaster brackets in the main lobby at the Administration Building (the Towers, Building 45) at the Richardson Olmsted Complex.

The ground floor of the Towers building (Building 45) has been cleaned and repaired in order to welcome guests and demonstrate the site’s reuse potential.  Upon entering, visitors will notice the restoration of the original maple floors, plaster and wood work and be delighted by installation of the original doors, hardware, shutters.  Visitors will be able to walk up the original staircase, through the unique curved hallway connector and into a former patient ward building (Building 10).  All of this work is part of the buildings and grounds stabilization that started in 2007 to prevent further deterioration.  The core buildings and connectors have been stabilized, abatement and cleaning is underway, urgent landscape work complete and perimeter lighting installed to improve safety and provide inspiring night time views.  We are ready to welcome hundreds of people back to the site.

From October 15th to the 23rd we will be welcoming almost 15 tours and events to the site including public tours, conference field sessions, bicycle tours, receptions and the Cultural District Open House.  Nearly all of the field sessions are sold out, but reservations can be made for the public tours by emailing us at [email protected].  And we will be opening our doors as part of the Cultural District Open House on Thursday night, October 20th from 6:30 to 10:00 PM.  Additional information on all of these programs can be found on the Preservation Buffalo Niagara website and in the final Preservation Conference program.

Making a Film To Share Our Story

Odessa Pictures Filming

Odessa Pictures setting up a shot for the Richardson Olmsted Complex film.

And just in case you can’t make it to Buffalo in October or to the complex during conference week, we are currently in production on a short film about the past, present and future of the site which will be posted on our website and occupy a kiosk in the exhibit in the showcase space.  Odessa Pictures, a local Buffalo company with offices just around the corner from the complex, has been filming around the site, both inside and out. The rooms and halls at the Richardson are getting used to having photographers weave their way through  the buildings and landscape since we welcomed Buffalo Unscripted on July 24th.  And thanks to Jason, Julia and Leigh, we got our Facebook and Twitter pages up just in time.   For decades the brooding Gothic towers have been a mysterious icon on our skyline, but we are happy to say that soon our doors will welcome anyone who wants to visit and our social media sites will let you talk to us and everyone else who marvels over this architectural and social treasure.  Say hello to us on Twitter (@Richardsonctr), or stop by the 3rd week of October!

Barbara A. Campagna, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C is the Consulting Project Manager for the development of the Buffalo Architecture Center at the Richardson Olmsted Complex.  Monica Pellegrino Faix is the Project Coordinator for the Complex.  They both look forward to meeting you in October!  And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow this blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted.