When H. H. Richardson, Olmsted & Vaux and Dr. Thomas S. Kirkbride collaborated in 1870 to design what is arguably the best example of what is now called “the Kirkbride Plan” hospital, they envisioned a place of pastoral magic whose architecture and landscape would heal minds and bodies. The Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, now called the Richardson Olmsted Complex, has been mostly vacant since 1995 but today stands as one of the great landmarks in America that is on the brink of reviving a community and demonstrating that the durability and permanence of an earlier time is as important to our future as it was to our past.
It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This
Last night we welcomed 450 visitors to our Summer Open House and friends, it doesn’t get any better than this for historic sites. The Richardson Center Corporation, a nonprofit board created in 2006 to steward this significant complex and remake it as a viable part of Buffalo’s culture and economy, has been welcoming visitors since last October. The interest in the site is palpable and last night’s event showed us that despite the often dreary predictions for historic sites, the excitement around seeing this place and finding out its reuse plans is at rock concert level. Every tour we scheduled from May to August sold out, as did this Open House. Yes, this is a remarkable place and few sites can boast this kind of design lineage, but the interest here is something greater than significant architecture. It’s about a place that’s been a beacon on the skyline for 150 years, a place that many people can tell a story about, a place that says Buffalo was once one of the most important places in America and it can be that again.
Preservation Leads the Way
Our feasibility studies and master plan will guide the rehabilitation of the complex for a boutique hotel, conference center and architecture center. The South Lawn rehabilitation will open the Olmstedian landscape to the community next summer. And later this month the Richardson Center Corporation will announce the architectural team that will be leading the $50M restoration and rehabilitation of the 3 core buildings in the complex and the hotel operator who will work with us to develop and manage the hotel at the site.
Let’s Go Buffalo
The excitement we’re experiencing at the Richardson Olmsted Complex, however, is not unique right now in Buffalo. Although the city is still struggling with declining population, poverty levels of staggering proportions and whole neighborhoods of abandoned buildings, the resurgence of its waterfront, its landmarks and its downtown, tells a preservation story that is resonating across the country. Recent articles in The Economist, regional newspapers and blogs like Atlantic Cities, are sharing our story and our hope. But Buffalo has something that other cities do not – Buffalonians. Across the city, whether it’s neighborhoods like the waterfront and the East Side, landmarks like the Darwin Martin House and the Richardson, or transportation nodes like the Art Deco wonder Central Terminal, what’s saving and reviving these places first and foremost are our citizens. This is one of the most engaged citizenry of any city. Community meetings are as well attended as hockey games, demolition alerts rally hundreds and meetings to discuss the new Buffalo Green Code are standing room only. Buffalonians right now care about their past and future like almost no other place I’ve lived in.
A friend posted a cartoon on my Facebook timeline yesterday that says it all: “She asked me to tell her three words every girl wants to hear. So I whispered, “Let’s Go Buffalo!” in her ear.”
Please view our Photo Album on Facebook for more photos of the Richardson Olmsted Complex Open House.
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