One of the hot button topics in Buffalo is finding new endeavors and business to improve our town for the future while not neglecting our past history which preserves our legacy. At the dawn of the 20th century, Buffalo was a boom town with the steel, grain, and auto industries beginning to flex their economic muscle. Add to that the Niagara River as a source of water for manufacturing as well as the electrical power being generated at Niagara Falls, Buffalo was a city that the country depended on as the United States began to emerge as the dominating world power in 1900. The Pan American Exposition in 1901 was a showcase for the many uses of electricity that was being generated a mere 10 miles to the north at Niagara Falls. By the 1920’s the steel and auto industries were in full swing. Buffalo was the largest grain milling city in the world. A steady stream of lake freighters moved in and out of the canals of downtown as they loaded their ships at one of many grain silos dotting the downtown landscape. World War II furthered the strength of Buffalo’s economy. But as the 1960’s rolled around many of the city’s dominant industries were beginning to show their age and little was being done to keep them updated. New factories were springing up in other parts of the country and very little was being put into the companies that had helped make Buffalo the city that it was, Queen of the Great Lakes. Today, very little is left of these industries, if any at all. Steel production is gone. Grain production is very small compared to it’s heyday. Automobile production is still going, but scaled way down from what it once was.
In it’s place are new hi-tech endeavors, particularly in the field of medicine. New research at world famous Roswell Park Cancer Institute is at the center of the new medical corrider being built around Roswell and Buffalo General Hospital. But standing in the way of further expansion is the old Trico building where the world’s first windshield wiper was manufactured. In it’s heyday Trico had 3 large manufacturing centers but the old plant #1 was the last to close.
Manufacturing for all intents and purposes ceased in 1998. The building landed on the National Historic Landmark List in 2001. Efforts to convert the building into mixed use facilities fell apart in 2007. The Buffalo Niagara Medical Commission bought the property and converted some of the building for their use and then sat on the rest until they announced plans to start demolition of the rest of the building starting in April 2012. And then all the conservationists, preservationists, community activist groups, and others started clamoring to save the building. It’s historic and a link to Buffalo’s past! Now they want to take more time to do a reuse study. Just another stall tactic. They have no idea what to do with it!
Same thing with the grain industry. With the exception of General Mills, the grain industry is a thing of the past. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway to shipping in 1959 effectively cut off Buffalo for grain milling. But we still have all the remnants of that glorious past in the form of rusting grain silos.
Yeah they are historic all right. But what are you going to do with them? The preservationists want to keep them here until they can think of a new use. Meanwhile the waterfront continues to be dotted with these rusting hulks of our past. Tear them down and start to really redevelop the waterfront.
The biggest industry from Buffalo’s past was steel. Growing up as a kid it seemed everybody had some relative who worked at either Bethlehem or Republic Steel. The sky glowed orange all the time and the fine black soot permeated the air. Steel was king in Buffalo and had been since 1902 when the mills started up. But there in was the reason for their downfall as well. Because of their age, when it came time to build new steel mills or upgrade existing facilities, Bufffalo’s steel mills were deemed not worth the investment. So they continued along the same as in the old days until it came time to just close it down. By the early 80’s steel production in Buffalo was DEAD, never to return again. Eventually all but a handful of the steel making facilities were torn down. Which leads to one more building on the preservationists must save list! The former administrative headquarters of Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna. Built in 1901, the company moved into another administrative building in the 60’s. Today the building looks like what you see below. The city of Lackawanna has received a court order forcing the current owner to tear it down.
The building is in deplorable shape according to Lackawanna’s code enforcement officer. “All the windows are gone, part of the roof has collapsed in the back. You start tearing down one section and the whole thing will come down”. No kidding, it’s 101 years old!! It’s been empty since the Kennedy administration! But oh no wait just a minute comes the cry from the preservationists. Said Tom Yots, executive director of Preservation Buffalo Niagara, “Even in it’s present deteriorated state, (italics mine), the Bethlehem Steel administration building hints at our region’s grand industrial roots while illustrating our collective great fortune of architectural heritage.”
David Torke, a local preservationist and ‘urban explorer’ said that he was in the building recently and “saw no evidence that the building faced structural collapse”. Alright then let’s keep it standing!
Just like the Trico plant and the empty grain silos this building as well hilights the reason Buffalo has not been more progressive in this now 21st century. While I can understand the fact that these great old structures are a reminder of Buffalo’s past legacy, they are now standing in the way of the business and commercial ventures we need to revitalize our city for the future.
I love history but I don’t need to see the actual buildings where all that history was made. That’s why we have museums andrr books. Let’s move forward. Even Yankee Stadium, the house that Ruth built, is gone and replaced with a modern stadium. Let’s get rid of these empty structures and start building new ones that will move us forward into the future.
only in Buffalo…