Preservation Horror Story #3

You chose door number 3, which by far is the scariest story of them all! For Demolition by Neglect lurks in the shadows and grows stronger with every drop of rain, gust of wind, and shake of the pavement. As once occupied and vibrant buildings are forgotten about, or purchased by neglectful owners they can quickly turn into just a memory.

That’s what happened with 324 Oak Street when in 2021 it collapsed and was demolished.  Built in 1881 by George Urban Sr and his son George Urban Jr., it was home to the Urban Roller Mills. Capable of producing 300 barrels of milled grain a day, it did so with corrugated steel rollers rather than stone grinding wheels- the first in the city to use such technology.  In 2014 the cultural and architectural landmark was purchased by a neglectful property owner and sat vacant with no work to secure or stabilize the building, even with our harsh winters! In the Summer of 2021, the building had reached its end, it was tired under the strain of supporting itself with no love, and the front façade collapsed into the street below. That was it, 140 years of history gone.

An example of where we can stop this ill-fated pattern is two of the oldest buildings in downtown Buffalo. Located at 110 and 118 Southpark Avenue we see two sister Buildings reaching back to the Buffalo of the 1850s and 1860s struggling to stay alive. For years we have used our platform to advocate for these structures and share how easily they could be rehabbed for a new use!  However, the owner of these buildings saw more value in the lot than the legacy. These buildings have been landmarked by the City of Buffalo since 1994 which provides an added layer of protection against unnecessary demolitions. Unfortunately, after the owner had purchased the property, and discovered he could not tear down these buildings he decided to just let them sit and rot. As preservationists and the City continued to fight for these buildings, the Winter Storm of 2022 whipped around causing a wall to collapse, the brick that broke the camel’s back if you will.  The City of Buffalo couldn’t sit back and watch anymore and initiated eminent domain proceedings to get the buildings out of the hands of the neglectful owner. With what seems like a win this story is far from over, as it has been silent, but silence is never good when the race against Mother Nature has already begun!

Judge approves emergency demolition of 19th-century Cobblestone District buildings

When buildings begin to show the start of demolition by neglect it is easy for people to just accept their fate, however, there is always hope! Look at some of the largest preservation projects in Buffalo the Richardson Olmsted Campus, Guaranty Building, and even Shea’s Theater just to name a few were almost written off as losses to time, but they stand tall and strong because people fought for them!

Preservation Horror Story #2

I’m impressed you’ve come back for another Preservation Horror story! Door number 2 is a thrilling tale fraught with drama and suspense, even before this building was completed! Any guesses, if the tension is too much, I suggest you don’t stay a moment longer!

This is the story of the… Guaranty Building!

Prudential Building (Guaranty Building), Buffalo New York

This story begins in 1890 when Hascal L. Taylor, who made his money in oil and carriages during the Civil War, purchased an entire city block of dilapidated homes with the vision of building “the largest and best office building in the city”. In 1893 Taylor decided to go with Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan to design the future “Taylor Building”, not only did his vision include an office building but also a hotel and an opera house enveloping the whole block, a structure to rival Adler and Sullivan’s Auditorium Building in Chicago!

However, this story is not a fairy tale, and the wave of misfortune takes place in November of 1894, as the building plans are completed, financing is just about in place, a general contractor by the name of Guaranty Construction Co. is selected, on November 8th the Buffalo Evening News publishes a Judge has found Taylor “insane” and “mentally unbalanced” and passed away only 4 days later.

In February of the following year, the Guaranty Construction Co. acquired the property from Taylor’s estate, with plans to complete the office building and rename it the “Guaranty Building”, sadly, the plans for the opera house and hotel were abandoned and lost to time. As building is underway in July, with a personal spat Adler decides to leave the partnership with Sullivan.

Even with the rocky start the Guaranty Building officially opened in March of 1896, however, the tumultuous waters are far from over! With the cutting-edge design and layout that was to create the best office space, by the time the building opened, it was already out of date.

Guaranty Building

Through financial turmoil, the Guaranty Building Company took out a loan through the Prudential Insurance Company, which had always admired the building and saw this as a chance to make its claim! In the loan paperwork, it was stipulated to rename it the Prudential Building, and they buried the Guaranty sign, only the monogram on the capitals of the columns remained to show the past! In 1900 the Prudential Building Company had officially snuffed out the Guaranty, the building was fully theirs!

Over the course of the next 50 years, the building continually passed from owner to owner, the age began to show on this terracotta forest. From 1955 – 1970 Buffalo Holding Corporation decided to “modernize” the building. This abhorrent act stripped the original storefront windows, buried alive the detail work inside behind dropped ceilings and tacky tile walls, and the most egregious act of all, sandblasted the beautiful original tile, stripping it of not only the soot and dirt but also the stability and detail of the material. In the name of modernity, it pushed the building closer to destruction!

Spotlight: Louis Sullivan | ArchDaily

In 1974, a fire broke out during modernizing construction, damaging the 10th-13th floors. Luckily, the terracotta structure, and supports that Louise Sullivan designed for the building did save the structural integrity. With tenants leaving left and right, by 1977 the United Founders Life Insurance Company had bought the building through foreclosure and put forward to demolish this out-of-date and damaged building, the imaginative light seemed to be extinguished.

A glimmer of light emerged, as a group of local preservations, with the help of Senator Moynihan stepped up and fought off the devil of demolition and saved the building! With the first wave of restoration in the 1980s, and another in the early 2000s, the buried treasures were removed from their tomb, and the failing abused terra cotta was replaced and protected. Once again called the Guaranty Building, it was finally stable for the first time since Louise Sullivan had imagined it growing out of the ground over 100 years ago!

Preservation Horror Story #1

Welcome to Door Number 1! I hope you are ready for a tale of beauty, grace, deception, and loss!

This is the story of The Larkin Admin Building!

The Larkin Administration building opened its doors in 1906 exhibiting the mastery of design that Frank Lloyd Wright had… we won’t get into his personality. This imposing building 5 stories tall of dark red brick once entered gave way to a light-filled awe-inspiring office space flanked by balconies with custom furniture filling the space, an organ that had pipes on the third and fourth floors, a conservatory, a restaurant, and even a branch of the Buffalo Public Library, this space was filled with noise and life. A temple to the Larkin Empire that was built to last forever… or so they thought.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Larkin and Johnson Wax Workspaces ...

Over 84 years ago, on October 4th, 1939, it was announced that the admin building would be remodeled for a new Larkin showroom, thus showing the first cracks in its enduring legacy. The built-in furniture, which was a signature of the building, was dismantled and the showrooms moved into the bottom three floors. With the fanatical strain of the Great Depression and the start of World War II Larkin began to falter, and by 1942 the Larkin Company that Buffalo knew, was gone.

Over the next seven years, this property bounced from owner to owner, the vacant temple stripped by vandals for the interior wires and fixtures, but the building still stood strong, until…

November 15, 1949, the Admin Building was sold to its last buyer, The Western Trading Corporation, with full intent for demolition. Architects and the public pleaded for the building to be saved, alas, the fate was sealed.

Demolition began in February of 1950; however, the building didn’t go without a fight, built with ten-inch-thick reinforced concrete in slabs seven feet wide and thirty-four feet long this 44-year-old building was built to last forever. After 5 long months of ripping down her walls and beams, the Larkin Administration Building was gone, her bricks and stones thrown into the Ohio Basin infill and buried forever.

WNY History

The sole reminder of her majesty is a brick pier, as a reminder and an omen of what can be lost with senseless demolitions!

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Lost Works - Larkin Administration Building Video - SDA Website