Buffalo's Richardson-Olmsted Asylum Being Restored


The Richardson-Olmsted complex is just one of seven National Historic Landmarks in Buffalo, N.Y., site of the 2011 National Preservation Conference.

Credit: Brian Faix

In 1869 two businessmen succeeded in petitioning the state of New York to build a mental health facility in the Buffalo, N.Y. area, which became known as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Abandoned in the 1970s, the state-owned complex is now being rehabilitated, and preservationists are planning a new Architecture Center that they say will support architectural and heritage tourism in the now bustling cultural district.

11 most markThree years ago, former New York Gov. George Pataki commissioned the Richardson Center Corporation to explore ways to reuse and rehabilitate the complex, with the help of $100 million in state funding. Massachusetts-based design firm Chan Krieger Sieniewicz is overseeing the master planning of the Richardson Olmsted Complex, which is now undergoing a second phase of repairs. This stabilization process is projected to continue until 2011.

"When it's all said and done, we'll have something magnificent here that nobody else in the country has," Stanford Lipsey, chairman of the Richardson Center Corp. and the Richardson Center Architecture Center Board, said in a statement.

The 19th-century facility was formed by a partnership between architect Henry Hobson Richardson and landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted. At that time it was considered to be one of the most architecturally significant designs for an asylum, a style that became known as Richardsonian Romanesque.

Today only 91 of the original 203 acres remain as part of the complex, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and designated a historic landmark in 1986.

Ten years ago the Preservation League of New York State successfully nominated the H. H. Richardson Complex and three other National Historic Landmark hospitals to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

"Progress at the Buffalo complex [marks] an important anniversary for the League and the National Trust in our shared efforts to foster the reuse of this extraordinary landmark," says Tania Werbizky, regional director of technical and grant programs at the Preservation League of New York State.

Read more about the Architecture Center from Barbara Campagna, Graham Gund Architect at the National Trust for Historic Preservation


For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.

Subscribe to the Today's News RSS feed


Submitted by yodeler at: October 2, 2010
For an inside look at the building check out this link. Its a virtual tour with 360 pictures of a lot of it, neat stuff http://buffalovr.com/bpc/

Submitted by Max at: October 8, 2009
As a native of Buffalo I am greatly pleased to see that a "solution" for the Richardson Complex has been found. I would urge preservationists, however, to look beyond the West of Main Street to magnificent buildings on Buffalo's East Side that are just falling to the ground or being razed; also to parks and neighborhoods on the East Side. Buffalo's original, huge German American population built the East Side, and the Roman Catholic heritage had much to do with preserving the monumental architecture that the Church owned or had interest in prior to the Vatican II "revolution" in the Church. After that time the Roman Catholic bishops in Buffalo and other parts of the U.S. preferred "vernacular" settings for its services, and they even became hostile to preservation of the Church's wonderful buildings, such as St. Mary of Sorrows Church on Buffalo's formerly solidly German Near East Side. While preservationists were able to "save" St. Mary of Sorrows, there are many "sorrowful" situations on the East Side -- the entire block of Dodge Street where originally a German Orphanage operated and where the entire block of formerly diocesan buildings has been falling to ruin; the Olmsted Park originally named Humboldt Park, later re-named "MLK Park," and massive block of Gothic buildings inside what was formerly known as the "Good Shepherd's Home" that sits in the block bordered by Best St., North St., Johnson St., and Timon St. These are only a few -- I urge preservationists not to neglect the rich history of the former German and Polish East Side (the Polish part is faring OK, but the German part is falling to the ground or being razed recklessly).

Submitted by Betty Barcode at: September 19, 2009
Buffalo has some banal skyscrapers that are far taller, but the Richardson Complex towers over them. You have to stand at its base looking up to appreciate what I mean. It is a jaw-dropping experience.

Submitted by Brian at: September 18, 2009
Looks like fantastic architecture!