It's time. It's time we own up to our collective responsibility as a city and a region and put forth a community effort to replicate an architectural treasure that we destroyed to create a parking lot.
Over the last several years, on the way to meetings in the Larkin at Exchange Building, I purposely stopped my car on Swan Street near Seneca Street to read the plaque near the huge red brick pillar and crumbling wall. A section of the plaque causes me to wince every time I read it. "The demolition of the Larkin Administration Building is viewed by architectural historians as the most significant loss of an architectural icon in the history of North America."
This Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, the administrative headquarters for the Larkin Soap Co., was demolished in 1950. Considered as a Wright masterpiece, this building has been described over the years as the first modern office building with its natural light court, built-in furniture and pioneering air conditioning system. It was a work space for some 1,800 employees in its prime and served as the corporate center for one of America's largest mail-order companies. It was the symbol of the business power of Buffalo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and its construction came about because of the close relationship developed between Wright and Larkin company executive Darwin Martin.
Anything Wright is currently a hot ticket in the United States. His forward-thinking designs for office buildings, residential homes, furniture and windows have captivated us like few other architects. Fortunately, Buffalo did manage to save other local Wright treasures. Some are almost fully restored because of a group of passionate individuals supported by many segments of our community. The Darwin Martin House on Jewett Parkway and the Graycliff Estate on Lake Erie are already annually attracting thousands of visitors. The completed boathouse and the gas station being built next to the Pierce-Arrow Museum on Seneca Street were constructed from plans drawn by Wright but never accomplished. They, too, add to our reputation as a destination for Wright enthusiasts.
I believe it's time for us to consider how to build a replica, on the original site, of the Larkin Administration Building. One original pillar is still there. Supposedly the foundation and filled-in basement level also remain. The plans are in the Wright archives. I know we can't "restore" the building, but we could replicate it in as much detail as possible to the original design. Can you imagine what a jewel such a building would be in the restored Larkin area? Could the replicated building become a multiuse center and perhaps showcase Wright and other Buffalo architects in a museum format? Can you envision the people from all over the world who would travel to and stay in Buffalo to see some of the finest work of Wright?
I am well aware that we are a poor city. Our poverty, however, is only a statistical reflection of our income level and not the wealth that we have in so many other ways. I believe there are individuals, companies, foundations, institutions and everyday citizens who together could make the Larkin Administration Building rise again. Its presence and symbol would benefit all Western New Yorkers and most certainly make us even more of a required destination for the rest of the country and indeed the world who want to see and touch the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. It's time.
Carl Behrend, who lives in Amherst, is an educational consultant specializin in college admissions.