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Wendt Foundation wins preservation award

For the past 20 years, the Preservation League of New York State has presented its prestigious Pillar of New York Award in New York City.

That changes this month when the state's most influential nonprofit preservation organization presents its top award to the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation at a gala dinner Thursday in Kleinhans Music Hall.

"It's important for us to look for leaders throughout the whole state, and it was clear that one of those leaders in historic preservation and community revitalization was the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation," said Jay A. DiLorenzo, the Preservation League's president.

The Pillar of New York Award recognizes the Wendt Foundation, a generous benefactor of Buffalo's social and cultural life created in 1957 with $750,000, for its contributions to Western New York's cultural, historic and architectural heritage.

"Margaret L. Wendt was a very unusual woman, who could be considered the patron saint of Buffalo," said Kresse. "The money has been used to sustain the community she loved so dearly, and it's a great honor to receive this award because it reminds New Yorkers of the value of preserving their history."

Kresse estimates the foundation has provided more than $30 million toward preservation efforts through the years, including to the Roycroft Campus, Martin House Complex, Richardson Olmsted Complex, Buffalo Olmsted Parks, Kleinhans Music Hall, Western New York Heritage magazine and Shea's Performing Arts Center.

"Shea's would be lost to us forever had not the foundation committed to provide a $1 million line of credit because of accumulated debt at a time [in the 2000s] when trucks were on their way to Buffalo to stage a major Broadway play and were about to turn back unless the funds were available," Kresse said.

DiLorenzo said the Preservation League was influenced to come to Buffalo after the rave reviews the city received for hosting the National Preservation Conference last October.

"I've been to enough of these conferences to recognize that Buffalo was different. … You could tell the enthusiasm in the conference hall and talking to people that they really had a new appreciation for what Buffalo had to offer," DiLorenzo said.

The Preservation League, which is involved in legislative advocacy, education and organizational support, has long been actively involved in Western New York preservation efforts. For instance:

* It has been an advocate of the state's historic preservation tax credit and has pushed hard this year to have the cap raised from $5 million to $12 million to make it more viable for developers wanting to bring new life to historic buildings.

* The group named Knox Farm State Park to its annual "Seven to Save" list this year to draw attention to its deteriorating condition and promoted legislation to extend the lease on buildings and grounds to 40 years. It has passed the Assembly and Senate, and awaits the governor's signature.

* More than $50,000 in grants has been given to aid numerous preservation projects in Buffalo since 2008, including surveys of neighborhoods for National Register of Historic Places nominations in Hamlin Park, Allentown, Elmwood Village and Prospect Hill.

* Ten places in Western New York have been named since 2000 to the "Seven to Save" list, including the Central Terminal, Niagara Falls High School and Willert Park Court.

The presenting sponsor for Thursday's event is the Clement and Karen Arrison Family Foundation. M&T Bank is underwriting the event. Tickets benefit the Preservation League. For more information or to make reservations, call (518) 462-5658, Ext. 11, or visit www.preservenys.org.

email:? msommer@buffnews.com