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Editorial: Restoration of Richardson Complex is a triumph of determination

A good portion of the 140-year-old complex designed by noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson, along with legendary landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, will soon be open for business.

The Richardson Olmsted Complex on Elmwood Avenue has seen the principal construction completed on what is about to become Hotel Henry. The complex also will be placed on the tax rolls for the first time. Ever.

The complex was home to the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane when it opened in the late 1800s. After the state psychiatric center moved out in the 1970s, the complex fell into disrepair and was on its way to demolition by neglect.

But an all-volunteer board led by the late News Publisher Stanford Lipsey provided the vision and determination to wrest millions of dollars from the state to stabilize and eventually restore the historic complex.

Thanks to years of steady work by those volunteers and a few dedicated paid staff, the public can now look forward to the hotel’s opening in April.

As News staff reporter Mark Sommer wrote, reclaiming a historical treasure doesn’t come cheap: $102 million, including $76.5 million in state funds. And at that, only three of the 11 buildings, or about 160,000 of 463,000 square feet on the 42-acre site, are being reused in this phase.

The state is rightly paying much of the tab because it allowed the complex to deteriorate. When plans for the rest of the complex are firmed up, the state should be ready to fund some of that work also.
Monica Pellegrino Faix, Richardson Center Corp.’s executive director, said the restoration has reached “a major milestone.” Indeed. The next couple of months will be spent paying careful attention to detail on what is a National Historic Landmark.

Those details include the installation of cabinets, drapes, furniture, restaurant equipment and locally produced artwork. Visitors will enter through a new light-filled, glass entranceway on the north side of the building at 444 Forest Ave.

Sommer’s article describes a grand effect for hotel patrons, including a “curvy, twin stairwell,” along with a new elevator, that will reach the second-floor lobby and restaurants.

Education is a key element in the project. The architecture center, due to open in December, will have gallery spaces and a classroom. Exhibition spaces on the first two floors will present the building’s history and highlight other historic buildings in Buffalo, which has no shortage of architectural gems.

The project has been painstaking and costly, and money is still being raised to finish off the details. M&T Bank provided a critical $16 million in historic tax credits for the local share of the project, while $8 million of a $10 million capital campaign has been raised, including $5 million from Lipsey and his wife, Judith.

H.H. Richardson’s once-derelict twin towers are coming back to life. It’s a remarkable achievement for Buffalo.

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