An elaborate restoration that would cost millions has been proposed to transform East Aurora's Roycroft Campus into a "living museum," featuring working artisans, a research center, guided tours, a commercial hub of shops and possibly bed-and-breakfast operations.
"This campus -- these buildings that East Aurorans take for granted every day -- are really a King Tut's tomb waiting to be discovered," said Boice Lydell, a Roycroft collector and historian who has drafted an extensive master plan calling for restoring the campus as one large project instead of a splintered effort.
His vision includes providing a learning center for artists dedicated to studying the Arts and Crafts movement.
"Not only could the campus be a major attraction for East Aurora to thrive on with tourism, but it could virtually be the Colonial Williamsburg of the Arts and Crafts era. . . . It is a diamond in the rough, the largest, most important potential for an Arts and Crafts restoration in North America," Lydell said Wednesday night.
Lydell, who hopes his dream serves as a catalyst for campuswide restoration, gave a detailed presentation of his plan, the first to consider the campus as a whole, before 100 people who attended a program sponsored by the Roycrofters At-Large Association.
The campus contains 14 landmark buildings, some privately owned and others owned by the village or town. Under the proposal, the entire three-acre site would become more of a full-fledged working historical complex.
Public and government frustration has been mounting over the condition of the campus' fire-damaged power plant, now for sale for $400,000.
Other buildings on the campus also are showing signs of deterioration.
The heart of the plan calls for restoring the buildings and designating certain rooms in some of the structures as "museums" to display artisans' work and historical pieces from Elbert G. Hubbard's turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts colony.
Lydell's vision would rekindle the ambience and spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement, which called for a shift to a back-to-basics approach and natural way of life.
Its prospects hinge on attracting a foundation to own and operate the campus, or establishing a separate, nonprofit foundation to run the campus eventually.
The Margaret Wendt Foundation owns the Roycroft Inn, which it restored in 1995. A $500,000 renovation of an adjacent Victorian home into guest rooms was completed last year.
"Obviously, the money won't be gifted on a silver platter," said Lydell, who owns the Stock House and garages, as well as the Bungle House, a Roycroft arts museum.
He would not estimate a total tab, but acknowledged the restoration easily could cost millions.
"The best idea would be to find a foundation" to oversee it, but the restored campus eventually would need to turn a profit, he said. "There are thousands of foundations out there with millions of dollars waiting for something to happen. . . . I think East Aurora has (it)."
A proper restoration, Lydell said, would involve:
Developing adequate museums.
Having craftsmen, now based on the outskirts of the village, work on the campus and display their products.
Providing seminars and other educational programs on the Roycroft ideals and Hubbard's philosophy.
Ensuring economic feasibility.
Lydell's plan seemed well-received, although he admitted that the provision for eliminating vehicle traffic on part of South Grove Street would not be popular.
But that, he said, would help unify the campus and make the area safer.