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Honoring our presidential sons Libraries devoted to Cleveland, Fillmore suggested for Richardson complex

If Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and many other U.S. presidents can have presidential libraries, why not Buffalo's Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore?

And what better site than the H.H. Richardson complex?

That's what North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. proposes. He envisions a museum that would pay tribute to two of the region's most famous former residents.

"People travel to visit one presidential library. We could have two located in the same complex," he said.

The landmark Richardson site is on the grounds of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center near Forest and Elmwood avenues. The state has committed $100 million to restore the building for educational and cultural uses.

Part of the complex likely will become a visitors center and architectural museum. An advisory board will soon begin exploring other reuse options. Golombek thinks his plan would enhance the site's appeal to tourists and might even help revitalize the nearby Grant Street business district.

He will introduce a bill at Tuesday's Council meeting asking lawmakers to support the concept and to seek input from congressmen, state officials and local educators. Golombek, pointing to Buffalo State College's proximity to the Richardson site, believes a presidential library could become a dynamic resource for the college and other schools.

Mayor Byron W. Brown believes Golombek has hit on an intriguing concept.

"It's a creative idea that's certainly worth exploring," Brown said. But building an official presidential library that would operated by the federal government is easier said than done.

The Presidential Libraries Act has many conditions that must be met for the federal government to assume operation of a such a library, said Susan Cooper, director of public affairs for the National Archives in Washington. The system is set up for living presidents, who are responsible for finding donors to finance construction.

Other hurdles include amassing large volumes of documents from presidencies in the 19th century. Until laws were passed stipulating that all presidential papers belong to the people, many papers never made it into federal collections, Cooper said. They ended up in autograph collections, in the hands of relatives or were destroyed.

But Cooper said there is nothing stopping entities from creating their own libraries or museums, even if they're not officially part of the Presidential Library system.

Golombek conceded that Fillmore and Cleveland lack the drawing power of some U.S. presidents. But he said both had some impressive accomplishments. For example, Cleveland reformed civil service and lowered tariffs. Fillmore, the weaker of the two, is most remembered for signing legislation that betrayed the abolitionist movement.

Golombek said even some presidential missteps could be highlighted through interactive exhibits.

"What if people walked into a room and could play a game of, 'What would you do in this situation?' They could make presidential decisions, then see how those decisions might have shaped history."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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