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Preservationist's plea to get started goes beyond Richardson buildings

The aerial photograph reveals a pastoral paradise in the middle of a bustling city.

Winding parkways, strategically planted trees, farmland and a bucolic cemetery all mark the scene around a complex of landmark buildings designed by one of the 19th century's foremost architects, H.H. Richardson.

An unbroken line of greenery extended from Grant Street to Main Street along Scajaquada Creek -- the plan of another visionary, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

The photo is from 1927, and preservationist Tim Tielman believes it provides a blueprint for restoring not just the Richardson buildings, but also the parklike setting Olmsted created in the late 1800s.

Working in tandem, the pair conceived "a tremendous civic badge of honor" for Buffalo, Tielman noted Sunday during a lecture and presentation of photographs at Medaille College.

Many of the photos, including the aerial from 1927, had never been viewed before in public. They came from the archives of Buffalo Psychiatric Center and were sorted by the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, a local preservation group.

Tielman used the photos to help document a case for immediate repairs to the Richardson buildings, as well as several others, including one designed by E.B. Green.

About 40 people showed for the discussion, including from the offices of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer.

Tielman also advocated the restoration of Olmsted's unusual landscape design. The buildings and the greenery go hand in hand as one of the greatest collaborations in the country of an architect and a landscape architect, he said.

"It's beyond important. They're a single artwork," said Tielman.

Gov. George E. Pataki announced in January that the main footprint of the Richardson complex, primarily the formidable sandstone Gothic towers, would get $76.5 million for restoration.

Tielman and others want to see the entire complex restored and immediate repairs made to crumbling brick buildings.

The cost of those repairs is estimated at $8 million, most of which was earmarked by the state several years ago but still has not been used, said Tielman.

Several ideas have been floated over the past few months for potential use of the complex, including a presidential library and museum devoted to Buffalo's Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore; the relocation of Buffalo's Olmsted schools there; and the creation of an architectural museum and visitors center.

"What are we waiting for? That $8 million should be spent now, no matter what goes in there," said Tielman. "There is no plan, there is no bid, there is no movement on fixing these buildings. None. They're falling down right now."

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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