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Gateway park set at Roycroft entrance

In 1930, a large house at the southeast corner of Main and Grove streets in East Aurora was split in two and moved to separate lots elsewhere in the village, clearing the way for a small park containing a statue of Elbert Hubbard at the entrance of the Arts & Crafts colony he founded.

For reasons long forgotten, the plan fizzled. No park went in, a low A-frame office building went up on the empty lot at Main and Grove in the 1950s, and the Hubbard monument, after a time outside the Roycroft Print Shop, wound up in front of Main Street School a short distance away.

Now the Roycroft Restoration Corp. is reviving the idea of a fitting gateway -- at the same exact spot -- for the world-famous complex where artisans lived and worked a century ago.

The steel jaws of an excavator clamped down Tuesday on the facade of the homely commercial structure, starting a process that will end with the installation of a small park and an information kiosk that the restorers believe will "let visitors know that they are entering a special place."

Funded by a $140,000 grant from the Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, the project will be another step in the ongoing revival and beautification of the campus.

It also will go hand in hand with the current $18.5 million reconstruction of Main Street, which includes restoration of the stone wall that ran along the sidewalk in front of the Roycroft buildings, and replicas of street lights that once delineated the campus perimeter.

Designed by landscape architect Dean Gowan, the gateway garden will have trees, shrubs, ornamental grasses and perennials. Seating will be provided along the stone wall and colored pavers with a rose design in the style of Roycroft artist Dard Hunter.

The information kiosk will be paid for with a state transportation enhancement grant, through a partnership between the restoration corporation and the village.

While the ongoing Roycroft revival has thus far focused on bringing back the weather-beaten or fire-damaged buildings that cannot be seen from Main Street, the gateway will be "the first visible sign of real progress," said Douglas Swift, co-chairman of the restoration group's Executive Committee.

"It will be an accessible, highly visible and much more attractive entrance," he added.

Completion of the gateway park will set the stage for reconstruction of the 1910 Power House starting next spring.

Virtually destroyed by a 1997 fire, the two-story building will come back to life as a multipurpose facility housing corporation offices and the Roycroft gallery, gift shop and classrooms -- all currently located in the adjacent Copper Shop. The Power House work is expected to cost $3.5 million.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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