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Editorial: Hodgson Russ opens Guaranty Building to those interested in its storied past

The City of Buffalo has always been fortunate to have stakeholders who invest not only in their own businesses but in the community. Because of such generosity, the city has been able to maintain and improve on many of its finest attributes.

It is in this vein that longtime law firm Hodgson Russ has given back to the community by rescuing one of its architectural gems, spending millions of dollars to restore it and then opening its doors wide to visitors. Admission is free and the wealth of historical reference, priceless. This is Buffalo’s story.

As recently reported by The News’ Mark Sommer, the 13-story Guaranty Building at the corner of Church and Pearl streets stands regally in downtown. The vertical building with terra-cotta façade is eye-catching, and its history awe inspiring.

This is a functioning office building whose occupants helpfully offered a docent program for scheduled groups. Acknowledging the natural thirst for more information, they developed and recently unveiled the Guaranty Building Interpretive Center.

As Sommer wrote, visitors will be treated to museum-quality displays built by Buffalo-based Hadley Exhibits. Through these displays, visitors will learn the story of the building and its architects, Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. The displays can be  found in the former conference space in the northeast corner of the building’s lobby.

The opening of the center coincides with Hodgson Russ’ bicentennial celebration. As Sommer wrote, the firm traces its history to 1817 and the attorney Asa Rice. It is also steeped in the annals of this great nation – two presidents that century, Millard Fillmore, in 1830, and Grover Cleveland, in 1855, joined the law firm. And the firm has its own place in this area’s history as it assisted with legal work to finish the Erie Canal and to charter the City of Buffalo in the early 1800s.

The Guaranty Building’s history itself has been storied and fragile. It has seen everything from disastrous modernization attempts, an interior fire and scariest of all, an out-of-town company that applied for a demolition permit after purchasing the building in 1977.

Thanks goes to a successful preservation effort headed by Jack Randall, a Guaranty Building manager, who, as Sommer wrote, earlier helped preserve the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, the Buffalo building’s predecessor. Then came a $12.4 million restoration in 1983, a time when Hodgson Russ occupied three floors. The law firm purchased the building in 2002, when the Guaranty was in foreclosure and at risk again.

The firm set off on a $15 million restoration three years later, an extraordinary effort that will continue to benefit the community.

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