It started as the world’s largest cake kitchen, and then it was the biggest hair tonic factory on the planet, and now it is empty – but it may be reused.
The Wildroot building on Buffalo’s East Side was built in 1929 by the Detroit-based Grennan Bakery. The three-story, 100,000-square-foot brick building contains warehouse and office space and is located at 1740 Bailey Ave., south of its intersection with Walden Avenue.
In 1946, according to the Buffalo grassroots group Preservation-Ready Sites, the Wildroot Co. – which had grown from a home kitchen to become the world’s largest hair tonic manufacturer – took over the building. Wildroot had previously operated in a production facility on Jefferson Avenue and in the Caxton and Sidway buildings.
Wildroot's first large production plant, at 1490 Jefferson
The company became famous for producing an iconic cream oil that was popular with men in the mid-20th century. Ronald Reagan even featured in a Wildroot advertisement.
Even a young Ronald Reagan did advertising for Wildroot!
The Colgate-Palmolive Co. purchased Wildroot in 1959 and closed the Buffalo plant two years later.
Between the 1960s and 1980s, Truly Magic Products (now known as TMP) and plastic packaging company Transparent Bag operated in the building, but it retained the Wildroot name. The Wildroot brand was sold in 1996 to a Florida company, which continued to produce the hair tonic, The Buffalo News reported in 2013.
Wildroot’s legacy lives on in the Western New York Foundation, a nonprofit that started as the Wildroot Foundation in 1951. The foundation provides monetary grants to educational, cultural and social service institutions to this day.
Now, the building's fate is in limbo. It was sold last month for $1,000 at a Buffalo tax foreclosure auction. The new owner, Omar Sian, told The Buffalo News through an attorney that he intends to reuse the building, but preservationists estimate the cost of rehabilitating it runs into the six-figure range.
The Preservation League of New York State included the Wildroot building on its 2016-17 “Seven to Save” list.
“Unfortunately, without a real champion, the building has continued to deteriorate and become increasingly open to the elements, and the threat of its loss continues to grow,” the organization wrote, noting that the building has been found eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.