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Roosevelt Inaugural Site gets upgrades to prep for 50th anniversary

More than 150 years of Buffalo winters have worn down the columns that hold up the roof structure covering the west porch of the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site.

That's why five of the six 16-foot-tall columns fronting the Greek Revival building at 641 Delaware Ave. were being removed Thursday for reconstruction. The most damaged column was removed last summer and repaired at Northwood Historic Restoration on Seneca Street, where the others are being sent.

"They are being taken out now to last another century or more," said Stanton H. Hudson Jr., the Roosevelt site's executive director.

Hudson said there's another reason why the work is being done now, two years before the 50th anniversary of the historic site becoming a national park: "I want this place looking perfect for the anniversary."

All of the hollow columns were made by hand on the premises around 1865, making each slightly different. The work is being done at a cost of $350,000, and is being paid for by the National Park Service, which has partnered with the Roosevelt site since 1971.

Originally known as the Ansley Wilcox House, the building is where Roosevelt was sworn in as president in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition. It is the only National Park Service site in the United States with a local Board of Trustees responsible for the management, maintenance, operations, planning and interpretation of the site.

This is the biggest project at the site since the carriage house was reconstructed between late 2007 and mid-2009 for use as a programming area, shop and collections storage.

One of the wooden columns comes down. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the Historic American Buildings Survey, was saved from demolition in 1968 when the Junior League of Buffalo stepped up with an offer of $50,000. They later were involved in the initial phase of restoration.

"In terms of a modern preservation success story, you're looking at it when you drive by and look at 641 Delaware Ave.," Hudson said. "If it hadn't been for the Junior League, the National Park Service would never have seen fit to make this a facility in the first place."

Hudson said the historic site will need to raise $350,000 to $500,000 to upgrade all of its 10-year-old interactive displays due to software changes or worn-out hardware.

"We're open seven days a week and getting 30,000 people a year," Hudson said. "They get a lot of use. It's the wear and tear more than anything. The challenge here is you live by technology but you also die by it."

The Roosevelt site is continuing its monthly programming, which includes TRivia Night at the TR Site every third Tuesday, and a Speaker Nite series on the fourth Tuesday of the month.

The speakers are frequently local and sometimes out-of-town academicians speaking on the site's core issues of race and social inequity, immigration and urban poverty, environmental conservation, business and labor and the U.S. role in international affairs.

On Sept. 24, local author Jackie Albarella will give a talk at 6 p.m on "Presidential Photographers."

Other nonprofits also use the Roosevelt site for topical programming.

At 5:30 p.m. Sept. 26, the League of Women Voters of Buffalo Niagara will present James Gardner, a specialist in election law, talking on "Countdown to Election Day: What You Need to Know Before You Vote."

The events are held in the site's auditorium, which seats about 100 people.

Other events include "Unexpected Inauguration" from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 12, a double-decker Bus Tour that pinpoints pivotal locations in the story of McKinley's assassination and Roosevelt's inauguration; and the City of Light Bus Tour with author Lauren Belfer at 1 p.m. Sept. 14 followed by a talk at the Roosevelt site.

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