City wants to demo old Broadway arsenal/armory/auditorium; Campaign has an alternative
February 17, 2012
The Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency and the administration of Mayor Byron Brown are promoting the demolition of Buffalo’s oldest continuously occupied civic building, built as the New York State Arsenal in 1858. Today known as the Broadway Garage, it stretches from Broadway to William Street, one block east of the Michigan Avenue. BURA, Brown, and other civic leaders are painting the facility as an eyesore standing in the way of the renewal of the adjacent Michigna Aveenue heritage corridor. The corridor includes such landmarks as the Nash House, the Michigan Street Baptist Church, and the Colored Musician's Club. The Nash house is directly across Nash Street from the facility, used as the base for the city's garbage trucks and snow plows.
The Arsenal was designed by the acclaimed Neo-Gothic architect Calvin Otis, and was home to the 65th and 74th regiments, which mustered in and out of the building during the Civil War. The 65th was Buffalo’s oldest regiment, founded in 1818, seven years before the Erie Canal was completed. The 74th included Nelson H. Baker. After the war, Baker became one of the first students at Canisius College, and went on to seminary school at Niagara University. He was ordained a priest in 1876 and eventually was assigned to a settlement house run by the diocese on Ridge Road. He never left. He built that institution into a famous boys’ home and Our Lady of Victory Basicila. He became known simply as Father Baker, and is being considered for sainthood by the Catholic Church.
Otis (1814-1883), was a prominent architect nationally, contributing many designs to Andrew Jackson Downing's influential Rural Residences, and whose buildings, drawings, and essays helped shape the Gothic Revival in the United States. Otis opened an office in Buffalo in 1846. He quit is practice to join the Union Army, probably mustering out of the Arsenal he designed. He returned to Buffalo in 1864 and partnered with Frederick Hampel for three years before once again becoming a sole practitioner until 1869. That year he published Sacred and Constructive Art: Its Origin and Progress. Sadly, none of his buildings, except for the Arsenal, survive in Buffalo. His most notable surviving structures are Grace Episcopal Church, Galena, Ill. (1847), and the Mariner's Church in Detroit, (1849).
The 74th Regiment moved out of the Arsenal after to its own armory after the Civil War. The 65th responded by adding a huge drill hall to the Arsenal in 1884. The drill hall was 270 feet long and over 160 feet wide, a studendous space in those days, the largest gathering place in the city. Prior to its construction, no hall in the city was big enough to allow a full regiment to drill. New York Governor and President-elect Grover Cleveland formally opened the drill hall. Cleveland, of course, was also a former mayor of Buffalo.
The 74th did not want to be "showed up" by the glorious 65th drill hall. It took a while, but the 74th eventually built the even larger Connecticut St. Armory of 1899. The 65th did not take this laying down, and by 1902 had begun building what was colossal armory on Masten Avenue. Its footprint was almost four acres in area, and its drill hall was said by the architect to be the world's largest. It lorded over the 74th and the whole city when it opened in 1907.
The 65th’s old armory was, after much debate, converted into Buffalo’s first civic auditorium. Known as the Broadway Auditorium, it opened in 1909 and was the site of major political speeches, six-day bicycle races, boxing matches, conventions, and hockey games. It was vacated in 1940 with the opening of Memorial Auditorium. In 1948, a fire destroyed most of the original arsenal except for the portal and battlemented towers embedded in the drill hall addition. The building became the central garage for city's Streets Department that year, with Stalinist additions obscuring its grandeur and value. Walk inside, and walls and magnificent span of the drill hall reveal themselves, intact wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling. And, its limestone contrasting with the surrounding brick, the only remaining work of Calvin Otis in Buffalo, and the oldest fragment of a major public building left in the city, is the portal of the 1858 Arsenal.
Now DPW wants to move to new quarters, and forces are fomenting demolition of the armory. Preservation and renewal of the armory is one of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo’s major initiatives. The Campaign has recommended peeling back most of the unsympathetic additions, and renovating it as “The Nash Street Armory,” a world-class indoor track venue and place for civic events and recreation, bringing visitors, attention, and reinvestment to a fascinating neighborhood.
Examples of renewed armories abound. Perhaps the most relavant would be the Hudson Armory in northern Manhattan, reborn as a center for indoor track. It just hosted the famed Millrose Games for the first time.
See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/nyregion/25armorytrack.html?scp=1&sq=armory%20track&st=cse. Also http://www.armoryonthehudson.org/aboutus.html.
The Park Slope Armory in Brooklyn has a mind-blowing array of programs between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. M-F, and 7am-6pm weekends. Here is a great video of it: http://www.thirteen.org/thecityconcealed/2010/12/14/park-slope-armory-2/
The Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan. is undergoing a spectacular renovation, the armory has long been the home of antique shows and is now poised to become a mecca for giant art shows and theatrical spectacles as well: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/22/arts/the-park-avenue-armory-indisputably-big.html?scp=2&sq=park%20avenue%20armory&st=cseOne of the best examples of an Armory lending its form to an entire neighborhood is the new/old Armory Square in Syracuse, a model of urban infill and renovation.