State Supreme Court Judge Dennis Ward this afternoon signed a temporary restraining order preventing the emergency demolition of the 1897 elevator. The Campaign for Greater Buffalo had filed suit against the City of Buffalo and the Archer Daniels Midland Milling (ADM) to block demolition of the landmark Great Northern grain elevator. The city announced its demo order on late Friday afternoon. The judge’s prohibition of demolition extends at least to Wednesday, December 22, at which time the parties will appear before a yet to be assigned judge.
The city announced that it would permit emergency demolition of the elevator after a section of brick cladding on the north elevation was lost in a wind storm of historic fury on Saturday, December 11. One-hundred fourteen years earlier, the south side suffered almost mirror-image damage in another epic storm and was repaired.
Paul McDonnell, AIA, the chair of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, who was broad and deep experience with historic structures, provided an affidavit for The Campaign in which he stated that the elevator was not in danger of collapse, nor would other sections of the brick curtain wall, were they to fall, pose any threat to the public that could not be mitigated, rather than demolishing the entire building.
Anthony Barker, President of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers, and Grain Millers union, Local 36G, also provided an affidavit.
Attorney Richard Lippes, representing The Campaign, said he was gratified with the TRO and the opportunity to argue the merits of the case. “Taking down the Great Northern would be akin to the demolition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building. You’d think we’d have learned our lesson.”The elevator has many claims to fame. It was the first elevator in the world to be designed to run on electricity (together with the demolished Electric elevator formerly on Childs Street), the largest grain elevator in the world upon completion, the first to employ the ranks of tall, slim cylindrical grain bins that gave the building type its distinctive look familiar around the world, and the last "brick box" grain elevator in North America (and probably the world).
The Great Northern is an invaluable piece of Buffalo's architectural and cultural heritage and has been a designated city landmark since 1990. According to the sccopers' and millers' unions engaged at the elevator and the adjacent flour mill, the Great Northern has used by either ADM or previous owner Pillsbury since 1981 to thwart union employment. Pillsbury bought the Standard elevator a short grain-truck ride away and equipped it with a vacuum to siphon grain out of ships, eliminating the need to employ scoopers, who were part of the Longshoreman's union. ADM has continued that practice and has not maintained the building to code during its entire history of ownership. According to James Comerford, Commissioner of Permits and Inspection Services, ADM sought him out for an emergency demo last year. Comerford claims he refused, but did not otherwise act to even inspect the building despite being notified of possibly dangerous conditions.
The emergency demolition order was another Friday Afternoon Holiday Special, made public by the Mayor via the media late on Friday afternoon, after he notified ADM on Thursday that the Administration would be granting the emergency demo order. That raised the specters of the Harbor Inn demolition by Carl Paladino, the Samuel Wilkeson House and other Prospect Hill houses, the Scottish Rite Cathedral on Colvin Avenue, and, most of all, the attempted demolition of the Squier Mansion on Main Street days before Christmas in 2001. The Wilkeson House was, and the Great Northern is, a designated city landmark.
It does not make the saving of endangered city landmarks any easier when the city issues demo permits and emergency orders on that day and at that time. The Campaign and its dedicated network of volunteers mounted a great effort simply to overcome the barriers the city put in its way. Citizens will be asked to do further work to assure the survival and restoration of another irreplaceable landmark.