A Single Voice Can Make a Difference
Back in the late seventies I was a curious teen just beginning to discover the wonders of the city. I would walk Buffalo,Aeos streets for hours exploring its many nooks and crannies. On one of those explorations I discovered the Louis Sullivan Architecture Museum and the man who ran it. That man was Jack Randall. He is no longer with us but his impact on Buffalo will be around for many generations.
Randall was an architect from Chicago who played a prominent role in challenging the demolition of many of that city,Aeos historic buildings. He was part of a small but determined group of people who were pioneers in raising concern over the increasingly common destruction of important works of architecture in Chicago. Their grass roots efforts met mostly with failure as they fought a juggernaut of public opinion that craved the promise of the ,Aeunew,Aeu and elimination of the ,Aeuold,Aeu at mid-century. Eventually Randall moved from Chicago to work for the University of Illinois on a campus just outside St Louis. While there, he played a major role in saving Sullivan,Aeos magnificent Wainright Building in St. Louis, a building widely considered a sister structure to Buffalo,Aeos Guaranty. He worked for many years to save that building from almost certain destruction.
All the while he also knew of the dire condition of the Buffalo building. After his great success in St. Louis Randall accepted a position with The University of Buffalo supervising construction of the new North Campus. Though this would be a major task in its self his real reason for moving to Buffalo was to save the Guaranty Building. It is ironic that a project that many consider the biggest mistake in WNY history, the construction of the Amherst Campus, provided an opportunity for Randall to come to Buffalo and prevent yet another blunder.
Randall did prevent that blunder. It took many years of single mindedness, often with little money and no help. But he persevered against all odds. He worked with the building,Aeos sympathetic but impatient owners strengthening their will to keep the building intact as he raised public awareness. He believed that Buffalo and this building were worthwhile when few others did. Ultimately he attracted the attention of United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who also saw the value of this building. Moynihan brought to bear the power of his office, which ultimately secured the continued existence of the Guaranty.
The fall issue of WNY Heritage Magazine has an extensive article on Jack and his efforts to save the Guaranty that I highly recommend reading. When I opened the magazine a flood of memories filled my head of this devoted man and the many hours I spent hanging around his little Louis Sullivan Museum. The museum was housed in 2 rooms in the (then) decrepit Guaranty Building (later in the top of City Hall) and was filled with priceless architectural artifacts and original drawings by Wright and Sullivan. It was the find of a lifetime for a young architectural addict. Jack would never tire of talking with me about architecture and his passionate love of the Guaranty Building. He often proclaimed the Guaranty to be Sullivan,Aeos most important work and ranked Buffalo among America,Aeos 5 most important cities for architecture. There is a lot of talk on BRO about Buffalo's apparent reversal of fortune in recent years. There seems to be a new mood in the city and though there are still many problems, signs of a rebirth are becoming more plentiful and harder to deny with every month that passes. I have a theory that this rebirth started with the 1983 rescue and renovation of architect Louis Sullivan's ultimate masterpiece, the Guaranty Building on Church Street. To be sure Buffalo has continued its drastic decline since that date and the city still battles poverty and abandonment on a massive scale. Still, the rescue of this building seems to mark a turning point and just as an ocean liner does not turn on a dime I believe that the salvation of this building was a major milestone in the city,Aeos history that pointed it in a new direction. Prior to the rescue of this building there was little belief in and knowledge of the importance and value of the city's historic treasures. Nor was there much faith that the city had a positive future.
By the 1970,Aeos the worn and failing Guaranty building stood as a dark and neglected symbol of the city in decline. In the 1950's Buffalo tore down a world-renowned masterpiece of architecture, Wright's Larkin Building, with barely a second thought. Just 30 years later the city was preparing to eliminate yet another of architecture's seminal buildings, the Guaranty. This was played out against a backdrop of vigorous elimination of many lesser yet still great architecture throughout the city. Downtown was declining drastically and even the best neighborhoods exhibited decay. The city suffered through the blizzard of 77 and laughable renewal schemes such as the dark brown fortress walls that were being built around McKinley Monument (thankfully stopped and removed due to citizen outrage). The most exciting new development in the early 1980,Aeos city was a 2 story Burger King on Main Street. Into this muddled environment stepped Mr. Jack Randall.
Randall,Aeos single minded desire to save a piece of Buffalo shined a light on Buffalo,Aeos wealth and opened people,Aeos eyes to the opportunities the city offered. Back then Jack fought a lonely battle. Today there are many groups fighting for buildings and neighborhoods in the city. They make progress inch by inch and it is still hard work, but Buffalo is a different place than it was back in the 70,Aeos. Perhaps it is a stretch to say that renovation of this one building turned the tide in Buffalo. But, I think the city learned a major lesson from its salvation. Randall,Aeos work in saving this structure showed the power of grass roots efforts. The spectacular renovation of this building helped people believe in the city. People finally saw what was possible.
On a related side note, the renovated Guaranty was featured in the November 1983 issue of Progressive Architecture magazine. The theme for that issue is titled Preserving World Landmarks. The Guaranty was shown on 7 pages and was accompanied by such buildings as the Eiffel Tower, the Ca,Aeo d,AeoOro (a 15th century palazzo in Venice), Borobududur (a 9th century Buddhist temple in java), Trajan,Aeos Column in Rome (A.D. 113), and also in Rome another ancient masterpiece the Arch of Constantine (A.D.315). Not bad company I would say. I think it is safe to say that none of these other structures would be threatened with demolition. Thank you Jack, we owe you one!