Fountain Square: Then and Now, Part 1
These images show historic Chippewa Street at Main as it was in its final days back in the early 1980's and what is there now. Prior to the block long development known as Fountain Plaza there was a rag-tag collection of buildings dating from the mid to late 1800's on this site. At the time of this vintage view the block was slated for renewal. The portion of downtown a few blocks south of here was still quite active with retail. In comparison this area stood out as extremely derelict.
Prostitution and adult entertainment venues were the norm here. The buildings were worn and it would probably be safe to say that not a soul saw any value in keeping them. Big plans in the eighties brought about massive change. The now defunct Buffalo Savings Bank and Buffalo's former Liberty Bank erected new headquarters buildings on each side of Main. Liberty Bank's building occupied the south end of this block and plans called other major buildings on the site to fill up the north end. All the old buildings were eventually cleared leaving an empty lawn for several years until the twin tower Key Center was constructed in the early 90's.
Key Center borders Chippewa with a fairly mundane facade of concrete walls, loading docks and ventilation grills. At the time this building was designed and built Chippewa had yet to become the active (and attractive) nightlife Mecca that we know today. This building exhibits what is sometimes referred to as defensive architecture. It treats Chippewa as a throw away street. It ignores the possibilities of the street's pedestrian nature by placing building services here. It may have seemed to the designers to be a natural choice to have loading docks on what was then probably seen as the least attractive and even dangerous building frontage. At the time this building was constructed the idea of a class A office building on Chippewa was quite radical.
Designers planning a project like this today in this spot most likely would have had a very different attitude toward Chippewa. Would they have included retail space? Would there be a restaurant in place of an exhaust grill? Perhaps the historic buildings would not have been torn down at all. Places change in ways we can never fully anticipate and decisions are often mad in reaction to what is current rather than what could be. Overall this project is probably more of benefit to the city than a liability and even with its cold Chippewa frontage it may have also contributed some small measure to the revival of that street. We should not forget what we have lost though. Look closely at this forlorn street-scape of 1980. There is tremendous richness of activity and detail in that image. Even simple things like the way the shoe shine parlor is a structure formed by filling in an alley are incredibly interesting--layers of things like that are what create rich urban environments. Until we recognize these valuable and subtle parts and pieces of our organically created urban streets we will never be successful with the buildings we chose to replace them with.