Dear Mr. Golombek,
I just read with great interest your ideas for putting Fillmore-Cleveland Presidential Libraries in the H. H. Richardson Complex. As a volunteer for the Landmark Society and a recent Master's graduate in History from UB, I think it is an excellent idea. Buffalo possesses an astounding past--especially during the 19th century--that it has yet to capitalize on, and abandoned architectural feats deteriorating by the day. Others have suggested the Eckhardt Building as a possible location (and I even imagined a rebuilt Larkin Administration Building), but with $100 million earmarked for a Richardson rehabilitation the Complex seems the most practical choice.
My only concern--which presents a possible opportunity--is that the Richardson Complex is massive. In recent years I have visited several Presidential Centers and none come close to the immensity of the structure we have. Considering the rest of the building, I write you to consider another suggestion that could complement your own. With the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 fast approaching, a museum dedicated solely to that conflict (including its regional importance) would prove a first-class tourist draw. Besides being a great reason to fix the Richardson Complex, there are many reasons why a War of 1812 Museum works in Buffalo:
--Originality. To my knowledge there is no museum singularly dedicated to the War of 1812. A quick search brought up the Baltimore museum which will house the Star-Spangled Banner, but it is a relatively small, 12,000 square foot structure that focuses as much on the flag as it does the conflict. The Richardson has an excess of space both indoors and outdoors, providing a convenient place for large exhibits and research areas as well as grounds for historical artillery pieces. Cannons, naval artifacts, and even minor re-enactments could be held on the property with little problem.
--Location. Of course, the Richardson Complex is found in the "Museum District," making it a prime location for Presidential libraries and war museums. But as a city, Buffalo is a literal stone's throw from Canada, America's former adversary (though technically it was Great Britain). An all-encompassing War of 1812 Museum would attract visitors from across the border, something a Fillmore-Cleveland Center might not accomplish and what a museum in Baltimore could never do. And as a staging ground for some of the most infamous events of the War--including the burning of the entire city by Britain in 1813--our city would be remiss if it did nothing to commemorate this important part of Buffalo's past.
--Interest and resources. As previously mentioned, $100 million is set aside to fix the Richardson. I know you have also looked into other state and federal funding and probably considered the material holdings of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society for the Presidential Libraries (the BECHS holds Fillmore's personal papers, for example). The same is also possible for a War of 1812 Museum. We could also envision input, finances and artifact support from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Native American nations that participated in the hostilities. Recent histories also highlight the role of African-Americans in the War. Not just an American institution, a War of 1812 Museum in Buffalo would be truly international and multicultural.
--Integration. A Richardson Complex with with up to three specialized libraries and museums would attract busloads of school groups. While young students may not always be interested in political pasts, my teaching experiences show they never tire of military history. Along with luring families and diverse groups of researchers, a multi-museum Richardson Complex would solidify the area's reputation as a formidable Museum District. Consider a future where tourists can visit the Albright-Knox, a newly-built Burchfield-Penney, two Historical Society sites, and three Richardson institutions all within walking distance from their (proposed) hotel room at the corner of Forest and Elmwood, paid for with a single visitors' tour package!
Even if a War of 1812 Museum never materialized in the Richardson, it could be viable somewhere else in the city (the Central Terminal, perhaps). Granted, this is only an idea from a single citizen. Nonetheless I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the subject. Please feel free to respond to this E-mail if you have the time as I would love to help with anything that comes to fruition. In any case, best of luck on your future endeavors in government; Buffalo needs all the help it can get.
Golombek responded to me with some ideas of his own. What shocked me was that he heard estimates of about A QUARTER OF A BILLION DOLLARS to bring the building back up to code. OUCH.