In 1901 the city of Buffalo was 69 years old. It was an industrial, transportation, trade, business and financial hub connecting Great Lakes with the East Coast and beyond. In 1900, the city’s population was 350,000. That made it the eighth largest city in United States.
On the southern border was the then, town of West Seneca. It had just become the home of the new Lackawanna Steel Company. The Lackawanna steel company was formed in 1848 city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. In July of 1900 He Company began construction of a brand new facility in the town of West Seneca on the shores of Lake Erie to take advantage of all the transportation opportunities the Buffalo New York region had to share. In 1901 the company constructed what is considered today to be a “beaux arts” style office building common for the times. Many of this type structure no longer exist. With the growth of this facility, the surrounding the community was given permission to separate itself in 1903 to become the City of Lackawanna.
In 1922 the Lackawanna steel company was purchased by the Bethlehem Steel company. By this time the Lackawanna steel company was already considered obsolete. The purchase by Bethlehem Steel allowed for a $10 million investment to modernize the facility.
It survived for another 60 years, and one time employing as much as 25,000 workers. The company was condemned to death by foreign competition. The plant was closed in 1982. The sole remaining building from the original structure is the 1901 office building. It is rather sad for me at least to see it is about to be torn down. The Lackawanna Industrial Heritage Group has done a yeoman’s job of trying to save this structure. They have had a lot of rubbish tossed at them for their effort. Danielle Huber, members of her group and supporters have fought bravely in the name of historic preservation and the role it can play in tourism, travel and business development.
I understand the difficulty in saving old buildings, developers don’t want to do it because of expense and a sizable portion of the population just plain don’t like old buildings. We have become a new construction and strip mall culture. Far too many people in the Buffalo New York area could care less about our architectural history. They call people who do obstructions, as the looking like every other city is the way we should be.
It is probably too late for the Bethlehem Steel administration building. The wrecker’s ball is expected to strike within the next week or so. I believe I have an idea where this building could be put to good use. It would fit in with the historic development around the Erie Canal Harbor. The problem with the Bethlehem Steel administration building is that it is in the wrong location. It is not accessible end there are attractions surrounding it. I can’t but help think of St. Gerard’s church in Buffalo. It has been sold to a parish in Norcross Georgia who are going to disassemble St. Gerard and move it to Norcross where will be a reassemble. They have decided and they have a study that showed will work that it is cheaper to do so that the construct a new building.
Why not the Bethlehem Steel administration building? Why not disassemble? Why not send it up to the Erie Canal Harbor? It could be reconstructed in the Cobblestone District. It could be placed on Main Street between Main and Hanover directly across from the First Niagara Arena. It could be put up at the old auditorium site. These options would allow it to be reused as a historic representation of the times. The building could be used as a Museum, as a small shops center, as a mini-hotel, etc. it would add to the flavor of Buffalo being something different from the rest of the United States. There is nothing wrong in being unique.
We need to stop being embarrassed by what we have started working with what we have it economic benefit for everyone. There is nothing wrong with our history, people in Europe, China, Japan, India go out of their way save their heritage sell that heritage as an attraction to tourists willing to spend their money. We can do the same.