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An Outrage in Lackawanna

As it looked in the summer of 2011

Joe Cascio

In what universe does a magnificent structure like this get thrown into a landfill? Imagine if this building were located in the Elmwood Village area or in Parkside. Given the fact that lesser endangered structures throughout the city have been preserved and reused, I feel confident that the Bethlehem Steel Administration Building (aka North Office) never would have been allowed to reach such a deplorable impasse in 21st century Buffalo. Maybe I am naïve, but I am treating this as a tragically unfortunate throwback to a stupider time.

In any case, as I write this, the North Office is being demolished, starting at the rear of the building.

We wrote about the North Office and its central role in Buffalo’s early steel industry in September, 2011. Since at least that time, local preservation activists have been raising awareness of its plight with meetings, press conferences, petitions, and outreach to the owners and city officials, all apparently to no avail.

The astoundingly unenlightened mayor of Lackawanna, NY must think he’s living in the bulldozer-happy fifties and sixties. With absolutely no future plan for the empty site from owners Gateway Trade and zero outreach to possible developers—in fact, it now appears that developers were actively discouraged—Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski has ordered that Gateway demolish the North Office. Why he’s in such a hurry to get rid of a structure that isn’t posing any kind of threat is anybody’s guess.

I have visited the building several times, though I’ve never been inside. It does not seem to endanger public safety—its location alone makes that unlikely. It’s anybody’s guess as to why it urgently needs to be taken down.

The possible reuses for this structure include many nonprofit and commercial options—its incredible architecture details would be a fitting counterpoint to the scenic beauty that is finally unfolding along the outer harbor as walks and parks are gradually added to the formerly bleak expanse. It will take a while to make the outer harbor a suitable place for recreation and commerce, but the North Office could have played a major role. Given time, imagination, and resources, this building could have become …

We’ll never know.

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