Is it eligible or not? That is the question.
And it’s a question that has been answered. The National Register of Historic Places declared Trico #1 a landmark in 2001, over ten years ago. But local landmark status, with its less rigorous requirements, seems much harder to come by—thanks to Buffalo politics.
On Tuesday afternoon, I attended a meeting of the Buffalo Common Council Legislative Committee, which, after tabling the local landmark vote for over a year, was finally ready to reconsider it. The testimony by a long line-up of experts from the architectural and historic preservation fields was relevant, if not surprising. The elaborate machinations Council Member Darius Pridgeon used to get out of scheduling an immediate vote on the reasonable act of landmarking Trico were surprising—and somewhat entertaining, in a macabre way.
Trico #1 is a classic daylight factory (c. 1920–1940, incorporating an 1890 structure) in a decent state of preservation—Preservation Board Chair Paul McDonnell calls it “robustly built.” (See Spree 3/12 for a comprehensive look at Trico.) It is also the legacy of a legendary Buffalo industry, founded by windshield wiper entrepreneur John R. Oishei. The building offers over 500,000 square feet of possible commercial or residential space and could surely house many of the additional facilities planned by the booming Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which is now using about 100,000 square feet of the structure.
At the Council hearing, speaker after speaker spoke of the buildings’ qualifications for local landmark status, including:
Jason Wilson, Preservation Buffalo Niagara: “Trico clears a higher threshold of eligibility than is required by state and local standards. “
Bernice Radle of Buffalo's Young Preservationists delivered 37 letters of support from those unable to attend the mid-afternoon hearing, as well as a statement from BYP.
Dana Saylor, artist and historian: “Vote this up or down today. This is about government transparency and what’s good for the people of Buffalo.” Saylor also noted that her group had gotten hundreds of signatures from Trico’s Fruit Belt neighbors asking for its preservation and reuse.
Dan Sack, Campaign for Buffalo: “Trico is still a landmark, whether you recognize it or not, and whether you like the building or not.”
And Allentown resident Matt Ricchiazzi was the most poetic, commenting on “the enormous act of violence to dispossess this community of this asset,” also asking, “Where is the mayor on this?”
It’s an all-too-common question unfortunately. The upshot of all this eloquence was another put-off, with Council Member Pridgeon insisting that a meeting with Fruitbelt residents had to be held before a landmarking vote could go forward. A curious decision, because a., the case for landmarking has been made by the experts who are qualified to make it, and b., local landmark status does not ultimately prevent demolition of the building, whether it is requested by Fruitbelt residents, Allentown residents, the BNMC, or the city of Buffalo. It just makes the process more transparent.
Regardless of what happens to Trico #1, it is owed local landmark status. Trico is currently owned by a development arm of city government, and is under the additional development control of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Neither of these publically-funded entities seems overly interested in the future of the complex, despite its massive footprint and even larger potential. If it is landmarked, the people of Buffalo will have more of a say in its future—as they should.