WNY's All Time Greatest Building We've Lost: Larkin Administration
Photo courtesy of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society
When the monumental Larkin Administration Building came down in 1950, the Buffalo Evening News reported on the difficult demolition process and remarked, “It was built to stand forever.” Today, only one pier remains—a mere splinter of Frank Lloyd Wright’s innovative office structure, his first-ever commercial commission.
“The loss of the Larkin Building was a loss of staggering significance,” says Jack Quinan, a Wright scholar whose latest book, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Venture, releases this month. “Its loss is at least equivalent to losing one of Gaudi’s major works in Barcelona. These buildings encapsulate an age; they are the highest artistic achievement of a civilization at a given time.”
Completed in 1906 for the Larkin Soap Company—a hugely successful mail-order manufacturing company in Buffalo—the building represented the foremost in office construction. A five-story central court allowed natural light to trickle through the air-conditioned building, where workers were stationed at custom-designed desks and chairs.
The company’s fortunes declined, however, after the Great Depression and, in 1943, it sold the building to a Pennsylvania contractor. It sat vacant for years, vandalized and ransacked by copper thieves. Ultimately, it was torn down and replaced by a parking lot. Some of the remnants were used to fill in the Ohio Basin, or the present-day Father Conway Park.
“The attempts to save it were pretty heroic,” says former Martin House curator Eric Jackson-Forsberg, “but this was 1950, really in the infancy of the concept of preservation, particularly for a twentieth century building.”
For modern-day preservationists, the Larkin Administration Building represents, in many ways, the worst-case scenario, a building well ahead of its time that was demolished before a proper reuse plan could be formulated. This summer, as the wrecking ball loomed over the Bethlehem Steel North Office Building, many asked decision makers to remember the Larkin Building—and not repeat the mistake.
As proof of the Larkin’s critical place in architectural history and of Wright’s career, the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, a preservation and advocacy organization, has selected an abstraction of the Larkin Building for its logo.
Matthew Biddle is assistant editor of Western New York Heritage and a frequent Spree contributor.