It’s not the snazziest looking website you’ve ever seen, but Buffalo Architecture and History is by far the most comprehensive and informative online resource of the city’s historic built environment that we have. In 2003, Spree reported that the site contained information on over 200 buildings; as of now, there are over 500 structures included, as well as a wealth of timelines, history articles, landmark applications, glossaries, and links. Not to mention the thousands and thousands of images. It is already an exhaustive virtual tour of the city’s historic architecture—why not attach a real tour program based on the website?
Buffaloah.org founder Chuck LaChiusa is doing exactly that with the help of colleague Brad Hahn. Together, they have created Explore Buffalo, an organization that is dedicated to "providing the city’s friendliest, most comprehensive, best informed tours." LaChiusa (71), a retired City Honors English teacher and avid photographer, started Buffaloah.org in the late 1990s after attending a Preservation Coalition (the organization that eventually became Preservation Buffalo Niagara) event. As the site grew, he got involved in other projects, and eventually became active as a tour guide—for Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN), and independently. Hahn (22) is a recent graduate of the University at Buffalo (and presidential scholar) who worked last summer as the interim tour director for PBN. Once his temporary position was finished, he and LaChiusa began planning Explore Buffalo.
"There must be at least a couple hundred trained volunteer tour guides in Buffalo," says LaChiusa, "and many of them work for several different tour groups. So far, we have forty-six guides on our list." In addition to the traditional offerings (downtown landmarks, Delaware mansions, Buffalo State Hospital, City Hall) LaChiusa is planning to offer tours based on other topics than architecture, such as food, art, even crime. He hastens to add: "There will be a history component to every tour."
So far, so good, but just as people used to ask why Buffalo had multiple preservation organizations, there are those who wonder why another tour group is needed. The impetus behind this new organization arises from recent changes at Preservation Buffalo Niagara. LaChiusa and Hahn were concerned when they found that PBN was not planning to retain a paid tour director, and would continue its tour programming with an all-volunteer staff. The two also have their own ideas about how tours should work, and wanted the opportunity to put those ideas into practice. "What we’re about is a group of people who want to create their own tour organization," LaChiusa says simply.
Look for Explore Buffalo to maintain an online tour schedule, not a printed brochure of tours and dates, as PBN has done for years. "It creates an inflexible schedule," LaChiusa explains. "You can’t add dates to the sold-out tours, and the unpopular tours have to run even if there are only two or three people. This way we can add or subtract dates as we go. We will require online reservations to make sure the tours are full." He also stresses that Explore Buffalo will not offer the same tours offered by PBN.
LaChiusa is excited about Explore Buffalo’s partnership with Silo City, which will be one of their star attractions. He also looks forward to giving tours of Buffalo’s public art and conducting behind-the-scenes explorations of unique resources like the University at Buffalo’s health/science collection. There may even be a chocolate tour. Indeed, you can help decide what types of tours Explore Buffalo will offer. At their January 24 launch party, the group will ask attendees to vote for the tours they want most.
Headquarters for the organization, which is run by Hahn as executive director and LaChiusa as president, is First Presbyterian Church at Wadsworth and Symphony Circle; the office is located in the church’s basement (which is also the home of the Lloyd taco truck kitchens and Room for Dessert). Explore Buffalo operates under the 501(c)(3) of the Wellness Institute for its nonprofit status.
Some might see the birth of Explore Buffalo as a sign of a schism in Buffalo’s architectural tourism community, but—even though that might have initiated the group—chances are it will eventually be seen as more proof that there is an endless appetite for investigating Buffalo’s built environment and the reasons it got that way. The message for Buffalo’s architecture and history buffs? Let a thousand tours bloom.
Elizabeth Licata is editor of Buffalo Spree and a longtime facilitator of the Secrets of Allentown house tour. Explore Buffalo’s launch party takes place Friday, January 24, at the First Presbyterian Church, Syphony Circle, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.