Marking The Site Of A Lost Masterpiece
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Architect and author, Patrick J. Mahoney, sends a preview of one of the new interpretive panels and view of the phantom pier that will be located at the site of Wright's lost masterpiece in Buffalo, NY, the Larkin Administration Building, in the Spring. More info after the jump... Patrick writes: "In 2003 a small number of people including members of the Graycliff Conservancy and the Larkin Collectors Group decided that the lone above ground remnant...
Architect and author, Patrick J. Mahoney, sends a preview of one of the new interpretive panels and view of the phantom pier that will be located at the site of Wright's lost masterpiece in Buffalo, NY, the Larkin Administration Building, in the Spring. More info after the jump...
"In 2003 a small number of people including members of the Graycliff Conservancy and the Larkin Collectors Group decided that the lone above ground remnant of the Larkin Administration Building, a twenty five foot tall section of the enclosing masonry fence and wall should be stabilized. The Fence Pier was located at the back edge of a parking lot which occupied the location of the Administration Building since the early 1950’s. The Fence Pier had been subject to architectural souvenir hunters for decades including many of the most renowned scholars of the age. Over the years hundreds of bricks had been removed from the pier which left a gaping hole in the southern side of the rectangular structure.
Architectural Historian, John Conlin had attempted to rally the community to stabilize the structure years before but support failed to materialize. Conlin as a member of the Graycliff Conservancy recalled these plans when it was decided to hold a special event for the Conservancy in the burgeoning Larkin District. With the cooperation of the then owners and as part of the opening ceremony of that event, a celebration was planned to commemorate the stabilization of the long neglected Fence Pier. Because the structure was on a commercially owned private property, donations would not be tax deductable but the community responded anyway and the stabilization was accomplished in time for the event. The following year an interpretive marker was placed on the site incorporating the history of the site and photographs of its original finished state. Although this fence pier and marker are at the rear of the former Administration Building site near the curb line of Swan Street it has provided basic information to thousands of visitors each year.
A group of supporters including Lester and Barbara Rickard, Jerry Puma, Beth Bloomquist, Sharon Osgood and Patrick Mahoney have maintained the Fence Pier since then with limited resources. Pedro Guerrero visited the Pier and interpretive marker in the fall of 2011. He commented that the photograph on the marker taken by him in 1953 of Wright reflecting on the demolished Larkin Administration Building was one of the most candid and powerful images of his career.
In 2010 the Fence Pier, Parking lot, and the former Larkin factories were sold to a group of investors and developers intent on reinvigorating the former factory structures. The new owners, Seneca Larkin Holdings LLC, renamed the factories as the Larkin Center of Commerce and since then have assumed most of the maintenance of the stabilized fence pier. As hundreds of professionals relocated to the former factories each month, attention was focused on the streetscapes surrounding the district.
As part of the streetscape opposite the former factories and adjacent to the demolished Administration Building the sidewalks were replaced. This was an opportunity to further interpret the site to visitors. With this in mind the sidewalks incorporate granite markers and accented colored concrete noting significant locations of portions of the Administration Building site such as the width of the atrium, main entrance and former fence piers. The intent of this interpretation is to allow the visitor to understand the placement and scale of the demolished building as it originally occupied the site.
Furthering this goal of understanding the missing building, the new owners of the complex decided to commemorate the fence pier that complemented and was connected to the Swan Street pier with a phantom reconstructed upon the surviving foundations of the original Seneca Street Fence Pier.
The first step was to excavate the site of the pier as well as the area directly adjacent to the pier and sift through the debris left from the demolition of the building in 1950. The careful excavation revealed that the original sidewalk within the fenced Larkin compound still existed under eighteen inches of pavement and building materials. Artifacts found included sections of the iron fence, interior and exterior bricks as well as large pieces of red sandstone. These pieces were catalogued, stored and studied as the phantom pier began construction on the original foundation incorporating sandstone still in place. Colored concrete replicated the stone base of the pier upon which partially sandblasted glass panels mimic the former brick walls. A steel cap and roof duplicate the size and shape of the sandstone cap still visible on the Swan Street Pier. On the interior of the six foot wide by twenty six foot long pier, twenty-eight cream colored bricks from the interior of the Administration Building’s atrium are placed within view through the clear mortar joints between the sandblasted brick. Some of these bricks were supplied by the Graycliff Conservancy, who had accepted their donation some years before.
The area excavated adjacent to the pier was left as an indication of the original level of the building. Markers are still to be placed to interpret the excavation and phantom pier. The phantom pier glows a subtle red at night as an ember in the future of this project."
Thanks Patrick, this is an exciting project and important way to educate the public as to the importance of saving our architectural heritage before it's lost forever. Visit Buffalo, NY soon to see this and the rest of the city's Wright wonders.
All images courtesy Patrick J. Mahoney