The Long History of a Distinguished National Landmark
Widely considered to be one of Buffalo’s most important and beautiful buildings, construction on the 140-year-old Richardson Olmsted Complex began in 1872 and opened in 1880 as the state-of-the-art Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane.
The project, incorporating the then most enlightened humane principles in psychiatric treatment, resulted from the collaboration of three important designers and thinkers of the 19th century:
- Noted American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, father of the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style;
- American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who had designed Central Park in New York City as well as Buffalo’s beautiful park system in a partnership with architect and landscape engineer Calvert Vaux;
- Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, superintendent of the Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane in Philadelphia and a founder of the Association of Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the Insane (AMSII), a precursor to the American Psychiatric Association.
Over the years, mental health treatment changed, as did the buildings and grounds. In 1927, the site was reduced by half to develop Buffalo State College. Patients were moved to a new facility in the 1970s, and the Richardson Olmsted Complex began to deteriorate. It eventually was abandoned.
In 1973, the Complex was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and, in 1986, it was named a National Historic Landmark, the highest distinction that can be given to a property. It is one of only 2,500 such landmarks in the nation, eight of which are in Buffalo.
In 2006, then-Governor George Pataki identified a state appropriation and appointed the Richardson Center Corporation Board of Directors to save this architectural treasure. For many years prior, committed preservationists, elected officials, and community members focused attention on the decades of neglect and deterioration.
Today, the Richardson Olmsted Complex is being brought back to life by the Richardson Center Corporation. The first phase of renewal consists of development of the site as a hotel and conference center intertwined with an architecture center in a third of the building space, which is on track to be completed in 2016.