Richardson Olmsted Complex
Buffalo State Hospital
|Location||400 Forest Ave., Buffalo, New York|
|Architect||Henry Hobson Richardson|
|Architectural style||Richardsonian Romanesque|
|NRHP Reference #||73001186|
|Added to NRHP||January 12, 1973|
|Designated NHL||June 24, 1986|
The large Medina red sandstone and brick hospital buildings were designed in 1870 in the Kirkbride Plan by architect Henry Hobson Richardson with grounds by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The complex consists of a central administrative tower and five pavilions or wards progressively set back on each side, for eleven buildings total, all connected by short curved two-story corridors. Patients were segregated by sex, males on the east side, females on the west. The wards housed mental patients until the mid-1970s. The central administration building was used for offices until 1994. In 1973, the Asylum was added to the National Register of Historic Places and in 1986, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
The complex, the largest commission of Richardson's career, marks the advent of his characteristic Romanesque revival style. When emulated by later architects, this style is referred to as Richardsonian Romanesque. It has been the subject of a long-term preservation campaign. Nevertheless, three pavilions on the east side were demolished in the 1970s to make way for newer psychiatric facilities. The grounds north the building have been occupied by Buffalo State College since the 1960s. Meanwhile, extant buildings have been allowed to deteriorate, some dangerously so.
A successful lawsuit filed by the Preservation Coalition of Erie County (renamed "Preservation Buffalo Niagara" in October 2008) forced the State of New York to commit $100 million to its rehabilitation. Both former New York State Assembly Member Sam Hoyt and former Buffalo State College President Muriel A. Howard were actively involved in plans for the restoration and reuse of the Complex. As a result, the State established the Richardson Center Corporation to rehabilitate the complex. Their workers have installed a fence surrounding the perimeter of the complex and have sealed or fenced all ground-level entrances to the complex, to protect it from vandals. A highly trained Peace Officer is on duty at all times to conduct regular patrols of the area to prevent and deter crime. Local volunteers maintain spotlights on the central towers, providing dramatic illumination at night.
At a public meeting on November 27, 2007, the Richardson Center Corporation presented updates on the progress of the project, including a finished Historic Structures Report, which offers a detailed analysis of structural and physical conditions at the complex.
On March 5, 2008, initial repairs were begun on the most severely damaged buildings, including the roof and down-spouts. Further repairs—stabilizations for Building 43, roof repairs for Buildings 10 & 45, and stabilization of the corridor linking buildings 39 & 40, which is currently so damaged that one sees straight through the corridor in places—are underway.
On April 10, 2010, a two-alarm fire occurred. The cause of the fire was under investigation. Damage was estimated at $200,000.
On January 25, 2013, Phase I plans were announced to redevelop a portion of the complex into hotel, event and conference space. The plans also call for the re-greening of the complex's grounds, with public access to the South Lawn being restored by the summer of 2013. Design, contracting and construction of the redevelopment are expected to take three years. 
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.
- "Buffalo State Hospital". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-18.
- Carolyn Pitts (undated). PDF (800 KiB). National Park Service and PDF (0.99 MiB)
- Carla Yanni, The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) 127-139.
- Archives: Architecture: A towering masterpiece: H.H. Richardson's Buffalo State Hospital, Buffalo Spree, Buffalo, NY, March/April 2000, Kowsky, F.R., Retrieved 15 December 2013.
- Hoyt proposes civic panel for Richardson site, Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY: Berkshire Hathaway, 22 January 2004, Sommer, M., Retrieved 15 January 2014.
- "PDF Document". richardson-olmsted.com.
- "Repairs underway at H.H. Richardson complex".
- "Flames break out at closed psych center".
- "Governor Cuomo Announces First Phase of Redvelopment of Richardson Olmsted Complex In Buffalo". State of New York.
- "New York State Archives".
- "Buffalo State Hospital patient case files, 1881-1920.". New York State Office of Mental Health.
- "Buffalo State Hospital patient case files, 1920-1975.". New York State Office of Mental Health.
- Official website
- Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) No. NY-5606, "State Lunatic Asylum, 400 Forest Avenue, Buffalo, Erie County, NY", 8 photos, 8 data pages