Richardson Olmsted Complex

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Buffalo State Hospital
H.H. Richardson complex.jpg
Location 400 Forest Avenue, Buffalo, New York 14222
Coordinates 42°55′43″N 078°52′55.1″W / 42.92861°N 78.881972°W / 42.92861; -78.881972Coordinates: 42°55′43″N 078°52′55.1″W / 42.92861°N 78.881972°W / 42.92861; -78.881972
Area 93 acres (38 ha)
Built 1870
Architect Henry Hobson Richardson
Architectural style Richardsonian Romanesque
NRHP Reference # 73001186
Significant dates
Added to NRHP January 12, 1973[1]
Designated NHL June 24, 1986[2]

The Richardson Olmsted Complex is a former insane asylum in Buffalo, New York, United States. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.[2][3] The Olmstead Complex has undergone renovation and remodeling to function as a hotel and conference center for the city.


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.[4] 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.[1]

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 of the building have been occupied by Buffalo State College since the 1960s.[5] Some extant buildings had been allowed to deteriorate.

Patient records from 1881 to 1975 are in the collection of the New York State Archives in Albany, NY.[6][7][8]

Preservation efforts[edit]

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.[9] 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 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.[citation needed]

South (front) elevation of the Administration Building in 1965.

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.[10]

On March 5, 2008, initial repairs were begun on the most severely damaged buildings, including the roof and down-spouts.[11]

On April 10, 2010, a two-alarm fire occurred. The cause of the fire was under investigation. Damage was estimated at $200,000.[12]

Hotel and conference center[edit]

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.[13]


  1. ^ a b Staff (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ a b "Buffalo State Hospital". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-18. 
  3. ^ "Cultural Resource Information System (CRIS)" (Searchable database). New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2016-04-01.  Note: This includes T. Robins Brown (August 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Buffalo State Hospital" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-04-01. , Caroline Pitts (n.d.). "National Register of Historic Places Registration Form: Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane (State Lunatic Asylum)" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-04-01. , and Accompanying three photographs
  4. ^ Carla Yanni, The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) 127-139.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "New York State Archives". 
  7. ^ "Buffalo State Hospital patient case files, 1881-1920.". New York State Office of Mental Health. 
  8. ^ "Buffalo State Hospital patient case files, 1920-1975.". New York State Office of Mental Health. 
  9. ^ Hoyt proposes civic panel for Richardson site, Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY: Berkshire Hathaway, 22 January 2004, Sommer, M., Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  10. ^ "PDF Document" (PDF). 
  11. ^ "Repairs underway at H.H. Richardson complex". Archived from the original on March 6, 2008. 
  12. ^ "Flames break out at closed psych center". 
  13. ^ "Governor Cuomo Announces First Phase of Redvelopment of Richardson Olmsted Complex In Buffalo". State of New York. 

External links[edit]