Richardson’s South Lawn opens amid plenty of community fanfare

Lawn celebration at Richardson Complex

Autumn Evans

Lawn celebration at Richardson Complex

The Richardson Olmsted Complex was alive on Saturday as the community celebrated the official opening of Buffalo’s newest green space, the South Lawn.

At 11 a.m. a crowd gathered to watch the ribbon cutting ceremony conducted by Richardson Center Corp. President Howard Zemsky.

Zemsky thanked the public and the RCC board for their dedication to the project. Sen. Mark Grisanti and former assemblyman Sam Hoyt also spoke to the crowd. They were enthusiastic about the park’s effect on Buffalo.

“This project will not only beautify the neighborhood, but bring the two sides of Grant Street together,” Grisanti said.

After the ribbon cutting, master of ceremonies Drew Kahn, a SUNY Buffalo State theater professor and founder of the campus’s Anne Frank Project, introduced the event.

“Buffalo is really looking up, isn’t it?” Kahn said.

The Richardson Olmsted Complex has certainly come a long way.

Built in the late 19th century as the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane, and later renamed the Buffalo State Hospital, the complex was designed by H. H. Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted, two of America’s most renowned architects.

It was abandoned in the 1990s and fell into disrepair. The re-greening of the South Lawn was the RCC’s first step towards rehabilitating the complex.

The original South Lawn was designed by Olmsted, the landscape architect responsible for Central Park.

Chris Mendel of Andropogon Associates created the new South Lawn’s design.

The changes made to the landscape over the years made it impossible to completely restore Olmsted’s original design, so Mendel chose to use it as inspiration instead.

The new design incorporates some of the techniques Olmsted used in Central Park, and includes rain gardens and curved paths.

During the celebration, Mendel was called up to the stage to speak. He described working on one of Olmsted’s parks as incredible before addressing the crowd.

“Please stick around and let’s watch this place grow and develop,” Mendel said.

His work was well received.

Nicole Roma and Amanda Hess, residents of the neighborhood, were excited to see the park completed.

“It’s awesome,” Roma said. “We walk around here a lot. It’s beautiful. To have to see how it was for so long was awful.”

She was also excited to see what the redevelopment would do for Buffalo in the future.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Roma said. “People are going to want to stay here.”

Visitors from farther away also came to see the park.

Cory Miller, a Gasport resident interested in architecture, regularly travels to Buffalo to attend the RCC’s public meetings.

“This has always been my favorite building,” Miller said. “And I like the park. It’s got the curved walkways like Olmsted would have wanted.”

Regarding the RCC meetings, Miller noted the group’s dedication to the community.

“They’ve had about ten meetings because they ask the public’s opinion every time they change something,” Miller said. He added that the latest meeting, where a new glass entryway design was presented, was very lively.

Throughout the day, the RCC hosted landscape tours around the park. Other activities included kite flying, face painting, hula-hoops and a scavenger hunt.

Magician Mike Seege, the Buffalo Jugglers and Mugsy the Clown provided entertainment for children.

Live music was provided by Jason Myers on bagpipe, the Bar-Room Buzzards, the Buffalo State Jazz Combo, the Albrights, Diaspora Drumming and the Nickel City Pimp Choir.

Though the inside of the building was off-limits, RCC guides invited visitors to take a peek through the glass into the main entryway. They also said that the building would be open on Oct. 10 for the Museums by Moonlight event, presented by Preservation Buffalo Niagara.


Autumn Evans can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]