Saturday, August 28, 2010

Buffalo's Got Architecture, and Tours too!

One of my favorite things about Buffalo is our architecture. Though I love the beautful old buildings, I don't know all that much about them. I made my first attempt to rectify that last night on the Open-Air Autobus of Buffalo. The bus tours are operated by the Campaign for Great Buffalo and focus on the historic architecture in the area. Among other things, I learned that there were three great American architects: Henry H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright; and that Buffalo is one of only two cities to have buildings designed by all three (the other city being Chicago.)

Our first stop was the Richardson complex on Forest Ave. Almost everyone in Buffalo is familiar with the complex even if they don't know the name of the building or its designer. The main building's towers are recognizable and can be seen from various points all over the city. It was originally designed by Henry H. Richardson to house the Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Though I recognize it as a beautiful building, I've always imagined it to be haunted by the tormented souls of the insane who lived and died there.

Another beautiful building we visited was the Ellicott Square building downtown.When it opened in 1896, it was the largest office building in the world. I love the ornamental sculpture all over the building's exterior, as well as (though we didn't see this from the bus) the intricate glass and steel ceiling that covers the lobby.

Louis Sullivan was one of the three great American architects, and until last night I didn't know he had existed. He designed the Guaranty Building (now the Prudential building) in 1895 and it was built the following year. When our bus parked directly beside it, I was able to get a close look at the gorgeous and intricate terra cotta blocks that make up the building's exterior.

One of Buffalo's most recognizable buildings, and certainly my favorite, is City Hall. The first style of architecture I was ever familiar with was Art Deco, and that is because I was familiar with Buffalo's City Hall.

This was the "Whirlwind Tour" so we covered a little bit of everything. The group also offers more specialized tours such as the Frank Lloyd Wright tour. There are a few weeks of bus tours left for this season and the schedule is available here.

More Buffalo Tours

Another group that offers architecture tours is Buffalo Tours. I've never been on one of their tours, but telling by their Web site, they offer a variety of specialized tours. After familiarizing myself with their offerings, I certainly plan to attend some of their events. Their site also features a free audio tour. Anyone who wants to check out some interesting sites on their own need only print out the map and call a phone number for the audio tour.

Forgotten Buffalo offers a more quirky selection of tours. Events include historic bar crawls, neighborhood visits, and Irish Buffalo tours. A Polish princess myself, I can't help but be intrigued by the Polonia Pride tour.

Best Buffalo Tours seem to offer mostly mafia-themed tour events, which could certainly be interesting.

The tours and walks guided by Mason Winfield are definitely for thrill seekers! They offer ghost walks in various areas of Buffalo as well as some of the surrounding towns. In a city as old as this one I'm sure there are plenty of great ghost stories to be heard. In the past, they've done a haunted pub crawl through Allentown. I'm hoping to attend that event this Halloween season!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Where doing nothing is a productive way to spend a day

Sir John Lubbock said "Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes in the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky is hardly a waste of time." Words to live by! Though I have tried to use my time this summer to take advantage of all there is do in Buffalo, I have definitely spent some wonderful hours doing absolutely nothing at all.

There are plenty of places to sit and do nothing while enjoying the summer weather in and around Buffalo. My spot of choice is Crystal Beach, Canada. Some call it Bay Beach, or Point Abino, but it's still the bay and beach area surrounding what used to be the Crystal Beach amusement park. Now, it's a beach town where people go to relax and enjoy the summer weather. It's a favorite getaway not only for Buffalonians, but also people from the Greater Toronto Area as well as all over North America.

I have been lucky enough to spend most of my summers at the beach. When I was very young, my parents would rent a cottage just for a week. One week turned into two weeks, which became a month, and eventually they bought a cottage and we stayed for the entire summer. Friends back home in the city would ask what I did all summer. I honestly don't know what my friends and I did for all those hours. I'm sure it was a whole lot of nothing, but I don't remember ever being bored. It was on that beach where I learned to enjoy the simple things like a perfect seashell, or a shooting star. I know how to take a time out from reality and city life to enjoy life for a moment.

Our cottage isn't waterfront (what do you think I am, rich?!) so we had private beach access as members of the Bay Beach Club. We are still members and still spend summer days on the beach there with some of our closest friends. It's a lifestyle none of us have been able to outgrow. There is also the public beach, where day visitors can go to escape the heat. The Friends of Crystal Beach are a group of townspeople, summer residents and other supporters who are currently fighting a developer's plans to build 12-story condo on the public beach. The bay is also home to the beautiful historic Point Abino Lighthouse, as well as the Buffalo Canoe Club, Buffalo Yacht Club, and other boating clubs, and beach access locations.

Whether it's relaxing on the beach all day walking with friends and going for boat rides, or enjoying the company of friends and family on the deck, I have a place where I can go and feel like time doing nothing is time well spent.
For those of you who don't yet have a favorite place to sit and do nothing, I'll gladly share mine with you.