Buffalo Architectural History Minute!
Know your Neighbors ….
Trico Plant #1
Designed: (1890-1954), Plumer and Mann, Burton and Ellicott, and Warwick and Jewel)
At 600,000 square feet, it’s the third largest building in Buffalo, and its name is nearly synonymous with the city’s industrial glory days. Trico Plant #1 stretches for two blocks along Ellicott Street on one side and Washington on the other. This was once one of Buffalo’s manufacturing giants, but only a small section of the nearly empty complex is currently being used
The Trico Plant No. 1 was the first factory built by Trico, which went on to become a major manufacturer of windshield wipers. The company was founded by John R. Oishei, who in 1917 was the manager of the Teck Theater in Buffalo, when while driving in a heavy rain he struck a bicyclist with his car. This inspired Oishei to team up with John Jepson to market the windshield wiper blade Jepson had invented. The business first rented manufacturing space in North Buffalo, but in 1919 the Pierce Arrow Motor Company (also in Buffalo) contracted the manufacturer to supply manually operated wipers for its luxury cars, and in 1920 Cadillac, Packard, and Lincoln did the same.
Only the front facade of the Building 1 portion of the Trico is visible; this remnant of an earlier architectural era is overwhelmed by the additions, which are in the finest tradition of the early twentieth century Daylight Factory style. This style, as expressed by architects Harold E. Plumer and Paul F. Mann, is characterized by reinforced concrete piers, large gridded windows stretching between the vertical piers, and handsome red brick spandrels alternating with the windows. Plumer and Mann set the stage for subsequent additions by architects Burton and Ellicott, who followed their predecessor’s lead. At the time of their construction, the first two Trico additions, Buildings 2 and 3 (1924–28), represented “state-of-the-art industrial architecture,” according to architectural historian Francis Kowsky, who submitted the complex’s successful application to the National Register of Historic Places.
Decades after the final addition to Trico Plant #1 was finished, the complex still looms over its neighbors to the immediate east and west. A faded ad for the company still remains in a bus shelter on Washington, but Trico itself has been gone since 1999, when, having already transferred much of its manufacturing to Texas and Mexico, it moved out of Plant #1.
Since then, there has been substantial interest in reusing the structure. Hopes were raised when developer Steve McGarvey, having already completed successful industrial conversions in Erie, Pennsylvania, bought the building in 1999. McGarvey’s Century Centre I project was supposed to fill the Trico with restaurants, retail, and 260 market-rate apartments. This did not happen, and neither did Century Centre II, which was to do the same for the nearby M. Wile.
The Trico building — bounded by Ellicott, Goodell, Washington and Virginia streets — stands at the intersection of downtown Buffalo, Allentown, the Fruit Belt and the medical corridor. It was purchased by Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus at auction for $12.4 million in 2007. Ownership was transferred to Buffalo Brownfield Restoration Corp., a subsidiary of Buffalo Urban Development Corp., which then made the Medical Campus the developer. as of March this year, The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus wanted to demolish most of the reinforced concrete building, which occupies nearly two downtown city blocks, in four stages, beginning April 15, to expand its footprint.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara, which held four meetings with Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus representatives, expressed regret that its offers of assistance were rejected and that a phased demolition was going forward. “We are disappointed that this decision has been made without the availability of a reuse study to determine the feasibility of a historic preservation rehab of the building,” said Tom Yots, the group’s executive director. “We offered to help them understand what would be necessary to do a historic reuse study and to get grant money to hire a firm to do it.” But knocking down the building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, won’t happen without a fight — and possible lawsuit — from preservationists. Also The Buffalo Preservation Board recently unanimously voted to give the Trico Products building local landmark status, providing even more obstacles.
HOLT Architects, P.C.
217 N. Aurora St.
Ithaca, NY 14850
phone 607 273-7600 Ext. 151
fax 607 273-0475