A New Chapter for the Richardson Olmsted Campus
Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center makes innovative new use of one of Western New York’s most iconic architectural landmarks. Widely considered to be one of Buffalo’s most important and beautiful buildings, construction on the 145-year-old Richardson Olmsted Campus began in 1872 and opened in 1880 as the state-of-the-art Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane. Henry Hobson Richardson, who is one of “The Recognized Trinity of American Architecture,” constructed this Richardson Romanesque-style campus of buildings more than 145 years ago alongside Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, developer of the Kirkbride Plan to improve medical care for mental health patients. America’s landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City, as well as Buffalo’s beautiful park system, designed the grounds and gardens throughout the campus alongside Calvert Vaux.
The Richardson Olmsted Campus is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, a nationally significant historic place, designated by the Secretary of the Interior, possessing exceptional value or interpreting the nation’s heritage. For decades, countless citizens and constituencies have invested in saving these historically and culturally important structures. From individual grassroots preservationists to organized boards and New York State allocations, an immense collaborative effort led to the establishment of the Richardson Center Corporation. Since its formation, the Richardson Center Corporation has completed essential planning reports, stabilized the buildings, re-landscaped the South Lawn, and searched for new uses and leaseholders to help fund rehabilitation of the campus.
NEW LIFE AS AN ASSET FOR WESTERN NEW YORK
Now, with generous private funding from the ownership group, public funding from New York State, and historic tax credits, Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center is proud to open a new chapter for the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center is proud to be the first phase and 1/3 of the redevelopment of the Richardson Olmsted Campus, bringing new life and meaning to the National Historic Landmark. As a successful first leaseholder within the Richardson Olmsted Campus, Hotel Henry is paving the way for more leasing interest and the rehabilitation of the rest of the campus.
A Brief History
The design of the Richardson Olmsted Campus provided a therapeutic landscape for the patients living and recovering at the hospital. Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride advocated for the idea that mental illness could be better treated in environments that provided patients with the ability to regain a sense of purpose in a comfortable, quiet, safe, and beautiful place. This idea became known as “The Kirkbride Plan” and was repeated throughout the country during the late 1800s through the early 20th century, with distinctive architecture designed for holistic mental health treatment.
H.H. Richardson, the architectural genius behind the design, is one of three American architects affectionately known as the “Trinity of American Architecture” (H.H. Richardson, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Louis Sullivan). The campus was the largest commission of Richardson's career, marking the advent of his defining Richardsonian Romanesque style. Alongside Richardson, the over 100 acres of surrounding farmland were designed by the genius landscape architect duo, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. A working farm surrounded the 600 bed hospital and provided healing, rehabilitation, and meaningful work for the patients. Additionally, patients were encouraged to use the wide, brightly lit corridors as communal spaces for conversation, activities, and relaxation.
Over the years, as mental health treatment changed and resources were diverted, the majority of Kirkbride facilities were shut down. The Buffalo State Hospital closed and the buildings and grounds began a slow deterioration. Hotel Henry works to reclaim the original intentions of Richardson's spaces to provide a bright, fresh, calming escape for guests and visitors. 100 Acres: The Kitchens at Hotel Henry is named after Olmsted's innovative use of space throughout Hotel Henry's grounds - a proud nod to the agricultural and sustainable tenets of Olmsted's vision for the Richardson Olmsted Campus. 100 Acres has developed the footprint of the property’s original 19th c greenhouses to create a kitchen garden, to continue the tradition and benefits of hyper-local, urban agriculture.
At first, the second floor of the hospital was set aside for the superintendent and his family. In Kirkbride’s plan, superintendents lived in the hospital to be more readily available to make decisions and to even serve as a role model for patients. After 1900, in a push to create more patient space, a home was built on the grounds for the superintendent and his family. The home still exists today at the corner of Elmwood and Forest Avenues.
The fourth floor features one of the largest spaces at Hotel Henry. In the original plan, the large, bright, fourth floor space was primarily used as the hospital’s chapel. It was, and still is, the campus’s largest space. In the past, it was also used as an entertainment venue for the patients. The hospital arranged plays, musicals, concerts, educational programs, and slideshows for patients. As patients moved to the second and third floors, this large space became their dining room until after 1932, when it became a space for occupational therapy.
Arguably the most recognizable part of Hotel Henry Urban Resort Conference Center and Richardson Olmsted Campus are the 185-foot-tall towers. The towers have always been a purely decorative architectural feature. Despite popular belief, patients were never kept in the towers. To this day, the towers house HVAC and a series of platforms that allow for roof maintenance.
Learn more about Hotel Henry’s past, future plans for this historic structure, and information regarding docent-led historic tours through the Richardson Olmsted Campus.
Photos courtesy of the Buffalo History Museum and the Richardson Olmsted Campus.